Zim panic: Letter to Minister Chombo

We see you have been trying to scare the economy back into shape. Stop. It never works.

On Sunday, after a day of panic buying in the shops, you released a statement written in the finger-wagging tradition of most Government statements over the past two decades.

You begin:

“The Ministry of Home Affairs’ attention has been drawn to a sudden spate of irresponsible press and social media reports falsely claiming that there is chaos in the currency markets that has precipitated widespread panic buying of basic commodities due to their alleged shortage or skyrocketing prices.”

And then you go on:

“Of grave concern to the ministry is that these reports have all the trappings of a politically coordinated criminal agenda by some well-known renegades and malcontents who now seek to disturb the peace in the country to cause alarm and despondency in pursuit of an alleged political programme.”

You say that “the running thread of these hyperbolic press and social media reports was their propaganda that the country had suddenly slipped back to the hyperinflationary days of 2008”.

You then warn that all this scaremongering is a “punishable” criminal offence. You then wagged your finger at social media and the press, saying that you are monitoring us with a view to “deal a telling blow.”

You then end with an ominous “everyone should thus be guided accordingly”.

These are scary words coming from the man in charge of the police, especially those as handcuff-happy as ours.

You just don’t get it.

People have reason to panic. And the reason is the actions and inaction, past and present, of the Government.

First, Zimbabweans have been through economic hell, and memories are still fresh. Secondly, and more worryingly, nobody appears to be in charge over there in Government.

Threats have never solved any economic crisis, anywhere. We have seen this here. We remember 2007 and the arrests of businesspeople to enforce damaging price controls. We remember these same terms being used; from “unscrupulous businessmen” to “economic saboteurs”, and from “malcontents” to “renegades”.

We recall Obert Mpofu’s inspectors raiding shops and arresting people, but never arresting inflation.

We remember the 5,000 arrests made that year, including those of executives of large corporates; Willard Zireva of OK Zimbabwe, Zed Koudanaris of Innscor, Adam Esat of Edgars, and Robin Parlou, a Spar franchise owner.

Did all this action resolve anything? Did it bring down prices? No. It cleaned shop shelves of goods and warehouses of inventory. Worst of all, it created a sense of panic and siege that has lingered to this day.

Yes, some gained much in those years of hyperinflation. For instance, some Ministers even used that time to accumulate vast properties, as one suspects you might be aware. But, for most Zimbabweans, this was a time that they lost everything. They lost their pensions, life savings, and some even lost the lives of loved ones. Many had to start over.

So, when they see signs of that era, please don’t tell them not to panic.

They remember when Barclays could not issue money at ATMs due to what it called “data overflow”, really a fancy term for too many numbers. Or the cruelly polite notice at Spar, which said “for your convenience, just multiply all the prices by 1,000,000”. They lost their dignity and chased after food delivery trucks. They changed diets entirely. They ate bulgur.

And you know, Minister, what makes them panic more? It is not the memory of the crisis alone. It is the fact that nobody seems to be taking charge.

We would panic less were we slightly confident that someone, at least one of you, actually had a plan. But there is nobody showing leadership on the economy over there. We have seen your rallies. We have been entertained by the cussing, the slogans, and the open fights for power. But we have heard nothing on the economy.

And so we panic, because we have long realised that we are on our own. Nobody, except ourselves, is looking out for us.

You want another example? The economy is in trouble, and yet the two men who are supposed to be in charge of it both have, over recent days, refused to take responsibility. First, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, in an interview with Capitalk FM, said he would not take responsibility.

Just days later, central bank governor John Mangudya is quoted saying he has done just about everything he can do, and it’s up to the Government now.

In any case, we already knew these two men were token place holders, didn’t we? Each time Chinamasa has tried to take some responsibility, he has been embarrassed at your rallies. We have seen Mangudya lose the verve he had when he took the job. It’s all beyond him.

We know Cabinet agreed to cut off youth officers from the Government salary roll. Yet, at a rally, the youths were told to stay put. The 3,000 youth officers, who do not do any work, will cost taxpayers $22 million per year. Each month, $1.8 million is spent to pay them.

The speculation and rumour mongering we have seen over the past week is wrong. However, this is what happens when there is a total collapse in a people’s confidence in their Government’s economic management.

Threats to social media users, the press, or any Zimbabwean are pointless. Can this “telling blow” you are threatening to deliver on Zimbabweans please be dealt on this crisis instead, please?

No threats can restore Zimbabweans’ confidence. The economy cannot be frightened into recovery. Nobody revives an economy by wagging a finger at it. If threats, arrests, and finger wagging grew economies, Zimbabwe would be a global economic superpower. We have had an oversupply of those.

Only good policies revive economies. And, as long as people do not see signs of such good policies, please allow them to panic.

To quote you, please be guided accordingly.

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