My early morning quick glance at the newsstands today showed two headlines which remind me of this proverb.
The first, from NewsDay, read: ZUMA ‘AGREES TO GO’.
The editor or the typesetter, showed by those quotation marks that he was aware how long a slippery character like Jacob Zuma might be able to delay fulfilling that promise.
The second, from the Herald, reports Mnangagwa’s claim to have secured $3billion in foreign investment over recent weeks. I would have to have read the article more closely than any vendor would allow me to do free to check whether this writer had explained in this article all the small print that is always to be found in documents that promise large sums of money. Those threaten even longer delays – or worse.
The second refers to investment from which the investor wants to make a tidy profit. It is not a free gift. Whether we benefit from his investment or not depends on what conditions our negotiators were able to include in the agreement. Secondly, to guarantee that the investor on no condition loses by the deal, certain general principles of good financial management will be included in the agreement, including various kinds of guarantee that we (meaning our government, but let’s not forget that the money they play with is ours) can be relied on to keep agreements, and especially to repay our debts. The investor is lending money and nobody lends to notorious spendthrifts who have a record of not paying their debts.
We are all aware of the record of ZANU-PF in financial matters, including the massive debts they have accumulated in dealings with both local and international lenders. Before we see a cent of that vaunted $3 billion, they will have to meet some very stringent conditions and probably either repay a large chunk of the debt or provide proof that it will be repaid within a short time. Their past performance leaves me doubting whether they can keep that kind of agreement in our present cash-strapped state. That means they could end up with some very heavy commitments to the international agencies that ultimately guarantee loans, the IMF and World Bank. Those conditions are likely to involve giving those international organisations a control over our budget which amounts to sacrificing a large chunk of the ‘sovereignity’ that Mugabe used to shout about. What he said was true enough, but if you have to live in a world where you must do some deals with the villains, shouting unpleasant truth in their faces is not the act of a wise statesman. It makes them want to squeeze us all the harder so that we never get uppity again.
Since we are negotiating from a position of weakness, any investor will need to be desperate to make as big a profit as he can out of us before our economy collapses completely. In short the investor, whether he is American, British, Chinese or just an ordinary crook like some of Mugabe’s white friends, will want to get his share of our ‘sovereignity’.
So I don’t know how you sum up this situation in a snappy headline. Mnangagwa hasn’t secured anything; he has made the first steps towards making agreements, the terms of which are either as yet unspecified, or if they are specified we are not being told yet how much they will cost us before we see any of the $3 billion.
There should be long hard negotiations ahead, but our new leader, who is at least honest enough to stop claiming to be revolutionary, is looking for a quick fix to win him an election that doesn’t look too crooked. He hasn’t time to read the small print and if he gets away with it, that will cost us sooner or later. Probably sooner.