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close this book The Courier N°139 May- June 1993- Dossier: Factors and development - Country Reports: Trinidad and Tobago : Zimbabwe
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View the document Economic upheaval, political inertia
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Economic upheaval, political inertia

Zimbabwe is a country with many blessings: abundant natural resources, well-developed infrastructure, a farming sector which normally produces a healthy surplus for export, and a diversified manufacturing base. There is a constitution which provides for a multi-party democratic system, a free press and freedom of religion. The population is well educated and the country is at peace. Relations with neighbouring countries are, given the difficult circumstances in some of them, relatively good, and Zimbabwe holds a respected position in world affairs. Tourists are attracted in large numbers by its many natural beauties. Yet disillusionment among the people is widespread, the hopes of many seem to have taken a severe battering and some even say they are beginning to wonder what the country has to show at all for the policies of the last 13 years. What is going wrong?

Drought strikes

The first impression is that Mother Nature is partly to blame for this sense of malaise: last year she played one of her periodic dirty tricks on the whole of Southern Africa, with a drought worse than anything the region had experienced in living memory, and Zimbabwe suffered severely. The Minister of Agriculture, Kumbirai Kangai, describes the effects as devastating: the grain intake in some areas was completely wiped out, and the country produced only 12000 tonnes of maize in the year, as compared to a normal yield of 1.5 million tonnes. The cotton crop on which the country's substantial textile industry depends was insignificant, leaving both growers and manufacturers empty handed (about 45% of jobs in the textile industry have been lost as a direct result). Tobacco, a major foreign-exchange earner, surprisingly produced a record yield but the quality was low, so prices fell. With no crop and hence no income, many peasant farmers had nothing to feed their families on or to buy inputs with for the following season.

Reservoirs and some rivers dried up, for the first time ever in certain cases, so that water rationing had to be introduced and at one point it was even feared that the population of the second-largest city, Bulawayo, would have to be evacuated to rural areas in search of water. The Minister had to ban irrigation so that water stocks could be kept for humans and livestock. Even so, about 25% of the head of cattle were lost, depriving many small farmers of draught power to cultivate their land and transport their produce. As much of Zimbabwe's electricity supply is generated from hydroelectric power, there were also frequent power cuts to domestic and industrial consumers, to conserve energy. This had a particularly severe effect on the mining sector. Altogether, gross domestic product was some 11% down over the year as a result of the drought, according to World Bank figures, and the fall in manufacturing output is estimated at about 15%.

Rapid response

The Government acted very swiftly at the beginning of 1992 when the rains failed. The communal areas, the former tribal trust lands reserved to black peasant farmers, were the most at risk, since the only source of income for most farmers there is growing maize for sale to the parastatal Grain Marketing Board - and the areas are home to 60% of Zimbabwe's population. To avoid mass starvation when the country's grain reserves were almost exhausted in March last year, the Government set up machinery to import maize from the Americas. 'If we hadn't had that,' Mr Kangai says, 'what you saw in Somalia would have been nothing.' The imported maize, coming in at the rate of some 7000 tonnes a day, cost nearly twice as much as what the GMB usually paid Zimbabwean farmers for their crop, which put the price of maize meal up and made it necessary to subsidise the consumer price by about 45%; and in rural areas where farmers were destitute the Government supplied food free of charge. Cotton lint and wheat were also bought in from abroad. Where there were water shortages, boreholes had to be drilled and supplies ferried to villages, hospitals and clinics by tanker lorry, a very expensive operation. A pipeline was constructed to bring water to Bulawayo from a newly discovered aquifer 45 km away.

An urgent appeal for help was made to Zimbabwe's international donors, who rallied to the call. The European Community sent in some 80000 tonnes of food aid. These consignments and the purchased grain were distributed throughout the country by the Government, which also set up feeding pens and a breeding programme for livestock. Seed and fertiliser packs were supplied to peasant farmers in need so that they could plant for the next season. These efforts continued until the 1993 harvest came in at the beginning of April, and the Zimbabwe authorities have received commendation at home and abroad for the efficiency of their year-long drought recovery programme.

As for the future, the rains, providentially, have been good this year, alternating with sunshine to produce ideal conditions for growing tobacco and putting the main food crop, maize, well on the road to recovery. Some I million tonnes are expected to be delivered to the GMB this season, and Zimbabwe should return to its traditional self-sufficiency in food. Industries which depend heavily on agriculture will, of course, need more time to catch up, and the full effects of improved agricultural production are not expected to work through the economy for a least a year. All in all, then, although 1992 was a year of near-disaster for Zimbabwe's productive sectors, the patient is already back on his feet and should soon be walking at least as sturdily as before.

And yet there is still a climate of apathy and discontent in the country. It obviously cannot be ascribed to the hardships of the past year alone. So we must look further, to the wider economic and political context. And there is a case for going some way back.

The land question

When Zimbabwe achieved independence in 1980, the two wings of the then Patriotic Front, under their leaders Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo,won the country's first free elections on a platform which included a number of promises. Zimbabwe's ethnic groups, the Shona, the Ndebele, some smaller indigenous tribes and people of European descent, were to be reconciled and work together in partnership and harmony for the good of all. All racial segregation would end, and everyone was at last to enjoy the same access to health, education and social welfare facilities. The white minority's grip on the productive sectors of the economy was to be loosened. Above all, land was to be distributed more fairly, for the benefit of the black farming communties crammed into poor communal lands inherited from the colonial period. Of the 80 seats reserved for the black electorate in 1980 (20 were at the time reserved for whites), the nationalist parties, based on former guerrilla movements, led by Mr Mugabe and Mr Nkomo won 57 and 20 respectively. This represented a combined 87% of the vote in a turnout estimated at 94%, an unassailable mandate for carrying through the Patriotic Front's avowedly socialist programme.

Severe damage had been done to agriculture, health and education in the countryside during the war of independence, and the challenge was faced resolutely. Educational opportunities for blacks since independence have greatly increased, and considerable improvements have been made in social welfare provision. Legally entrenched racial discrimination has been swept away. But the major issue for all sections of the population and all ethnic groups has, many observers say, still not been effectively addressed: the question of who owns the land.

This is a very old story. In 1930 the British colonial administration passed a Land Apportionment Act which divided the country into two racially exclusive parts of roughly equal size. The vast bulk of the population, who were black, were given the half containing all the poorer farmland, including semi-arid areas from which only a subsistence living could be scratched. Whites were able to set up flourishing commercial farms on their fertile share of the land, which also had the better climate. As the white population inevitably became richer and black farmers poorer, blacks became increasingly dependent on whites for food and employment as cheap labour, which of course only accentuated the economic disparity between the two groups still further. The Land Tenure Act passed by the illegal secessionist regime of Ian Smith in 1969, shortly after it unilaterally declared independence from Britain, confirmed the economic (as well as political) subjection of the country's five million blacks to its 200 000-strong white minority. The Patriotic Front's programme at independence included pledges of rural resettlement to redress the balance, and the departure from Zimbabwe of half its white population in the first four years after independence cleared the way, in the most literal sense, for substantial resettlement of landless peasants on former commercial land.

There was an important restriction on the new government's freedom of movement, however. The Constitution for the new Zimbabwe agreed at the pre-independence talks at Lancaster House in London stipulated that the Government could acquire land compulsorily for resettlement up to 1990 only if it was underutilised; otherwise land could only be bought from willing sellers. The Government's first development plan envisaged resettling 162000 families by 1985, but the costs involved were such that only a quarter of the target figure was achieved. Subsequent legislation gave the Government greater influence over the price of land purchase and the right to repossess land held without freehold title. Last year the adoption of a land acquisition act greatly widened the scope for farmland purchase from commercial farmers by Government, but the act has not so far been used.

Whites dominate commercial farming

Meanwhile the number of white farmers has dropped from 6700 at independence to about 4000, but very few black farmers have penetrated the commercial sector. Overpopulation and soil erosion through overuse are making the hunger for land in the communal areas ever more acute, but the hard reality is that the country depends for its economic prosperity on efficient agriculture, which means agriculture conducted on a commercial scale on productive land with good rainfall by farmers with appropriate experience. Under these circumstances, no government would be keen to encourage the people who feed the growing urban population and fuel industry and trade to abandon their activity, whatever the claims of equity or ideology.

So white farmers still own half of Zimbabwe's farmland and wield the wealth and influence that go with it. Not all of these farmers have an equal holding, of course: one tenth of them hold three fifths of the commercial land. In fact half of all agricultural production in Zimbabwe comes from only ten per cent of the farms. Four fifths of agricultural production which goes on the market in the country comes from the largely white-owned commercial farms. Among black farmers, too, there are disparities: most of the marketed output from communal areas is produced by a minority in the Shona areas in the northeast.

Feelings run very high on this issue, and the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Kangai, says the Government has delayed implementing land redistribution under the new Act only because it has been too busy fighting the drought to do it at once. An interministerial team has toured the country with commercial farmers identifying underutilised, unutilised and derelict land for acquisition. 'Every business person in this country,' he says, 'including the farmers, are worried by population pressures in the communal areas. If the people there continue to live in the way they are living now, some day we will have a problem on our hands.' So from June 30 this year. c after the harvest, the Minister says the Government will be able to start acquiring land and resettling peasant farming families on it. But commercial land which is being farmed productively will remain in present (white) hands, and there are no plans to reduce the share of GDP accounted for by agriculture - quite the opposite, says the Minister: 'We would like to maximise this resource.'

There is also resentment among the majority population of the white domination of other sectors of the economy. For example, a Member of Parliament sitting for the ruling party, ZANU-PF, in a rural constituency, Lazarus Nzarayenbani, says: 'In this country the whole economic structure is controlled either by the multinational corporations or by white Zimbabweans - business people, industrialists or those who own the land - and really there is nothing for us at all.' Many of the largest firms in the country are subsidiaries of British or South African companies, while white residents own and control others. Bill Moore, the President of the very powerful Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries, CZI, is an expatriate Briton. State participation in enterprises has not been as extensive as the ruling party's original commitment to socialism had led its supporters to hope.

Socialism discarded

In fact that commitment has, in the last three years, been completely and very publicly dropped. The latest development in years of fluctuating economic policies and erratic performance was the switch from the official ideology of Marxism Leninism to free market capitalism in 1991. Like a number of African countries reeling from the effects of falling commodity prices, hefty debt payments and the cost of maintaining a bloated public sector, Zimbabwe had (in October 1990) agreed to apply an Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) at the prompting of the World Bank. The planned economy was to be discarded and markets liberalised progressively over five years to 1995.

There was loyal support for this about face within the ruling party, for example from Byron Hove, Member of Parliament for a heavily populated rural area in the south of the country. 'I am one of those,' he says, 'who celebrated from the rooftops the collapse of the centrally controlled economy under the guise of socialism. It brings about lethargy, corruption on an unprecendented scale, and generally it becomes impossible for the commercial sector, even the farming sector, to be motivated. Prices are not competitive or realistic. It's generally not conducive to development.' How these views were accomodated in the party before the change of policy is not easy to understand, unless the views of the rank and file were simply disregarded by its leading figures. At all events, in an interview elsewhere in this Report, Senior Minister Bernard Chidzero, seen as the chief architect of Zimbabwe's economic policies since independence, now says: 'We have accepted market forces. The ideological background is finished, in terms of socialism and so on.' Dr Chid zero's account of the state the country was in when the Governent decided to go for structural adjustment seems to suggest that it abandoned the ideology because socialism was simply not working. It had just been discredited, after all, in the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Europe.

Cynical commentators suggest that ZANU-PF's belief in socialist ideals may never have been very firm. Certainly, for a party claiming to represent the interests of peasants and workers, it is surprising that when consulting on ESAP before the programme was adopted, it turned not to the trade unions but to the employers to find out what they wanted. The Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Morgan Tsvangirai, says: 'One of the most serious omissions in the structural adjustment programme was the lack of wider consultations with various interst groups. Government tended to have this secretive approach, so what the trade unions tended to do was react to the programme rather than make inputs.' Industrialist Bill Moore of CZI, on the other hand, says his Confederation was consulted extensively before ESAP was put together and was in fact one of the main architects of the gradualist approach Zimbabwe has adopted. Nor was there any political need for lengthy discussion of the policy changeover in the National Assembly, in order to secure approval from the representatives of the people: ZANU-PF holds all but three of the 150 seats.

Structural reforms

At any rate the programme is now in place and making some headway, despite hold-ups owing to the drought. A consultative group meeting of Zimbabwe's 15 donor countries organised by the World Bank in Paris in December 1992 heard that overall progress with reforms had been reasonably good, and a review of progress is given in the interview with Dr Chidzero. At the same time, however, the effects of drought on agriculture, and hence on related industries and the general population, caused severe problems. Worker lay-offs, known in Zimbabwe as retrenchments, the loss of farmers' earnings and steep price rises, particularly on foodstuffs, led to a fall in consumer demand in 1992, so manufacturers had to reduce production and unemployment consequently rose.

The dangers of this for industry are spelled out by Bill Moore, who admits that companies set up to make import substitution products during the sanctions period produce inefficient, average quality goods and will have to adjust, but, as he puts it: 'Unless we're given a period of transition, where there's some degree of protection, then we are going to get a process of deindustrialisation, and that's the great fear of structural adjustment. In New Zealand, for example, they deindustrialised almost overnight.' He warns that to be competitive industries must reduce overmanning, and is highly critical of some of the parastatals, believing, for instance, that the Minerals Marketing Corporation, which has the exclusive right to handle sales of all minerals except gold, and the National Oil Company, which imports all oil and fuels (vital in a country with no oil of its own), isolate the producer from the market and perform no useful function at all. Industry is also suffering from high inflation, exacerbated by the devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar in September 1991, and the introduction of positive interest rates after a 30-year tradition of negative interest rates on loans to industry both before and after independence. If cuts in government spending were to keep pace with monetary policy, Mr Moore believes, matters would improve: 'No one would argue if Government was spending a lot of money on capital projects and increasing the wealth of the country from that point of view, but most of it's going on recurrent expenditure, and most of that is salaries.'

Workers' living standards fall

From the workers' side, Mr Tsvangirai of the unions concedes the point about parastatals but notes that 25% of Zimbabwe's labour force are unemployed and calls for government resources to be put into public works such as building health facilities and roads in rural areas, to create jobs there and keep people from drifting to the towns. The recent inflation rate of 47% and wage increases averaging only 15% have brought a dramatic drop in ordinary people's living standards and there is no proper social safety net to catch those suffering hardship as a result of ESAP. He sees the agricultural base as the key to the economic development machine and says investment should be concentrated on irrigation and water conservation schemes. Peasants, he says, work very hard if they are given the proper incentive - which brings us back to land redistribution: 'If we don't have a land reform programme in this country, politically it will be suicide.'

Mr Tsvangirai's views on land ownership are very strong. On a recent change in the law, whereby government ministers may now acquire land, he says: 'It is the most hypocritical position taken by the Government and the ruling party. I think it is the Achilles' heel of ZANU-PF. The people are now asking it: 'What did we fight for? Why did people die for independence? The whites still control the larger portion of the most productive land, and you have joined them to buy farms in the very same areas and we are still in the rural impoverished areas."

On the ownership of other assets, a characteristic view of those opposed to wholesale privatisation of parastatals comes from an anonymous commentator writing in The Herald, the main Harare daily newspaper, on 8 January this year, who said: 'Proponents of wholesale private ownership and privatisation of parastatals hide behind such terms as profitability and efficiency. Yet for the majority blacks there is the real issue of ownership here. (...) Blacks rightly or wrongly see an element of racism in the cacophony for privatisation which would transfer ownership mainly to one minority race of the community or to wholly-owned white companies outside the country. (...) The ZANU-PF Government will of necessity have to further open up the economy. It, however, has to do so with great caution. People did not support the struggle or die in it to give the country away to foreign multinationals.'

The picture that emerges is of public disappointment with a government that is seen as giving in too easily to pressure to part with assets it was thought of as holding in trust for the people. There is general unhappiness about a reform programme which seems to be hitting the poor hardest. Mr Nzarayenbani of the National Assembly says that the economic changes and inflation are causing his rural constituents severe hardships. 'There's no way they can buy basic foodstuffs,' he claims. 'And they are asking me: Is this what they fought for?'

Defending price rises

A defence of steep price rises which hit both industry and ordinary people comes from Dennis Norman, Energy and Transport Minister, who explains that because of abundant hydroelectric power from the Kariba Dam Zimbabwe used to have some of the cheapest electricity in Africa. Many big industrial complexes were actually established on that basis. However, looking to the future, Cabinet has approved plans for expanding into thermal power stations, to take advantage of the country's large reserves of coal and reduce dependence on unreliable rainfall. And, as Mr Norman puts it: 'You cannot go onto the international finance market and look for finance for projects of this scale and magnitude if you are going to subsidise the end consumer. When you can demonstrate to them that you are selling your energy at an economic price, then you can attract development money.' The adjustment required to consumer tariffs to make them reflect the actual costs of generation brought staggered increases of 25% in September last year and 41% in December, with another hike due in June.

The Electricity supply

Authority is, as a result, no longer losing money. But the citizen feels the impact directly in his pocket and does not feel grateful.

The Paris Club meeting in December, while urging structural reforms to make parastatals more efficient (and other measures to facilitate investment in general and expand exports without exacerbating the fiscal deficit), showed a concern for the difficulties people in Zimbabwe face while ESAP goes through. The World Bank's report for the meeting recommended that, to shield the poor and vulnerable groups more effectively, there should be continuing targeted food subsidies, expanded job-training and programmes to create employment in small-scale enterprises, faster processing of exemptions from school fees for the less well-off and a full scheme for providing free health care to the poor.

The fact that the World Bank drew the ' Government's attention to these needs i lends credibility to the claim by one of the Government's critics, Jonathan Moyo, in another article in this Report that it was the Washington body which originated the idea of a social dimension fund to accompany ESAP. With its overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, the ruling party is accused by some of overlooking those who voted for it when they most need help. Morgan Tsvangirai of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions sees a disturbing trend emerging: 'One can talk in terms of a shift towards removing the middle class into the lower class and the creation of two, not three, structures. That is dangerous, because without a middle class you can't have any development. People are being pushed down further, and that tends to create a lot of political tension.'

No rivals...

So it seems clear that ZANU-PF, after 13 years in power, first as the Shonadominated ZANU of Mr Mugabe and then in alliance with Mr Nkomo's Ndebele-led party, ZAPU, is at a very low ebb of popularity. Yet there is no serious rival for power on the horizon. Veteran politicians like Ian Smith and Ndabaningi Sithole still have followers but represent minute sectional interests; Mr Sithole's ZANU-Ndonga party has one ' seat in the House, Mr Smith none at all. i The remaining two seats are held by the Zimbabwe Unity Movement, but its leader Edgar Tekere (a former ZANUPF politican expelled in 1988 for criticising the party leadership) again has only a regional appeal in Manicaland along the Mozambican border. Despite separatist disturbances in Matabeleland, home to the Ndebele who are one fifth of the population, in the 1980s, since ZAPU merged with ZANU dissident former supporters of Vice-President Nkomo have had great difficulty organising, although they have recently announced the establishment of an opposition political party. No credible programme for dealing with national problems exists and, unless a new party emerges with such a programme, it seems likely that Zimbabwean politics will continue to be dominated by personalities, not policies. ZANU-PF itself contains some activists - Mr Hove and Mr Nzarayenbani, among others - who disagree with aspects of its policies and performance, yet still propose to stand for election under its banner in 1995.

In any case, as the Harare newspaper The Sunday Times pointed out in an unsigned article about the 1995 election prospects which it carried on 10 January, President Mugabe relies on the peasant farmers for support, not the educated urban class: 'As a refined tactician, he has learnt not to appeal to the intellectuals in his political campaigns because he knows that those who have the right quality of grey matter in their heads will find fault with most of his policies and his leadership style. (...) To win over Mugabe, opposition parties have to dislodge him from his territorial advantage - the rural areas. It will not be easy to convice them that the mentality of relying on handouts creates a dependency syndrome.'

... but little enthusiasm

The Government has indeed made a good job of ensuring the survival of the communal area populations over the difficult year of the drought, and can consequently hope to reap the rewards at the ballot box. But at the moment enthusiasm for politicians is extremely muted. The Foreign Minister, Nathan Shamuyarira, told The Courier he put some of the unpopularity down to the speed at which the country's international backers expected it to implement structural adjustment: 'Their pushing that it should be accelerated is a bit too hard. You can see the strain in the economy. We have done most of what was required by way of removing subsidies and removing regulations and liberalising and so forth, and that in the face of a drought which brought a lot of political opposition of people to us on that.' But the lack of a viable alternative has made most people apathetic. A sign of the times is that at two by-elections held in and near the capital at the beginning of April, ZANU-PF held both seats - on a turnout of 5.8% of registered voters at one and 4.4% at the other. Analysts are reported as saying the lack of interest was due to the widespread feeling among the voters that nothing they said would make any difference.

Robert ROWE