Opinion Joram Nyathi
Tendai Biti is a troubled man. Unfortunately his views mirror an alienated opposition movement in Zimbabwe leading many astray with its bauble of democracy and human rights. Last week he seized an opportunity during a public discussion organized by the Southern African Political and Economic Series to lament the intractable problems opposition leaders face and can’t solve because of disunity. But that lamentation also had a positive lesson: how lack of a shared national vision has degraded the quality of political contest in Africa and left the post-colonial state susceptible to foreign interference and manipulation.
Biti was rightly deplored for the morbid interpretation of President Mugabe’s slip up at Harare International Airport. People had become so hopeless that they prayed for a “piece of carpet” to liberate them from Mugabe’s rule, he said.
“The argument that Zimbabwe’s solution lies in the death of Mugabe does not cut it, we cannot put our fate in an individual, an old man for that matter,” said Biti.
His own solution was that the opposition should form “united and popular fronts” to “present an alternative policy position to that mediocre sobriquet called ZimAsset”.
It is not clear what problem his supporters believe Mugabe’s death will solve. If that problem is Zimbabwe’s economic recovery, then the whole Renewal Team is a lost cause. It explains why they can’t come up with a name for their party, indicating what they stand for.
President Mugabe was elected by those who support him and the economic agenda of his party. That agenda was subsequently reduced into an economic blueprint, the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset). This is an important matter to grasp because ZimAsset goes far beyond party politics in addition to encapsulating everything Zanu-PF and President Mugabe have stood for since the launch of the fast-track land reform in 2000.
It would be naïve for Biti and Renewal Team to posit that once Mugabe goes, Zanu-PF will recant all policies which the opposition has rejected. It is not about Biti and company putting their fate in the hands of an old man. There are people who voted. They voted for a cause, a party and a leader. A leader who has since been endorsed by Sadc and the AU.
Biti and his team are still negotiating “popular fronts”, searching for an “alternative policy position” to ZimAsset since their quarrel with Tsvangirai after the July 2013 electoral tsunami. There is no certainty that their quest will yield anything useful. The reason for failure is simple and in two parts. Ironically, it revolves around the fate of one Robert Mugabe.
First, the opposition has always staked its raison d’être on removing Zanu-PF and Mugabe from power. Second, they have failed because they have no “alternative policy position” to Zanu-PF’s land reform and black economic empowerment. Short of those brimming with malice, people appreciate that a revolution is fraught with challenges.
Zanu-PF policies have been embraced by Sadc and the AU as indicating a break from past forms of engagements with former colonial powers. Issues of value addition, product beneficiation and industrialisation are getting a new impetus from a man regarded by a majority of the down-trodden on the continent and beyond as a hero of the struggle for black economic emancipation. It is called breaking the mould.
Most African countries have been nominally independent for far longer than Zimbabwe and can see how government has gone about empowering its people instead of waiting in vain for the proverbial trickle-down of foreign investment while their natural resources are depleted everyday by multinational corporations.
As indicated earlier, Biti is not speaking for himself. He represents a view which should cause great national disquiet. It is our lack of a shared vision, a situation worsened by the fact that the MDC in its variegated manifestations – lacking a unifying, concrete programme of national empowerment – is wont to discredit everything associated with Zanu-PF. This is evident in the wholesale dismissal of “that mediocre sobriquet called ZimAsset”. This is extremely short-sighted for people still searching for an “alternative policy position”.
ZimAsset has become the cornerstone of Zimbabwe’s economic recovery. It encompasses all key Zanu-PF policies. Typical of any revolution, there are teething problems and those are not unique to Zimbabwe. More than that, in its range and scope, ZimAsset cannot be confined to the five-year period from 2013-18. That is to misunderstand what should be an executive performance checklist for any subsequent governments, with only differences of emphasis per stage.
The disquiet is this: there is something called continuity. That is why it is important to realise that ZimAsset can’t be a five-year project. This is a fundamental policy which has been embraced even by those nations the opposition believes we need for our recovery. The numerous European investment delegations coming to Zimbabwe bear testimony to this gradual acceptance. Biti’s dismissal of ZimAsset insinuates a desire for a complete policy rupture by a new government, that what Zanu-PF is doing is an aberration. That portends instability.
That perhaps is what worries potential investors when they ask for policy clarity and consistency. They want laws that guarantee security of their investment.
But to change a fundamental policy such as the land reform which has been defended by the courts simply to justify the fight against Zanu-PF is quintessential infantilism, like cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face. When a borrowed rage is not tempered by logic it becomes an outrage.
Why is the opposition in Zimbabwe obsessed with a nebulous, imported ideology of democracy and human rights without economic content, content which should be defined by Zimbabweans, not foreign investors? This is a fundamental point. It is what has guaranteed political stability in European democracies. Ownership of national resources and the national interest are settled concepts. Rival parties are agreed on the fundamental national question whether in the UK, US, France or Germany.
It is only in Zimbabwe where we have politicians and political parties disagreeing on the control and ownership of national resources allegedly because there is corruption and cronyism, peripheral issues which should be resolved within the broader context of control of national resources. Only in Zimbabwe is there honour in such a dishonourable debate. But voters have been very clear where they stand.
In that Sapes debate, Biti said “we can write degrees of Zanu-PF failures” and apparently gets kudos from my friend Vince Musewe for a stellar revelation that “our current living standards are comparable to 1958”. In his own manner, Musewe then dreams of “a wealthy indigenous apolitical capitalist class”.
These are the pitfalls of a borrowed rage.
While Biti enjoys a democratic right to write degrees on Zanu-PF’s failures, he should not act like a maverick and pretend that he lifted himself up by his own bootstraps. Whose economy are we talking about in 1958 when even the famous Machipisa brothers of Highfield did not own anything to write home about? How many blacks lived in town then to compare lifestyles with? Where did they live?
Nobody disputes that the Zanu-PF government has made blunders, and there are many. It is however hypocrisy to ignore the fact that the advent of black majority rule gave democracy economic content.
There were very few blacks living in the coveted northern suburbs in Harare and eastern suburbs in Bulawayo in 1980. Those were reserved for whites. In less than 20 years of Independence, blacks had taken over. The few whites who remain today have become no more than a touristic curiosity for kids. It was Zanu-PF which democratised property ownership and employment opportunities by opening professions such as law, accountancy, engineering and other sciences to blacks.
Thanks to those affirmative action policies, blacks today occupy high positions in multinational corporations. But because some of them are afraid to take control and want to be an “apolitical capitalist class”, they can’t grasp the full essence of economic empowerment.
It is disappointing that Musewe imagines the people who control Wall Street and the military-industrial-complex in America are an “apolitical class”. Worse, he seems blissfully unalarmed by the manufactured coincidence that all the regimes which have challenged American hegemony are also selected for condemnation by the Wall Street journal — Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. He would loathe the fact that some of America’s targeted regimes in Africa top the literacy rankings — Tunisia, Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe.
It is a human aberration only normalised in Africa that settlers who lose political power maintain a stranglehold on the economy. For all its blunders of execution, Zanu-PF has a vision most people can readily identify with; the possibility of black economic emancipation, not perpetual servitude.