The costly lie

The Sunday Mail

Editorial Comment 

The biggest lie last week was that the violence in urban areas were protests over fuel prices in particular and living costs in general, when in fact the protests were enforced by a small bullying minority determined to cause as much damage to Zimbabwe as possible.

The lie was revealed right at the beginning of the so-called mass action shut down — when most people suddenly found themselves blocked from going to work, taking their children to school or earning a living by the bullies in some disgraceful scenes of public violence – and after the violence when people calmly queued in shops, at bus stops and at service stations.

The MDC-Alliance and Mr Nelson Chamisa have called for mass action on the cost of living before, promising to shut down Harare. And all that happened is that a couple of thousand people gathered in the north-east quadrant of Africa Unity Square and shut down the diagonal path from the fountain to Nelson Mandela Avenue. Faced with this lack of enthusiasm to obey voluntarily the commands of a losing Presidential candidate, one who seems to live a private world, divorced from reality, coercive action was planned.

One little fi-leaf was to get a couple of officials of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions to make the call. This was not heard either and in any case the ZCTU is a small co-ordinating body of a few officials for an association of trades unions. If it wants to go through a process of taking any important action then the affiliated unions have to be consulted and they in turn have to consult and poll members, a process that most of us would call democracy in action but which an impatient man with a private agenda would call a waste of time when, after all, the leader has spoken. People should not be consulted or persuaded. They should just obey in this weird bleak world. We know there was planning for bullying and violence. On Monday last week almost everyone made arrangements to take children to school and go to work. Everyone assumed, despite some quite hair-raising threatening mess threats on social media platforms to firebomb anyone who disobeyed, that the latest calls were just the usual hot air of sore losers and quite meaningless. In fact most people would assume the writers needed psychiatric treatment, not a medal. So everyone was surprised to find gangs of youths were being ferried around to block roads, throw stones, attack police stations and threaten the majority with violence.

Some of this has already been aired in courts as people arrested for public violence or for planning and inciting it, are brought before magistrates. Should convictions follow then the descriptions of the planning move from allegations to statements that are true beyond reasonable doubt.

Some criminals not associated with the planning gangs appear to have taken advantage of the mayhem but we need to remember one major difference. The MDC-Alliance tends to regard its bullies and looters as heroes; any other party, including Zanu-PF, who finds a member on the list of looters or criminals will dump that person, fast. The aftermath of the action also showed up the lies being peddled.

On Thursday, as shops and supermarkets opened, many queued to buy food. The bullies had enforced hunger on a lot of families who, unlike the organisers, do not have large deep-freezers, big fridges and well-stocked larders. They have to shop daily for perishables. There were no protests, no boycotts, no shouting in the stores. Just careful buying and long queues.

In the fuel markets things were the same. Motorists were not boycotting service stations or arranging protests. They were queuing and as deliveries speeded up on Friday and yesterday were getting fuel. Indeed one of the more interesting things about the fuel queues of the last three days has been the high level of orderliness.

Some service stations, mainly in one chain, had taken up the Government’s offer of providing protection. A majority relied on their own staff.

Yet at all queues were easily the most orderly seen since intermittent shortages arose. Zimbabwean drivers regulated themselves, knew who was in front when they arrived at the back and just moved forward patiently. The occasional queue jumper was not threatened, just reported to the station staff. This leads credence to several reports that the worst of the disorganisation in the past was caused by black-market operators filling and draining their tanks as often as possible. Because that has been the other big change: there are no people sidling up to you in queues now offering to sell petrol or diesel at a price.

Those in queues are not thrilled about the new prices, although many note that fuel financed through Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe allocations is still cheaper than the supplies for special forex coupons or US banknotes that had been surfacing. There was also a general consensus that the pricing would be tolerable so long as the Government and the RBZ ensured that adequate supplies would be available soon and that what many see as intolerable corruption in the fuel sector is eliminated.

But that seemed to be the deal President E. D. Mnangagwa was promising in his announcement a week ago. The other topic of discussion in queues centred on ways of saving fuel, forming lift clubs and the like.

Even kombis and their passengers were back on the roads in force by yesterday. Neither drivers nor passengers were boycotting or protesting. There is a deal on fares, which some follow, some bend and some ignore. Here there might be need to clean up the deal. For example if the 10km line slices through a suburb, such as Harare’s Highfield, should the fare be different for each section or should a single fare be charged, and if so how much. Steps of $1 are also considered a bit unfair and there are good grounds for intermediate $1,50 and $2,50 fares in border zones. In any case someone might need to measure routes carefully and announce the distances to make the fare deal totally acceptable.

In general Zimbabweans do not think attacking police stations and stoning buses is going to achieve anything positive. They know we have messed some things up badly and that we need to reform and that has short-term suffering. They would like positive suggestions from everyone on how to do this best. The opposition could even offer suggestions for solutions, not plan mayhem.