This week, several important people drove all the way to Harare from the furthest corners of the country – Kariba, Chiredzi, Mutare, Beitbridge. They all converged in their Ford Rangers, Mercedes Benz E Classes and Range Rovers at Nelson Mandela and Third Street, Parliament Building. In these days of fuel supply uncertainty, they had set aside a jerry can or two for this important trip to Harare. The national anthem played, while these important men and women stood at attention. Robert Mugabe managed to get to the podium, without tripping over his shoe laces. Then the moment that everybody had been waiting for arrived. And he delivered… nothing.
The truth can be rigged
President Mugabe may as well have cancelled this year’s State of The Nation address. It lasted only 30 minutes, which is no small feat, for a man prone to rambling.
Mugabe’s speech writers did a good job in massaging the facts and figures, giving the 92 year old a presentation that was not really dishonest, in that most of the information is true: hotel occupancy marginally up, fewer deaths during labour, 900,000 tourists visited in first half of year, child malnutrition slightly improved since 2015, fewer power cuts this year, that sort of thing. But the truth is irrelevant, deceitful even, if it is not the whole truth.
Zanu (PF) promised 2,2 million jobs, in 2013. The ruling party also promised 300,000 new houses. None of these promises have been met. The health minister may pat himself on the back, for the reduction in child malnutrition. But in reality, any patient being discharged from Parirenyatwa or UBH has survived purely by the grace of God. Not only do government hospitals lack the little things that separate medicine from sangomas – for instance bandages, sutures and latex gloves – but we have now reached the point where major hospitals have stopped carrying out surgery, for lack of drugs. Mugabe did not mention any of this in a speech that supposedly reported on the true state of the country.
Does the President even know?
During the uneasy five year marriage of Zanu (PF) and the MDC, Zimbabwe’s economy improved. Under Tendai Biti, the Finance ministry introduced austerity measures – thanks to a hiring freeze in public service and no printing of money. Patrick Chinamasa first introduced bond coins, for which there were not many objections, because everybody assumed coins were mere change and the minister’s reasons seemed valid. But this year, Mugabe’s government has done the unthinkable: a brazen attempt to manufacture United States dollars, in the form of bond notes. Already, fuel shortages have begun, with some service stations running out of the precious commodity.
Setting aside the disastrous consequences of this monopoly money, it has to be noted that the President made no mention of these two words in his speech: “bond” and “notes.” The logical conclusion is that he isn’t aware of these developments, which would not surprise anyone, given the fact that he spends most of his time gallivanting at the taxpayer’s expense.
With several businesses having shut down since 2000, government revenue is low. What has kept Zimbabwe afloat is Diaspora remittances – money sent home by sons and daughters who fled Mugabe’s disastrous leadership. After Britain’s exit from the EU, the British Pound has lost 14% value against the greenback. This may result in lower remittances from Zimbabweans in the UK, at a time when the insatiable monster that is Zanu (PF) has plans to raid citizens living in exile by way of a Diaspora tax. The South African Rand has also lost ground against the American dollar, in which all our prices are pegged. This results in fewer Rands being sent home by the estimated 3 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa. Other than negative exchange rate movement, Zimbabwe’s financial sector is likely to lose more Diaspora funds, due to the introduction of bond notes. In the first two weeks since introduction of Mugabe’s funny money, some Zimbabweans in exile have opted to hold back their remittances, with memories of 2008 still fresh in the mind. Most likely, when remittances resume, it may be via informal channels, thereby further depriving the state sector of revenue. When the inevitable happens – complete loss of value by bond notes – Zimbabweans might revert to mattress banking and the black market will be the only source of basic commodities.
Knowing very well that he has nothing to offer, the only thing that Mugabe could give to the 13 Million people he holds hostage was a very patronising “thank you”. At the end of 30 minutes that none of us will ever recover, Mugabe thanked “our peace-loving people” for enduring hardship since 2000 – more massaging of the truth. Only last week, Mugabe’s brutal anti riot police spray painted the capital city with blue water, giving innocent passers-by the colour of Smurfs – a crowd control tactic enabling police to arrest people later. Since July, several clashes have occurred between police and civilians. With frustration growing among the “peace-loving” Zimbabweans there are protests almost weekly. The reaction of Mugabe’s police is, as always, to conceal the problem in smoke, literally.
As Mugabe’s speechwriters huddled around a desk, composing 30 minutes of hot air, thousands of Zimbabweans were waiting in line at their banks, where the weekly withdrawal limit is a meaningless $150 in bond notes. So much for RBZ governor, Dr Mangudya’s claim of solving the cash shortage. And while these honest citizens waited in the searing December heat to get money they worked so hard for, the First Lady was neck-deep in some messy business, involving a Middle Eastern jeweller and a million dollar diamond paid for by Robert Mugabe as a present for the wife.
A million questions
So many questions arise: where did Robert Mugabe get a million dollars from – real dollars, not bond notes – is this money from Gushungo Dairy? If Mugabe’s business empire is doing so well, then why is Zimbabwe’s dwindling private sector perennially mugged by Zanu (PF) donation seekers, ahead of the party’s congress? Did Grace Mugabe really mean it when she said she goes to bed on an empty stomach “in solidarity with the poor?” When the President said $15B went missing, did he take into account this $1,4Million, which he spent on his wife’s bling? The President’s salary is supposedly $12,000 per month. So how long did it take him to save up for this ring? Does it make sense that Mugabe harps on about “value addition and beneficiation of natural resources” and then buys diamonds from Dubai when we have jewellers right here in Zimbabwe?
This is what should have been in Mugabe’s State of the Nation address. It is no surprise that the President was economical with words. After all, everybody knows that the first rule of telling lies is, “keep it short”.
My pen is capped.
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Opinion: Does Mugabe know the state of the nation?