I don’t know how much longer the government of Zimbabwe can afford to continue kicking the can down the road. This train has ground to a halt
By Ngoni Chihombori
King Belshaazar hosted a great banquet for his nobles. The king brought out and served drinks in the precious gold and silver goblets which his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had raided from the temple in Jerusalem.
They drank and enjoyed the best wine in the kingdom. While the elite of Babylon indulged themselves in the finest of wine, and offered praises to the gods of gold, silver, iron, bronze, wood, and stone, a mysterious human hand appeared out of thin air and inscribed an encrypted message on the plaster of the wall: “Mene mene Terkel Parsin.”
It had to take Daniel, a man of God, full of wisdom and understanding, to decipher the writing on the wall.
On the tenth of June, 2020, a very unusual and weird event happened.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Hon Kazembe Kazembe, flanked by the Defence Minister, State Security Minister and all the security chiefs, under the auspices of the National Security Council of Zimbabwe, held a press conference in which the Government officially dispelled circulating rumors of an imminent coup in the country.
What was very unusual about this event is that, for a good number of Zimbabweans, this was the first time that they were hearing of the supposed coup rumours.
Coup begets another coup
Events of this day left a lot of citizens, myself included, wondering if everything was okay in the high corridors. As the old adage goes, “A coup begets another coup.”
Clearly, The New Dispensation, which was ushered in by military tanks is having the heebie-jeebies over the seemingly high probability of exiting via the exact same door through which it entered.
Despite the President giving a speech three days earlier, encouraging the country to go back to work, as well as opening up the informal sector which had been locked down since the 31st of March, Zimbabweans in Bulawayo, the second largest city in the country, on the 16th of June, woke up to a different tune as the military and the police manning the road blocks on the main roads.
The roads leading into the central business district, turned everyone away and only allowed nurses and security services employees into the city.
Closing down the cities
Social media was awash with videos of soldiers and policemen, chasing civilians from the CBD and effectively locking down the second largest city in the country.
The same was recorded in the city of Kwekwe on the following day, with reports of the military and the police effectively shutting down the small mining city despite the clear orders of their commander in chief to open up the country and get back to business.
Reliable sources indicate that the temporary lockdowns were in protest of June salaries for civil servants, including the security sector which had effectively been reduced after government withdrew a hardship allowance, which had been in effect over the previous four months despite the rising cost of living which has seen official annual inflation for the month of May spiral to 786%.
Nurses and doctors at the country’s largest central hospital, Parirenyatwa, downed tools and held a big demonstration over deteriorating working conditions on the morning of the 17th of June.
In typical fashion, a truck full of riot police had already descended at the institution within hours, but unusually this time around, the police officers, maintained their distance as the health cadres peacefully demonstrated towards the offices of the Health Services Board, despite breaking the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
What was very strange was the absence of the heavy-footed clampdown by the security forces which has been typical of almost all the demonstrations against the government since the disputed 2018 elections.
Again, another weird phenomenon was that within hours, government had buckled down and Treasury sent out a circular announcing an immediate 50% salary increment for all government workers and pensioners, as well as a non-taxable US $75 Covid allowance for active government workers, with a corresponding US$30 non-taxable Covid allowance for the pensioners, valid over the next three months, effective this month of June.
The broke coup government further went on to promise non-monetary incentives for the agitated civil servants which are yet to be finalized and will be announced in due course.
However, the USD Covid allowances will be disbursed through the notorious FCA nostro accounts, which every civil servant and pensioner is now mandated to open up.
Furthermore, this just past week, the central bank disallowed local physical cash withdrawals on funds received in the FCA nostro accounts via electronic transfer.
These funds can only be used to process electronic transfers, and can only be liquidated to Zimdollars upon usage at the official interbank rate which is currently pegged at 25 ZWL : 1 USD despite the greenback trading in the north of a rate of 90:1 against the Zimdollar in some quarters as of today.
At the current pegged interbank rate of 25, the $75 Covid allowance amounts to $1 875 zwl, which is effectively, the equivalence of only just under US$21 on the parallel market, which is the market reference rate in typical market transactions.
The central bank announced that effective the 23rd of June, the country will be scrapping away with the pegged interbank rate system, which was introduced on the 30th of March, conveniently just before the opening of the tobacco season for reasons I believe were to reap off tobacco farmers.
After looting away hard earned USD from tobacco farmers at fixed rate of 1:25, the central bank is now moving towards welcoming a market based forex auction system. My views and thoughts on this move and whether it will help the debilitating economic catastrophe, will be reserved for another article.
I don’t know how much longer the government can afford to continue kicking the can down the road. Wheels have clearly fallen off and the train is slowly grinding to a halt.
What is crystal clear though, is that the writing is on the wall: “Mene Mene Terkel Parsin”.
Ngoni Chihombori is an economist. He is the inaugural winner of the Zimbabwe Digital News Colls Ndlovu Writers Book Award.
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