I found myself awake at 4 a.m. today, thinking and reflecting. My mind turned to an article I read yesterday. I could not finish it the first time. It was a piece titled “10 things young Zimbabweans need to know to profit from the economy.” It can be found here http://www.itamari.com/advice/item/70-10-things-that-young-zimbabweans-need-to-know-to-profit-from-the-economy
I read it several times and felt confused so I put it away but I could not stop thinking about it and the points made therein.
Feeling a little more forgiving and mellow this morning, I decided to give it another read. The feelings it evoked in me were not positive. The first time I read it and dismissed it angrily. In subsequent readings, I tried to be less emotional and reactionary as suggested by the author. I still found myself angry, irritated and confused, so much so that I first rant- tweeted about it, and then decided to keep one of my resolutions and actually write a blog post on it.
One of the main problems faced by Zimbabwe abroad is a publicity and popularity problem. It has been vilified and labelled a rogue-state. Words thrown around when speaking about our country are “failed state, dictatorship, starving population, hyper-inflation, economic meltdown,” and so on. Most of us can recite any number of nuanced statements about Zimbabwe even when aroused from a deep sleep; we have been hearing these things for years; at least a decade. We know them. We have heard them. We have lived and survived, (if not thrived) in this “failed rogue state.” And we are tired of hearing them.
We are tired of turning on the news and hearing clipped British accents criticising our country. We are tired of being treated badly at immigration offices across the world as we search for better lives. We are tired of feeling hopeless and criticised and like failures. Zimbabweans have begun to own their stories and truths because they are tired.
“Until Lions write their own history, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”
We are an intelligent people and have finally understood the truth of this statement and have begun to own our story and to tell the truth of it. That is sovereignty to me. Standing up for your country and telling the truth about it, pretty or not. We are tired of hearing only the negatives, so we have begun to tell our side of the story, exposing the positives. And that pleases me. The foreign media will never report on the positives of Zimbabwe as that does not serve their narrative. We must show that we have good in our country on our own. The problem I have is when the positives are now used to act as though there are no negatives at all. That cannot work. We need to own our stories fully; good and bad. That was the issue I took with the article.
I found it too bright, optimistic and pretty. Call me a cynic. It glides over the problems facing this country’s young people. I am all for empowerment of the youth and personal agency. But the author’s tone I found insulting and condescending. I even called it smug. I do not know her and did not mean a personal attack on her character; this is only a critique of her words and the tone of the article.
The writer ignores so many of the hardships facing young Zimbabweans in this country and takes a very optimistic and basic approach. Zimbabwe is a special case and we cannot pretend as though it is not and as though what works in a functioning economy would be equally applicable here.
“A population of 13 odd million wants to say ONE man single-handedly got our economy to where it’s at. Let’s not give anyone that much power.” Oh? I will just leave that there and you can make of it what you will.
“Young Zimbabweans need to learn to save.”
This statement reeks of privilege and ignores the fact that many are living hand to mouth and saving is thus not even a viable option. The reason people are not saving is not because they do not wish to save for a rainy day or build up a plush trust-fund for their children later on in life. It is simply that they CANNOT. How can anyone not understand such a basic premise? People are simply not getting paid enough to be able to put any money aside. They barely have enough for the present, let alone the future.
Last time I checked, ZBC employees had not been paid for half a year. 6 months! How do they save? What do they save? People who are getting paid $300 a month: what do they save? Once they pay their rent, water and power bills, buy food, pay their bus fare, give the parents a little bit of money and well, simply live in this expensive state, what will be left for them to save? They are trying to make ends meet today! Next month is a distant thought. These people are not spending their money on bottles in the club or Sushi Sunday at Mekka. They are spending it on the very basic of basics! Perhaps her article was aimed at the rich in Zimbabwe. THEN it would make sense. Instead of that bottle and $20 entrance each weekend, put a little away. That makes sense. It makes no sense if you are directing it at the young ordinary “people from all walks of life.”
“Young Zimbabweans need to wake up every day and work hard.”
Zimbabweans have never shirked away from work. That is the only reason they are still standing; they are surviving because of just how hard they work. But at some point, the government and our leaders need to meet us halfway and give us a viable economy. Yesterday, it was reported that Reckitt Benckiser was closing down; no, it has closed its plant and given retrenchment packages. It is not the only company to do so. Many are downsizing or closing up shop. Many simply could not reopen after the holidays. So no matter how hard you are working, if the economy is not working, where are you going? You will only get so far.
We can do as she suggests and “take away party cards, schools of thought, totems or international influence and study the economy.” We can do all that as young people. And it is indeed admirable. But are we in charge? Not really. The people in charge, our significantly older leaders and politicians are running the economy based on party cards, totems, schools of thought and the refrain of sanctions and international interference in this country. So I am not sure how far one will get with THAT admirable approach. Each way we turn, frustration abounds.
“Young Zimbabweans need to realise the economy is not in “their hands”- it’s in young hands.”
Actually, Zimbabwe is a gerontocracy: a state where the leaders are significantly older than the average population. The economy is by no means in the hands of the young.
Gerontocracy: a society dominated by elders. In a gerontocracy, people who are substantially older than the bulk of the population hold most of the political power, and they tend to dominate companies, institutions, and organisations as well.
We are a state of young people ruled by old tired men and a few women. The economy is NOT in our hands. Our leaders are often hopelessly out of touch with the young people, with modernity and innovation. Our Minister of Information and Communications Technology is 68 years old. Let that sink in. Most of our parents in their late 40s struggle with technology at a basic touch-screen level.
Yes. Young people in this country have become selfish and are working for their own benefit. Our leaders have forced us into this situation where we must “keep calm, be Zimbabwean and make a plan.” It is the only way to survive. No one will ever be concerned about the well being of Zimbabwe as a whole when they have no sadza on their plate and no money in their pocket, no job and no discernible future. That is simply how it is. Just ask Happison Muchechetere. He realised this and made a $40 000 a month plan for himself while his subordinates forewent their salaries for six months. Unbelievable. Inexcusable.
“Young Zimbabweans need to realise that our economy is not controlled by one man or one party.”
I am not an economist. I only know that Zanu PF is the ruling party. It always has been and as far as I can tell, as the MDC implodes, it will be for the next couple of years at least. They are in charge of the indigenisation policies, the land redistribution program, the mining revenues and exercises. For as long as I can remember, Zanu PF has been in charge of this country, controlling our economic progress.
“The blame game is for old haggard people who cannot raise their voice, who are too tired to fight…” Indeed. We must be seen to be different from our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. But many young people, unemployed, educated, frustrated, are also haggard and too tired to fight.
In so much as Zimbabwe needs a positive narrative, I am not a proponent of feel-good delusions. We are young, educated, unemployed and desperately poor. We are struggling and are not in charge of the economy. We cannot delude ourselves that we are. We might be masters of our own destinies and make a plan for our lives, but making a plan for Zimbabwe and her economy? That is truly difficult and monumental. I feel like a cog in the wheel of politicians in Zimbabwe. I cannot make a plan within a Zimbabwean context because I am powerless and at the whims of politicians and political decisions.
What do I propose as an alternative plan? I do not have the answers. I do not have any answers at all. And that terrifies and enrages and humbles me.
“Writers don’t give prescriptions, they give headaches.” Ikem Osodi.