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Commercially insane

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I ran into a friend at the shops the other day. We were commiserating about the challenges of life here, and she said she’d been buoyed recently by two things she’d heard in Nigeria: 1) The state can always change, and 2) No one lives forever. I reckoned you know times are tough when you’re turning to Nigeria for inspiration. But her first observation in particular encouraged me a bit. Nothing is static. No state – be it a state of mind or a nation-state – is fixed in perpetuity.

The country is running short of food. In Bulawayo and its outskirts, the hunter-gatherer mode of survival is making a resurgence. Some months back, the government gave chiefs in the rural areas tractors, to help with the ploughing. Apparently, instead they’re being used as money spinners. Taking advantage of the lack of public transportation in many rural areas, the chiefs have converted the tractors as personal income generation schemes, ferrying people from place to place.

Last week I watched someone climb high into the branches of a pine tree, to knock the branches off with a metal rod, for firewood. He got up towards the top of the tree by climbing on the stumpy bits of branch left by others who had been there before him. As a recent IRIN News article pointed out, Rural living standards now apply in the capital. With the immediacy of the collapse around us, it felt insultingly quixotic to worry about the future of our trees. If power is out more often than its on, and gas is impossible to find, who can be blamed for hacking branches off live trees for some firewood for warmth, light and cooking?

Myself, I had a minor coup when I discovered candles in the shops, after long weeks of searching. I gleefully took my allotted two packets to the teller. When she asked how I was, I told her I was fantastic – I’d found candles. She laughed with me. Yes, now you have ZESA, she said, pointing at the blue packages.

Business has become the latest target of the Mugabe regime, and yet in the face of all of this, it remains reluctant to criticise or confront him directly. The Mail & Guardian recently leaked the contents of a meeting between business leaders and President Mugabe. In language reminiscent of the communiqués between the Commercial Farmers Union and the state at the time of the farm invasions, “business leaders plied Mugabe with accolades, saying his ‘contribution to Zimbabwe was without equal,’ that he was a ‘decisive’ leader and that ‘the country’ was responsible for the economic crisis by failing to meet his goals of ‘creating a prosperous society for all’.”

(Even to this day, the few remaining commercial farmers insist they are not “being defiant” by staying put – they are just waiting for legal process to take its course.)

The M&G quotes a confidential business briefing handed to Mugabe, and minutes taken by one of the 12-member business team that attended the meeting. It reports that, “not only did business refuse to blame the crisis on Mugabe, but it even took the extraordinary step of taking the blame itself: ‘When we look at how we as a nation have performed against the goal that you set for us, that is the goal to create a prosperous nation where the lives of all our people are uplifted, we can all clearly see that we have all let you down … this country, business and government, have let you down’,” the article quotes.

Like the commercial farmers, business obviously has its reasons for wanting to curry favour with the regime. It has chosen to propitiate, rather than prod. And it doubtless reasons that a placating, conciliatory tone might be more rewarding than standing firm and demanding what it needs to operate properly. But that strategy didn’t work seven years ago – what makes any of us think that the ineffective approaches of recent years are suddenly going to start delivering for us? What’s that definition of insanity again – doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result?

3 comments to “Commercially insane”

  1. Comment by Alphast:


    I believe that these people are simply very scared, so they just say what they believe is expected from them. They are scared because they don’t want to see their property stolen like the farmers were. They are scared because they don’t want to be beaten up or jailed by Mugabe’s bunch of thugs. But more importantly, they are counting. They know Mugabe is old and will soon be replaced. So they probably think that it is better to keep in good terms with whatever will remain of Mugabe’s party after he dies or leave, so that they can continue to use graft and corruption in the future regime. They are probably wrong in doing so, as you said. But it is a very typical mistake of business men. They usually have a very poor understanding of politics.

  2. Comment by ontheDownlow:

    It sounds like good old New South Africa, only the rich have to suffer along with the poor. If only the regional leaders will get their act together and start cooperating economically. The name of the game is self-reliance. Sadly, our greedy brown-nosed leadership, have sung the song that our savior has a pale skin and brings lank dollars and with him, on his back, the african renaissance. South Africa’s unemployment is already in the mid 40′s,even though our so called independence was GIVEN us only a bit more than ten years ago. Looks like in terms of pace of decline, we are years ahead of Zim.

  3. Comment by Taino:

    I agree with the comments made by the prior friends.

    Business men are just playing the game without any regards to the feelings and well being of the population.

    It is hard for me to believe that they praise Mr. Mugabe and blame themselves for the poor state of affairs. Once the becon of light has turned to the tunnel of darkness!

    My thoughts are with my brothers and sisters!