Problem with economic reporters in Zimbabwe…they continue to embarrass serious readers

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By Dr Tafataona Mahoso

ON July 7 2007, Zimbabwean journalist Basildon Peta published a story online titled ‘South African Rand to rescue the Zimbabwe dollar’.  

The story was embarrassing because Peta was from Zimbabwe. 

Zimbabwean journalist Basildon Peta had been showered by donors with all sorts of accolades for ‘good journalism’ after writing embarrassing stories on Zimbabwe

He was expected to know the length of time and most of the complicated processes and steps which it would take for such a headline to come anywhere near reality.  

In addition, Peta had been showered by donors with all sorts of accolades for ‘good journalism’. 

We need not ask if anything has happened between South Africa and Zimbabwe since that 2007 story to justify it.  

It was a hoax.

Yet again, in 2019 in the wake of announcements by the Government of Zimbabwe of its intentions to re-establish a national currency and to end the fiction about Zimbabweans using ‘a basket of foreign currencies’ as their own money – Zimbabweans on June 6 2019 again woke up to a similar Financial Gazette top-page story titled: ‘It’s time to adopt the Rand – experts’.

This headline raised questions as to who such experts were, whether this referred to the President’s multi-sectoral Council of Advisors, and why such ‘experts’ would begin by talking about just adopting the Rand, in the absence of any serious negotiations between Zimbabwe and the owners of the Rand in question?

Upon reading the text of the story, it became clear that there was only one alleged called ‘expert’, in the story, Jee-A Van Der Linde, who is not inside Zimbabwe and is not a resident of Zimbabwe.  

All the Zimbabweans cited in the story who were called ‘experts’ actually contradicted the sense of the headline for the most obvious reasons.  

So, the headline was a hoax again, the difference between 2007 and 2019 being that it was on the front cover of a hardcopy newspaper sold on the streets of Harare and with a long history and reputation.

Many people in their 40s and 50s, I have spoken to, still remember days before the turn of this century when they would cut stories from the Financial Gazette for use in classes in high school or university because those stories were based on real investigative research. 

They were full of useful facts and statistics which could be used in an economics or business studies class.  

They were thorough and credible, but not anymore.

But for me, the biggest shock was not the appearance of such a story on the cover of a national finance paper.  

No.  

The biggest shock was the silence of the so-called business community.  

In other countries where I have visited or lived, there would be a huge uproar over such a cover story: from students of economics, students of politics, students of diplomacy and from business associations such as the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries (CZI); the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC); and the Retailers Association of Zimbabwe (RAZ).

If all these people were seriously pondering the currency question put to all of us by the President, surely they would not let such a hoax as appeared on the front page of the Financial Gazette go unchallenged. 

But somehow they let it go unchallenged.

Do the finance and economic reporters and their editors even read their own stories before publishing them?  

How come the same Financial Gazette on April 28 2019 published a story which would make ridiculous the headline on June 6 2019?  

The April story appeared under National News on page 23 and was titled ‘Zimbabwe should adopt its own currency: South Africa’ – “South Africa (SA)’s Trade Minister Rob Davies says Zimbabwe should adopt its own fiat currency as a way of addressing the country’s economic crisis.”  

SA’s Trade Minister Rob Davies said Zimbabwe should adopt its own currency as a way of addressing the country’s economic crisis

The South African minister repeated in that story the very same things I have been saying since 2009 about the blunder of using the US dollar as if it were our own currency.  

Davies was quoted by The Financial Gazette as saying: 

“If you are tied to the currency of the strongest economy in the world (the USA), you are not going to be competitive on anything. 

So, it’s obviously important that they (Zimbabwe Government) do introduce a (national) currency (of their own).” 

This April 28 2019 story citing the South African Trade Minister should have been on the front page, given the illusion that has been created since 2007 that the Zimbabwean currency issue was just a matter of adopting the South African Rand!

Given the facts I have outlined here, how does one explain the fake prominence given the story of June 6 2019 by the editor of The Financial Gazette? – ‘It’s time to adopt the Rand – Experts’. 

The explanation is one of class bias.  

The owners of the paper or the editor or both belong to the minority class of people who have privileged access to foreign currency and have enjoyed that access especially since 2009. For this minority, the creation of a national currency and relegation of all foreign currencies to the foreign currency reserve would reduce this class to the same status as the rest of society.  

So this minority is committed to undermining 

confidence in the idea of a national currency.

Separating three positions on the currency issue

It is significant to note that former Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa’s statements that his Ministry did not plan to issue a national currency in the foreseeable future was made on December 19 2013 in the House of Assembly and, before that, at a pre-budget consultative conference in Victoria Falls.  

The statements were not made in Muzarabani, Nyamandlovu, Mwenezi or Tamandayi.  

Denial of the urgency of national currency is an urban elite position.  

It is also significant that while the same elites mouth the slogan that agriculture is the backbone of the economy, none of the arguments against a national currency has been presented from the perspective of agriculture and food security as a sector. 

Likewise, MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s utterance that: “The problem that Zimbabwe faces is not currency, its politics,” was made in Harare on June 11 2019!

But from the bipartisan euphoria which greeted Minister Chinamasa’s announcement against a national currency return in Parliament on December 19 2013, it is possible to identify three positions on the issue:

  • There are the saboteurs and sanction-mongers whose political parties invited the illegal sanctions and the financial warfare which destroyed the Zim-dollar. For these people, abolishing the national currency or delaying its creation suits their agenda of ‘tongai tione’ or ‘you can rig elections but you can’t rig the economy!’ The fact that some of these saboteurs also benefit from the absence of a national currency and from reliance on the US dollar is an added factor. The key point for this group is that the absence of a national currency helps to further the objectives of the illegal sanctions, including the defeat of Zimbabwe’s land revolution. Denying peasants any meaningful liquidity is a way of enforcing external sanctions internally. 
  • There are those who opposed sanctions and oppose sabotage but are nevertheless reaping huge benefits from the replacement of the national currency by the reserve currency, the US dollar. This explains why the issue of indefinite postponement of the national currency was raised only at Victoria Falls and the House of Assembly but not at Mudzi, Mwenezi or Rusitu. Urban elites always had privileged access to foreign currency even during the Zim-dollar era. They have realised huge gains since the reserve currency replaced our national currency because this policy makes it easier to pretend that what is available to elites is accessible to everyone else when in fact it is not the case. In short, the current situation has increased the power of the elite to accumulate property and businesses from small people and small businesses at the expense of the national economy. Big companies with foreign credit are also buying up local companies which are totally squeezed by lack of liquidity. This is the fastest and cleanest way to defeat economic indigenisation and empowerment as well as to reverse the gains of the land revolution. So the greed of the second group coincides with and helps to boost the agenda of the saboteurs.

The third group is made up of those who know that the US dollar has never circulated widely enough or deep enough to lift this economy.  

They know that through the terror of economic warfare the povo have been forced to celebrate the era of US dollars which they do not have and will not have in adequate amounts to engage in meaningful business.

But this third group also knows that the economy is the people.  

Therefore it cannot be an original discovery to find that industrial capacity has been declining due to lack of competitiveness and lack of demand.  

That demand is supposed to come from the people.  

The people in general lack access to the US dollar.  

The Frontline States that founded SADC were fully aware of this reality that the people are the economy way back during the apartheid era.  

The precursor of SADC was the Southern African Development Coordinating Committee (SADCC).

Professor Carol B. Thompson at that time, for instance, wrote a book called Harvests Under Fire: Regional Cooperation for Food Security in Southern Africa, which had a section on ‘Agro-Industry’ as part of the food security strategy of the then SADCC.  

There she reported that: “SADCC designed production for basic needs as the priority: food, clothing, housing, agricultural implements, fertilisers, chemicals… Even agricultural hand tools, like the hoe, are in short supply… Now, artisans in each country are encouraged to produce hand tools… Local workshops are being established to train artisans in metal work and woodwork, to build tools and to repair them. SADCC is therefore interested in developing tractors for local conditions, promoting complementarity of production.” 

This was written before the ESAP disaster which began in 1990 and was followed by illegal sanctions.  

Polytechnics and technical colleges are now there and producing artisans who have all the skills and potential to unleash an agro-industrial revolution after the revolution in land tenure.  

But they cannot trade with one another or pay one another because of lack of their own money.  

They must wait for the US Treasury and the US Federal Reserve to engage in ‘quantitative easing’ (money printing) in order to trade in products of their own creation which contain no foreign components whatsoever!  

That is not empowering.  

It is neither ‘democracy’ nor human rights.  

It borders on genocide.

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