enhlanyeni (Sindebele for ‘a place for mad people’)

I remember when I was young, hearing about a place called enhlanyeni (Sindebele for ‘a place for mad people’), where one of the tests used to determine ones ‘madness’ was to give them a bucket full of holes and asking them to fetch water. If they quickly realised that the task they were being asked to do was impossible, then they were not mad. But if they continued to go back to the water source when the bucket emptied before they could deliver the water, then they qualified to be taken into what I later found out was the Ingutsheni Mental Hospital in Bulawayo. I’m not sure of the truthfulness of this story but it reminds me of a quote often attributed (wrongly, apparently) to the genius physicist, Albert Einstein where he is said to have defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”!

By this definition, Zimbabwe can be said to be full of insane people! Every five years since 1980, Zimbabweans go out in their thousands to vote. There are those who continuously vote for ZANU-PF and expect them to deliver ‘The Zimbabwe they want’, in spite of the fact that they have not delivered for nearly four decades! Then there are those who vote for the opposition – any opposition – and expect a fair result, even though after every election, they complain of rigging and stolen elections. In 2023, we will do it again!

It is, of course, human nature to be optimistic; to keep hoping even when the evidence is clear that the hope is misplaced because, according to Pulitzer winning American playwright, film director and author, David Mamet, “we all hope. It’s what keeps us alive”, which suggests that without hope, life would be pointless.

It is the insanity of those that have offered themselves and have been duly given the mandate to lead us that is most worrying. Post-colonial Africa has, of course done pretty much the same thing for decades and Zimbabwe is no exception. In fact, it can be said that Zimbabwe has “perfected” the insanity because no other country has, in just ten years, repeated the same mistake in exactly the same manner (bearer cheques and bond notes) while expecting to correct a battered economy!

As the fuel queues have reappeared – just as they did ten or so years ago and products have started to disappear off the shelves of our supermarkets, it occurs to me that unless we start to do things differently; unless our leaders begin to think of new ways to tackle our problems, the much heralded “new dispensation” will prove to be a false dawn.

What Zimbabwe needs is a bold leadership that will think outside of the economic straightjacket of Western Style economic ‘solutions’ that are clearly not working. When those solutions fail, we then go with our begging bowls to ask for assistance. In the process, we lose our identity and pride because we have to do what they want in the hope that by so doing, they will come and rescue us. Of course once they see the desperation in us, they make more and more demands and by the time they are finished with us, we are hardly recognisable as a people and a culture. We behave as if we have nothing to offer the world and the world has all the answers to our problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would suggest that we need to look at what I call the Botswana Model of engaging with the rest of the world. It is a model that has been derided by many, yours truly included, yet it has delivered a Botswana in which the economy has grown continuously, Batswana are not leaving the country in hordes and are not refugees anywhere. Most are happy looking after their M’raga (cattle posts) because they can exchange their cattle for money when they need it and do not feel the need to be employed. Batswana are proud to be Batswana, which is more than I can say for the many Africans who are losing their lives daily in the Mediterranean trying to escape from their homelands. 

The story of Botswana is very simple. At independence in 1966, there was little, if any development in that country. Fortunately for them, diamonds were discovered not long after, and it is on the back of these that Botswana has develop to its current status. Realising that they had wealth in the ground, but not the resources to extract it, Botswana did the sensible thing of approaching those with resources and using their diamonds to leverage an agreement in which those with resources put them into the extraction of the diamonds. In return Botswana would take, (I believe) 25% of the proceeds while the investor got the bulk. Africa (including yours truly) was outraged! How could they give their heritage away like that? Yet it is by this model that Botswana has a population that is happy to live in Botswana; it is the one country in Africa that (I am told), at some point, could lend money to the International Monetary Fund and its economy and infrastructure are the envy of most of us.

Their secret of course is that even with the 25% they were getting to start with (I think that they have continued to review the agreement and now get the bulk of the revenue), they started to spend the money from their one big natural resource on developing Botswana; Not on enriching those in power! For a country that, at independence, had about 20 kilometres of tarred road in the whole country, Botswana today boasts one of the most modern road networks on the continent and has gone on to develop other sectors of their economy like agriculture (they export beef to overseas markets) and tourism, and indeed now even has a thriving and growing manufacturing sector.

Botswana did not go begging. They leveraged what they had to negotiate a win/win position for themselves thinking long term rather than short term.

Zimbabwe has so much more. Why should we be reduced to beggars? We need to get out of the mind-set that says we have nothing. Right now, Zimbabwe needs a massive injection of cash into our economy.  But as long as we see ourselves as having nothing, the countries with money will see themselves as philanthropists coming out to help out these poor Africans. Yet they need and want our minerals, our agricultural produce, our tourist resorts and even our climate – I dare say they even admire some of our culture! We need to take what is in our hands and go and negotiate (not beg) for a better deal for ourselves.

In the short term, it may seem like we are giving away too much, but that is the nature of business. Investors do not come to you because they like you (be they Eskimo, or Outer Mongolian, or British or Chinese or even African); they come because they see what they can make for themselves out of the deal. Until our leaders understand that, Zimbabwe will never be open for business.

Of course there is also the little matter of our leaders understanding that you cannot spend what you don’t have – well, you can, as they clearly have. But sooner or later, you will find yourself in a deep dark hole with very little light. You need to give someone a huge incentive for them to even consider pulling you out! To negotiate successfully, Zimbabwe will have to give away a big chunk of its wealth in order to incentivise people to bring their money into the country. It’s a kind of Stupidity Tax, as some would call it, but I would argue that it is a sacrifice worth making to secure Zimbabwe’s long term future.

It will certainly save our children being consigned to “Ingutsheni” by the rest of the world!


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