Make a plan-that’s how Zimbabweans survived the crisis

Former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo summed it up all. The government of Zimbabwe had normalised the abnormal. Zimbabweans took up the challenge. To survive, you had to make a plan.

According to a cable realised by Wikileaks detailing some of the things Zimbabweans had to do to survive, the plans were innumerable, but they could be grouped into three broad categories:

  • belt-tightening,
  • income augmentation,
  • and external support.

Making a plan, however, provided a safety valve that indirectly reduced pressure for the necessary reforms to turn Zimbabwe's economy around.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 07HARARE504, MAKE A PLAN" MENTALITY CUSHIONS POPULATION,

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

07HARARE504

2007-06-07 14:03

2011-08-30 01:44

UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

Embassy Harare

VZCZCXRO8609

RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN

DE RUEHSB #0504/01 1581403

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FM AMEMBASSY HARARE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1562

INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY

RUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA 1618

RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 1485

RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 1622

RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0281

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0887

RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 1250

RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 1678

RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 4086

RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1447

RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME 2105

RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

RHMFISS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0745

RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE

RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1839

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 HARARE 000504

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

 

AF/S FOR S. HILL

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B. PITTMAN

ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU

ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL ZI

SUBJECT: "MAKE A PLAN" MENTALITY CUSHIONS POPULATION,

REGIME FROM ECONOMIC FREEFALL

 

-------

Summary

-------

 

1. (SBU) As their country's economic decline continues to

gather speed, Zimbabweans of all walks of life have

increasingly adopted creative coping mechanisms, captured

succinctly in the phrase "make a plan" that is now on

everybody's lips. These plans are innumerable, but they can

be grouped into three broad categories; belt-tightening,

income augmentation, and external support. "Make a plan"

strategies are perfectly rational short-term responses by

average Zimbabweans seeking to weather the crisis. However,

these strategies are individualist and often distract

Zimbabweans from efforts to take collective actions to press

the GOZ to reform. In fact, "making a plan" provides a

safety valve that indirectly reduces pressure for the

necessary reforms that will ultimately turn Zimbabwe's

economy around. Zimbabweans' individual coping mechanisms

may, over time, prove incapable of keeping pace with the

scale of Zimbabwe's collapse, at which point Zimbabweans may

have less to lose by abandoning their individual strategies

in favor of more collective action. Nonetheless,

Zimbabweans' ability to &make a plan8 will continue in the

near term to have the unintended consequences of cushioning

Robert Mugabe's regime from the full brunt of the economic

crisis that its policies have created. End Summary.

 

---------------------------------------------

Keeping Up Appearances Amid Economic Meltdown

---------------------------------------------

 

2. (SBU) Confronted by a decade of GOZ economic

mismanagement that has gnawed away at Zimbabwe's productive

base, triggered hyperinflation, and left increasing numbers

of families below the poverty line, Zimbabweans from all

economic and social corners struggle to maintain the quality

of life they enjoyed in the 1980s and early 1990s. The

struggle to make ends meet is so widespread and persistent

that Zimbabweans have even coined a phrase for it ) "make a

plan." For example, individuals will "make a plan" to find

scarce sugar or fuel, to scrape together enough money to pay

for school fees, and ) in the most extreme case ) to

abandon Zimbabwe altogether in hopes of a better life

elsewhere. The phrase dates back to the era of international

sanctions against Rhodesia, but has taken on new importance

in the past decade. Zimbabweans' spirit of ingenuity and

perseverance has given birth to innumerable coping

mechanisms, which blossom and wither in line with the GOZ's

erratic policies. In consultation with local academics, we

have grouped the types of coping strategies used in Zimbabwe

into three broad categories; belt-tightening, income

augmentation, and external support.

 

3. (SBU) These strategies are nearly universal in Zimbabwe,

but are most pronounced in urban areas, where denser

populations and higher levels of general economic activity

make them more effective. Additionally, rural areas )

especially the traditional and overpopulated communal lands

) had to a large extent been outside Zimbabwe's economic

boom of decades past. Instead, occupants of these areas live

a largely subsistence and cashless lifestyle ) the main

exception being cotton production, which annually floods some

communal lands with cash that is quickly spent before it

loses its value. A form of coping itself, subsistence

farming has made the rural areas somewhat more immune to the

 

HARARE 00000504 002 OF 006

 

 

economic decline than the urban areas. For instance, in

economies built on barter ) such as in the communal areas -

hyperinflation is less of a problem since the relative prices

of the goods to be exchanged tend to rise in near lockstep.

 

----------------------------

Cutting to the Economic Bone

----------------------------

 

4. (SBU) In a rational response to financial stress,

Zimbabweans have looked hard at their spending patterns and

begun to prioritize expenditures, saving for those deemed

vital, substituting for necessities, and sacrificing the

expendable. For white-collar Zimbabweans in the private

sector, these sacrifices are somewhat superficial and

primarily center on foregoing foreign vacations and

entertaining less; for instance, party invitations asking

guests to bring their own food as well as drinks have become

common. While the children of white-collar parents still

largely pursue higher education abroad, they are increasingly

forgoing European schools in favor of the closer and more

affordable South Africa universities.

 

5. (SBU) At the other end of the economic scale, sacrifices

become more serious and often entail cutbacks on basic

expenditures such as food, education, and hospital care.

Even many middle-income Zimbabweans make due on two meals a

day or less of low-quality maize-meal porridge, often with

only "green meat" ) i.e., vegetables. Euphemistically

referring to consumers buying less meat, a recent report by

the GOZ taskforce on reviving agriculture noted that

"consumer resistance on meat products is now evident." As

the market for meat has dwindled, the demand for cheaper

sources of protein, primarily the sardine-like fish kapenta

harvested from Lake Kariba, has ballooned.

 

6. (SBU) The process of belt-tightening is in many ways a

new experience for many Zimbabweans, who up to a decade ago

enjoyed a relatively affluent way of life. Zimbabweans of

all economic classes often remark that they are now employing

belt-tightening strategies that were once unthinkable; for

example, a mining executive recently remarked to econoff that

the trade in second-hand clothing, once unthinkable to proud

Zimbabweans who turned their noses to the common African

practice, was now booming.

 

7. (SBU) Marketing data supplied to us by retail companies

clearly show consumers changing their spending patterns to

cope with dwindling real paychecks. Zimbabwean spirits

manufacturer African Distillers told us that consumers over

the past several years had moved away from premium brands of

cane spirit ) a rum-like alcohol popular among lower-income

groups ) to more affordable brands. In fact, the distiller

noted that since 2004 six new budget brands of cane spirits

had hit the market. The shifting consumption pattern had

badly damaged the company's premium brand which in 2002

captured 77 percent of the market, but only 22 percent in

2006-2007.

 

------------------------------------

Boosting Incomes ) By Whatever Means

------------------------------------

 

8. (SBU) Failing to make ends meet even after trimming

expenditures, many Zimbabweans have found second jobs or )

more common ) developed informal income-generating schemes

 

HARARE 00000504 003 OF 006

 

 

to cover their shortfalls. The decline of formal sector

economic output has created a glut of labor capacity, often

freeing workers to pursue their own private enterprises while

still working for their regular employers. For example, one

of our legal contacts told us that a judge recently halted

trial proceedings so that he could negotiate the sale of

chickens over his mobile phone. Meanwhile, those without

formal sector jobs have been largely absorbed into the

informal economy, which continues to be comparatively robust.

 

9. (SBU) Many of these income generating schemes are benign,

but University of Zimbabwe (UZ) political studies chairman

Eldred Masunungure warned poloff that others are more harmful

in both the near and longer term. Some these schemes hinge

on theft, especially petty crimes, such as office workers

gradually stealing and selling supplies purchased by their

employers. These practices result in loss of income to the

employer and loss of productivity to the company. Such

coping strategies have in many ways made everyday living a

criminal act, putting Zimbabweans on a slippery slope of

lawlessness, according to Masunungure.

 

10. (SBU) In the longer term, Masunungure cautioned that

such "acceptable" theft and corruption can lead to the decay

of Zimbabwe's morals and social cohesion, which ultimately

would make economic revival all the more difficult.

Zimbabwe's youths were especially prone to seeking short-term

economic gratification and get-rich-quick schemes. As an

example, Masunungure noted that more and more students were

leaving the University believing that education was no longer

the means to upward economic mobility, a major social shift

in Zimbabwe where education historically has been greatly

valued.

 

--------------------------

Cushioned By Globalization

--------------------------

 

11. (SBU) Zimbabweans have also leveraged their country's

regional location and international ties to weather the

current economic downturn. As an indication of their extreme

desperation, an estimated quarter or more of Zimbabwe's 12

million people have left the country and, according to a 2005

survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM),

half of them for economic reasons. Suggesting that this flow

has increased in recent years, IOM data show that South

African authorities currently deport about 15,000 illegal

Zimbabweans each month, up from about 4,000 per month in

2004.

 

12. (SBU) Research by University of Zimbabwe professor Lloyd

Sachikonye indicates that remittances of both money and goods

from the diaspora to family members still in Zimbabwe is a

vital coping strategy for at least half of the population.

Sachikonye told poloff that emigration is a rational response

to the economic crisis and that families often elect to send

an adult-aged son or daughter into the diaspora ) many times

on a rotating basis ) as a means of financial and material

support. Hinting at the scale of these inflows, Zimbabwe's

largest Western Union affiliate told us that it disbursed

about US$5 million in the first quarter of this year, with an

average transaction of about US$300. (Note. We understand

that first quarter inflows are typically lower than other

times of the year, as remittances usually peak ahead of

Christmas. Additionally, Western Union figures do not

capture remittances carried by returning or visiting members

 

HARARE 00000504 004 OF 006

 

 

of the diaspora, which are probably substantial due to the

GOZ's erratic and unpredictable regulation of money transfer

agencies. End note.) Additionally, several internet

companies allow diaspora members to purchase groceries, fuel,

and other consumer goods that are then accessible by vouchers

to family members in Zimbabwe.

 

13. (SBU) Zimbabwe's proximity to South Africa and other

neighboring countries with growing retail bases offers

Zimbabweans the opportunity to make short excursions abroad

to buy needed consumer goods for personal use or resale in

Zimbabwe. The cross-border trade in basic consumer goods has

boomed in near lockstep with declining production in

Zimbabwe. While lower-income Zimbabweans are observed in the

hundreds crossing Zimbabwe's borders daily loaded with

consumer goods, even middle and upper-class Zimbabweans make

the sojourn to shopping "meccas" within easy driving distance

of the border, such as Francistown (Botswana), Lusaka

(Zambia), Chimoio (Mozambique), and Louis Trichardt and

Polokwane (South Africa). Poloff, who first made the

shopping trek to Polokwane in January 2006, noted on his most

recent trip in April 2007 the proliferation of grocery and

automotive parts stores and Zimbabwe-registered vehicles

along the route.

 

------------------------------

Coping Mechanisms Buttress GOZ

------------------------------

 

14. (SBU) UZ professors Masunungure and Sachikonye

separately agreed with poloff's assertion that these "make a

plan" strategies were individualist responses to the on-going

crisis. When faced with massive economic upheaval and the

breakdown of traditional communal supports, Zimbabweans

employ these strategies to create their own safety nets and

to ensure their near-term survival. However, the two

professors also agreed that, while perfectly rational, these

individual responses make Zimbabwean culture more atomistic

and come at the expense of collective action, such as mass

protests, which in the longer-term would stand a better

chance to push for reform and ensure an economic rebound.

 

15. (SBU) By creating a safety net that cushions Zimbabweans

from the brunt of the economic downturn, "make a plan"

strategies indirectly mitigate the pressure on the GOZ to

reform. Pointing to many of his former students, Masunungure

noted that the highly-motivated individuals who have since

left Zimbabwe for higher paychecks elsewhere would otherwise

be the ones most likely to agitate for political change. Of

those remaining, Sachikonye asked how an individual who

spends 95 percent of his time fending for himself could even

contemplate joining a mass struggle ) especially an

opposition movement that does not directly focus on bread and

butter issues. The middle class ) which in other countries

had often been the driving force for democratization ) has

all but disappeared, and the remaining vestiges are largely

co-opted by the regime or focused on "make a plan"

strategies. In contrast to Bob Marley's mantra, Masunungure

agreed with poloff that ) at least in Zimbabwe - a hungry

man was a docile man, not an angry man.

 

16. (SBU) Masunungure said the GOZ, while aggressively

clamping down on the political sphere, has cleverly allowed

most economic activity to continue unabated, which encouraged

these coping strategies to flourish. The only exception to

the hands-off economic policy occurred when political

 

HARARE 00000504 005 OF 006

 

 

interests trumped the economic, such as the invasion of

white-owned commercial farms and the unleashing of Operation

Restore Order as a way to punish urban opposition supporters,

according to Masunungure. The GOZ has also found ways to

exploit these coping strategies, primarily by allowing

remittances to flow which the GOZ then buys on the parallel

market, as a means to augment its patronage network.

 

17. (SBU) Masunungure agreed with poloff's observation that

-whether intentional or not - the GOZ-induced economic

meltdown has paradoxically solidified the ruling party's

control at least in the near term. By destroying,

distracting, and co-opting the private sector, the ruling

party has reinforced the loyalty of members otherwise

inclined the leave the party. Would-be detractors are faced

with the choice of remaining in the party or struggle

financially due to their loss of patronage and inability to

find meaningful private sector employment. Confirming this

view, ZANU-PF MP and businessman David Butau told poloff that

the only way to safeguard his budding business empire was to

suck up to the ruling party. Although the resources that

ZANU-PF distributes as perquisites have dwindled, Masunungure

noted that patronage is surprisingly resilient and that

intangibles, chiefly a license to loot, were perhaps more

important than farms or other assets.

 

-------

Comment

-------

 

18. (SBU) As ex-Information Minister Jonathan Moyo once

creatively commented, the GOZ has normalized the abnormal.

Shortages or the outright disappearance of basic commodities

have now become the norm, even a source of jokes, and as a

result most Zimbabweans no longer question these

abnormalities. The GOZ-orchestrated economic decline has

transformed a once-sophisticated economy into a more

rudimentary, barter-based economy in which savvy or

well-connected Zimbabweans either get out or get rich

quickly, while the vast majority desperately attempt to tread

water. While there does not appear to be a "tipping point"

at which the economy "collapses" or stops completely,

Zimbabwe appears to have crossed a milestone at which the

informal economy has become more important to most

Zimbabweans than the formal economy, with all the lost tax

revenue, oversight, and respect for the rule of law that

comes with such a transition.

 

19. (SBU) The ascendancy of the informal economy and the

corresponding rise of individual coping mechanisms has

cushioned the GOZ from the full brunt of its own economic

mismanagement, as "make a plan" strategies have deflected

Zimbabweans' energies away from more collective, mass efforts

to bring about lasting economic and political reform. At the

same time, however, even the Zimbabwean gift for "making a

plan" may not keep pace with the scope of the country's

economic and infrastructural decay. A day may come when

Zimbabweans may have less to lose by abandoning their

individual coping strategies in favor of greater collective

action. Nonetheless, the perseverance of these coping

strategies suggests that ZANU-PF is not at imminent risk of

losing its hold on power as the energies of an otherwise

restless population continue to be targeted toward basic

survival. All the while, Zimbabwe edges closer to the

unfortunate African economic mean of simply tottering along.

While perhaps the majority of Zimbabweans are not ZANU-PF

 

HARARE 00000504 006 OF 006

 

 

supporters, the economic implosion has forced average

Zimbabweans to become indirect supporters of the system that

keeps ZANU-PF in power.

 

20. (SBU) The above analysis is not meant to imply that

ZANU-PF is prospering; as the economy continues to crumble,

so too are its sources of regime-saving patronage. As with

the general populous, ZANU-PF also engages in coping

mechanism to survive. While these coping mechanisms ) such

as printing money and seizing productive assets ) work for

the moment, these strategies are also pushing Zimbabwe's

economy toward the inevitable day of reckoning. We will

address more fully the GOZ's short-sighted coping strategies

and their likely outcome septel.

DELL

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