Saturday, 7 July 2007

Crackdown: When Dell’s March ides does not come

Crackdown: When Dell’s March ides does not come

IN Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar", a soothsayer warns the main character, Julius Caesar, to "beware of the ides of March". The haughty Caesar is dismissive and takes no heed. Upon arrival of the ides of March, the imperious Caesar mocks the soothsayer by reminding him but "the ides of March is come".

To which the soothsayer retorts by warning: "but not gone". Soon after, Caesar meets his last, betrayed by those closest to his trust. Maybe the British, the Americans and their local men are now too angry for metaphors.

They have gone literal with their inveterate antagonist, President Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) party. Literally, their plot to oust the ruling party was timed for the March 11, well within the time zone of the Shakespearian "ides of March". On that day, the MDC and its silent partners were marched into action, reliant more on Elizabethan faith in March auguries than on any foolproof political calculation, scheme or groundwork.

As events turned out, this turned out to be a real march into the slaughterhouse, with the auguries coming brutally true for villains, leaving free the supposed victim for whom the soothsayer had tolled the bell. In drama, this is called a reversal of fate, itself a good set-up for dramatic irony. President Mugabe and his Zanu (PF) showed an amazing capacity to turn the tables against their opponents, and to do so in ways that delivered lasting lessons.

None within the MDC camp dares the authorities anymore, which is why Pius Ncube, the parody of MDC's bravado, reminds one of a born-clown, made worse by a stealth abuse of celestial waters meant for the Eucharist. It is called giving a bad idea a holy man!

Finally pushing through shelves

Now the British-led MDC has now decided to execute its "mass action" and "final push" through supermarkets shelves, calculating shelves and tills are too inanimate to suffer any bodily bruises. And of course Pocock and Dell’s spooks were active, very active, in the arcane world of "white market".

The dollar collapsed, itself a presage to the anticipated collapse of the "odious Zanu (PF)". The transmission mechanism was clear and unfailing. As the dollar tumbled, prices rocketed inversely. A loud cheer from Dell. A smirk from Pocock. Learned laughter from earful Robertson, for now at long last, the finger was now on the elusive trigger, and the rest would follow and fall by domino.

Investing in political change

But there was a background and build-up to all this. Sometime in March this year, a friend working for a local subsidiary of a multinational in the manufacturing sector had intimated that instructions were coming from leading capitals, including London and America, urging local operations to gradually and imperceptibly slow down.

Or better still to simply close shop and hang in there for the good time to come. This was part of the business sector investment in "political change". So this has been going on quietly, leading to the tumult we have suffered in the past two weeks.

The enemy within

I will not waste time on the role of the MDC in all this. After all, MDC is a political minor playing the game of a greater evil. I choose to focus on elements outside of the MDC and often within ruling structures which are supposed at the very least to be indifferent but never to undermine the vision of Zanu (PF).

The much-publicized huge warehouse in which a massive assortment of basic goods was stockpiled provides me with an entry point for asking very uncomfortable questions. The warehouse was well stocked. It gave us images of an endless row of mega-tanks of cooking oil, standing solidly and confidently at attention, mocking Government and consumers alike.

These tanks sat smugly on very clean floors, cleaner than corridors of the Avenues Clinic. This was not a derelict warehouse; it was a well minded place, an establishment for a regular business in contraband. The image of abundance suggested unfailing supply lines walking one back to very productive factories specializing in fast moving goods (fmgs).

So many questions

Now, how the hell does a smalltime smuggler commandeer or build such stupendous stocks of cooking oil? How does such a huge stock get piled without official notice? The business in the warehouse, we were told, included repackaging this hoard of oil into small sachets tailored to fleece struggling households.

It means a huge workforce, literally a million pair of hands, all of them sneaking in and out of this establishment without drawing attention! Come on, give us a break. How does anyone who is nobody run such a massive smuggling and hoarding ring? And for so long while always getting away with it? An unhesitating finger points to very big interests, very big players. Pity the media; the story appears to have ended as it began.

Self-fulfilling soothsayers

More stories. Scenes involving angry owners of a well-known food outlet who simply threw away huge "pots" of dour in protest at price cuts on bread. Others who simply decided to mesh huge chunks of poke and beef meet into pet food, again in protest. A supermarket which took away to "safety" all its stock of mazoe before sending its staff to a rival supermarket nearby to buy out all stocks of the same product at controlled price, for resale in its own premises at the same controlled price to hoodwink the price crack force.

Black managers who vowed they would only reopen after a change of government. Business leaders who fawningly wrote to Government warning it against a huge economic crisis in the offing, but without revealing to the same Government of their own hand in the impending crisis. A clear case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I heard so many things, including the story of a white manufacturer of grain pest control powder who is threatening to flood the market with a substandard product to ruin the entire national harvest. I heard more.

Heard of a public relations official of a well-known food outlet who has given a succession twist to the whole price crackdown. It is not about prices, he argues; rather it is about dismantling the wherewithal of one faction, while propping the other. Now see how our bakeries stand upended in the ditch! A whole mesh of interests, a throng of actors, a rainbow of ugly colours.

Who is white, who is black?

I read, read a lot on this unfolding drama which Dell prays will cart Zanu (PF) into the dustbin of history. My eyes fall on a piece headlined "Mugabe’s (price) policies anger top cronies". Fraught with speculation, this ghost piece claims ruling party big-wigs so comfortably ensconced in the business of moving basics, are red-hot with anger, angry that this crackdown is ruining their business interests.

It connects neatly with the line this communication official of the food outlet was attempting to push through a financial weekly and the international media. I also a recall a clip capturing the interaction between the ministerial Taskforce and business interests meant to strike some understanding on the whole matter. The clip had many white people, presumably associated with big businesses, who had come to save their enterprises from the price whiplash. I also quickly recall an opportunity I had to attend an NEDPP meeting.

It did not have a single white face, much as it purported to represent business. You got a distinct impression from that NEDPP meeting the economy was now in the hands of, or at the very least management control of, blacks. Who were these white faces in the Ministerial Taskforce? Why were they not in the NEDPP meetings? Who were they representing? Or is the question on the other crowd? Who were those Africans at the NEDPP meeting representing? Which economy or economies are the two groups running to warrant a place in such crucial meetings? Of the two colours, which colour rules and runs local businesses? Which forum captured people behind policies that release or withhold goods I need to feed my family?

The puzzle of Pick and Pay

In the whirlpool of all these questions, I read further. Pick and Pay of South Africa were saying all their outlets trading as TM would comply with Government pricing policy, adding the margins of profit they were getting from Zimbabwe were just too high to last.

Even with the latest price cuts, they added, they would still make big money! I got confused, thoroughly confused. Pick and Pay went much further. They said they would be watching for opportunities for more takeovers from businesses that might fail in the current crackdown. Elsewhere in the world media I was reading the Zimbabwean economy had received its dispatching blow from its "mad" Government! In a matter of days, the economy will have collapsed, investors taking a gap!

Writing for business

Back home the weekly Financial Gazette staunchly registered its opposition to the crackdown, standing firmly on the side of business. It intemperately lashed out against Government, with opposition idioms. Nowhere was there mention of the povho! And the Independent? The same language of business.

The same language of opposition as if these editors daily cook from hampers from a generous business! Do they visit the supermarkets like we all do? Do their family trees have the poor? Or is it all about meeting the requirements of the job, in the process denying your own interests?

Simple picture no more

How does one read al this? Simply by recognizing that we have entered a decisive phase of a protracted struggle, itself showing new forms of class-based foci. There is something that is growing increasingly archaic about liberation wartime forms of collective action.

I want to make an uncomfortable point. During that very important phase of our struggle, we all were the black masses, mhomho yeZimbabwe. On the other side were settler colonialists, vasvetasimba vaikabva kuBiriteni. True, in between we had half-tones by way of collaborators, vatengesi nezvigananda. But the picture was much simpler, almost dichotomous.

Another country, another people

But twenty-seven years have since passed, and with it a redrawing of contours of affinities. In place of the shared dispossession and poverty which united and bolstered colour affinities, we have evolved and become variously propertied. We have picked up relationships, many of them across the dominant colour line.

Past foes have become friends, partners and even allies. Past comrades have become wretches to be kept at arms length. Or rivals in business. Or enemies in a mad fight for resources and purposeful influence. Or pilfers of overseas patronage so badly needed "to make it". Old boundaries are simply becoming stupid, embarrassing or uneconomic. New relations are needed, indeed are being forged. Twenty-seven years later, Zimbabwe is another country, Zimbabweans another people.

Another people defined by the class dynamic which the media hype on the succession bogey has done so much to hide. As never before, positions are being taken in relation to core questions of the economy and control of natural resources. Contestation on policy matters are taking very obvious forms, which is why the article quoted above and the activities of the public relations executive of that food chain is instructive. Once a niche is carved in the economy, the next challenge is to secure it, which is where the issue of governance and policies come in. I suppose that is the connection which the media has been missing between the economy and the so-called succession politics.

Securitising ill-gotten wealth

Why Gono’s monetary policies have courted so much hostility is simply because his insistence on playing to rules has made accumulation difficult. What is worse, his habit of changing currency unexpectedly has discounted the local currency unit as a safe store of value for this new class born out of ill-gotten pursuits.

The ironic result has been a run on the local dollar as this breed seeks to secure value through foreign currency and other forms of secure assets. This has made the "black market" so buouyant, with this new breed stashing foreign currency in readiness for succession battles they anticipate. But even that avenue is getting tighter and new avenues of making and storing value have to be found.

Hence the hoarding and black-marketing of basic goods, much to the detriment of the ordinary citizenry. And this is where the foreign and opposition dynamics come in. The British and the Americans have an interest in stoking the black market both for currency and goods to put pressure on Zanu (PF).

They thus find this mad bent of Zimbabwe's newly rich quite amenable to their subversive goals. Pocock and Dell have simply located their efforts on the bid by this new class of Zimbabwe’s rich to securitise the Mugabe and post-Mugabe era. This is why the definition of the problem and enemy has to be broader and more sophisticated. It should not surprise anyone to find new alliances simply not making much sense in terms of the broad demarcations of Anglo-Saxon versus Zimbabwe. Or Zanu (PF) versus MDC. Saka ndichiti iwe neni tichine basa. Icho!


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