Zimbabwe: May worthy scions of Mutapa please stand up!

I am re-reading Eric Blair’s iconic essay, Down and Out in Paris and London. To assist those who do not know, Eric Blair is the real name of George Orwell, the famed writer of the often-quoted but little-understood allegorical story, Animal Farm, and of course what was written as a futuristic novel, 1984.

Not many know that Eric Blair is better famed for his essays, most famous of which are The Road to Wigan Pier and Burmese Days. I tend to enjoy his essays more than his two novels, both of which were in fact pre-Cold War “Cold War” artistic constructs.

For that reason they are heavily laden ideologically, which is what makes them dishonest and thus unconvincing as works of art. Of course not many also know that Eric Blair was a workhorse of the British Colonial Empire, tellingly working for the Empire Marketing Board, EMB, which used the filmic medium to sell the Empire’s philosophy of Splendid Isolation by which imperial Britain would become some economic autarchy, thus divorcing herself from the rest of the Western World through creating a self-contained economic cosmos out of her sprawling colonial dominions.

Annihilating the future

Down and Out in Paris and London is a study in urban poverty, minutely tracing how it begrimes and blights those living on the margins of Europe’s two 20th Century foremost metropolises, Paris and London. Full of vignettes illustrating urban poverty and squalor in those two sprawling metropolises, Down and Out in Paris and London show vividly how deep poverty shortens human vistas and horizons.

Eric Blair

Poverty, writes Eric Blair, “from the start tangles you in a net of lies”, causing you to live a life of appearances until you finally succumb. But that is a bearable cost. The worst cost which poverty levies, argues Blair, is “the fact that it annihilates the future”. The poor live for the day and can ill-afford any tomorrows they least afford to count let alone mould.

Media paralysis

Like most Zimbabweans, I keenly follow the twists and turns in the Opposition. My interest is slightly different, slightly more academically inclined than that of an average Zimbabwe who is interested in the who and what of politics. I have been consumed in the how part of the whole unfolding drama, which is to say how our media, themselves interpreters and seers of our society, report the Opposition in its dire moments.

Gentle, I will not waste much of your time except to brutally tell you the story has been too large, too complex, for our scribes. They have been paralysed and have virtually given up, leaving all of us to pick up the pieces and remake some narrative of and on our own.

Man bites dog

Two words have rang loudest in this week’s political vocabulary; these are autocracy and theocracy. Not that they are new words to me; I met them a long time ago as I read several history books on key turns in millennia of human development. What made them unusually ringing this time around is their usage.

For the first time in Zimbabwean history, they were used to describe politics and personages in our Opposition! Here is one instance where man bites dog.

Behold ancient vices

Without even a flinch, Welshman Ncube, the inaugural 90-day leader of Triple C, has hurled and flung those two words or epithets to describe Nelson Chamisa, a man who entered politics on the catchy punchline of “Behold the New”! Except both autocracy and theocracy are very old practices in the history of human mis-governance.

Welshman Ncube

How the Opposition has achieved this feat of hogging bad adjectives for itself, words all along used to profile the ruling Zanu PF, only opposition ancestors may possibly divine. Yet that is where we are.

Devouring one another

Following daily events, it is clear that the Opposition has been devouring itself with remarkable ferocity. It has been a season of self-flagellation like never experienced before. Zanu PF can afford to sit back and watch the bloodletting pantomime play itself out.

Ncube attacks Chamisa; Mafume acerbically murmurs about a leader who foolishly cedes his “private parts” to a party he soon deserts, cedes them for safe-keeping! Ostallos, Chamisa’s alter ego, busily savages Hwende, presumably for Chamisa’s edification and pleasure.

Not to be outdone, Chinoputsa bleeds guiltily about his misplaced trust and nourishment of Chamisa the autocrat, vowing never to have anything to do with him ever again. As I write, both the slain Hwende and Promise Mkwanazi, will be resurrected by Trevor Ncube’s Blessed Mhlanga, all to make their own small contribution to this wanton bloodletting.

I have not made mention of Tshabangu whose strategic retreat into silence shouts louder and fouler than actual execrations. He shouts and scalds loudest, deepest, in his deafening silence.

The story of Etsu

I am reminded of Chinua Achebe’s little story on Etsu, the god of confusion. Revulsed by two farmers gayly working on their respective shambas situated on either side of a highway, all the time swapping merry stories, Etsu decided to sow discord between them, all for his own perverse pleasure.

Chinua Achebe

Using ochre, he painted one side of his body pitchy black, and painted the other half chalky white. Done, he trundled along the highway, walking past the two happily garrulous farmers. Said the farmer to one side of the Highway: Mate, did you see that unusually dark man who has just walked past us, going up the Highway to the marketplace?

The farmer on the other side responded: You mean that chalky white man who has just walked past? Then a fierce quarrel ensued over the complexion of the gone passer-by. In that fury, all love and amity was lost between them, leaving them both morosely working their land, mouths zipped by the tension Etsu had detonated. Each felt righteously dead right, accusing the other of stubborn wrong-headedness.

Fighting to hog guilt

Before long, Etsu, the god of confusion walked back the same road, again past the two estranged farmers. That meant the farmer who had seen the black side of Etsu now saw his white side, while the one who had seen the white side now saw the black side. The farmer to the right contritely broke the heavy silence between them: Oh sorry mate, indeed you were right, the man is white after all!

I am so sorry! To which the farmer to the right responded: No, it is me who was all wrong after all; the man is indeed very dark! As before, a furious altercation ensued, this time over who between them deserved the badge of having been wrong. Another Nigerian writer whose name I cannot remember anymore, once asserted that when fact is so fast-moving to the point of catching up and even overtaking fiction, the result is faction!

I suppose Eric Blair would waste no time in intoning to assert that poverty of thought annihilates the future, and tangles one in webs of lies and mutual recriminations. Happy Sabbath Day Zimbabwe Opposition.

Counsel from UNDP

This week some unassuming UNDP official modestly made it into Zimbabwe’s notoriously mediocre news grid. This is a dubious honour, less because of the integrity index of the UNDP official, but more because of our media’s notorious record for flippancy. UNDP’s country representative, one Ayodele Odusola, was quoted in the local press dispensing profound counsel to the children of Mwenemutapa.

Ayodele Odusola

He is quoted as having said: “Zimbabwe must use what it has to get what it wants. All these countries that are imposing sanctions [on Zimbabwe], let me tell you, Zimbabwe has got what they want.” Back in our newsrooms, this story by our Pan-Africanist UNDP official was buried in one of the darkest corners of some inside page of our papers.

That editorial decision vindicating our dubious title as Africa’s most flippant nation bereft of any sense of value or importance.

The days which followed saw no follow-up to this story, which hastily made it to the well manicured editorial graveyard, right through to exquisite national oblivion. We are Zimbabweans; we just cannot be bothered by wise counsel!

America’s global mineral survey

Way back in the mid 2020s as the rest of the world brooded, America commissioned a geological survey on a list of what it termed “critical minerals”. The result of that stupendous multi-agency effort was that America in 2022 then published a comprehensive list of non-fuel minerals or mineral materials essential to the economic and national security of the United States.

The whole effort stemmed from an Executive Order which then President Trump had issued, requiring the US Geological Survey Department of the Interior to embark on such an exercise in the wake of uncertainties in critical minerals source markets, and fragile global minerals supply chains.

All told, this latest effort which sought to update a list drawn up and published in 2018, compiled 50 minerals which included lithium and several minerals forming the PGMs, alongside many others.

Dynamic list

On registering this vast list of critical minerals America needed to secure at all cost, the task Department noted: “The Department’s list of critical minerals is not static and will be reviewed at least every three years and revised as necessary to reflect current data on supply, demand, and concentration of production, as well as current policy priorities, as required under the Energy Act.”

In defining critical minerals, the exercise noted: “critical minerals play a significant role in our national security, economy, renewable energy development and infrastructure” These would be susceptible to supply chain disruptions, the impact of which would be have severe consequences to the Economy or National Security.

The solution would come by way of scouting for domestic supply, de-risking supply chains where such minerals were imported from other lands, and stockpiling.

Act for minerals they don’t have

Before long, in 2023, the European Union completed a similar exercise, birthing what Brussels now calls Critical Raw Materials Act, CRMA, which draw up a list of 34 critical minerals, identified source countries and demanded strategies for reducing reliance on China as a source. Again our Lithium and PGMs are a core part of that list.

Several other minerals are found in our jurisdiction, including uranium, nickel, coking coal, tantalum, baryte, copper and beryllium. More critically are rare earth minerals, which we have in abundance. The irony of it all is that Europe drew a law to govern minerals it doesn’t have, minerals we have here. Never in history has need regulated have!

How other nations have achieved might

Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa join China, Russia and Turkey in being non-European countries dominating in the supply of these minerals dubbed critical and strategic. I am sure some will say Turkey is in the EU. Fair enough and I readily concede that point. China and Russia are non-EU.

How have they behaved when it comes to their mineral endowments? Remarkably well, if you ask me. Assertively so, as the whole world now knows. Russia flexed its energy muscle, creating a real energy crisis in the whole of Europe, in the wake of its war with Ukraine.

Overnight, economies in the EU bloc screamed. China hit back at US by withholding mineral raw materials needed in the manufacture of microchips. America screamed and ran wildly to get China to reverse the ban. Turkey has used its endowments to bargain for trade, place and arms with NATO countries.

All these instances reflect enlightened minerals diplomacy where natural resource endowments pivot foreign policy and leverage in global politics.

Key questions for Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has now made feeble attempts in the same direction. It has banned the exportation of raw minerals; it has also started demanding royalties in minerals as opposed to cash. Yet these are very small — I daresay — weak concessions more visited upon corporate bodies than on nations which need our finite resources for their own security and economic sustenance.

Our small measures suggest self-doubt. Worst of all, our interventions are knee-jerk, episodic; they do not follow a coherent, well-wrought policy such as we have seen in the US and EU, with ours only starting from the powerful premise which recognise us as a source country of the globally much-needed minerals.

Where is our Critical Raw Materials Supply Act, to stand toe-to-toe, stare eyeball-to eyeball with that drawn up by the EU? Where is our own list of critical minerals to counterpoise that drawn by the US Government, the accessing of which by any foreign power would have to meet very clear, iron-clad conditions that buttress our National Interest and Strategic Pursuits?

Above all, where is the Policy which envisages domestic supply chains in the event global critical goods supply chains are broken by war or foreign policy caprice? Who are our strategic partners in beneficiating those critical minerals firstly for ourselves, and secondly for the rest of the world to great advantage?

Donated vulnerabilities

We need to put on our thinking caps and double down on this key national assignment, the only one which passes for the emerging national question, and whose competent answer makes us deserving scions of Munhumutapa. We cannot fit Eric Blair’s global poor who cannot have a future because of a false poverty trap, itself a real poverty of thought.

We have to slough off those little, inane thoughts which have got us to frame false national questions, while expending our energies on the trite. Do we realise we sit on mineral deposits which the rest of the world is killing for? When do we get time to cry over nuisance sanctions constructed and predicated on false vulnerabilities we do not have or even suffer from, false vulnerabilities transposed to us by those really facing them? This, in essence is what the UNDP resident representative tried to get us to see, hopefully not in vain.

Cat-walking for debts?

We have spent too much time cat-walking before the IMF in order to be rated pretty enough for the right to be awarded a debt. Why? Great Zimbabwe was built nevene, not from foreign loans. Whose children are we? Munhumutapa’s?

If we truly believe we are, let us be seen to be true and deserving scions of that great Emperor, the great architect of our granite civilisation, and the sea-facing, vast kingdom. He never borrowed; he never know-towed; he looked inward, and saw the hard granite, and turned it into rusvingo: that timeless home which gives our Nation its name.


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