Playing with fire?

  • Posted on: 20 August 2015
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

When Eldred Masunungure pointed out in 2004 that Zimbabweans were “risk averse” with respect to political participation, apart from voting in elections, one understood that this was a reasonable attitude to take when confronted with a “risk-taking” government. But one still wonders what will it take to change “risk” averse” into “risk-taking” when the events of the past year are thought about.

In the context of an economy disappearing down the toilet, life for the vast majority of Zimbabwean citizens becomes increasingly unbearable, and seemingly made worse by some totally incomprehensible decisions being made by the government.

Consider all the following and wonder how citizens might act in other SADC countries.

First, the government allows City Councils to begin a process of evicting informal traders from the centres of various cities and towns. Whatever the rationale, it is clear that informal traders operate there because large numbers of people work in towns and cities, commute in to work every day, and find it more convenient – given the complexities of public transport – to buy goods close to their work. Traders go to where the buyers are and not the reverse. As RAU pointed out, this is not in pursuit of vast income for the traders either. This clearly is not policy to win friends!

Next government decides to ban the sale of second-hand clothing, a major source of income for many informal traders. Ostensibly to support local industry, which must be a good thing on the face of it, but seems doubtful when the economy is in collapse, electricity supply erratic (which increases the costs of producing goods), and, anyhow, produces goods that ordinary impoverished Zimbabweans probably can’t afford – which is why they buy second-hands clothes in the first place. Again, not a policy to win friends!

Then, government does not intervene when companies seek to avoid large redundancy payments to workers that they want to lay off – because the economy is so bad. The courts rule that employers can invoke the Labour Act and lay off workers with three months’ pay, and the immediate effect is that workers get laid off by the score. Still wonder where the media reported figure of 20,000 laid off came from, but, whatever the number, more people destined for the informal sector. Again the policy, or lack of it until the Labour Act was amended, not designed to make friends of the citizenry, especially when government makes no attempt to downsize the bloated civil service, for whom everyone, whether formally or informally employed is paying!

And, then, government allows the demolition of so-called illegal structures, now making people homeless, a sort of trickle-down Operation Murambatsvina. This seemingly balanced by the crackdown on so-called “land barons”, presumably making it all right: land barons illegally allocate land, people “illegally” build homes, and thus the strategy is to resolve all the “illegality”. However, there has been so much press about the political connectedness of those “acquiring” land that it seems reasonable to assume that those that bought and built were relying on this connectedness. Hopefully, the promised court cases on the land barons will reveal the whole sorry story, and we will be able to judge whether the “illegal structures” were built by citizens on the basis of good faith or the expectation that political connectedness would protect them in any event.

But, look at the whole picture above, and a situation which impacts upon the poorest and most vulnerable members of Zimbabwean society. A very poor Zimbabwean citizen can lose his or her home, his or job, be stopped from working in the most profitable (for an informal trader) area, and be deprived of access to the most popular goods for trade. This might well be the cause of making a person very unhappy, but, more worrying, might be the cause of psychological disorder.

Tony Reeler 20.08.15

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