Strip­ping the veil of elo­quence

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - COMMENT & FEEDBACK -

VOL­UME 1 of Wal­ter Mon­tagu Kerr’s record of his jour­neys in our part of Africa at the ad­vent of colo­nial­ism starts with a tribute to the Earl of Dun­raven.

The ac­count is ti­tled “The Far In­te­rior: A nar­ra­tive of travel and ad­ven­ture from the Cape of Good Hope across the Zambesi to the lake re­gions of Cen­tral Africa”, and it was pub­lished in 1886.

Kerr ded­i­cates the vol­ume to “the Earl of Dun­raven, whose in­spir­ing coun­sel and kind en­cour­age­ment strength­ened the de­sire for those trav­els, of which the fol­low­ing pages are a record”, adding that the book is au­thored by the lord’s “kins­man and friend”.

The lord in ques­tion was Wind­ham Thomas Wyn­d­ham-Quin, the fourth Earl of Dun­raven. Wyn­d­ham-Quin, a Con­ser­va­tive politi­cian, was to serve as Un­der-Sec­re­tary of State for the Colonies twice un­der Lord Sal­is­bury (re­mem­ber him?) from 1885 to 1887, and was to sail to South Africa to vol­un­tar­ily par­tic­i­pate in the 1899-1902 Boer War (re­mem­ber what that was about?).

There is a whole in­ter­est­ing story to be told about these re­la­tion­ships and the agen­das of the per­son­ages, but it is not the story for to­day. Let us get back to Kerr and his ac­count of his trav­els from South Africa’s south­ern-most point to Cen­tral Africa.

Kerr ar­rives at a time the colo­nial pro­pa­ganda ma­chine is telling Bri­tons to swiftly pack their bags for the Eden and ad­ven­ture pre­sented by South­ern Africa. But Kerr is not im­pressed by what he sees when he en­ters Botswana, then known as Bechua­na­land.

He states: “What a strangely worth­less land is this! Ev­ery­one who passes through the place must think so. There seemed to be few in­duce­ments to the in­vest­ing of cap­i­tal in any part of Bechua­na­land through which I passed.

“This opin­ion en­cour­ages me to re­mark freely that some of the later trav­ellers in these parts have been too cruel in pic­tur­ing to in­tend­ing colonists that health, wealth, hap­pi­ness, lib­erty, equal­ity, fra­ter­nity, peace, re­trench­ment, re­form, and all the other vi­sion­ary bless­ings which the mod­ern so­cial state han­kers af­ter, await them in this Eden­less par­adise.

“Why should the truth be hid un­der the tin­seled veil of elo­quence?”

Kerr was rather bru­tal, but then again one has to con­sider that he was a Euro­pean step­ping into a desert-scape af­ter hav­ing read glow­ing ac­counts meant to en­cour­age his coun­try­men to move to this part of the world and es­tab­lish set­tler colo­nial­ism on be­half of the Crown. What is of more in­ter­est here, how­ever, is that last line, that ques­tion: “Why should the truth be hid un­der the tin­seled veil of elo­quence?”

We carry in The Sun­day Mail to­day a story on the es­tab­lish­ment of a spe­cial Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee to look at the eco­nomic hy­dra known as three-tier pric­ing. Just about ev­ery Zim­bab­wean will be aware that most busi­nesses now of­fer dif­fer­ent prices de­pend­ing on if one is pay­ing us­ing bond notes, US dol­lars or elec­tronic/mo­bile money.

Green­backs are pre­ferred by providers of goods and ser­vices as they are con­sid­ered “real” cash, never mind that they re­main a fiat cur­rency backed by noth­ing phys­i­cal.

This means if you do not have US dol­lars in Zim­babwe, you are go­ing to pay more for goods and ser­vices. It is this prob­lem that the Cab­i­net Com­mit­tee will, among other things, look seek to ad­dress.

The Chief Sec­re­tary to the Pres­i­dent and Cab­i­net, Dr Misheck Sibanda, says: “The com­mit­tee is look­ing into the whole regime of pric­ing. They are look­ing at ar­eas where we can con­trib­ute along the value chain; to see whether we need to im­port some of the things we are im­port­ing. They are look­ing at where we can cre­ate our own value chain of lo­cal pro­duc­tion with­out com­pro­mis­ing qual­ity.

“The broader in­ter­ven­tions will also see a re­visit to the ques­tion: To what ex­tent can we rely on im­ports? This in­volves look­ing at ways in which we can quicken the process of im­port sub­sti­tu­tion with­out com­pro­mis­ing qual­ity.” This is most wel­come. As we have stated be­fore, Zim­babwe’s over-re­liance on im­ports re­mains our great­est un­do­ing.

Politi­cians, econ­o­mists and an­a­lysts can throw around what­ever num­ber and na­ture of elo­quent the­o­ries and con­spir­acy the­o­ries they de­sire, but the bot­tom line is that we are pump­ing out money while get­ting very lit­tle back in.

And a lot of the things we are im­port­ing are noth­ing more than glo­ri­fied trin­kets meant to mas­sage frag­ile egos while stunt­ing the growth of our na­tion. Statu­tory In­stru­ment 64 of 2016 did well to try and stem the tor­rent of un­nec­es­sary im­ports, but more needs to be done.

The tin­seled veil of elo­quence can­not hide the fact that the ob­scenely ex­pen­sive lux­ury cars or fifth-hand Ja­panese cast-offs that we bring in ev­ery year are bleed­ing us of hun­dreds of mil­lions of un­re­cov­er­able dol­lars ev­ery year.

Zim­babwe can­not keep on bor­row­ing from Afriex­im­bank to sus­tain an econ­omy in which busi­nesses that are earn­ing for­eign cur­rency are driv­ing a three-tier pric­ing sys­tem that ben­e­fits only the al­ready rich and the well-con­nected.

We have to start earn­ing for­eign cur­rency and re­duce bor­row­ing, and this can only be done by en­forc­ing dis­ci­pline that stops the haem­or­rhag­ing so that our money goes into build­ing lo­cal ca­pac­ity.

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