"Welcome to a new sunrise in Zimbabwe": or Murambatsvina Part 2

Sokwanele Report: 29 August 2006

From 1 August 2006, Zimbabwe has a new currency. The last three digits of the old currency have been lopped off to create the revalued dollar. The regime has dubbed this "Operation Sunrise", and we are serenaded with the slogans "Zero to Hero" and "Restore value".

This change has been necessitated by the effect of inflation on the Zimbabwe economy, where shopping was done in millions, if not billions, and large bundles of cash were needed for the simplest transactions.

Roadblocks manned by the Youth Militia (or so-called Green Bombers) have been set up to catch "unpatriotic" Zimbabweans who were carrying in excess of the legal limit of $100 million (old dollars). Banks have been instructed to seize sums deposited by individuals in excess of this amount, pending Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) investigation into the source of the funds.

But there is a more sinister side to this: some, indeed, have dubbed this "Murambatsvina Part 2". This refers back to Operation Murambatsvina (or "clean out trash") instituted by the regime in May last year, where thousands of urban dwellers and vendors were deprived of their homes and livelihoods by the illegal demolition of homes and trading stands. Families, including young babies and the elderly, were left outside in the cold of winter, with no shelter, no food, and no means of making a living. It is widely believed that the real object of this callous act was to punish the urban electorate whom Zanu PF had conspicuously failed to persuade to vote for the party in the last three major elections with, no doubt, a sub-plot of de-populating urban areas and forcing people back to their "rural homes" where ZANU PF thought it could the more easily manipulate and control them.

A comparison between the original Murambatsvina, and this latest currency fiasco reveals many similarities.

Firstly, it is all-pervasive: it affects Shona and Ndebele and others alike. The "moment of madness" (Mugabe's description of the atrocities) of the 1980's Gukurahundi massacres was targeted at one ethnic group, but Operation Murambatsvina started in Harare and spread rapidly to provincial towns and cities; it was said that there was barely a family who was not affected, either directly or indirectly. Likewise, the new currency affects every citizen of Zimbabwe.

Secondly, it targets the poor and most vulnerable. It was the houses of poor urban dwellers that were demolished in Murambatsvina - many of these were little more than shacks, but were nonetheless the only homes some of these people had. The street-vendors whose stalls were demolished and goods stolen were those who could not afford the rental of a proper shop.

But, you may say, this currency reform affects everyone - rich and poor - alike. The answer is yes, and no.

Everyone is affected but, for example, it is the poor who are most harassed at road blocks. VIP's are ushered through without being checked while those travelling on Commuter Omnibuses are required to dismount, unpack their entire luggage, and are subjected to the general harassment of searches (some searches more polite than others).

Far more seriously, those living in the rural areas have been especially penalised; many were just not aware of the August 21 deadline for exchanging old bank notes for new, or had to incur the expense of taking a bus into town for the purpose of visiting banks, standing in endless queues, to change their money. All this despite the RBZ's promise to set up mobile cash swap teams to visit the rural areas to assist the inhabitants in the changing of money. Their expensive, glossy, 4 page insert into national papers reads:

"Do not fear. There is no-one, let us repeat not one citizen, who will be left unable to convert their old cash or Bearer Cheques to the new ones in the stipulated 21 day period. Our mobile cash swap teams are in all districts ensuring that you are served".

Dr Gideon Gono, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), is the architect of the currency reforms. He and his advisory board are complicit in this "Murambatsvina Part 2" just as they were in the original Operation Murambatsvina. In Sokwanele's Special Report of 8 June 2005: Gideon Gono "...in sheep's clothing": The Role of the RBZ Governor in Murambatsvina, we showed that Dr Gono had prior knowledge of the social and economic upheaval that was about to happen, referring, just days before the onslaught began, to "where the rot needs thorough cleansing".

Gono and his Advisory Board designed these latest currency reforms, introducing them to a flabbergasted nation overnight, giving them a mere 21 days to change their money, computer systems, accounting and pricing, with no prior warning whatsoever. They are therefore thoroughly complicit in the devastation being wreaked on the poor of this country. Gono is thoroughly in the pocket of Zanu PF, and his Advisory Board is filled with well known individuals selected to lend respectability to Gono's (and Zanu PF's) policies while the regime is busy perpetrating all manner of evil on the poor and vulnerable of the population.

Just as galling is the disingenuous manner in which the new currency has been ushered in. The slogans proclaim:

"The inflation has caused our currency to have denominations requiring huge sums of cash for basic everyday commodities. Everybody deserves a fair return for a fair day's labour"

"Public enemy #1, 2 & 3 inflation ... $1 000 000"

It is as if these new bank notes will do away with inflation, and will guarantee, as they put it, "a new era of ease and greater security".

Are Zimbabweans going to be taken in by their advertisement showing a picture of a loaf of bread and the caption: "Was $85 000. Now only $85"? These measures will not address the underlying inflation; in fact, it is more likely that they will fuel inflation, as the printing of money always does.

Do we know how much money has been taken out of circulation, and how that compares to the amount of money being injected into the market in the form of these new notes? We do not. Inflation is here to stay, until the regime gets serious about addressing the underlying economic fundamentals.

Of course, there are benefits to this new monetary system: greatest of these is the fact that we no longer have to carry around bundles or even suitcases of cash, which posed a security risk as well as a physical burden. Also, importantly, businesses which were struggling to run their computer systems with so many digits for each transaction, are now able to manage again.

However, this is merely tinkering, joining the 2 broken wires together with a bit of tape. The fundamental problems have not been, and are not being addressed: political instability; tyranny; economic turmoil; profligate government spending. Until the regime, or its successors, tackles the social, economic and political problems of Zimbabwe, no progress will be made. Zimbabweans will continue to suffer at the hands of their greedy and ruthless leaders.

How long, O Lord, how long?