Zimbabwe Overview (Africa Report n°33 – August-Sept 2011)

 

Holding Hands as Region Gets Tough

 

The country is waiting for change and internationally acceptable elections. But so much has to be agreed, it could be at least a year before voters can go to the polls. A lot can happen in the meantime.

 

Surrealism reigns in Zimbabwe’s political life. Ostensibly there is a coalition government committed to pushing through radical constitutional reforms and holding credible elections. There is apower-sharing cabinet whose members boast more doctorales and masters’ degrees than their European counterparts, and somme have run substantial companies.

 

On the face of it, the new managers have pulled the economy back from the brink. Hardy investors are alighting on the Great Dyke, a mineral-rich band running between Harare and Bulawayo, which holds some of the most valuable reserves of platinum, gold, silver, chromium and nickel in the world. Don’t forget Zimbabwe’s armed forces, once in demand as UN peacekeepers for their reputation of being among the most disciplined and best trained in the developing world.

 

Yet a glance at the morning newspaper headlines – there are now three independent dailies competing with the state-owned Herald – and meetings with a few politicians and business types is enough to convince a visitor that the country is heading for more political convulsion.

 

Four days after The Africa Report interviewed trade and industry minister Welshman Ncube in early July, police arrested him and two other cabinet ministers, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and Moses Mzila Ndlovu, on their way back from a meeting in Victoria Falls. Another two dozen membres of Ncube’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-N) party were held in the same swoop.

 

This followed the arrest in June of energy minister Elton Mangoma, a member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T faction, on spurious charges of fraud that had already been thrown out by the High Court. A few days earlier, police had arrested Jameson Timba, minister of state in Tsvangirai’s office, for making disrespectful remarks about 87-year-old president Robert Mugabe.

 

Tsvangirai, who has received several police beatings including an attempt to hurl him out of the window of a Harare skyscraper, is still singled out as a « national security threat » by senior officers such as Brigadier Douglas Nyikayaramba and ZANU-PF politburo member Jonathan Moyo.

 

For all this, Tsvangirai and Ncube show an almost eerie forbearance tords the slings and arrows of the current political contest. After Brig Nyikayaramba accused Tsvangirai of threatening national security because of suspect relations with western politicians, Tsvangirai told The Africa Report: « Why should it concern me …? How do you get a tirranking arma brigadier making a statement like that? He’s acting outside thé law, he’s acting outside the policy. »

 

Both Tsvangirai and Ncube, who differ on tactical issues, are wedded to constitutionalism and are prepared to play a long game. They see the intensified political harassment as a bid to push the MDC to quit the coalition and trigger an election. ZANU-PF tacticians know that they cannot walk out and be taken seriously by the other States in the Southern African Development Community(SADC).

 

To facilitate dialogue between the MDC and ZANU-PF, SADC officiais have made it clear that any élections held before key reforms are agree would lack legitimacy in the region and with the African Union (AU). Without those reforms being implemented and agreed by all parties, SADC and the AU will not send observer missions to validate the elections. That has changed political calculations in Harare.

 

« The SADC is exasperated and exhausted and fed up with us, there can be no doubt about that; they say it to our face, » said Ncube. « They have plainly said they don’t want Zimbabwe to be an issue after the next elections, whenever they are held. »

 

Timing of the elections is critical. Publicly, the two sides – ZANU-PF and the MDC- look irreconcilable. ZANU-PF’s secretary for information, Rugare Gumbo, said on 14 July that thé party was determined to push ahead with elections. « The politburo [policy-making body of ZANU-PF] is unanimous that elections should be held this year. [Patrick] Chinamasa gave us a report on the election roadmap, taking us through the time frames. »

 

This reiterated the position of the generals and former spin doctor Jonathan Moyo, who accuses the MDC of playing a double game and fearing defeat in early polls. « Tsvangirai and his MDC faction cannot be an opposition and a ruling party at the same time. The fact that MDC-T and its leader continue to use opposition tactics while they are in government clearly shows that they are inherently subversive and should be treated as such, » he said.

 

Moyo, whose peregrinations from. arch critic of ZANU-PF to its hyper-loyal tribune are legendary, bas been a close ally of defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa since 2005 when the two were linked to the Tsholotsho plot against Vice-President Joice Mujuru. Now Moyo and Mnangagwa haave coalesced around a securocrat faction within ZANU-PF, arguing that the party’s best chance of holding onto power is an early election.

 

That explains the current élection fever in Harare, with ZANU-PF talking about holding primary elections to select MPs and stepping up criticisme of the MDC’s record in The Herald and other state-owned media.

 

Politicking is also heating up in the countryside, where most voters live. War veterans’ champion Jabulani Sibanda has been running a violent campaign to drive out MDC supporters from the key province of Masvingo. Sibanda’s tactics have been so rough that some local ZANU-PF supporters asked him to leave, fearing his campaign would damage the party.

 

Ncube says the MDC and others have long seen the Zimbabwe Defence Force as the armed wing of ZANU-PF and have to judge how seriously to treat this push for an early election. The securocrats, accordingto Ncube, are saying to Mugabe: « We can win it for you if we have an election now. » Everyone recalls the horrors during the second round of the presidential election in June 2008 when the army, thée police and allied militias persecuted MDC supporters until Tsvangirai eventually withdrew from the polls.

 

Current levels of political violence are way below the 2008 crisis says Ncube. « In 2008 you had a country under siege, literally at war. As a journalist you could be arrested any time, party activists were disappearing and being killed on a weekly basis, so there is absolutely no comparison. »

 

The climate has entirely changed with the power-sharing government, insist Ncube and Tsvangirai. Cabinet meetings are generally constructive, dealing with substantive issues not rhetoric, and there is a surprising degre of agreement, they say.

 

MDC activists campaign almohade everywhere and their leaders are freely quoted in the growing indépendant press. The fact that an MDC finance minister, Tendai Biti, largely controls the government’s purse strings has helped change the balance of power.

 

Most critically, there are the negotiations over the roadmap for the planning of the next elections. The MDC factions and the ZANU-PF negotiating team, led by minister of justice and legal affairs Patrick Chinamasa, are working through a detailed list of tasks which include consultations on constitutional reform, holding a referendum, reforming the électoral and media commissions, compiling a new electoral register and passing new electoral laws.

 

Alongside, there will be more delicate and private discussion about transitional arrangements: senior military figures will demand garantes of security if there is to be a credible election and real possibility of a change of government. Accordingly, Ncube and Tsvangirai argue that elections cannot be held before mid-2012 atthe earliest. All sides accept that any plan has to win the endorsement of régional leaders due to meet in Luanda in August. Since a SADC meeting in Livingstone in March criticised ZANU-PF’s footdragging on political and constitutional reform, the pace of negotiations has quickened.

 

Chinamasa is struggling to convinsse his hard-line colleagues that holding elections this year would lose them régional and international support. That is the new reality facing Zimbabwe’s politicians, one that holds out the best hope of credible élections and the beginning of a sustained économic revival in a country that should be one of Africa’s brightest stars.

 

P. Smith & F. Chikowore, Harare

 

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Positive Economic Thinking

 

It takes robust optimism for a coalition government to launch an économic development plan with a timeline stretching to 2015 when half its ministers are agitating for fresh elections within weeks.

 

Yet the US$9.2bn médium-term plan was launched on 7 July, a glorious mid-winter’s day at Harare’s conférence centre, with économic planning minister Tapiwa Mashakada explaining to the assembled diplomats, civil servants and business people how the government was going to finance the plan with a mix of loans, tax revenues and foreign investment.

 

The 24-page plan – sporting a préface from President Robert Mugabe and a foreword from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai – is itself a model of optimism with its targets of 7% annual GDP growth, a 6% increase in new jobs each year and inflation in single figures. All was designed to convey the impression of consensus on economic matters between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF ministres and their MDC counterparts.

 

Such harmony doesn’t exist but several ZANU-PF ministres have a grudging respect for MDC finance ministre Tendai Biti, who has reversed the economie freefall. Within six months of taking office, he eut inflation of some 500bn% a year to 3-4% a year after suspending use of the Zimbabwe dollar in favour of the South African rand and US dollar. Biti forecasts the economy will grow at around 9% this year, but has warned that the government needs another $500m to finance the plane budget of $2.7bn, which includes substantial pay hikes for the country’s 200,000 civil servants.

 

A team from the IMF visiting Zimbabwe in March reinforced concerns about state revenue shortfalls and a build-up of payment arrears, although the economy is benefiting from. historically high commodity price and subsidised loans. The IMF economists called for « expenditure measures » – aka spending cuts – although accepted the need for the government to concentrate on social welfare and infrastructure investment.

 

P.S.

 

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Politics goes underground

 

A fight to control the Marange diamond reserves takes centre stage in a sector that should – once up and running – hâve a serious role to play in sustaining Zimbabwe’s recovery.

 

As political touchstones go, disputes over the Marange diamond reserves and plans to indigenise the mining sector have become the new ‘land grab’ issues. In both cases, Preident Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF is facing off his western critics, with Prime Minister Morgani Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratiec Change (MDC) stuck uneasily on middle ground.

 

Zimbabwe’s opposition politicians and international anti-corruption activistes claim the Marange mine, Under heavy army security, is being run as a ZANU-PF fiefdom. The MDC says new rules demanding that at least 51% of mining operations should be indigenously owned have to be carefully managed, lest they frighten away tentative investors.

 

According to ZANU-PF, those who seek to ban the country’s exports of rough diamonds and oppose indigénisation plans are ‘western-backed saboteurs’ wanting to impose more sanctions. For mining activists, the deployment of soldiers to the Marange fields and violence against informai miners mean those gemstones should be classed as « blood diamonds ». Last year, legitimate diamond exports earned just $30m for the state treasury, that industrie sources say should be the monthly, not annual total.

 

Mines minister and ZANU-PF loyalist Obert Mpofu wants to boost production, but dismisses calls for more controls on Marange: « We have been monitored and certified compliant. What is there to monitor on a compliant mine? » he asks. In June, Mpofu adresse the Kimberley Process board, which sets international rules for équitable diamond production and is cure-ongles under the chairmanship of Mathieu Yamba from the Democratiec Republic of Congo. Despite protests from civic groups, the meeting autorise Zimbabwe to restart rough diamond exports from Marange.

 

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told The Africa Report thtat Marange had huge potential, if the companies could move from alluvial mining (on the surface) to more sustainable deep mining. He raised concerns about the transparaître of contracts awarded to companies, especially a company he linked to China’s People’s Liberation Army.

 

« You cannot stand and say everything is spick and span… there’s an underhand story about the level of what is being mined, the level of exports, » said Tsvangirai, choosing his words carefully. « It’s a bit suspicious to what extent the army and the police were involved, but now I think there is a much more orderly way of mining and I think to a greater extent it’s in compliance with the Kimberley process. »

 

Gold and platinum mining companies responded quickly to the new mining rules introduced after the powersharing government was launched in February 2009 and exports from mining operations produced some 65% of foreign exchange earnings in 2010.

 

Last year the mining sector grew at over 20%, mainly due to the doubling of production by platinum miners Zimplats and Mimosa. Anglo American said its new Unki plant would be producing 65,000 ounces of platinum a year by 2013. Also expanding is Kazakhstan’s ENRC which has a 60% stage in the Bokai platinum project.

 

Harstening the potential. Holding some 3% of wordwide chrome and platinum production, together with 2% of asbestos, lithium and palladium, Zimbabwe’s mining revenues are critical to its economic recovery plans. Currently, agriculture remains far more important than mining as a driver of the economy and provider of jobs. That could change if the government realises ambitious plans to step up local processing and refining operations.

Gold producer Mwana Africa, Under the energetic leadership of Kaala Mpinga, has long talked up Zimbabwe’s potential and is raising finance to boost producton at Bindura Nickel, in which it has amajority stake. Zimasco, majority owned by China’s Sinosteel, alreadyproduces 200,000tn a year of ferrochrome and plans further expansion.

Plans to revive production at the Hwange colliery will hugely boost manufacturing and the wider economy. A financing package involving South Africa’s IDC and the Development Bank of Southern Africa aims to increase production from current levels of around 50% of capacity to doser to 100%, that is about near the 6m tonnes a year it produced in the 1990s. First, Hwange must resolve its disputes over the colourful British businessman, Nicholas van Hoogstraten, an alla of President Robert Mugabe’s who was gaoled for ordering a grenade attack on a rival businessman. As the tortuous political negotiations with SADC drag on, the resuscitation of Hwange could showcase the more tangible effëcts of regional cooperation.

 

Patrick Smith, Harare 

 

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New farmers look for certainty

 

Small-scale farmers are producing bumper crops, but they need commercial financing and security of tenure if they are to improuve results dramatically.

 

Lack of long-term finance and political uncertainties are holding back the new generation of farmers that emerged from President Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land respectivement programmes. Most of the arguments about those reforms – President Mugabe and bis supporters insisted they were addressing the consequences of a colonial land grab – have been consigned to history.

 

All the parties in the power-sharing government – ZANU-PF and the two MDC factions – want to find a way to build on the steady improvement in farm production over the past three years and the rising importance of small-scale black farmers.

 

Tobacco harvests doubled to 125m kg from 2009-2010, although that is still way under the peak of 200m kg in the 1990s. The Zimbabwe Tobacco Association represents just 130 white commercial farmers, yet some 51,000 smallscale black farmers produced just over 40% of the tobacco harvest last year.

 

There has been a similar revival of maize production. After droughts in the early 1990s, production fell to 1.52m tonnes in 1999 from 2.6m tonnes in 1996. Amid the political ructions of land reform, maize production fell further to 0.7m tonnes as hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans went hungry.

 

But last year maize production was up to 1.3m tonnes and this year production is forecast to exceed 1.5m tonnes. Likewise, sugar production slumped by 75% a décade ago but recovered last year to reach 350,000 tonnes.

 

Yet the new farmers could do much better if the government carried out promised land audits, and banks recognised their 99-year leases as a form of collateral that would enable farmers to borrow for capital investments.

 

In Doma, 180km north-west of Harare, new farmer Wilbert Mushonga employs 45 people (up from 10 a decade ago) on farmland that was parcelled out to him in 2001. Mushonga wants the governmentto finance far ming because bankers are reluctant to help.

 

« Capital injection is a big challenge as most banks are reluctant to fend our farming operations They argue that the 99-year leases we were given by government are not bankable, » Mushonga told The Africa Report as he inspected his winter wheat crop.

 

Despite the financial frustrations, Mushonga has soldiered on: he once had to sell his cars and a house to sus tain his farm. Now the farm has tractors as well as a combine-harvester.

 

Mushonga’s 2,000ha farm, one of thousands seized from about 4,500 white commercial farmers, is one of the few productive farms under the 99-year leases. About 400 white commercial farmers have remained on tir farms, according to the Commercial Farmers Union.

 

Although Mushonga has raised enough money to invest in his own farm, other new farmers such as Tendai Nhare are struggling. Nhare was allocated a farm in Musengezi, a few kilometres from President Mugabe’s rural home in Zvimba, about 80km west of the capital. « We have no money to pay for workers’ salaries because when we settled here we had no savings. It was a political issue, » says Nhare.

 

« Some [farmers] got tractors during the government’s farm-mecanisation programme, but the majority of us did not get anything. We appeal to authorities to ensure that we have access to those implements if we are to make any meaningful contribution to the growth of the economy. »

 

Economist John Robertson says the country could regain its pre-land reform status as the »breadbasket of southern Africa » if farms redistributed under land reform programme are put to good use. « There has not been any meaningful production in the country’s farms since 2000, and this has had a negative impact on the country’s économique growth which relies heavily on agriculture, » says Robertson.

 

Apart from distributing farmland to the black majority, the government should ensure that new landowners can get access to credit. Nhare criticises government for pegging producer prices for maize and tobacco, arguing it is holding down productivity.

 

« Why does the government set producer prices for us? » he asks. « Assuming those prices were fair, the input costs with current prices means we canot break even. » The state-run Grain Marketing Board still regulates the price of maize. Nhare adds that there is a growing shortage of labour on farms as the owners cut back operations due to a lack of bank finance.

 

Silas Hungwe, president of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, which represents mainly black farmers, reiterates concerns about finance and the security of the new leases: « There is a need for a credit facility to be accessible to new farmers. And there has to be security of tenure, because most of the people who were reseter are not able to improve the land they occupied, mainly because they were not sure whether they would be on the farms permanently. »

 

Hungwe says a shortage of expérience agricultural extension-service workers is also holding back production in the newly resettled farms, as many growers lack the necessary technical skills.

 

In its latest economic blueprint – the five-year Zimbabwe Medium Term Plan 2011-2015 – launched on 7 July, the government said agriculture should contribute between 15-18% of GDP. MDC members of the government want to « rationalise the land reform process » by finalising the land audit and the issue of title deeds.

 

« The problem that we have in agriculture, »says finance minister Tendai Biti, « is that people do not have security of tenure. It is a fallacy to think that government can finance agriculture on its own: the burden of financing also relies on the private sector. »

 

In June, land resettlement ministre Herbert Murerwa threatened new farmers with eviction from their allocated properties if they did not produce effectively. Some farmers dismissed such comments as « conter-revolutionary ».

 

Politicians such as Biti want to see a comprehensive audit performed, which would both expose some of the inequities in land reform, and also help establish a credible land tenure System that would « unlock land value and facilitate investment ». Those politicians from ZANU-PF who have unfairly benedicted from land reform have so far managed to delay the audit, but an independant tabulation of legal land holdings will be essential if Zimbabwe’s farmers are to access the investment and finance they critically need.

 

Franck Chikowore, Harare

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