via Mayday Mayday Mayday – ANGUS SHAW May 2, 2015
Mayday Mayday Mayday is the international aviation and maritime emergency call. It was adopted in the 1920s as a radio distress signal that cannot be mistaken in poor conditions of static or violent noise when the word is repeated three times. It originates from the French “m’aidez,” meaning “help me.”
May Day, May 1, International Workers’s Day, has come and gone in Zimbabwe’s distressed economy without joy. The main labour federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, says the day could not be celebrated, rather it was a “commemoration” of what it was like to have had a healthy economy with workers’ rights respected, including the basic right to work and put food on the family table, and where acceptable employment opportunities were enjoyed.
Conservatively, the formal economy of business, commerce and industry has recorded 85 percent unemployment with new job losses every day. The official spin doctors say this is nonsense because most of the unemployed are now employed in the informal sector – street vending, selling cellphone airtime, carpentry, vegetables and second hand clothing at roadside stalls – there’s hardly a paving in central Harare not covered with piles of tomatoes – trinkets in flea markets, then there’s hustling and a host of other activities to make a dollar. So, say the spin doctors, 90 percent of Zimbabweans are actually engaged in gainful work, though their earnings, admittedly, are not going into banks to ease the current cash shortages
In the week leading up to Workers’ Day, Mr Mugabe hosted a regional summit on industrialisation in Harare. Presidents and prime ministers went away briefcases bulging with case studies on how to industrialise and ”beneficiate” or add value to southern Africa’s minerals and primary products the modern industrial way, generally requiring significant foreign direct investment that Zimbabwe, among the regional club of 15 SADC countries, has largely scared away with the exception of opaque deals with China.
The irony of Zimbabwe hosting this summit was not lost on participants, given the current xenophobia in South Africa, where as many as 3 million Zimbabwean live, mostly as economic fugitives. SA’s President Jacob Zuma, for one, had asked rhetorically why foreign nationals don’t stay in their own countries and go instead in search of the Holy Grail in his.
Industrial revolutions elsewhere thrived on rail transport. Zimbabwe’s railways are running at less than 15 percent of previous capacity. Signal wiring and equipment have been vandalized or stolen; drivers use cellphones, but where there is no coverage warnings are done manually – a flag is placed down the line from a train breakdown, sometimes tiny gunpowder charges are left on the rails so the wheels of an upcoming train pop them and the driver knows he must stop.
The home of the NRZ, the former hub of heavy industry, Bulawayo, is in massive decline. Once vibrant factories are used as storage warehouses for goods imported from South Africa, accounting for some 80 percent of food, consumables and other commodities available in supermarkets and shops.
Industry needs constant power and water, summiteers were reminded when a nationwide black out plunged into darkness. Standby generators at the summit venue did not kick in and the headlights of a car were briefly used to light in the lobby. At the Meikles Hotel, where some delegates stayed, the standby generator did kick in but the lifts were still stuck for six minutes.