On what kind of road is Zim, and are we following in her footsteps? Or are we different, more complex, resilient, less easily taken, forwards evolving where Zim by now has retreated 500 years into past medievalism and still accelerating? By Cees Bruggemans
The Zim decades started off promising enough, but when people turned against their ruler they got a taste of the whip (North Korean brigades) and democratic voting mechanisms became rigged, meaning elitist kleptomaniacs took control.
Life hasn’t been quite the same these three decades for the overwhelming Zim majority, who had a choice of either decamping (mostly to SA, millions did) or submissively become subjugated to new masters.
With economic logic reduced to favouring the political elite, the rest of society was subjected to serial decades of devastation & plundering. Land grabs (1990s), hyperinflation (2000s) and $-pegging currency overvaluation forcing internal devaluation (the cost-cutting 2010s) destroyed many viable enterprises & much private wealth, except those well connected, the overpopulated civil service and anyone dealing in hard currency.
Those who resisted were taught lessons that made abundantly clear Ubuntu wasn’t the Zim way.
A country can be made to surrender its dwindling surpluses to keep a slinking elite in style, with the asset base allowed to decay (little upkeep) & the majority of people getting by on progressively less and less. This model only runs out of fuel when the last man standing finally topples. That can take awhile.
None of these events has of course destroyed the true inherent potential of Zim, neither its natural riches or the quality of its people, at least two million of which are currently enriching SA’s economy.
People, even leaders, don’t live forever. Their finale departure is presumably the moment to throw the switch. Provided the ruling clique doesn’t then hang on to power in a new guise, a real change in control may become possible, and a revitalisation may be observed, as ready capital & a longing diaspora pour back into their homeland.
But this is futuristic music. For now, it remains a funeral march, appropriately so, considering the aging leadership.
Some of what has been described here can also be observed in SA’s modern history. The initial start ain’t too bad, but then the self-enrichment starts, eventually gets serious and finally reaches epidemic proportions.
We haven’t completed this journey yet, but both corporate behaviour and the demands of up-and-coming political parties offer hints. So aside of our official policies stances, and their redistributive consequences and stagnation results, we have for instance the list of demands given by EFF marchers to the JSE team.
We then also have the observed behaviour of corporates, escalating outward migration (called globalization or internationalization), until foreign listings, foreign IPOs and foreign head offices make the break a reality, and local assets dwindle to a small stake that can be sacrificed and won’t be missed.
Both these tendencies are far advanced and in a race against time.
Yet we haven’t fully entered into the Zim spirit of the past three decades, so far keeping our redistribution efforts constitutionally “legal”.
Land grabs have yet to occur on any scale, but our macro institutions (Treasury & SARB) looked vulnerable after the firing of finance minister Nene last week. This impression was only partly corrected by a change of mind & reappointment of Gordhan. A certain amount of damage had been done, though, to credibility, with no guarantee our steady descent towards junk credit status has been reversed.
So overnight these macro institutions, for long our pride, are now less credible bulwarks against hyperinflation, and preventing thereafter the next silly thing of pegging against the strongest global currency, thereby inviting painful internal depreciation (forced lowering of costs or meekly accepting bankruptcy).
The ruling party is far gone, when it approvingly starts to publicly quote the ways of chairman Mao, history’s biggest slayer (an estimated 70 million deaths through famine & other misdeeds).
Perhaps more importantly, our population reportedly isn’t as meek as Zim’s. Pushback didn’t only happen here in the 1960s, 1970s & 1980s against the previous nationalists, and further back in time against imperialists. This tradition is being kept alive, witnessed in thousands of public service delivery protests annually. But especially at Marikana, the subsequent prolonged miner strikes, the etolling rebellion, marching against corruption, the student revolts, the Parliamentary slapstick, and now an epidemic of hashtags-must-fall campaigns.
And despite events of recent weeks, our public institutions haven’t all decayed, key ones remaining dedicated to preserving economic logic, preventing for instance hyperinflation.
But some of our fellow travelers possibly wouldn’t mind doing a Zim, provided there was space at the feeding trough.
The pushing & shoving is getting a little excitable at times. And it may get worse with every new turn of the election cycle, local in 2016, leadership tussles in 2017, and again nationally in 2019. Shrinking majorities would create their own desperation?
It is as yet far far from obvious as to which style will win out. Rigged kleptomania or constitutional democracy. In this respect we remain on the Zim road, if with push backs?
- Cees Bruggemans is an economist at Bruggemans & Associates
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