Pro-government statements are the norm in Chinhoyi, the hometown of former president Robert Mugabe. But that was not the case at a public meeting Saturday, as Zimbabweans grappling with poverty amid the flailing economy are using every chance they can to voice to their anger.
Doug Taylor Freeme, a former leader of the predominantly white Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, was among those who spoke.
“When the president came into power, he made an appeal: ‘Please, can all those financial institutions come into Zimbabwe and bring investment here.’ … Our president has no need for him to be traveling all over the world looking for the money. It’s here. We just need the right documentation so that we can put the right security in place and I can promise, overnight, there will be a huge change,” Freeme said.
When he speaks of documentation, Freeme is talking about giving farmers the legal right to their land. Most white commercial farmers were pushed off their land in the early 2000s by the government and replaced by black peasant farmers.
Those new farmers have no guarantee they will be allowed to stay, and no collateral to use to borrow money from banks. Without those, Freeme argues, the farms cannot be productive.
Even blacks who benefited from the land reforms, like tobacco farmer Ronnie Masango, say unless the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe addresses chronic shortages of cash and finds a way to preserve the value of the local currency, the bondnote, the southern African country’s economy will not recover.
“I hear people keep on saying parallel market, parallel market” he said, referring to a black market. “Where is that money coming from? At the banks, I cannot access my money. But in the streets I see people using cash. … We want cash in the banks. Not in the streets. So you will soon see commotion in the streets since the traders show off. Parallel market is the source of our economic problems. That is where corruption starts.”
Ziyambi Ziyambi, Zimbabwe’s justice minister, says only patience will help as the country goes through what President Emmerson Mnangagwa calls “austerity for prosperity” measures to reverse years of recession under former president Mugabe.
“To be fair to the reserve bank, the reserve bank does not create a parallel market. A parallel market, or black market, is caused by shortages,” Ziyambi said. “So what we are coming up is austerity measures. The moment we have a scenario where our production increases, we kill the parallel market. We have to acknowledge [that] we had 20 years or so where there was no development.”
It remains to be seen if the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe can assure citizens that the economy will stabilize, but the opposition has indicated more protests will materialize unless the situation improves.