Interview By Moses Matenga
ZIMBABWE is in economic and political crises which are threatening peace, particularly ahead of the 2023 elections.
Observers say corruption and looting of public resources have reached alarming levels. NewsDay (ND) senior reporter Moses Matenga last week spoke to former Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa (PM), who shared his views on the Zimbabwean crises and the way forward.
ND: As someone who has worked in the banking sector and, of course, as the immediate past president of ZCTU, how best can you describe Zimbabwe’s economic performance?
PM: We are now under an exploitative and failing crony capitalism. The economy is tailspinning into chaotic scenes reminiscent of the 2008 economic crisis. Looting by government officials is spiralling out of control. These government officials are taking positions that protect their earnings and assets. The main indicators include the volatile exchange rate that has wiped out value for wage earners and pensioners. Inflation has been managed, but it is still out of control. There is low domestic aggregate demand, with most workers earning barely sufficient wages to enable them to buy food. It is now mainly diaspora remittances and incomes from informal jobs that are keeping the few manufacturers and retailers going. We are in a debt trap, and are failing to service our external debt which has ballooned to US$13,7 billion. Sadly, we have been acquiring more debts in opaque ways and without commensurate economic gain. It is clear we are staring at the 2008 situation.
ND: You are painting what seems like a negative picture of the state of affairs, but the government insists that the economy is on a recovery path, who is fooling who?
PM: That is self-serving propaganda that does not assist the nation. There must be indicators which show that the economy is recovering. Exchange rate, inflation and low incomes do not show an economy that is stabilising or on a recovery path. The managed exchange rate moved from 1:1 to now 1:106, while through propaganda the government wants people to believe that it is price discovery. On the real (parallel) market, the rate is now over $240 against the US dollar. The economy is self re-dollarising and the local currency is losing value. It can no longer be accepted as a medium of exchange or unit of account, and it is not possible to hold it as store of value. This is one instrument they have been projecting as a success. The country is failing to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).
Due to eroding confidence, FDI that had peaked to US$785 million in 2018, dropped to US$194 million by 2020. Half of the population is in extreme poverty — around 61% is food insecure. Our schools and hospitals are extremely underfunded and dependent on donors. We are witnessing serious brain drain and losing important human resources. We are in the middle of a migration crisis that only parallels movements from countries at war. So, what is informing the government leading it to conclude that there is economic recovery?
ND: In light of the numerous challenges you have outlined, what is the best way forward?
PM: Our solutions come from clear problem identification. We are now a failed State — a State that is failing to provide the security of its persons. The State is actually in most cases the violator of human rights. We have warlords controlling artisanal mining and perpetrating gross human rights violations. We are facing an unprecedented rise in armed robberies by serving security servicemen. The State is failing to provide public services. In terms of the economy, the ruling elite has mismanaged the economy and has thrown us in a worse off situation than we were in during (the late former President Robert) Mugabe regime.
The reasons for State’s failure are known. It is dictatorship. Dictatorship has led to political disputes because of violent and disputed electoral processes and results and has led to the subversion of the Constitution and rendered all the constitutional institutions and instruments dysfunctional. Many believe we do not have an independent Judiciary, prosecuting authority and police. Parliament is powerless and cannot protect the interests of citizens as it is whipped into line.
The Executive does as it pleases and is composed of cronies and clansmen. The first step in resolving the Zimbabwean crisis is, therefore, to end the military dictatorship and transition to democracy. All other solutions are hinged on transitioning from this mode of governance and require Zimbabweans to address this problem.
Citizens have no option, but to mobilise for collective action and the Constitution grants citizens such political rights. It is not simple, but through civic and political education and exposing the effects of dictatorship, citizens may agree on the necessity of the struggle.
ND: Given these developments, do you see 2023 providing an opportunity for citizens to usher in a new Zimbabwe given talk of lack of electoral reforms and the alleged uneven playing field?
PM: We need to stop taking elections as events and look at them as part of broad political processes. 2023 will depend a lot on how citizens have been participating in civic and political affairs. Unfortunately, we have less time left, but it is sufficient to turn around the direction of the country. In this regard, if we are determined, then 2023 will provide an opportunity for citizens to usher in change in Zimbabwe. It will not be easy or come on a silver platter as the dictator will fight tooth and nail. However, no repressive regime ever managed to prevent change when citizens were united and determined.
ND: Given that many human rights defenders and activists have faced brutality at the hands of State agents with many, including yourself, being arrested in the course of their work; do you think it will be easy for citizens to stand for their rights and against what you term dictatorship?
PM: I have suffered at the hands of the dictatorship. At one point I was poisoned. Many human rights defenders and activists face numerous dangers daily.
However, most of them selflessly continue to fight for democracy and social justice. The first thing we need to do is to know that we have no choice. Keeping quiet and being indifferent is suicidal and destroys generations to come.
The only choice we have is discharging this generational task of freeing ourselves from dictatorship. We must draw our courage from our heroes and heroines who stood for what was right against brutal colonial and apartheid regimes. For workers, our history tells us about Benjamin Burombo, Joshua Nkomo, Morgan Tsvangirai, Gibson Sibanda and others. We should emulate their courage and selflessness.
ND: Do you think regional partners and countries within the region have done enough on the Zimbabwean crisis?
PM: Zimbabwe is like a country at war. It appears the government is fighting an undeclared war against citizens. We are, therefore, experiencing a humanitarian crisis. This crisis has been ongoing for a long time and eventually is leading to bloody electoral violence and a military coup. Sadc and the African Union (AU) have not done enough to assist citizens to get reprieve or protection. Now the crisis is manifesting in many ways including a regional migration problem. About 89 000 citizens were arrested crossing into South Africa in one week. This shows how deep the crisis is now. Over 200 000 are facing deportation from South Africa, and this shows that we face a serious humanitarian crisis. So, we expect Sadc, AU and United Nations to engage in proactive international diplomacy to resolve the crises.