Zimbabweans only see problems while others see opportunities


On a recent trip to Harare, I sat next to a South African businessman. He was into trucks. When I asked him if he expected any business in Zimbabwe because I thought a lot of people had bought trucks as a hedge against inflation prior to the formation of the inclusive government in 2009, he was quite frank. There was plenty of business because there was massive expansion in Zimbabwe especially in mining. “Everyone is coming in, the Russians, Europeans, Americans,” he churned out the countries coming back to Zimbabwe so fluently that you could have thought that he was reading from a script.

The 6.30am flight from Johannesburg was almost full but there were only five blacks. Apart from myself, I think they were all businesspeople trying to get to Harare before 8.30, do their business and return that same evening. I was not a businessman but that was exactly why I had chosen that flight. I wanted to attend some meetings and be back in Johannesburg the same day.

When I told my cousin about this conversation and the type of passengers on the flight, he confirmed my thoughts. This was the unreported side of Zimbabwe. While most Zimbabweans, particularly politicians and the media, spent their time squabbling about when the next elections will be held, whether or not to hold the elections in the first place, how long Mugabe is going to last since he seems to be in and out of hospital of late, or whether Tsvangirai is presidential material, or even the indigenisation law that is supposedly scaring away investors, my cousin said serious investors were quietly flocking into the country.

“The first thing they ask you is: Where are the business opportunities,” he said. “They are very frank. They tell you they are not interested in the Mugabe – Tsvangirai squabbles. So while we are seeing problems everywhere and whining all the time, they are seeing opportunities.”

Their gathering point is the five-star, world class Meikles Hotel. Though occupancy rates are still low, estimated at 40 percent, this is already above the hotel’s break-even point. Imara Capital analysts say the hotel’s break-even point is occupancy of between 30 and 35 percent. The hotel says 85 percent of its business is from foreigners.

Mukoma muno muri kutambwa tsoro. Muri kuitwa mari,” my cousin said implying that games were being played in Zimbabwe. “There is money in this country and people are scrambling to come in while we are squabbling over petty issues. The more I think of it, the more I want to curse our media, especially the so-called independent media, because it seems this media is being used to sidetrack us from the main issue – the economy and who is getting what. Muchipota muchidzoka otherwise munowana vapedza kugovana nyika.

You must come home frequently to monitor what is happening otherwise you will find that the country has been parcelled out to foreigners, he warned me.

This reminded me of what had happened in South Africa, according to author Robert Gumede. The single pillar on which the African National Congress’s economic policy rested prior to its coming to power was nationalisation, he says. “In his first public address after being released from prison Nelson Mandela chilled the white hearts with his affirmation that nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable.”

That was then. What happened is now history. All Gumede says is that the ANC won political independence but was trumped on the economy. What was even worse was that “when the dust of the negotiations and the election settled it became clear that despite all the overtures and compromises, the ANC did not enjoy the confidence of local or international business”.

To me, this was a stark reminder of what was happening in Zimbabwe. The winning Movement for Democratic Change had been under the impression that when they came to power billions would pour into the country but Finance Minister Tendai Biti had to admit that he had the worst job in the world because no one seemed to understand him. The West showered him with praise for his sterling performance, but that was that. No money.

Money is quietly coming into the country though, not to or through the government. People, some of whom are at the forefront of bashing the country for lack of basic human rights, lack of rule of law, and what not, are quietly investing in Zimbabwe.

My cousin says one strong critic of Zimbabwe even complained after he had been recalled to his country that his bosses were daft. “I stuck it out here when there was no sugar, no mealie meal, no fuel. I stuck it out when the Zimbabwe dollar was worthless. Now that people are earning real money, these buggers want me back. That’s a No No,” the critic is said to have told my cousin.

I was baffled. Here was someone whose daily bread depended on bashing Zimbabwe but he did not want to leave the country to go to a first world country? My GOD. What did he see that we Zimbabweans did not see?

This reminded me of a Wikileaks cable where several think-tanks met in London to discuss Zimbabwe. They said that while they understood by Britain was so interested in Zimbabwe, because it was its former colonial master, they could not understand why the United States was so interested in the country?

“Zimbabwe should/will remain a priority for the UK for historical reasons, but the USG’s focus is “surprising,” as it is largely a contained crisis that should be treated as a regional issue,” the cable says.

Indeed, this is a question Zimbabweans must ask, because the US is never interested in a country unless it has strategic interests in that country. The US has not only imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe but it has set up an entire radio station broadcasting in all the three official languages of Zimbabwe-English, Shona and Ndebele. Why?

Zimbabweans also remind me of the story of Joshua and Caleb in the bible. They were the only ones who insisted that the Israelites should go to Canaan, the land of milk and honey, despite the obstacles. Their colleagues, who had gone on a scouting trip with them, only saw giants who were going to crush them:

  • “They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land. They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”
  • “ Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
  • “But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
  • “That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
  • “ Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
  • “ But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the tent of meeting to all the Israelites. The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

How long will it take us to realise that Zimbabwe is the land of milk and honey and that is why everyone, except us, is clamouring for a piece of our land?


Don't be shellfish... Please SHAREShare on google
Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print

Like it? Share with your friends!

Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *