THE bedrock of Zimbabwe’s multi-layered socio-economic crises is grand public sector corruption and mismanagement of the economy, but Zanu PF has found an excuse to hide its failure by claiming sanctions are behind the protracted economic crisis bedeviling the country.
On Tuesday, Sadc joined the Zimbabwean government to call for the lifting of sanctions, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration insist are hurting the economy, a narrative which was publicly challenged by the United States and British embassies in Harare, while the commemorations were taking place.
The majority of Zimbabweans are struggling to make ends meet and are struggling to put food on the table or access basic services like healthcare.
To mark the day, school children in many provinces were made to march to denounce sanctions, while in Harare protestors camped at the US embassy to register their displeasure over the sanctions.
A music gala was also held in Chitungwiza.
Sadc and the African Union added their voice to the calls to lift sanctions, joining China and Russia which also slammed the measures.
Protestors and Zimbabwe’s supporters however shied away from mentioning growing corruption and the mismanagement of the economy which have contributed immensely to the economic difficulties in the country.
Public sector corruption and policy inconsistency, for example, have over the years pushed away investors.
Just last week, Mnangagwa said corruption within government circles had reached alarming levels as some senior officials now deliberately deflate tyres of their new official vehicles, park them and use pool cars for five years to eventually buy them at book value – for a song.
Earlier on, Finance ministry permanent secretary George Guvamatanga had also said the procurement officers in some instances were inflating prices of goods by ridiculous amounts.
High-level corruption resulting in the loss of billions of dollars, with no corrective measures being taken, has become rife in government, while mineral leakages have become the order of the day.
In a report titled Zimbabwe’s Disappearing Gold: The Case of Mazowe and Penhalonga, the Centre for Natural Resources and Governance led by Farai Maguwu revealed that the country was losing three tonnes of gold monthly worth US$157 million through illicit siphoning by top and influential Zanu PF politicians and government officials, as well as their business cronies.
During a question-and-answer session in Parliament early this year, it emerged that government officials were clandestinely disposing of strategic entities such as mines and petroleum outlets without seeking parliamentary approval, in flagrant breach of the country’s constitution.
The Parliament of Zimbabwe found itself in the eye of a storm when leaked official communication revealed that it had awarded Blinart Investments (Private) Limited was awarded a tender to supply 173 laptops for a total of US$1 602 755.77, translating to US$9 200 per gadget. Mid-End Computers and Hardware Ltd clinched a tender to supply 79 desktops valued at US$3 000 each.
The tenders were later cancelled after a public outcry.
In the past, similar other controversial tenders were awarded to shadowy companies to construct roads, build dams, bridges and supply equipment. A US$60 million scandal, commonly known as Draxgate, led to the sacking of Health minister Obadiah Moyo. In many cases, dubious companies are paid in advance to provide services which they never deliver.
Responding to claims by the government that US sanctions are harming Zimbabwe’s economy and causing suffering, the embassy in Harare said:
“The direct impact of sanctions on the average Zimbabwean is minimal compared to the economic devastation caused by years of corruption, poor policy choices, and economic mismanagement.”
Earlier on, the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian A. Nichols had said: “Our targeted sanctions are not responsible for Zimbabwe falling tragically short of its potential. The fault lies in catastrophic mismanagement by those in power and the government’s abuse of its own citizens.”
The US Department of State sanctions coordinator James O’Brien also defended the embargos.
“We are not engaged in comprehensive efforts to close the Zimbabwean economy. We are not sanctioning banks. We are not stopping certain types of sanctions,” he said.
The US government has imposed sanctions on 73 individuals and 37 entities – 110 – out of nearly 16 million Zimbabweans. All have either undermined democracy, violated human rights, or facilitated corruption, the US embassy said.
The British embassy also said its sanctions do not affect economic growth in Zimbabwe as they are only targeted at five individuals – former State Security minister Owen Ncube; Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) Director-General Isaac Moyo; police Commissioner-General Godwin Matanga; former Presidential Guard commander Anseleem Sanyatwa and business mogul Kudakwashe Tagwirei.
The Zimbabwe Defence Industries is also under British sanctions and cannot buy weapons because of the Zimbabwean army’s propensity to commit human rights violations on defenceless citizens, like it did on 1 August 2018 when security forces killed six civilians and left several with gun-shot wounds in Harare streets.
Political analyst Stephen Chan concurred that the sanctions do not hurt the Zimbabwean economy.
“My longstanding view is that sanctions do not in themselves harm the Zimbabwean economy…” he said, adding: “However, they provide a perfect excuse for the
government to hide behind as it continues to mismanage the economy. The argument could be made that the presence of sanctions acts as a disincentive for investment into Zimbabwe.”
“But many other countries attract signs of political disapproval but still attract investment if they have working economies that can absorb investment and promise returns on investment. Right now, Zimbabwe simply is not an attractive destination for investment because the structure of the economy simply is not promising for guaranteed returns.”
Opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change senior member David Coltart also said the sanctions mantra by Zanu PF is “false”.
“The sanctions narrative of Zanu PF is overwhelmingly false – as is most of their propaganda. Sanctions (such as they are) serve them very well because they are a useful scapegoat and also distract leaders in the region,” he said.
Political analyst Rasweat Mukundu described the anti-sanctions clamour as a convenient excuse by Zanu PF for economic mismanagement.
“If the Zimbabwean government is serious about seeing the sanctions lifted, then they cannot continue with arbitrary arrests of political activists without cause and harassing opposition supporters. We feel the sanctions are now being used by Zanu PF to continue with looting and gross corruption,” he said.