Common sense: When small things have monumental impact

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

IN pursuit of my on-going theme of common sense and the national economy, I recently realised that Heroes’ Day also has to do with celebration of the recovery and restoration of African common sense and the overturning of what the white settler regime had imposed and entrenched as ‘civilised common sense’ which meant African acquiescence to a colonial scandal in which words and symbols no longer said what they meant.
A few examples are in order: The Vagrancy Act of 1899 was not about vagrants.
It was about every mwana wevhu being presumed, through Roman Dutch Law, to be a vagrant until and unless he/she could produce a pass signed by a white settler conferring upon him or her some status in the settler-controlled areas now declared white areas.
This same mwana wevhu in the 1979 Lancaster House Constitution was again misnamed as a ‘willing buyer’ of the same African land that had been stolen by the British-sponsored white settlers.
The ‘land owning’ white settler was also misnamed ‘willing seller’ instead of ‘recipient of stolen land’.
In other words, from the beginning, right up to the end of colonisation, the overthrow of African common sense was enshrined in white law.
Mambo now referred to the white native commissioner in the position now occupied by the district administrator.
Mambo also came to mean any white boss, nkosikazi came to mean the British queen and any white woman in an African colony.
Obviously trespassing and trespassers no longer referred to those who encroached on land or property that was not their own.
Africans became trespassers on their former lands now controlled by white land thieves.
My concern about common sense and the economy suggests at least two things: That through capitalism, colonialism has embedded itself in the economy well beyond our political independence; and that current economic discourse is escapist, unreal and often upside-down, just like the colonial meanings of vagrant, mambo, nkosikazi, tea boy, dhaka boy, spanner boy and garden boy.
It is mostly through economics and finance today that we employ the largest number of concepts, images, symbols and assumptions which do not address our daily living and lived reality.
Let us for instance look at the question of confidence and the building of economic confidence through fiscal and monetary policies which finance and treasury authorities have been talking about since 2009.
It is worth giving concrete exhibits of this discourse over time.
The Herald Business, December 30 2013 put the matter as follows:
“It is a fact that the world will never change so as to accommodate Zimbabwe’s demands, and our own present situation will never have a bearing on the global economic system, thus unfortunately we have to adhere to the demands of that system.”
While purporting to be crying for restoration of our confidence in finance and economic institutions, The Herald in fact was selling the ‘cult of impotence’ discussed in a book of that title by Lynda McQuaiq back in 1998.
The full title was The Cult of Impotence: Selling the Myth of Powerlessness in the Global Economy.
Happiness Zengeni in a Herald Business opinion piece called ‘An Argument for Economics’ February 7 2014 went further to put the matter of confidence as follows:
“We are in total agreement with Dr Mahoso about the need for a national currency for Zimbabwe, but not now (February 2014).
That has nothing to do with preference for the Federal Reserve, but with severe lack of confidence and mistrust (By whom?) in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and most importantly, the economic reality we face as a nation…”
This ‘not now’ mantra was indefinite.
There was no timeline.
‘Not now’ was meant to justify lack of strategy, plan or policy.
Then on June 1 2014 The Sunday Mail invited Eddie Cross to write a piece in which Cross included the following concerning the same matter:
“It will take the appointment and maintenance of sound management at the (Reserve) Bank of (Zimbabwe) on a sustained basis over some years (in the future) for confidence to be restored that the bad habits of the past (by indigenous bank governors) will not be repeated… it would also be critical for the (Reserve) bank to be able to demonstrate independence from the Ministry of Finance and the capacity to act independently when it comes to making decisions on issues that will affect monetary policy and stability… At its very core, the issue is all about confidence, confidence in our institutions and how they are managed.”
Then in April 2015, the monthly Financial Mail did not use the word ‘confidence’ but rather sought to assure the public on behalf of the financial elites who lacked confidence in our own money or in our institutions.
The Mail sought to explain why it was no longer necessary to create our own money:
“The Chinese yuan, the Indian rupee, the Australian dollar and the Japanese yen last year (2014) joined the US dollar, the South Africa rand, the British pound, the Euro and the Botswana pula in circulation after a shortage of cash in the formal economy left many businesses in a lurch.”
From the actual experience of 14 million Zimbabweans, this story was in fact a lie perpetrated by the finance authorities and their elitist supporters.
At the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce meeting, according to Sunday News Business, for June 28 2015, the RBZ ruled out ‘capacity to bring back the Zim dollar’.
Citing RBZ Deputy Governor Dr Kuphukile Mlambo, the paper reported that:
“The Central Bank is not in any discussion to bring back the Zim dollar, rather we are taking every action to ensure that we decommission the Zim dollar.
We are taking every action to build confidence in the multi-currency system.” (including the long list cited by The Financial Mail in April 2015.)
How does a nation build popular confidence in things it does not and cannot control, things that are not even accessible to its people?
Then on August 6 2017, following RBZ

Governor Dr John Mangudya’s Mid-Term Monetary Review Statement, one Persistence Gwanyanya reported in The Sunday Mail:
“The Central Bank explained that its preference for the US dollar as the reference currency was largely informed by the need to maintain confidence in the economy.”
In other words, the very same elites who swear we have absolutely no confidence in the economy and in finance institutions will turn around when it suits them to say that everything they are doing is meant to keep, to preserve, confidence!
So where is this confidence which on one hand does not exist at all but on the other hand must be ‘preserved’ and is being ‘preserved’?
Whose confidence works like that?
How confidence is built and communicated
Those I talk to often will confirm that every time the finance authorities issue a statement explaining either fiscal or monetary policy, I always ask who their intended audience is. Sometimes people will say the intended audience is definitely the entire people, the population of Zimbabwe.
I have disputed this answer by using a common sensical illustration.
Let us imagine a father of several children who are still undergoing their education and training at levels ranging from primary school to graduate schools at local universities.
Let us assume that providing one’s children with a decent education is one of the common sensical practices which our liberation and independence from Rhodesia indeed established once and for all.
Let us assume that this now commonsensical practice is the reason Madzimbahwe often boast we command the highest literacy rate on the continent.
But the family of this particular father, since the beginning of the economic crisis from 1990 to 2017, has seen the continuing removal of basic and common supplies, payments and services which they had come to take for granted, as a matter of common sense.
l Children are routinely chased out of school for failure to pay school fees;
l Children have missed sitting critical final examinations because fees are no longer paid on time;
l The medical insurance provider has issued increased restrictions on access to doctors, medicines and medical procedures against members of the whole family who used to enjoy full and generous cover before;
l Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks have become leaner and more and more sporadic with time;
l Transport to various schools as well as bus fare are no longer guaranteed; and
l School uniforms are now being passed on from older to younger children where in the past each child had a mixture of old and new.
These developments have become a cause for embarrassment and have triggered gossip among neighbours and school peers of the various children.
The provider’s response:
The father has responded to the drastic situation in two ways: First by engaging in what he considers exercises in openness and transparency, whereby he brings home letters from employers showing that he is a good performer and has even been promoted; pay-slips showing that he has asked for and obtained big salary advances from work and also obtained generous loans from the employer’s bankers guaranteed through his salary and payable over 24 months!
In addition he has asked for and obtained a car loan and new life assurance policy.
That is the extent of the father’s first exercise in transparency as confidence building.
The second exercise consists in blaming the children for squandering money and resources; for eating too much; and for not bringing back change from the dwindling hand-outs of pocket monies they are grudgingly given.
The overall result
The overall result however is the opposite of confidence building.
The children become demoralised, despondent, quarrelsome and often withdrawn, until the provider no longer cares to explain things in detail.
He instead resorts to just issuing orders and instructions which make less and less sense to his dependants.
The reason is clear.
The family are getting explanations, disclaimers and even scoldings in the place of basic necessities, basic support and services.
All the pieces of paper the provider has shown to demonstrate transparency actually demonstrate deepening risk and liability for the children who think of the future.
Small things at national level: Structural adjustment and financial warfare as mass torture
As Naomi Klein has shown in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, inducing terror, despondency and apathy depends especially on the removal of common expectations and small common comforts.
Shortage of salt, bus-fare and bath soap is more devastating than bringing an aeroplane out of the sky.
Torture victims are made to suffer deprivations of what are called ‘small and predictable comforts’ in order to underline their helplessness or worthlessness.
They are made to do without bath soap, salt, matches, candles, newspapers, small change, bread, lotions, oils and common toiletries.
That is what also happened to Zimbabweans, especially between 2006 and 2009.
Being deprived of little things which people have taken for granted all their lives is supposed to force them to entertain profound doubts about their worth and their future.
It is the lack of little things which triggers big doubts, big questions about independence, autonomy, freedom and power. How can we be independent and yet fail to get just US$10 from a bank account with a balance of US$1 500?
The removal of small comfort items is followed by displays of acts of disrespect which may include throwing rubbish everywhere, wide use of foul and abusive language, looting of national treasures and desecration of national symbols.
One manifestation of this development in Zimbabwe is the increasing habit of insulting and attacking liberation war veterans.
The removal of small comfort items is also followed by the deliberate mass importation of junk items from outside to replace the lost local comfort items and to underline the impotence of the people and their leaders.
In Zimbabwe this development is shown by the elites’ fanatical attachment to ‘multi-currencies’ that are accessible only in theory but are all foreign, side by side with the swearing that our own money will never come back!
This leaves people staring at a blank wall.
Naomi Klein’s examples from the torture of Iraq are quite graphic:
“While the pickup trucks stuffed with the loot (of Iraqi treasures) were still being driven to buyers in Jordan, Syria and Iran, passing them in the opposite direction were convoys of flatbeds piled high with Chinese TVs, Hollywood DVDs and Jordanian satellite dishes, ready to be unloaded on the sidewalks of Baghdad’s Karada district. Just as one culture [of the people] was being burned and stripped for parts, another (superficial and artificial one) was pouring in, pre-packaged (by invaders) to replace it.”
When one tries to talk to those Zimbabweans who fled the effects of ESAP and sanctions and went to Botswana, South Africa, the UK, US and Europe, the explanation one gets is that most people gave up on remaining in Zimbabwe when small things, small daily necessities, the small comforts, became scarce: salt, sugar, soap, candles, bread, butter, margarine, cooking oil, flour and small cash.
The shortage of small things led to big decisions, such as lying to the British in order to obtain visas or asylum.
Normally, small courtesies also disappear with the small comfort items; people become rude, shameless and cruel to one another.
Disrespect and looting also ensued.
This was clear at Marange diamond fields (Chiadzwa) before security forces moved in.
A precious resource was being squandered on beer, trinkets, pennies and prostitution because people simply thought of survival for the moment.
The little things which ESAP and sanctions had made scarce were now brought in (mostly in junk form) from Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa to replace the diamonds which were being looted.
In other words, the apparent trashing of common sense, the disregard for the actual daily experience of ordinary people and the extraordinary pre-occupation with foreign inflows of everything at the expense of local assets and local production has a lot to do with loss of common sense, loss of self-respect and a growing environment of hysteria and even self-hatred.
As we mark Heroes Day, this matter of African common sense and self-respect is critical.
Increasingly tendencies to attack and disrespect war veterans are symptoms of a much bigger national problem which has to do with being immersed in an economy which makes no sense to the majority of our people.
Does it make common sense to celebrate the fact that the RBZ has obtained a further loan of US$300 million in order to print more Bond notes in addition to a previous loan of US$200 million on which previous Bond notes were based, while insisting that the Bond note is equivalent to the US dollar in value but will never be a Zimbabwe currency?
Bond notes does just sound temporary; it also hides the country: Which country is called Bond?
Would it not make better sense to say we have printed the equivalent of US$500 million in our own money and that it is based on reserves of refined gold, platinum and diamonds which we control and which we can display to any skeptic who wants proof?
The US$200 million and US$300 million on which our Bond notes will be based are loans, liabilities!
Rhodesia survived at the expense of Zimbabwe by making the African elites believe the defeat of the First Chimurenga and its aftermath was the only fate possible for Madzimbahwe; by making Africans believe that a disastrous defeat at the hands of a settler minority was the only history capable of repeating itself if the Africans ever thought of freedom.
Likewise, the elites’ refusal to even think of a national currency is also based on the incredible belief that out of the entire history of Zimbabwe, only the financial terror of 2007-2009 is capable of repeating itself.
This makes no sense as history, as science, as sociology, ideology or even as religion.
But it is strongly held by the financial elites.
Yet we know that 1980 would never have come the way it came if we had continued to believe the uncommon sense of the settlers that any African move to freedom was bound to precipitate to a repeat defeat just like the tragic end of the First Chimurenga.
History actually never repeats itself when people care about their destiny and stop focusing only on mere survival.

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