HARARE – In the most comprehensive policy speech of the presidential campaign, MDC vice president Nelson Chamisa has presented an opposition MDC Alliance vision of a growth and fairness economy, an economic agenda intended to end cash shortages, revive derelict factories, lift wages, expand social services, and combat a widening gap between rich and poor.
Chamisa said “the defining economic challenge of our time” is to usher a new Zimbabwe by reviving the economy, creating jobs and raising incomes for the civil service and the few employed Zimbabweans whose wages have remained virtually stagnant for 15 years as the costs of housing, college, child care and health care have soared.
“A new Zimbabwe is coming,” Chamisa said in a fiery speech to students and tertiary institutions in Harare.
“People must not be misled that a new Zimbabwe is upon us,” he said, referring to the regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power after a military intervention and popular protests ousted Robert Mugabe in November.
Chamisa said Mnangagwa has no capacity to repair the damage done to the once-thriving economy over recent decades by his predecessor, adding politics matters in the economy.
He said in South Africa for example, banking stocks rallied more than eight percent and the rand firmed after Cyril Ramaphosa became the newly-elected leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), buoyed by optimism that he will push through policies aimed at putting the economy on a stronger footing.
Ramaphosa, a 65-year-old union leader turned businessman who is South Africa’s deputy president and one of its richest people, is likely to become the next president after elections in 2019.
“Ramaphosa, when he was announced president (of the ANC), the rand firmed by four percent. When President ED was announced president, prices skyrocketed, the market panicked,” Chamisa said.
Mnangagwa acknowledged to members of his ruling Zanu PF party at a December extraordinary congress that they would have to start fixing the economy if they wanted a chance of winning the do-or-die vote.
“We will only win at the ballot box if we can show signs that we are reviving our economy and at the same time we will only be able to make economic gains if we can secure re-election,” Mnangagwa said.
The Kuwadzana East MDC MP called on voters to rally behind the opposition alliance, saying its candidate Morgan Tsvangirai has the credentials to quickly turn the economy around.
Tsvangirai will represent the opposition MDC alliance in the presidential election, his fourth time as a presidential candidate.
“Even during the GNU (government of national unity), it took just a few days after Prime Minister Tsvangirai announced the government work programme for the whole market to smile and foreign capital started coming in, with the country oozing US dollars that were marching into our pockets and bank accounts,” Chamisa said.
After briefly stabilising under a 2009-2013 power-sharing government, when Mugabe was forced to work with the opposition, the economy has once again collapsed, with hard currency short, inflation rocketing, imports running out and bank queues lengthening.
The 39-year-old old MDC deputy said the Zanu PF government has mismanaged the economy and unleashed hardship on the people, adding that retaining it in the mid-year elections would constitute a threat to the nation’s future.
Mnangagwa has said Zimbabwe will hold elections in four or five months, the first not involving Mugabe since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980. Voting for the presidency, parliament, and local government will be peaceful, Mnangagwa claimed.
As the economy continues to grapple with shortages of US dollars, Chamisa said an MDC Alliance government will end this crisis soon after taking office.
“In a new Zimbabwe, cash shortages and bank queues are going to evaporate immediately and overnight,” Chamisa said, adding it was possible for Zimbabwe to have the strongest currency in the world.
“We will prioritise the politics of business, not this useless and perennial, profitless business of politics. We talk more politics than we talk the economy, we talk more divisions than we must be talking about vision of a united Zimbabwe; too much sloganeering. We must debunk that misbegotten mind-set.”
The MDC Alliance plan outlines policy priorities and the principles by which the opposition conglomerate would govern if elected.
Chamisa, who is an indisposed Tsvangirai’s proxy at the MDC Alliance, said they had resolved at a strategic retreat held last weekend to reach out to the Elton Mangoma-led Coalition of Democrats (Code), the People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC) led by Joice Mujuru, vanquished members of Zanu PF’s G40, disgruntled Team Lacoste members and war veterans, “to build a grand coalition for change.”
Chamisa outlined a holistic comprehensive plan about its economic intentions for government, based on what he said were the best interests of the Zimbabwean people.
“We are going to be focusing on fundamental things, getting our production back to a thriving status. Industries must not just survive, but thrive. Businesses and factories must be reopened and blossoming.
“Bulawayo must truly be inthuthu ziyathunqa, with factories having shifts, people working day and night. We can’t afford the luxury of sleeping when the economy is like this,” he said.
“We need to deal with six fundamentals, first one is production, second one confidence and predictability, strong institutions, rule of law, inclusive social dialogue that involves labour, business and government and organised civic society.
“The third one: political stability, policy consistency and predictability, strong infrastructure master plan, then the jobs plan, full public works programme, dealing with the issue of corruption with an objective eye not a squint eye,” he said, adding: “In a new Zimbabwe, corruption will be dealt with not on a piecemeal or factional basis.”
Critics have said that the government’s latest anti- corruption campaign — that has seen only the arrest members of the G40 faction — was an outgrowth of power struggles within the ruling Zanu PF, with competing factions using the “war on corruption” as a tool to eliminate or weaken rivals and their corporate supporters.
The founding MDC member said the MDC Alliance government would move towards clearing close to $12 billion debt to international finance bodies, which would facilitate access to fresh lines of credit to grow the economy,
“We must be able to deal with debt — both domestic and foreign — standing at over $12bn, crowding out resources that should be deployed to social services,” he said, adding “we will also deal with ease-of-doing business.”
He said the MDC government will give the private sector greater ownership of struggling and loss making State-owned enterprises, which he said were hurting the economy through perennial dependence on the fiscus.
This policy is also being pursued by the Mnangagwa government, which has invited bids for eight poorly managed State-owned firms, part of a plan to privatise dozens of corporations, including telecomms firms, Air Zimbabwe, Zesa Holdings and the National Railways of Zimbabwe.
The parastatals are grappling with high overheads, inter-parastatal debts, mal-administration, under-capitalisation, corruption and lack of good corporate governance which have negatively impacted on their operations.
Chamisa, who is also an attorney-at-law also railed against Mnangagwa’s command economics.
“We will get rid of the dirigistic mind-set of government and allow the market, subject to necessary governmental policy directive, to cater for both the economy and vulnerable groups,” he said, referring to “dirigisme” — an economic system where the State exerts a strong directive influence over investment.
It designates a capitalist economy in which the State plays a strong directive role, as opposed to a merely regulatory one.
“We will move away from a command mindset to a smart mindset,” Chamisa said, adding “we shall move from command agriculture to smart agriculture, from command economics and command pricing to smart economics and smart pricing.”
He said chiefs and kraal heads will be well taken care of by the MDC Alliance government.
“In a new Zimbabwe, our chiefs will not be reduced to being partisan or party storm-troopers used to frogmarch people to a particular political persuasion,” he said.
He said the new government will also take care of veterans of Zimbabwe’s 1970s bush-war against white-minority rule that ended colonial rule in 1980.
“War veterans are going to be given their monthly entitlements and full respect and honour, including full school fees for their children,” Chamisa said.
“This will be the new politics.”
He said the new government will also reinstate financial aid to assist students in the payment of educational expenses.
He said the current state of affairs where some students fail to sit for examinations or access their results because they have not paid their fees cannot be allowed to continue.
If students have access to loans towards their education and an effective recovery system is established, he said the same funds can be used to fund future students once repayment is effected.
“Students grants are going to be commonplace in a new Zimbabwe,” he said to applause from students.
“Our older generation had fees catered for by government. Student loans will be catered for, especially for students from poor background.
“Education should not be commodified or commercialised by being made expensive. We will restore academic freedom and integrity of all our tertiary institutions, turning them into citadels and outposts of global pride and excellence.
“Lecturers and teachers must be well remunerated to restore their status back to good old days… The shining star status of teachers and lecturers must be restored. We want to make the teaching profession the most interesting enterprise once again.”
Once a regional bread-basket, Zimbabwe saw its economy collapse in the wake of the seizure of white-owned farms in the early 2000s, followed by runaway money-printing that catapulted inflation to 500 billion percent in 2008.
Millions of Zimbabweans, from highly skilled bankers to semi-literate farmers, emigrated, mostly to neighbouring South Africa, where an estimated 3 million still live.
“In a new Zimbabwe, we will capitalise and incentives our Diaspora. We will harness the Diaspora dividend,” he said.
Chamisa said the new Zimbabwe blueprint that will be unveiled by the MDC Alliance — which starts its election campaign rallies tomorrow in Epworth — would delve more deeply into policies that would revive the economy.
He said the blueprint gives the correct prescription for Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabweans deserve a full dose of economic medicine, not half dose if not this quarter dose being given by ED. We need change in order to cure the ailments buffeting our politics and all the social facets of life. We don’t want fake change because we can’t cheat the diseases we have,” Chamisa said.