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Enough is Enough
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From Jono to Gono
19 February 2005
During the past five years we have come to know Jonathan as ZANU PF’s chief propagandist, fabricator of stories, distorter of information, source of venom and hate-filled invective. Those of us who were not permanently intellectually disabled by the constant drone of the electronic media or the failure of our schools to teach any analytical or creative thinking, easily recognised most of what came from Jonathan or one of his many aliases as blatant falsehood. We learned to read between the lines, to look for the reality behind the torrents and played games deducing what was really happening. So we became pretty good at finding out the truth behind the lies.
Jonathan’s life in ZANU PF is in the intensive care unit; most doctors have given up hope and are just keeping him on life support, but we have come to accept that the machines will eventually be turned off and his body will be laid to rest in some obscure place where the party can do its best not to remember him.
But Jonathan has a replacement already. ZANU PF has a new spin doctor. His name is Gideon Gono. But his approach is very different. He is sweet reasonableness personified. He doesn’t use hate speech or invective. And his words are buttressed by multitudinous statistics, evidence from reports, concern for the economy and dislike of corruption. He assures us that we are on the road to recovery, inflation has fallen precipitously and it will continue to fall until it reaches a respectable third-world level in the low two-digit figures by the end of 2005. The economy is going to grow this year, he tells us, and soon all will be back to “normal”, whatever that might be. He even tells ministers that they have to change their policies over land acquisition and parastatals that they must start making money. Respected business-oriented media south of the border analyse his pronouncements and congratulate his achievements. They evidently take him seriously.
So why don’t we? Why don’t we think that inflation is coming down? Why are we quite sure that by this time next year we won’t be better off? Why are our professionals still leaving, our services still deteriorating, and our young people in the depths of despair?
Perhaps we just don’t understand the figures. Perhaps there are ways of calculating statistics that we haven’t grasped and we are too ignorant to believe that inflation is falling when it is actually rising. Perhaps there is some kind of magic in the year-on-year inflation figure akin to those bent mirrors in the amusement parks, which make short and fat people look tall and slender. Of course, anyone with the slightest bit of education knows that statistics are not to be trusted. But how could Gono have got it so wrong?
Gono tells us that inflation in December was 132%. That means that on average our cost of living was 132% more than it was in December 2003. It still means that we were spending more than twice as much as we were 12 months ago. So it is not negligible. However, if 132% was correct, then surely in January it went up again, not down. When we look at the bills we paid at this time last year, they are three, four, five or six times as much as they were last year. Perhaps Gono is only looking at the few items which are controlled and/or subsidised by government, such as mealie meal, fuel, bread. Certainly, the costs of these (especially when you have to buy them on the black market) have gone up, but not more than double what they were last year at this time. But we do not live on these items alone. Rents or rates are a large item in most family budgets. Rents have gone up by more than three times for most people, and far more for others; rates, at least in Bulawayo, have multiplied six-fold, (although we now hear that has been blocked) water bills by the same factor. Government controlled fees have skyrocketed: the carbon tax, which is certainly not being used to control carbon emissions, was raised by more than five times, telephone rates, we hear, have recently doubled without our being told, and are now astronomical as are postal rates. It now costs more to post a local letter in Zimbabwe than it costs to post a letter from South Africa all the way to North America. Electricity charges in January 2005 are several times what they were in January 2004. School fee increases vary of course from school to school. For many, the increase has been by more than ten times, but the least is about three times more than last year. And we can’t even bear to talk about the cost of medical care. Surely it is not surprising that no one believes Gono when he tells us that inflation has come down.
But, he might say, what about food items. Rice has not gone up drastically, bread has been kept down, mealie meal is still cheap when you can find it. Well, I suppose it all depends on several things – can you find it? And what do you actually eat? If you want some milk, then get ready to pay five times what you paid a year ago; if you want meat, nearly the same; and if you want eggs, poor you – at a minimum of $1,500 an egg, the cost has more than doubled just in the past three months. Vegetables go up and down like yoyos so you can never be sure whether you’ll afford them or not. Sugar has skyrocketed, but perhaps it is not much more than doubled since January last year. Our over-worked memories fade as items have increased every time we visit the supermarket – sometimes by a small amount, other times drastically.
The actual rate of inflation depends on what you need to buy and what goes into your “basket” of items to be considered. But even if inflation is only slightly higher than what the Governor tells us, we certainly find it impossible to believe that it will continue to go down over the next few months, and we even more certainly don’t believe that the economy is improving. We have seen no evidence whatsoever of the much-vaunted “recovery”. Nobody would surely dare to suggest that unemployment is going down; government spokesmen never mention it any more, and for most of us it is the most important indicator. The only indicator of improvement that Gono seems to have been able to offer us is that foreign currency inflows have multiplied from an abysmal low in 2003. And the source of much of this increase? - gold. The increase is to a significant extent based on the work of gold diggers, using the most primitive means of extraction, working in horrendously unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and having a disastrous impact on the environment. Other exports continue to decrease, agriculture has deteriorated even further, and tourist arrivals go down. We have been given absolutely no indication that any of these sectors is likely to improve in the coming year. In fact, the lauded policy of “look east” seems to be set to challenge even the little indigenous activity that still exists – building contracts are given to Chinese companies instead of to Zimbabwean ones, and cheap Chinese goods of a wide range threaten to displace the pathetic remnants of our clothing and hardware manufacturing. Even the Chinese tourists, who are not exactly flooding in, spend far less per person than the expansive Americans or Germans.
How can we possibly believe that anything will get better this year? Without even mentioning agriculture, which at this stage of the season appears to be heading for another disaster on every front, we can only see indicators of further difficulties. The 280% salary increases given to the civil service may be an electioneering gimmick – it after all has become a tradition – but what effect will they have on the economy? We don’t deny that the long-suffering public servants need it, but where will the money come from? And what is the source of all the billions and trillions needed to fund all the unbudgeted expenditure being promised with new extravagance every week? Ex-detainees allowances, war veterans’ increases, chiefs and headmen’s increases. Every day there seem to be new promises. But even more horrifying – our tax money is to be used yet again to prop up parastatals that have been losing money for all of our much-vaunted 25 years. A mild exhortation from Gono and even from our lady Vice President that parastatals must make money is hardly going to change anything; everyone knows that they can’t make money when they are used as political playthings, and in the absence of professional management and autonomy from government interference, they will continue to gobble up our money. Ten trillion dollars – none of us knows the meaning of this any more, but we certainly didn’t hear anything like this in the budget.
Last year, before the ex-detainees’ legislation was passed by Parliament, Gono warned that the expenditure was unbudgeted and if the money had to be found, it would certainly be inflationary and disrupt his carefully laid plans for recovery. – just one item of what we are now being promised would, he claimed, be unsustainable. So what of the multi trillions that are now being trumpeted, alongside the public service increments? No wonder Gono wants interest rates to come down. Government will have to borrow it all, and the lower the rates, the better for Government borrowing.
But what he is no longer telling us is that all this extra expenditure, nicely timed just before the elections, will shoot inflation through the roof.
Will we ever be told the truth again? That the only thing which genuinely will bring inflation under control is a recovery of production; that none of Gono’s new measures are going to bring that recovery; that we are sinking deeper into the mire with every new promise of vote-buying expenditure; that we can only get out of the mire with help from the IMF and World Bank; that they will not help us as long as ZANU PF subverts the rule of law. Gono may smile like a Cheshire cat, and appear to get tough on the corrupters. But what we now know is that he has joined the pack. He has taken Jonathan’s place as the chief tale-spinner. That he does it without venom and hate does not make him any less of a liar.