The Self Destruct Button
In the past two weeks we have seen Zanu PF virtually tearing itself apart and in the process it is sealing the fate of the country. I have never seen the country in such a state of despair and despondency. Last week I was on a plane to Kenya and spoke to a businessman who was on his way to a lodge on the Zambezi in Zambia to spend a few days fishing and relaxing. He said to me that he simply had to get away. He has closed his factory and put it onto a care and maintenance basis as they could not cope with the power outages.
We have a new Minister of Indigenisation and I think he has been smoking Mbanje. He has announced a series of meetings with people to discuss his strategy – he plans a massive “levy” (tax) on business to fund the acquisition of a majority controlling stake in all “foreign” owned business. The new levy, coming on top of a myriad of other levies and taxes, will cripple existing firms who are going to be forced to pay (indigenous firms are exempt) and you can imagine the excitement at the feeding trough as locally politically connected individuals get an opportunity to take control of successful business enterprise at no cost to themselves.
The company owners so dispossessed, will take their money and run, because we are dollarized they will not be as badly off as the commercial farmers have been, but they will still only get a small fraction of the real value of their life’s work and have to start afresh somewhere else. You think I am being alarmist, think again. Whoever imagined that the State here would forcibly and illegally take over some $30 billion in farm assets, without compensation and in the process destroy the leading agricultural industry in Africa? But they have done it.
What is left of the formal economy will simply close down – unable to borrow money because no one trusts the new “owners” and in any event – what sort of security will they have in a politically volatile State where at the whim of a politician, your legal rights can be completely disregarded, assets pillaged without adequate of legal compensation. The Minister will argue that this is legal – it is the “law” even though it violates the constitution and every possible aspect of natural justice.
To compound the problems created by this new drive to implement the original intentions of the indigenisation laws, the advice given to Mr. Mugabe when he paid a State visit to China that he must set up an orderly, planned succession for the post of the President; must change his economic policies because they are “not catching fish”; and must repair his fractured relations with the major western powers, are simply being ignored. Instead he continues to play games, like a senile old man, with everyone. One minute he is pushing Mr. Mnangagwa forward, the next its Mr. Mpoko, then it’s his wife who seems to take center stage and the bizarre spectacle of Grace at a rally in the Eastern Highlands handing out tractors and groceries in such quantities that many could not carry them home, is just absurd.
As the center of power in Zimbabwe, which has dominated and controlled the country since 1980, disintegrates, no new center is being established in an orderly way, instead we have a crude form or war lordism – factions which seek to secure their grip on power for themselves, even though they have no constituency or legitimacy. This is a completely different game to the one that was played between Zanu PF and the MDC up to 2013, this is much more deadly and involves people on all sides with weapons and money and completely unprincipled avarice.
Suddenly the one thing that has held this country together seems at risk – our social, political and physical stability. Although we have been a State at war with itself for 35 years, only now have elements come into play with the means and the determination to take whatever steps are required to assume control of what is left of Zimbabwe. Like a pack of hyenas seeking to take a carcass away from an elderly lion.
In 1976 I felt the same way about Rhodesia. I was a senior executive in a very large organisation led by a brilliant Board of Directors. The war was intensifying and there was no sign of any change of heart by any of our political leaders. Ian Smith was totally in charge, totally determined to fight on. The Nationalist leadership inside and outside the country simply wanted him to carry on fighting, knowing full well that in the end they would win and take over what was left. Thinking Rhodesians could see no future and the flight of tens of thousands was underway to other countries.
I went to My Chairman for advice and he said to me “Eddie, the only thing you and I can do is come to work tomorrow and carry out our responsibilities to the best of our ability”. I was deeply disappointed in the advice but as I matured, I recognised the wisdom and I did just what he advised.
In this present situation – much worse that in 1976 or 2008, there is little we can do to change the course of events. You can take flight and pack up and leave for greener pastures where life is more predictable and safe. Or you can do what we have done, determine that as Africans, as citizens of Zimbabwe, we have every right to stay and to operate here and to make our views known. I was regarded in 1976 as an “enemy of the State” for my political and economic views. The same can be said of me today, but I am not going to change or flee to safer climes. Instead I choose to do what Willy Margolis advised nearly 50 years ago – go about your business and do it to the best of your ability.
In the case of Rhodesia it was Henry Kissinger, in September1976, who came into the situation and brought about the essential changes that were necessary to eventually end the war and bring us to Independence. In a way the same situation exists today but it is unlikely, even impossible, that any major Western State would choose to expend precious political and economic power on trying to break the deadlock here. The motivation is just not there.
It is only South Africa and the former “Front Line States” in the SADC that have the power and the reason to take action to prevent this country from self destruction the way Kissinger and Mbeki did in 1976 and 2007. Will they do so? I doubt because of the nature of political leadership in the region and the character of intergovernmental relations in Africa.
If that is the case then we had better prepare for tough times ahead. The self destruct button is firmly in the hands of those who are fully prepared to use it and if they do, the consequences for all of us are going to be tough medicine.
Harare 21st October 2015