Saturday, August 2

How ‘Salarygate’ poisoned reputations: Part 2

Former State Enterprises and Parastatals Minister Gorden Moyo
A crisis can happen to any organisation at any time and it can shatter a reputation that has been painstakingly built over years.
It is the preparedness that makes all the difference. Experts suggest that strategy should address reputation weaknesses through evolution not revolution.
Last week we examined how the crisis known as “Salarygate” in Zimbabwe negatively affected organisations whose CEOs were named and shamed in corporate scandals that had to do with what the media exposed as outrageous salaries paid to the same.
The chief executive officers (CEOs) of State enterprises such as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the Premier Service Medical Aid Society and a host of other organisations were among those implicated.
They were then suspended to make way for investigations to create a secondary crisis. The third crisis was the paralysis of the boards in the absence of the suspended CEOs in acting to try and cushion their organisations from the negative effects of the scandals.
The apparent indecision by the boards and management and their propensity to lie low and wait for the next government ministerial statement on what to do next made things worse.
In the absence of an approved crisis management strategy, the worst that any organisation is tempted to do in such a situation is to maintain a vow of silence. This is enforced as a gag order issued under executive duress and usually going against the wise counsel of public relations experts.
Organisations under siege may think that this is the safest thing to do. It’s based on the assumption that silence will keep them below the media radar. This is in the hope that this would buy them time and hopefully all the undue attention will eventually go away.
Unfortunately, it’s the opposite that usually prevails as stories stocked by unofficial sources rage in the media and the organisation’s name continues to be dragged in the mud, popping up in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
There is the urgent need for the affected organisation to act promptly, decisively and truthfully to salvage its image and reputation. No matter what the crisis is, whether political or non-political, the organisation has to tell its side of the story.
In a situation where the CEO has been taken out of the picture through suspension as in this case, the next person in the line of authority or the board are expected to take over the reins. The counsel of the public relations expert becomes critical at this point.
The board or the second in command should assume the lead in rescuing and managing reputation in the absence of the CEO. The reason being that the organisation and its employees remain and continue operating long after the CEO, and indeed, the crisis are long gone.
Leaders should employ all the resources at their disposal to tackle crises or manage issues that can shatter their reputations for a long time to come. The nature of the new digital news order with its 24-hour news cycle demand that CEOs and their organisations shift from being reactive to proactive.
The conventional wisdom on how parastatals operate is that they are under the oversight of government, it being the sole shareholder.
However, the same government oversight has been seen to have been eroded over time allowing the elements that led to salarygate to manifest.
Former Minister of State Enterprises and Parastals, Gorden Moyo, stated that the temptation to personalise State assets becomes very great when accountability is eroded by political patronage.
“They are about the economy of the party, jobs for the party, funding for the party and resources for the party,” Moyo lamented on the state of parastals in Zimbabwe.
Parastatals or state enterprises are still accountable to all their stakeholders besides government.
And these stakeholders hold certain perceptions about the organisation based on actions, words and behaviour. Hiding behind the coat tails of government has only made things worse.
The organisations’ leadership may not be sensitive enough to the perceptions that are out there. It might also seem too much to demand that management grow their organisations into enterprises whose values represent those sought by their stakeholders. These are expectations that are common in the civilised world.
Enterprises need to communicate messages founded on truth and fact. Messages that must be measured by their ability to change or enhance perceptions held by stakeholders towards the enterprise and their brand.
Perception is reality to stakeholders until they are convinced to believe otherwise.
The salarygate saga exposed the leadership of affected State enterprises as ill-prepared to handle crises.
Lenox Mhlanga is a communications and media consultant as well as an accredited trainer. He can be contacted at lenoxmhlanga@gmail.com

Also read:
http://nehandaradio.com/2014/02/23/mugabe-lacks-guts-deal-salarygate/

How ‘Salarygate’ poisoned reputations Part One

WHEN the news of what is now known as “salarygate” broke out in the Zimbabwean media, there was shock and outrage right across all levels of society.
Yet what seemed to escape the attention of many was the untold damage the revelations were doing to the reputations of the organisations headed by the chief executives accused of alleged impropriety.

The scandals had to do with allegations of chief executive officers (CEOs) of parastatals and State enterprises being awarded “outrageous” salaries and perks against a background of negative balance sheets, dysfunctional service delivery and employees going without pay for months on end.
Without doubt, “salarygate” has been the most catastrophic crisis to negatively impact on the reputation of statutory bodies since independence in 1980.
Fed by social media networks, the 24-hour news cycle and wide mobile phone coverage, the media frenzy raged like a veld fire showing how it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage people’s perceptions about organisations and their performance.
Granted that the majority of these organisations are State enterprises, it did not surprise anyone that the scandals hogged the limelight receiving front page treatment, and that the “culprits” deserved whatever was coming to them.
From a public relations point of view, most of the affected public corporations have failed the basic test of crisis management.
This is by maintaining a vow of silence or simply going underground in the face of intense media scrutiny hoping that it would eventually go away.
Not while the media are stocking the fire.
A media consultant has put it this way: “You can’t hide your face when your bare behind is exposed for all to see.”
He was referring to the classic ostrich “head in the sand” defensive poise.
“The fundamental mistake that these organisations were making was in hoping that the scrutiny would go away if they remained below the radar,” he said.
Some organisations fail to appreciate that how they behave, act and respond to the crisis at hand as individual entities impacts on their reputations. Any moves to hide from scrutiny translates into culpability in the perceptions of many.
There is no safety in numbers in such cases. Ultimately, the kind of behaviour that matters is how each entity manages the crisis.
This actually matters more than the crisis itself.
Corporate reputation provides the most credible assurance to consumers that their products or services are desirable and safe. And yet a reputation that has been built over years can be destroyed in one fell swoop in a crisis.
According to Balmeri, reputation is the enduring perception held of an organisation by an individual, group or network that forms a collective system of beliefs and opinions that influence people’s actions with regards an organisation.
Corporate reputation is arguably the most valuable asset entrusted by the shareholders and board to the CEO and the management team. It is thus worth protecting.
According to reputation expert Charles Fombrum, building a good reputation relies on reliability, responsibility, credibility and trustworthiness that contribute to creating a good culture.
From an operational perspective, the CEO as head is the face of the organisation. If he is found guilty of any misdemeanour, it goes without saying that this is bound to negatively affect its image and reputation. This depends on how visible he is.
Martha Stewart was the identity, heart and soul of her organisation. When she was convicted of insider trading in 2008, the share index of Martha Stewart Inc. took a severe knock.
That was until the organisation forced a Caesarian section that effectively separated the battered image of the embattled CEO and that of her company.
The public’s perception of the whole organisation, along with that of other stakeholders, is affected by the blunders or the impropriety of its CEO.
The entire image of the organisation rests with the CEO and the way he represents it to stakeholders through the media.
Conversely, the way the media portrays the CEO has a positive or negative impact on his organisation’s reputation.
In an ideal situation, the CEO and his organisation should be well equipped and trained to tackle any crisis — particularly one that is generated by the media.
However, in the case of Salarygate, we had, and still have, what strategic planners call a worst case scenario, a situation where a crisis evolved out of another crisis.
Next week we examine what these crises were and how the leadership of the affected
organisations could have handled them.
A crisis can happen to any organisation at any time and it can shatter a reputation that has been built over time. It is the preparedness that makes all the difference. Experts suggest that strategy should address reputation weaknesses through evolution not revolution.

Lenox Mhlanga is a commmunications and media consultant.    lenoxmhlanga@gmail.com

Also read:     http://nehandaradio.com/2014/02/23/mugabe-lacks-guts-deal-salarygate/

Monday, September 9

No news is good news

Judging by the casual glance at today's papers, it seems there is no news of significance except excluding The Herald who are in a class of their own in incredulity. I won't even post their link here for you to judge because it would be patently embarrasing.

Sunday, August 18

The Revolution eats its children

The Last Straw by Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga (Published in Southern Eye www.southerneye.co.zw)

When I was offered to write a column for this paper, I was not hard up to think of a title. The Last Straw seemed appropriate and it still is today, and unwittingly so. To my detractors, and there are busloads of them, it smacks of regime change mentality. Since I tend to wear my political sentiments on my sleeve so to speak it shouldn’t surprise anyone which political direction I tend to drift.

I am be turning half a century in age but which might suggest that I am old fashioned, but believe me I am forward looking. At university we used to chant the slogan forward ever, backward never! We were your textbook revolutionaries, heavily schooled in Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba and Thomas Sankara, certainly not Mao. It did not take long for us to realise that that the revolution, had indeed lost its way.

Student demonstrations
The student demos of the mid 80’s were against corruption and conspicuous consumption. We felt we had a duty to speak for our parents in Tsholotsho, Muzarabani, Gokwe, Matshetsheni, Dema, Gutu, Marange and many other places. Parents who had sold bags of maize, groundnuts and cotton to send us to university. We had to speak out for they could not see the avarice that was unfolding in the city.

The people they had elected were doing them a great disservice, abusing the taxes by lining their pockets and those of their cronies. We were fed up by what we saw. Mansions springing up in the elite suburbs just a stone’s throw away from campus, and shiny Mercedes Benz that zipped past us while we walked to and from college in the blistering sun.

And yet throughout the countryside our parents and relatives wallowed in poverty and they still do to this day. Made to feed on empty political slogans each time an election loomed on the horizon yet back to business unusual when the promises and threats had died down. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Initially the student demos were pro-government. We still had faith in the system, that it would somehow correct itself. But that soon became a pipe dream as impunity reigned supreme. The mantra of a one-party state rang louder and soon it became apparent that the revolution was in danger of regression.

Student politics are by nature a function of the prevailing environment. Students, by their nature verbose in discourse and energetic in deeds. Some of us, with the gift of the poison pen took our struggle to the manuscripts. Focus Magazine became a platform from where in-depth analysis and the somewhat acidic censure of the system took root.

It was no wonder it was proscribed by the university authorities, not once but several times. Its financial sources were blocked and distribution channels chocked. Yes, the writings of Tinoziva Bere, Moetsabi Titus Moetsabi, Laxton Tendai Biti, Lawrence Tshuma, Trevor Ncube, Tawana Kupe, and the cartoons of Lenox Mhlanga among others had become a threat to the establishment.

I was reduced to pasting my caricatures on the door of my room in New Complex One. A name more appropriate for a factory than an academic residence. In fact they were, factories that unwittingly manufactured dissent. Student activism had taken a turn for the worst. The state panicked, and unleashed its machinery onto campus.

The entry of the riot police onto what we considered to be the hallowed ground of academic freedom was a
Students flee campus after invation
signal that intolerance would be the default setting of the system from then on. The taunts the paramilitary endured about their level of education was just a contract of the frustrations that had been pent up over a long time. The cops took it personally and they became willing tools of the kind of brutality that has become so synonymous with anything resembling crowd control. The revolution was eating its own children.

That a political movement would emerge from this was just a matter of time. Generations of student leaders had been put through the paces on campus, sharpening skills of debate, speech, negotiation and evading tear gas and rubber truncheons. The bitterness was palpable and the bravery sometimes bordered on suicidal.

There was bound to be a spill-over. The student leaders graduated and entered society at large. Still full of pent up emotions and lofty ideals. Some became unemployable because of their ‘dangerous and poisonous’ ideals. I was labelled rebellious at my first port of employment and promptly transferred to a frustratingly boring backwater. I am sure there are many who suffered the same fate.


It only served to add fuel to the fire burning inside us. The result was more dissent in various forms, some of which resulted the foundation of present day opposition politics. It was an outlet and an attempt at a lasting solution to a revolution that had convoluted its founding ideals. We have indeed come a long way, and the journey to a brighter future seems longer still.

Thursday, November 8

From the Diaspora into the frying pan

People thought that I has stopped contributing to my column in New Zimbabwe.com due in no small part to the howling critics that populate the comments section of that blog. We they were probably right. While trying to gauge my popularity, I made the mistake of perusing the opinions of the enlightened hordes whose singular preoccupation is to vent their spleen at anything that they disagree with. I was crushed.

Was I so vain by thinking that the world is full of nice people? I have never come across such a bunch of angry people anywhere. If we were to tap the negative vibes some of them generate, we are sure to get rid of the national power deficit at the flick of a switch. No need for the Chinese to construct their environmentally unfriendly power stations.

That reality check may have lasted this long, but there were extenuating factors that added to the enforced hiatus. I have discovered that if I were to allow myself to be controlled by someone else, then I would surely die of the misery some of our colleagues in the Diaspora suffer from. Please note that I said ‘some’. That is a heavily qualified statement lest the critics find fodder with which to construct their case.

Criticism is fine and welcome as long as it is constructive. So I won’t be Zanu PFish about it and settle for the gag or worse still…  Anyway, having rediscovered the fact that there are people out there who have chosen to be mean, I can also confirm that life can be unfair, sometimes. These two points were confirmed by my rather acrimonious exit from the land of the Batswana.

Botswana immigration office in Francistown
My exit from the land of the Khama was both acrimonious and embarrassing. I am bitter at the way I was treated by the authorities of that country, particularly the immigration section. For months on end, I found myself an unwilling client at their stuffy offices in Francistown as I sought to obtain a permit to operate my consultancy. I find it exceedingly embarrassing for a potential investor in both cash and kind to be queuing for service with aspiring maids and perspiring farm boys and girls. I am being realistic here and not pompous in any way.

 I now realise the utter stupidity to exercise patience in order for one to be insulted and be called a ‘Mokwerekwere’ which for the unititiated means 'a foreigner.'

It took Botswana authorities the best part of six months to deny me an investor’s permit with the claim that my business was ‘not viable.’ I will not bore you with the details, save to confirm what Zimbabweans have always known ukuthi abantu laba kabasithandi! (The Batswana don't like us.)

From the arid verges of the Kgalagadi desert, I returned home to Bulawayo in August to discover a city more dead than a cemetery in the North Pole. The first thing you hear when arriving back home from the Diaspora is to head north. That statement alone is very loaded. It tells you in the least number of words possible that the south of the country is dead economically unless you are into gold panning. Secondly, it points to where the money is to be made.

Bambazonke
So before my feet could touch the ground, I was off to the capital city, Harare, the bane of devolutionists. Those who know me well are privy to my opinions about this cosmopolitan Gomorrah. It’s a city that is so full of itself – kuwonererwa – to use the local parlance. Yet people there are under no pretence about why they are there – to make money and lots of it where possible.

So why blame me of all people, stripped to the bare bones and without a plan, for joining the money making trail to bambazonke? Admittedly, Harare takes on an enduring allure when dollar signs are embellished around its reputation for grabbing all that comes its way. If the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, then why shouldn’t Mohammed go to the mountain?

Taking the cheapest steel-clad camel available, carrying the barest minimum in luggage, I found myself heading north to what my clansmen fondly refer to as eButshabi. The journey reminded me of the stark reality that is my beloved country Zimbabwe. Not that I regret being back home, far from it. It’s that there are some things that remain the same.

As we negotiated our way through no less than 20 roadblocks, I had a brilliant idea. Why can’t police checkpoints be declared a national heritage? That would turn them into tourist attractions in advance of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly to be hosted next year. We would make a killing.

Another stark reminder was the dingy state of the cities of Kadoma and Chegutu. If rumours of the dualisation of the highway are true, then these are two eyesores the new development can gladly bypass. Perhaps the only positive thing I observed on that journey which was littered with the sight of abandoned and unproductive commercial farms, was the fact that the road itself was being fixed.

If there is one thing that gives an impression that things are indeed looking up, it’s the sight of heavy construction equipment and the smell of fresh asphalt. And also that all the food outlets, except those in Kadoma and Chegutu of course, looked neat, no chance of one catching cholera or typhoid there!

Arriving in Harare was a shock. There seems to be more cars than people and all of them are rushing somewhere. Granted that Harare has always been associated with speed, and coming from a leisurely paced country like Botswana one finds the existence in the capital hair raising. I was swept by the tide when I got there and I just had to hang on to my hat.

As I shook off the effects of my ‘Themba comes to the city’ experience, I soon got into the scheme of things. Wheeling and dealing is the pulse of Harare. Decision makers meet the shady characters downtown. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which is which. The story of survival in bambazonke is one for another day. At this juncture all I can say is, with a hint of sarcasm, it’s good to be back home.

Pause for Thought: Domestos is a locally available brand of toilet cleaner. They are being touted as the official sponsors of the World Toilet Summit. My son Bongani wonders what will be discussed at a world toilet summit. Food for thought!

Saturday, April 21

Police roadblocks are a pain

The carnage on Zimbabwe’s roads hit the headlines once again and true to form the statistics were nothing short of scary. However, sure to steal the thunder from road fatalities were the number of road blocks on the highways. As Zimbabweans in the nearby diaspora travelled home for the long holiday, they did so in fear and trepidation, not of carjacking or thugs, but of the police.

Cartoon in NewsDay
They ran the gauntlet of an average of one roadblock for every twenty kilometres. From Plumtree border post to Bulawayo we ran into no less than 5 roadblocks and that is a stretch of 100 kilometres. If the Minister of Finance Tendai Biti’s claims are anything to go by motorists on a normal day have encountered 18 roadblocks between Harare and Bulawayo and 9 between Harare and Marondera. Seven roadblocks in the Highlands-Chisipite area alone! We leave the Beitbridge to Bulawayo or Harare highway to your own imagination.

It is well understood that towards the holidays it has become necessary for the police to conduct special operations as way of reducing accidents and save life and limb. But the above statistics tell a numbing story. Which begs a question that has been thrown around by all and sundry; Is Zimbabwe a police state?

This has been vociferously denied by the police themselves whose chief is in his element telling people, particularly pesky politicians where to get off. According to Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, the police are not obliged to reveal to the public why, when, where and how they conduct their operations for obvious security related reasons. That is clearly understood.

But what really gets at motorists and their passengers alike is the ‘malicious overzealousness’ displayed by traffic police. This is particularly noticeable directly after a public outcry about their conduct or when stung by criticism during parliamentary debates, cabinets meetings or the media.

Even the brazenly verbose Deputy Prime Minister Prof AGO Mutambara had very few kind words for what he said was a force that bred corruption through the use of roadblocks as ‘fundraising methods.’ Minister Biti weighed in by saying that roadblocks had become the ATMs (Automated Teller machines) of certain members of society.

What members of the public argue against is whether the number of roadblocks has led to a corresponding decrease in crime or accidents for that matter. The evidence on the ground glaringly shows that this is not the case.

Roadblocks by their very nature are normally set up in times of crisis, an unstable condition that is supposed to be temporary. So road blocks at Easter or other holidays could be justified. Temporary is the opposite of permanent by the way.

Roadblocks, economists will tell you, are the worst form of crime prevention in as far as the free flow of traffic, passengers and goods are concerned. Perhaps we need some research to determine the amount of down-time lost to the economy through the sometimes unnecessary delays at these barricades. Quantified, the money lost to the fiscus must be phenomenal. And that is where the police force is supposed to be getting paid from.

If commuters travelling from Luveve or Chitungwiza to the city centres of Bulawayo and Harare respectively were to be stopped at least 5 roadblocks, how much of production time would be lost even if they were vendors for argument’s sake? And to think that the police would be the first to complain that their budget allocation is inadequate! It’s because they do not see the link between the two or they simply refuse to.

That aside, the gripe with traffic police is why they intensify operations so soon after constructive criticism? If a very public institution like the police are above the oversight of parliament which represents members of the public, they who do they answer to, if we were to ask a stupid question.

The increase in the number of roadblocks has struck terror on drivers of foreign registered vehicles in particular in that they have become sitting ducks or moving targets for traffic cops. Is it because they are so eager to avoid the inconvenience of being delayed that they are wont to quickly part with all manner of bribes?

‘Money for a coke’ has become the slogan even though the said beverage costs just a dollar unless one is expected to buy the entire police force. This should worry the Ministers of Tourism and Foreign Affairs because among the worst verdicts about Zimbabwean hospitality emanates from the mistreatment of tourists at roadblocks that, for some sadistic reason, are strategically located near tourist resorts.

So much to the extent that an Australian travel warning on Zimbabwe reads thus: ‘Roadblocks are very common throughout Zimbabwe and can appear with little warning.’

One tourist even wrote on his blog about how the highlight of his long planned trip to Zimbabwe were the numerous roadblocks he encountered where the reception ranged from disarmingly polite to downright rude. In fact, so polite was one officer that after fleecing the bemused visitor of $20 for missing reflectors and detaining him for the best of 30 minutes was told to ‘have a pleasant stay.’

Granted that, as police spokesman James Sabao says, police are not violating the civil rights of members of the public because ‘the law allows them to do so’ doesn’t it follow then that the police should give due respect to the mandate of MPs to change a patently bad law and so debate it openly without being called all sorts of names?

A point of contention has always been the police insisting that motorists pay fines on the spot. This lands credence to stories of officers going on a fishing expedition around the car looking for an offence to charge the driver for. Many a driver has spoken of a police officer’s ‘Aha!’ moment when he or she would have eventually discovered something amiss with a vehicle.

Like the frequent cases of foreign vehicles without front white reflectors that seem to be mandatory in Zimbabwe alone and not in other SADC countries. Instead of being given a warning and a chance to purchase the said reflectors, they are ordered to pay a fine on the spot. We eagerly await the standardisation of traffic rules in the region.

As if to emolliate the bad publicity those roadblocks have generated, we have encountered officers who are so professional as to be insidious in their efficiency. Like when one is instructed, albeit very politely, to ‘pull your car off the road and await an officer who will DEAL with you.’ That expression alone has so many connotations and none of them are positive.

Psychologically this is intended to reduce the driver to ground level from which you painstakingly work yourself from with a mix of pampering (as in saluting ‘makadini chef?’) to downright bribery. I agree that it takes two for corruption to take place but the way one is manoeuvred into bribing an officer leaves one without any doubt whatsoever what the ‘deal’ is.

On another note, have you noticed that when the police react to accusations of over-handedness on the roads they seem to equate the behaviour of every driver to that of commuter taxi drivers? That is where part of the problem lies. Commuter taxi drivers are a breed on their own and if you ask me they deserve everything that is coming to them.

We all know that commuter taxi drivers are a law unto themselves. Their malcontent behaviour is legendary. No one in his right senses should have any sympathy for a driver who treats his passengers the same way as he would a load of pumpkins. Police should desist painting every driver with the same brush, to use their language.

If it is reducing impunity on the roads that the police are in intent on doing then why not take their fight to the commuter bus ranks where the real purveyors of the traffic jungle prowl? It makes sense doesn’t it?

The tact of distinguishing between two distinctly divergent types of drivers will reduce the agony a lot of them will have to endure. It’s like the incident of a high court judge who was roundly humiliated by a traffic cop still wet behind the ears who said, rather unflatteringly, ‘Kana urimu-Benz unofunga kuti unoshamisira?’ (Do you think you are great just because you are driving a Mercedes Benz?)

It took the alertness of a nearby senior officer and profuse grovelling on the part of the said constable to rescue an embarrassing situation.

While we are constantly reminded by police spokespersons that those who observed the law have nothing to fear and defective vehicles are cleared off the roads, then why should reasonably sound vehicles endure the phalanx of roadblocks still? Is this not an indication that roadblocks are not an effective deterrent?

As Minister Biti correctly pointed out, the positioning of some of these check points defies logic. We can only speculate that the areas with the highest concentration of roadblocks are those that have drivers rich enough to shower cops with monetary confetti.

Another thing, can the officers ‘soliciting and collecting bribes’ please do it more discreetly. You never know who is watching or taking pictures in these days of tabloid and yellow journalism.

There now is a website that identifies places where bribes are taken by density and such spots are then geo-tagged and labelled according to the amount and the government department affected. The novel idea is called ‘Bribespot’http://www.bribespot.com and anyone with an android mobile phone for now can send information to the site via an application or app.

As a parting shot there is a joke that used to do the rounds that goes something like: Question: What is the difference between a spot fine and a bribe? Answer: You get an ‘admission of guilt’ for one and ‘guilt of commission’ for the other!

Sunday, April 15

Zimbabweans should remember Black Friday (Part Two)


"Friday 14 November, 1997 was the day the Zimbabwe dollar died. That day may not signify anything to many. Yet for Zimbabweans worldwide it was the day their currency lost value so fast that that there was little time for the ink to dry on the notes. In fact on that very day very few took any notice that something was amiss. Citizens went about their business totally oblivious of what was happening." 

Here we continue from where we left off....


Zimbabweans were on the verge of unprecedented changes to their way of life. It was not lost on them that November was the month when salary and wage bonuses were usually paid. The country was one of the few in which a bonus was a right and not a privilege.

The prospect of spending a black Christmas loomed large and real.  The banks had no money and the expression, ‘as safe as a bank’ took a whole new meaning.

That particular crisis came and went its way. But things were never the same after that. We never imagined that it would get worse. Zimbabweans would fix things. If Plan B failed, surely there would always be Plan C, D, E, F or even Plan Z! Yet when the bonus finally came, they could hardly afford a loaf of bread.

The January disease of 1998 was the harshest because it extended for the rest of the year. Things slid much faster at the turn of the century climaxing in 2008. Zimbabweans were on the verge of grazing on grass, with supermarkets bare and most people reduced to a Stone Age life of hunting and gathering. Zimbabwe had not only hit rock bottom, it had started to dig.

And yet they seem to have forgotten so easily how they managed to rise from the dead. The Global Political Agreement that was the result of compromise between the contending political parties was a Godsend. It gave Zimbabweans and the country’s comatose economy a lifeline. Lest we forget where the country had been people have to accept that things are far from normal.

But the environment has been stable enough for some to begin clamoring for elections in the belief that polls will fix things. There are those that believe that it is suicidal for people to believe that the mere introduction of new dispensation will usher in a period of economic renewal. Donors are expected to come falling over each other wave a magic wand that will bring billions and create jobs.

Will the prodigal sons and daughters come pouring from all corners of the globe? They won’t just come back that easily without hard and fast guarantees.

The pessimists implore that the daydreaming should stop. No magic wand that will ‘fix’ things they say. Zimbabweans at home and abroad should accept that things have irrevocably changed and can’t be taken back to a golden era that is long gone. Zimbabwe’s re-admission into the family of nations is likely to expose it to the nasty side of globalization.

The see-saw recession that is chewing up weak European economies is a threat to recovery. And there is the glaring possibility of the World Bank and IMF force feeding Zimbabwe a cocktail of bitter fiscal medicine as a condition for much needed debt relief.

The country’s much touted natural resources could have been mortgaged to the Chinese say analysts. Record breaking diamond finds in the Marange area have turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing.  Only a seismic shift in government policy will compensate for the harm done by politically motivated land redistribution and indigenization.

Was it not Kwame Nkrumah who once said ‘See ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added unto you.’  The political kingdom came in 1980 but it was downhill from then on. Nkrumah could be turning in his grave or the best perhaps, is yet to come. That is if one is an optimist and as long as Zimbabweans do not forget the experiences of the recent past.

Wednesday, April 4

Zimbabweans should remember 'Black Friday' (Part One)


Friday 14 November, 1997 was the day the Zimbabwe dollar died. That day may not signify anything to many. Yet for Zimbabweans worldwide it was the day their currency lost value so fast that that there was little time for the ink to dry on the notes. In fact on that very day very few took any notice that something was amiss. Citizens went about their business totally oblivious of what was happening.

If the truth be told, what made the headline news was a two headed snake that had been discovered in some office. In a part of Africa given to superstition, one would have speculated that this was an omen, the harbinger of doom for the ‘Zim-Kwacha’ that lost a record 71.5% against the US dollar starting a series of cataclysmic events that culminated in the printing of a One hundred trillion dollar note more than a decade later in 2009.
The ground breaking 100 trillion note (Pic: ebay.com)
 It was incredible and it read more like a joke. However, millions of Zimbabweans discovered it wasn’t when they went to their banks to withdraw money from their accounts. Let us stop here and rewind a bit.

The real causes of Black Friday, as it came to be known, pointed straight at the door of government. As with most of the ruling party’s campaign gimmicks, that have proven to be destructive, President Robert Mugabe decided to award unbudgeted payments to war veterans of the liberation struggle. Secondly, the country became involved in a very costly civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).


It was the straw that broke the camel’s back when in direct reaction to fiscal irresponsibility, multilateral organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cut the apron strings leaving Zimbabwe’s economy on an unprecedented free-fall.

An ominous sign, if one would call it that, was the gradual appearance of women from the apostolic faith identifiable by their white frocks and head scarves in the streets of Harare and Bulawayo and dealing in foreign currency. It should be noted that prior to this the same women were known more for selling mangoes and other tropical fruit than hard currency.

Soon an activity that was exclusively conducted in the secure air conditioned chambers of commercial banks had been moved lock, stock and barrel into the crowded and littered streets where pound sterling, United States dollars, South African rand and Botswana pula was bartered and sold the same way they would roasted groundnuts.

Shockingly, the authorities looked aside as the mass of commercial banks and foreign exchange bureaus, registered by a government bitten by the so-called indigenisation bug, legitimised the street trade by shunting the little that was trickling into the banking system into the informal system. Companies joined in the fray speculating and playing around with the exchange rate to gain supra profits.

As this was happening, ordinary Zimbabweans lulled into a sense of false security, crowded the pubs and churches in veneration of their gods. That was until they stopped by the banks to withdraw their hard earned money. The shock of being informed by trusted custodians of their accounts that ‘in principle’ there was something in them but in reality could not withdraw was hard to bear.

A bank queue in Masvingo March 2012 (zimbabwemetro.com)
There simply was no warning at all nor was there the rare opportunity to run on the banks like once occurred in Argentina. A free for all that would clean the vaults out by the lucky ones perhaps. Not in this case. Clients were confronted with a sign on the door informing them that there would be no withdrawals ‘until further notice.’

One is reminded of one of those business studies or commerce lessons where students were warned about the perils of keeping money under a stone, in a tin in the garden or under the pillow.

There even was a story doing the rounds of a bank robber who buried his loot in the bush before he was arrested and jailed for his crime. When he had done his time ten years later he was shocked to find a sprawling residential suburb on the spot where he had stashed it. ‘It was here!’ he tried to tell bemused passers-by to no avail. Now the joke was on them.

How they wished they had ignored that advice. Unlike the typical of African economies, that tore the economic form book to pieces, Zimbabwe was about to rewrite it.
(To be continued)