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We need to urgently fix Zimbabwe, says Makoni

Former Finance minister Simba Makoni says Zimbabwe needs a culture shift to get the economy working again.

Makoni (SM) told Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the show In Conversation with Trevor that Zimbabweans were no longer as hard-working or honest as they used to be.

He said the culture had permeated all levels of society from family to national politics. Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Dr Simba Makoni, welcome to In Conversation with Trevor, I am so glad that you were able to leave your farm and spend time with us in the city.

SM: It’s a pleasure, Trevor, to be here talking to you.

TN: Let’s go to the farm where you just came from.

I mean I have visited your farm and it’s very impressive. How long have you been doing farming now?

SM: This is year 20 now.

TN: Wow, that’s quite a long time and what are you doing?

SM: Well, our mainstay is tobacco. We grow tobacco, we grow maize, wheat when we have water for irrigation.

We raise beef cattle. We have a small dairy that we milk for our own farm use, but our main activities are beef cattle, tobacco and cereals.

TN: What are the main challenges that you are facing apart from the weather?

SM: Really the absence of market financial instruments to support agriculture and difficulties in procuring inputs, mainly those are the biggest challenges.

TN: Are you seeing any hope in command agriculture and its various permutations at all?

SM: Well, our agriculture currently, except for the major estate operators, is contract-based and command is one form of contract (farming).

Until the economy normalises and particularly people are able to raise financing in the market, contract farming is going to be the thing, including command farming.

It’s not the ideal even with private contractors.

A farmer really needs to have freedom to decide what he borrows from who and for how long. Our current environment does not provide for that.

TN: So what would the ideal look like for you?

SM: Well, when I started farming we could still go into the market and borrow on your farm’s title deeds, on your other assets.

You can’t do that much at the moment and we haven’t been able to do that since the fast-track land reform programme.

TN: Is this because you don’t have collateral because of the fast-track land reform programme?

SM: Mainly yes, because all rural agricultural land is now state land and so you cannot use it as collateral for borrowing.

That is the one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is the state of our financial sector.

There are very few financial institutions that are able to lend commercially for any business, let alone for the farming business in the long-term, especially when you want to invest in irrigation, curing facilities.

You can’t borrow in our market. You may be able to borrow short-term working capital, but under very heavy conditions.

TN: That sounds like we are in some cul-de-sac of some sort.

SM: Unfortunately yes, for the foreseeable future, as I say, until we normalise the economy such that facilities can be raised in the financial sector and procurement can be normal in the manufacturing of fertilisers and chemicals .

As you know, we currently are now 100% dependant on imports, even inputs that we can produce here like base fertilisers, ammonium fertilisers, it’s now being imported from Belarus, from China, South Africa and so that pipeline of procurement and the costing of it presents significant hurdles for the farmer.

TN: So you are facing two headwinds. One is the financing side and the other one is the inputs, the fertilisers, the seeds and all that kind of stuff. None of that seems to be in a place to help your productivity?

SM: Not at the time you want it.

I have been looking for fertilisers for my summer maize crop now for the past 10 days, it’s not available for one reason or another.

TN: So what is it that you need to do, Simba, to unblock those issues that you are highlighting now on the financing side and on the inputs side?

SM: Basically we need to get our country working normally.

Like I said earlier, we need the financial system to be efficient and effective, but more importantly we need to make our country work normally.

TN: So, Simba, you are saying we need to fix the entire economy of society the way we are organised for us to be able to get people like you to be productive on the farms and we are far away from that?

SM: Unfortunately yes, it’s not just people like me on the farms, but the whole country.

Like I said whether it is a publishing business or a manufacturing business or retail business, we are operating in a very hostile environment.

TN: So essentially I mean I’m reflecting because this, like you said, you could answer it in one sentence or you could break it up.

And you have opened it up and it speaks to leadership or the lack thereof all across and you begin to wonder what it is that we are doing as a country when we get up every morning with all these challenges.

I mean, I am particularly drawn to where you say even the workers, the staff in terms of application.

So the notion that we are enterprising, that we have an amazing work ethic, the notion we have productivity is premised on a lie at the moment?

SM: It’s an ideal we should aspire for, what we used to be.

We were very hard-working, we were very honest, we were very trustworthy, we were very caring and compassionate.

We are not that anymore, not the majority of us anyway and certainly not those of us in leadership.

TN: What has happened to us, Simba?

SM: We have changed because of our appetite for power and we have changed because of our love for material things.

I think when we begin to associate a position of authority and responsibility with material well-being and acquisitions, that’s when the rot settles.

TN: But correct me if I am wrong, there are two of us at least as you are talking, which we can identify now.

There are leaders and the led, have they all been crippled by the factors that you are outlining now?

SM: Yes, because rot set in the leadership and it then percolated into society as a whole because the behaviour, the personality, the character that our leadership took is what we then fed into those we lead.

So we became power-hungry, we became cruel, we became greedy, we became corrupt and that went from the leadership into our whole society.

TN: How do we fix this? I mean again that’s a thesis, but let’s try and break it down.

How do we begin to fix this at the leadership level, at the men and women on the street? How do we begin to fix this society?

SM: You know the old saying goes: Every journey starts with the first step.

In this journey the first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem and unfortunately now in our country, certainly in our leadership, there is no acknowledgement that we have a problem or we have problems.

So you can’t start fixing what doesn’t exist for you.

In the few occasions we acknowledge that we have a problem, we pass the buck, it’s not our fault, we didn’t cause it, it was caused by somebody else.

If it’s in the family it’s babamukuru, if it’s in the community …it’s our next-door neighbours.

If it’s in the country, it’s our detractors from outside.

So if you don’t acknowledge, accept and recognise that you have a problem, you can’t solve it.

TN: So what do we do, Simba?

I mean this is such a huge problem if we can’t look ourselves in the mirror as a nation, as a people. How are we going to get over this thing?

SM: It requires that those of us who accept our current state must work hard to convince the rest of us who don’t accept this currency.

I don’t see us doing it any other way, but more importantly I think it requires those of us who acknowledge our reality to share it, that re
ality particularly with young people so that they don’t continue to grow in the same state of mind that we are in, the denial state.

So there are two levels of work. I would put more emphasis on what work we must do with our young people

TN: Have we not poisoned them to the extent that, that in itself is going to be a hard thing to do? What’s your experience? I know you do this from time to time.

SM: Yes, it’s not easy but anything that’s labelled work is hard, there is no easy work, there is no light work.

So I agree it’s not going to be easy, the environment is not conducive for the kind of venture that I am proposing.

The environment is very hostile, everybody wants the easy life, we want lots of money that we haven’t worked for.

But that it is not going to be easy shouldn’t deter us at least from time, hopefully from doing the best we can.

If we don’t, then we are condemning this nation particularly future generations not even your children and my child, but your granddaughter and great-grandson may have a chance.

TN: So, Simba, is there any difference between that abnormality within the opposition and the ruling party or it’s just the same thing?

SM: I am describing the Zimbabwean society as I see it.

I am not putting people in paddocks, but as I said earlier this reflects itself in politics, in business, in society and in the church.

When you watch the fights that go on in our football clubs, it’s not about kicking a football, but who gets to the cookie jar first and that’s what’s driving many of us in our everyday lives.

So it’s not just about politics, but yes, it is the same in opposition politics as it is in so-called ruling party politics.

It’s our politics, what I call toxic politics, the politics of power control and command.

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