Five lessons from Rhodesia for Zimbabwe – Vince Musewe

via Politicsweb – Five lessons from Rhodesia for Zimbabwe – FEATURES by Vince Musewe 13 February 2014

Vince Musewe says leadership integrity and accountability were central to the success of the import substitution policy

The name Rhodesia remains offensive to most of us blacks. It hangs like a nightmare in our brains because of what it stood for and what it did to our fore fathers and those who perished fighting for our freedom. Racism remains an obnoxious and indefensible evil whether it is practiced by whites or blacks.

However, we must move on, and is to our advantage to learn from our past, regardless of the context and objectives of the actors that created it. After all, as Karl Max once noted, men make their own history but they do not make it as they wish, it remains educated by and predisposed to the past; that is one thing we cannot change.

Rhodesia faced serious sanctions but the country rapidly developed notwithstanding. We must learn from that.

I want here to force our minds to appreciate how Ian Smith reacted to those circumstances and why he was successful in developing the productive capacity of a country isolated by the international community, but continued to have a strong currency and was a net exporter of food.

It is an open secret that Zimbabwe has all it needs to develop and yet we continue to complain about how sanctions are preventing that. In my opinion, it is not the issue of sanctions that is our problem (real or imagined); it’s our response to our problems that continues to hold us back and disempower us in coming up with our own solutions.

I think that the main reason why Rhodesia’s self-sufficiency developed rapidly during its import substitution programme was the discipline and integrity of its leadership; racist they were, but here I want us to learn from the enemy.

Ian Smith was not in it for the money or personal wealth. He truly believed in the national cause.  Although misguided, he was dedicated to it to the bone. He was not greedy nor did he pursue personal wealth accumulation as is the case with our current political leadership. The preservation and development of Rhodesia came first and all state enterprises and institutions were established and competently managed only to meet that end.

Our first lesson is that; leadership integrity and accountability were at the centre of the success of Rhodesia’s import substitution project. The unfolding revelations of the rot in our state enterprises are shocking, and reflect the value system of our current leadership. Unless we brutally address this, any of our contemplated economic recovery blue prints are a waste of time.

Second, he ensured that no raw material left the country as a matter of policy. Vertical integration of industry was primary at all costs. If no raw materials were to leave the country, it required that the country had to develop the capacity to process them first. This was achieved by investing heavily in infrastructure, especially in the railway network, power and water.

Our lesson here is that we need an informed and holistic strategy on vertical integration of industry that is not implemented ad hoc, but takes into account what needs to be in place first.

In many instances, this government announces good projects without first ensuring that we have the capacity to implement them. It also does not do enough home work to make sure that implementation does not create negative unintended consequences that derail or immunise the intended results. We need to think clearly and anticipate before we act. Inconsistent government policy clouded by hidden vested interests remains our core problem.

The third thing that Smith did was to implement selective subsidies, but these were price subsidies and not input subsidies. In other words, the finished product would be subsidised through its sell price only. This avoided a parallel market for inputs developing. It also avoided profiteering at input level as is the case now, where chefs buy fertiliser in bulk to make profits thereby creating artificial shortages and increasing production costs unnecessarily.

An example was the subsidising of wheat production. Farmers would produce wheat without input subsidies but the price of wheat offered, would compensate the farmer for his full cost of production thus making it viable to produce wheat.

Fourth, Rhodesia had very strict import control measures with strong accountability and fairness. Companies had to have import licences which were managed fairly and with minimum corruption. They had to first prove that they could not source inputs locally and this further encouraged local supply companies to grow. The middleman had no place in that process.

The important thing here was that this policy was only guided by the national priority of producing goods locally. Government officials did not drive imported German or British cars as is the case now. They used locally assembled Peugeot 504’s if you remember, thus creating local demand and jobs.

From this we can learn that we must control the import bill strictly but fairly, we must all live within our means and we must walk our talk.

Fifth, Rhodesia had incentives in place for industry to build local production capacity. For example building a manufacturing plant had huge tax incentives and farmers could write off costs for building dams and thus we could irrigate throughout the year ensuring food security and exports. Incentives and not penalties work more effectively.

Of course Smith had his own currency which remained strong because it was managed prudently. Discipline and national interests were not negotiable; something which we have dismally failed to do.

My contention here is that we can certainly do these things if we wish. Our problem is not the lack of ideas or sanctions; it is because of lack of leadership and self-centred politicians who want the privileges of power without the responsibility that comes with it.

Yes we can rebuild our country, but this requires that we all put our heads together in the national interest. Our leaders must also lead by example.

Zimbabwe comes first!

Vince Musewe is an economist and author based in Harare. You can contact him on



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    moyokumusha 8 years ago

    Spot on Vince. get the agricultural sector going again and all will follow. Time to get the white ZIMBABWEAN farmers back to their farms. It is reported that only one third would want to come back so let them and they will lead the way along with any other Zimbabwean who wants.

    You did not mention that at 1980 it was Rhodesian$1 = US$1.35. That’s what we should be aiming for, where the world wants our money and goods and not the other way round

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    William Doctor 8 years ago

    So it seems like the Rhodesians knew what they were doing (and yes their racist policies were misguided – but Mugabe is just as racist).

    Of interest – the author says that Zimbabwe should replicate Rhodesia – but when the country changed it’s name in 1980 – surely all the policies above were already in place? Why did it fall apart?

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      B.Mathe 8 years ago


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    Roving Ambassador 8 years ago

    I am with you Vince. We need patriots and visionaries to cary us forward and I will not hesitate to state you are a visionary.
    This current crop of brain dead theiving, self-centered leadership can only lead us to hell. We need to change our value system,a total paradigm shift. But this crop of leaders must go first.
    All who have saved their term,like Mudede, chihuri must go.I have been to Algeria where the junta is in control, the President spends most of the year in France for treatment. He is an old man. Sounds familiar. They got the Chinese to build a Stadium, to keep the poco happy. The state of the local roads is atrocious. The skyline of the city is littered with half finished buildings. Its like the city has been bombed. I. Am stating this so people realize the Junta will is no option .its total destruction. As a reminder,Algeria is oil rich.
    Coming back to Vince’ issue, ZANU ,instead of naturing home talent,they brought in the Chinese to build a stupid stadium. How are our architects and builders going to learn? The Chinese were learning and gaining experience in Zimbabwe. And ZANU idiots did not see this,they thought it was a fever from friends.
    Chinese national interest comes first you idiots. Its a dog it dog world and you are enslaving us Chinamasa.
    We have all the resources that can help turn around the economy of this country within 10 years … Do not be told by fools that it can not be done. The Irish have already turned a corner and in 5 years.
    The Kenyans have tourism, agriculture, and recently gas. We have tourism, agriculture, gold,platinum, chrome, copper,tin,iron,coal,asbestos, diamonds, the Zambezi, and bad leadership because the Kenyan economy is far better than ours. With all these raw materials we should be far ahead of the pack. Even ahead of the Chinese. Because with 14 million people, its the quality of life that matters.
    People ,let’s kick these idiots out.

    Again I agree, please Masiiwa, come forward we are 100% for you. This will be the 180° turn that’s required.
    I am with you Museve,. I am so pumped up I will try and contact.

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    I for one have enjoyed Vince’s articles because he is honest with out being vindictive. A lot of Zimbabwe’s problems derive from vindictiveness and failure to forgive the sins of the short sighted fore fathers. Some times I think some of our liberators had it in them to destroy any and everything that showed or reminded them of an association with the white man. They got so blinded by this that they for got that historically we are now associated with these white Africans who know no other home. In effect by refusing to even look at the expertise they could garner from their fellow countrymen they destroyed the very thing that they fought to protect, the rights of the masses. Vince, the Zimbabwe industry has to find ways to get the Zimbabwean craftsmen and women to come home. We have allot of people with the qualifications but because of their failure to find permanent work they lack work experience. I know for a fact that contrary to what we hear there are a few Zimbabweans doing care work in the UK. A lot have surprised their European counterparts with their skills and work ethic. I once got annoyed when someone said Zimbabweans were lazy. Their work ethics are second to none and their knowledge base is right up there with the best of them.That is one of the reasons Ian Smith’s Government excelled. There are just no opportunities in Zimbabwe these days.

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    John Thomas 8 years ago

    Mr Musewe is described as an economist. This description must be wrong. The mercantilist approach he is advocating has been discredited over and over again. It is a zero sum beggar thy neighbor way of doing things. The Rhodesians only resorted to import substitution and trade restrictions because they had no other choice. Before UDI in 1965 there was nothing of this and the economy grew faster then. Free trade and an open economy is the system that delivers development in the long term and the short term. This cannot be argued with unless one is to ignore the empirical evidence from all around the world. Our ill found indigenization policies are the very antithesis of these things and will not bring real development.

    The issues of personal honesty, morality and work ethic owe much to history and ideas. Africa has not yet had the many centuries of conflict which in Europe have given rise to the wide spread understanding that tyranny, criminality, abuse of the law and dictatorship are to be resisted at all costs. Look at what is happening in Ukraine this very day.

    The very dishonest way in which our history is understood in Zimbabwe underpins the moral failure of our society. There is absolutely no acknowledgement of the pitiful state of the pre colonial society here and the reasons for this pitiful state. Instead the colonial period is painted as a purely negative unredeemable episode, when in fact it was in very many ways a deliverance.

    Since there is no honesty, the problems cannot be dealt with, they cannot even be reasonably discussed. The result is that 120 years later we are all prisoners of another Lobengula in the name of Robert Mugabe who is again giving away the lands most valuable treasures for beads, trinkets and substandard weapons. Who thinks that all he purveys is his personal property to dispose of as he sees fit. How does one expect his officials and lackeys to show personal morality and public spirited dedication?

    Mr Musewe you have a lot of learning and studying to do before you can speak authoritatively on these matters.

    A more accurate understanding of the Rhodesian system is this: Private business interests sponsored the Rhodesian front to radicalise the white electorate to resist the inevitable political change in order that they might continue to profit for a few more years. They did not care what damage they were doing to the long term prospects of the country and were/are as responsible for our current situation as Mugabe himself. Ian Smith was their patsy. He did not at any time understand what was really happening or the part he was playing.

    It is not a good idea to imitate the Rhodesian government.

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    Patriot 8 years ago

    Dear John Thomas, you have an interesting mix of ideas.

    What I disagree with though is the the intensity of desire and determination to make Zimbabwe the country we want it to be… Rhodesia it was there in abundance and was not a racial thing. Yes the whites were scared of being overrun and disempowered, but it was not a case of private business interests…..

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    John Thomas again you amaze me. I really love these arguments and contributions from people like you, mixed race, the Ambassador, and all the other’s including Wanhasi who went away without telling us. What you have just said has gave me hope that I am not dreaming. I would like to say that Vince is human like us so he can also make comments that will be seen by some as maybe just a little bit off? He tells it as he see’s it which gives us a platform for the great discussions we have. Had it not been foR Vince I would not have had the pleasure to read you wonderful contribution. AS ZIMBABWEANS WE ARE ONE.

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      @Doctor,the only difference is that since Murimi’s return he will carefully choose which debate he gets involved in so please believe the revenger avenger (who does not trust me either)

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    Roger Zulu 8 years ago

    Vince for President!! One of the best and balanced articles to date.A crying shame about the Rhodesian racism and lack of African empowerment. However, there were jobs, health and education. No national debt. Also, Rhodesia kept Africa fed.This lot have virtually ruined our country in just three decades.Why can they just not go!

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    Chessplayer 8 years ago

    It is a tale of two evils to me. Rhodesia was a better evil than the present one.

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    Chessplayer 8 years ago

    Success can only be achieved if we select the right people to lead this country. We do have them amongst us but unfortunately the current political parties have a selection process which is skewed and is mainly done on partisan basis. Take Zanu PF for instance and you will find that some of the leaders we have today right at the top are leading us simply because they were in the armed struggle. We know that some of them did not even go there voluntarily but were force marched from schools without their parents’ knowledge to cross the borders. Do these people really have what it takes to lead? Their heroic sacrifices are no doubt upheld and for that we salute them but let us not be held hostage by them simply because of that.

    It is time we move away from old ways of selection and start looking for selfless, incorruptible leaders amongst us. The big problem is how to get rid of the Lot in power today.

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    kiddnile 8 years ago

    Well spoken Vince – the other point one mighty add is that SMITH & his crowd were hard working people who loved Rhodesia /Zimbabwe dearly. RGM & his crowd are neither.

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    You forgot the most important factor, the K Factor. Run from it all you want, call me racist, but it’s the truth. There is just not the European standard anymore, there is the African standard. The result is an African country, not a European level country.

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    The white europeans in this country, improved all suitables in this existence. What is now happening in over 80% of Africa ?

    This is like an island, just like a volcano, which can disappear, after all its rumblings.

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    Good article Vince. However what most of our people did not know was Smith’s policy of RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT. This was their clarion call and this is what has been absent over the past 34 years. We want a Responsible Government not a bunch of thieves.

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    Rwendo 8 years ago

    Mr J, even if the Romans (having learnt from the Greeks who learnt from the Egyptians) may have expressed similar sentiments about parts of Europe they invaded, that is still no way to talk about your ancestors. G

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      @ John why you have to use a derogatory statement like that is beneath me. Then you say call me a racist if you want. That is the dumbest most idiotic statement I have ever heard. Are you trying to tell me the people you refer to as “K”s if that’s what you meant were running Eastern Europe which was recently freed from dictatorships and Political violence. Tyranny has no colour and for you to use such a term on this forum shows a disillusioned character who keeps on hoping things will change to what they were. I have news for you. The whole world has involved and continues to. What has happened in the past (slavery and apartheid) will never happen again. You have obviously moved on to where there is no K factor as you call it so what beats me is why you write to this forum when you know that what you wish for will never happen. This will come back to haunt you one day when one of your Grandchildren brings home a K factor as you refer to blacks and say gramps I love this person.

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    Tendai 8 years ago

    Well,I totally agree with you Vince. Your article is to the point. I once said to some of my friends that the white man looked after this country in anticipation for take over by a black man. Guess what I nearly got clobbered by one of them. I asked them whether they have been to the country side where people are harvesting trees,the Chinese and and our makorokoza are destroying the environment. I asked them who was going to meet the cost of rehabilitating the environment, obviously its them and me.

    Our rail network, roads and other infrastructure, including buildings were sound.Visit some of the buildings which were left by smith,they are dilapidated, the ceiling and roofs are fooling apart and the paint is pearling off. And it seems nobody is noticing all these things that they need attention. Our rail system there is nothing to write about, every thing has been ruined and its like we are living in the 15th century.

    Our priorities are missed pleased. We now want to revive these entities now but we were watching when they were deteriorating right under our nose. A stitch in time saves nine, we seem not to be understanding this old adage. You cannot destroy something which is good and tomorrow you claim that you want to rebuild it. Why did you destroy it in the first place. It is only prudent to let others do it.

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    Mukanya 8 years ago

    Criminals,Crooks and the riff-ruff cannot run a nation, this is true of our country, an example for all to see.

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    Chess player 8 years ago

    Your comment please Murimi wanhasi.

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    Saddened 8 years ago

    Thanks Vince for a positive article that has stimulated discussion about making progress in the future.I don’t think it is case of emulating the Rhodesian government but rather one of emulating many of the good things they did so that we can learn from their experiences. One critical aspect I feel that Vince omitted is that of maintenance which was central to the success of the Rhodesian economy but largely absent from the current one.
    Infinitely more economically active Zimbabweans of all races have chosen to leave the country than under the previous regime. As someone who was also disadvantaged under the RF government I can honestly say although not equitable Rhodesia was certainly a much better place to live than present day Zimbabwe.

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    Harper 8 years ago

    On an historical point Vince, as a senior civil servant, I only had the use of a shared government Renault 4, garaged every night at the office.

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      John Thomas 8 years ago

      Yes and part of your salary paid in rands into a South African account

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    Good article, Vince. We most certainly should be learning from our history: taking the best and leaving the worst. Zimbabwe has a penchant for throwing the baby out with the bath water!

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    To add! I worked for the Rhodesian government for 4 years as tax assessor and, oh boy, were things run like a tight ship. You didn’t dare take so much as a pencil and you always came to work on time.

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    Its an interesting debate with very constructive inputs from different people.
    I would like to disagree with Vince on the country name annoyance as he put it .Are we to get annoyed by the name Zimbabwe because of what the current leaders have done to us?Surely no,this would not make any sense to people who are intelligent except to those who are easily brainwashed for cheap political agendas.
    I worked in the Rhodesian situation as a person of mixed race,I can tell you that if you knew your profession you got all the respect and you were allowed to use your talents without hindrance.Yes there was political discrimination but when it came to certain types of work they showed you respect and your inputs on vital projects were taken seriously not easily ignored on cheap political grounds.Who listens to you know if you do not belong to their party?
    Our politicians deliberately destroyed what the colonial government had achieved for cheap political gains to hold us in bondage.Unfortunately,the majority of our skilled people decided to take the easy way,that is to leave the country.How do you change your motherland events when you are outside?History has proved that the majority of those who leave the country when things go bad are normally governed by their personal interests not national interests,therefore forget about those who are outside the country and develop those who have suffered with you during the hard times.
    To prove my point look at Iraq when they were liberated, the Americans tried to bring those who were in exile to run the infrastructures and politics,the results were very bad because these former exiles had lost touch with the local technology and people’s behaviour.
    We need to change the mindsets of our current rude politicians who have failed to change from confrontational liberation war politics to politics of running a country with various political opinions.If we manage to do this the rest will sort its self out.The Rule of law is the main issue here not all these excuses we give daily.

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    @Mixed Race to an extent you are right but you also have to understand that the majority of the skilled people who kept confidence in the Zimbabwe dollar even when it was falling got up one day to find that they were penniless. Most of the skilled staff did not even have airfair to fly out. Australian and agents from other countries were interveiwing these people at the Victoria falls and at certain centers in Bulawayo and Harare. The NRZ lost three quarters of it’s signal techs in one go staight because British rail companies were paying thier fare and giving them £5000 pounds in relocation fees. Suddenly NRZ had to rush through apprentices and upgrade semi skilled staff. Aprentices became Supervisors. Can we with clear conciouses say that these people did not have national intrests? I don’t think so. National intrests does not mean you must sacrifice your childrens welfare because a Government is messing up and continues to do so.

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    Rwendo 8 years ago

    To some extent it is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Many of those who could, left the country. Most of those who couldn’t or didn’t remained inside but intimidated and too docile to raise our heads. It became ‘Me, myself and my family” for both groups, inside and outside.

    True, we are faced with a brutal regime, ready to do anything to stay in power, but national problems do not get solved with that attitude. Freedom has never been free. As I have said before, we have had a paradigm shift. Many nationalists were jailed for years and years in the 60s and 70s; for no wrong other than demanding equal rights. The current crop of leaders howl tone down if they are in for 1 weekend.

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    The truth is that those that left and those that stayed kept in contact as you know that the survival of the country has been helped by the Diaspora. I know a few friends who have returned and opened up businesses in the country. I also know a few that are running very successful ventures in South Africa and Botswana which are the two countries that have benefited from the drain. It is also a known fact that during the crash of the economy a lot of families survived on people that sent them money or goods from outside. What beats me is that instead of making attractive conditions for our people to return home and get involved in the economy it would seem the Government would rather they stayed put so they can sell them some nonsensical bonds.

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    Rwendo 8 years ago

    For this regime, skilled people leaving is probably a welcomed pressure release and they may also calculate that the get-up-and-go types probably contain the larger proportion of the elements in the population most likely to cause them any problems, by way of resistance if they had stayed. Political/power considerations first, always, with ZANU.

    But every cloud has a silver lining. One day the country will surely benefit from many of the skills, businesses and business contacts acquired in the diaspora during the wanderings in the wilderness by our nation’s able bodied.

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    die groot wyt aap 8 years ago

    Hi Vince, one point you missed on was education. Frankly, if you can read and write the English language you should thank a Rhodesian school teacher. If your children went to bed hungry and scared last night, you should thank a wovit.

    think about it.

    sweet dreams comrades, sweet dreams

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    @Doctor do little-I have noted your points with great admiration however the British or should I say the commonwealth countries had it wrongly by thinking taking Zimbabwe’s skilled personnel they would politically kill the government.They under estimated the careless attitude of our government as far as the economy is concerned.
    I lost a lot of good and bad technicians to these countries because of their interviews which really did not screen people properly.I laughed when a few of the technicians who were pending dismissals due to poor performance got jobs in UK.What I am trying to highlight here is that not all those who left were good skilled people.So let us use the resources we have in the country to transform our country BUT we have to admit that the Rule of Law has to come first.My attitude in life is to use everything I can get hold and then modifying it to get what I want to achieve therefore local skills we have are adequate for our economy provided the government does its part by instituting the Rule of Law. Yes we need a few external personnel to help us in unique fields but the majority of things we can do it ourselves.

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      @Mixed race what you say is true but a lot of the poorer ones that left when they took up posts overseas had to perform or else they suffered the consequences. I know of a bricklayer that returned home because he had to carry his own bricks. What I will always advocate for no matter who leads this nation is for them to create an atmosphere that will create jobs for the masses. The only way to do that is to allow foreign companies to operate freely so that we can grow strong and also compete with them. We have done it in the past there is no reason why we can’t do it again. I will also say it again Zimbabweans are the most resourceful people in Africa.

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    Allen 8 years ago

    Vince you are wasting your time. The propensity to steal, murder and loot is ingrained in the African. As leaders They all steal elections, steal from treasury and treat other African worse than they treat White people. Its a moral disgrace!

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    BaMuno 8 years ago

    AS much as I respect your opinions on what needs to be done I would like to say that the regime first put in place a system to protect the money generated or going out.Before a bird lays its egg it looks for a good and safe place to protect its offsprings ,so does all other animals.As long as we dont put strict and sustainable controls on revenue in place ,the dream of a prosperous Zimbabwe remains a pipe dream. I feel Zimbabwe is simply lacking management and revenue and expenditure controls. I have lived in USA ,China South Africa and Botswana. In the USA and China its impossible to steal without being detected and equally the same in Botswana.Putting strict revenue collection controls through complicated computerised systems will go a long way in making sure that government is not short changed.Surely in this day and age we cannot do today’s work with yesterday’s tools.Even voting in many parts of the world has been computerized.Banks control their money well because they have put strict controls and any slight leakage in revenue collection and expenditure is easily detected.Our government lacks the expertise and the control methods used by the abovementioned countries.There are many many ways of knowing that a cent has been stolen but because we choose to use the old methods when other countries are using effective computerized methods government cannot implement projects.Money is pilfering through without traces because a paper can be shredded.

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    Gentlemen we all agree on one important thing that is our current government as failed us by not giving us good guidelines.

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      @Mixed race when I spoke about the hidden hand what I was aware of is that there are a lot of such hands. You and the others I have had the pleasure of having rap-our with have not always agreed, but we respected. There is another silent war going on. The racist (of no particular colour I might add)the tribalists (of not a particular tribe) are in action right here on this forum. The reason why we will win is because we have freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of association on this website. We know that our Government has failed us. But you and I might agree that it has nothing to do with them being black. To my white friends on this website do not tolerate those that want to paint you with the racist brush.