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BY BENJAMIN SEMWAYO – POLITICAL ANALYST

BEN T SEMWAYO

The government is seeking to ban the imports of cars older than five years. This suggestion should never have been made by anyone who has the interests of the ordinary people at heart. The rationale behind this retrogressive step is difficult to understand as it defies all logic. The public normally expects those that they voted into the legislature to pass laws that genuinely reflect the wishes of the people and ensure that development is realised in the country. Whichever way you look at it, this proposed law neither improves the quality of life of the generality of the population nor results in the development of the country.

This law could not have been passed without the support of the MDC (both factions) and in failing to stand up for the interests of the people the movement has both erred and betrayed the people. The MDC has an identity that it has no option but to live up to. In the minds of the public the MDC is the party of the people and is expected to restore the freedoms that people lost under the infamous Zanu-PF regime. It rose out of the workers’ unions, for which reason it has to be identified with the workers; about that there are no two ways. The importation of second-hand cars benefits the workers, most of whom cannot afford new cars. Not all the workers can even afford to import the second-hand cars as they are not within their means by virtue of their dismally low wages and salaries thanks to Zanu-PF’s disastrous handling of the economy.

Zimbabwe does not have enough cars to satisfy its market as the few assembled by Willowvale are snatched as soon as they roll off the production line. Vehicles are needed to service businesses, and with the upsurge in the economy expected after the imminent demise of Zanu-PF, it makes sense to have policies that augment the country’s small fleet of vehicles rather than retrogressive laws that will only throttle development.

What is particularly irksome about this bizarre proposal is the fact that it enjoys the support of the MDC camp, yet it is a camp that should be inextricably married to the interests of the workers. The MDC is conspicuous by its support of a policy that not only infringes people’s rights, but also perpetuates their poverty. It is the custodian of the people’s rights and must be seen to be acting in that capacity regardless of the pressures that may be brought to bear on it from whatever source.

That mentality should be part of the MDC’s blood and sinew, indeed part of its nerve and brain, and alarm bells should immediately go off once the workers’ interests are compromised. Indeed Tsvangirai himself was recently quoted by NewsdzeZimbabwe as saying, “Our party when we formed it had no money and was a party of the poor with a vision to represent the poor in the country.” In addition, a senior MDC official was recently quoted by the Zimbabwe Mail as complaining about “…a worrying sign that the party has lost its pro-poor stance and has been overtaken by elitist practices.”  

When the MDC has forgotten that its duty is to defend the rights of the common man then everything has tragically gone awry. No-one cares about Zanu-PF’s position on this matter because after decades of trampling people’s rights it has earned itself the irreparable reputation of going against the wishes of the people, and is on its way out anyway. People are past caring because the party is irretrievably lost and has become sworn enemies with the masses. Indeed it has well-documented cases of going out of its way to inflict untold suffering on its own people.

Against that background, the proposal is a misplaced dream supported by some in the top echelons of the MDC, a utopian dream that serves no practical purpose. It is a dictatorial suggestion that is incongruous with everything that the MDC stands for and raises serious questions in the minds of the common people. The MDC and the workers have stood together through thick and thin throughoutZimbabwe’s epic journey to freedom and now that victory is in sight is a cleavage is beginning to develop between the two?

This is not the first time that it happened inZimbabwe. The first time was when Zanu-PF abandoned the masses as the leaders embarked on a self-enrichment rampage. Could this be the beginning of the end of the marriage between the MDC and the masses? Could it be a foretaste of life under an MDC government? Could it be the MDC-endorsed version of Murambatsvina? If it is what other forms could follow? Will it introduce more shackles of its own when it comes into power? The whole thing leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth, suggestive of the idea that the people’s party has the capacity to go down the road Zanu-PF took.

To the workers this proposal is a serious violation of their rights and is effectively driving a wedge between them and the party they love so dearly, for which many have been prepared to lose their very own lives. The cause should be identified and dealt with, and now that there is a rethink on whether to pass this unpopular law the MDC should pounce on this opportunity to correct the grim mistake that it made. Failure to do that will certainly be interpreted as a stab in the back of loyal supporters and partners in the important task of putting Zimbabwe back to the position it deserves as the jewel of Africa.

NOT ANYMORE IN ZIMBABWE?

The facts about the state of the second-hand cars have been grossly misrepresented. The argument about their carbon emissions is about as fallacious as it gets, because the truth is thatJapanhas an impeccable record on pursuing stringent carbon emission policies. The suggestion that they break down easily and are dumped is seriously exaggerated. Genuine facts and figures will clearly show that this is not the case; besides, from what most people have experienced these cars are mostly reliable and serve faithfully for many years. That is not surprising because many of them have very low mileages on the clock when they are imported, especially those fromJapan, which is a very small country where doing hundreds of thousands of kilometres in a car is simply not possible.

When the proposed law was tabled in parliament it sailed through without any difficulties, and it is plain to see why: the MPs who debated it are all beneficiaries of government loans for new vehicles made available through taxpayer’s money and they were debating an issue that did not directly affect them. They will not lose a thing by passing a law that does not affect them as they are assured of their own vehicles. In other words when engaging in debates they primarily take care of their own interests and do not empathize with those lower down and less privileged than they. They are the aristocrats in an advantaged class of their own, who determine the destiny of the serfs below them, and make decisions on matters that do not directly affect them. They fail to spare a thought for the electorate that voted them there as their representatives.

The MPs have become brazenly elitist and are already living in their own world ensconced in luxury, shielded from the hardships of everyday life and now have the best interests of the rich, with whom they now identify, at heart.  Many of them are also fully capable of buying cars using their own funds as they have private business interests and even award themselves hefty pay increases and allowances while the rest of the country is wallowing in poverty. That explains why second-hand cars are an eye-sore to them, no matter how well they may have been looked after. They are completely alienated from the workers, do not look at life through their eyes and are completely out of touch with what is happening in the lives of ordinary people.

Ironically, barely two years after receiving brand new cars, the MPs are reportedly demanding new ones ostensibly because the two-year-old ones suffered extensive damage during the time of the constitution consultative meetings. It is inconceivable that the MPs, who now have a penchant for the high life and are now changing cars as one would change pairs of shoes, have agreed to bar ordinary people from importing cars they can afford. Obviously when they get the new cars they are yearning for the older ones that are “beyond repair” will not be found on the scrap heap, but will be repaired and either sold off at the going market prices or added to the fleets of the MPs’ private businesses.

There is overwhelming evidence that the imported cars are immensely beneficial to ordinary people. Mathew Marufu, who has a disabled ten-year-old son, Catherine Jaravaza, and George Tigere, a primary school headmaster, have all affirmed the way these cars have had a life-changing effect on their lives. These are only the tip of an iceberg. If people are consulted on this matter they will certainly overwhelmingly approve the continued importation of these cars.

Obviously no thought has been put into the way the demographic sections of our population will be affected by this change. Many young professionals who have just begun working, no matter how highly paid they are, have too many things that lay claim to their wallets and purses as they are only starting out in their careers and almost always need a cheap first car. They certainly cannot afford a new car that is if they can find one. Should they be denied the chance to buy a cheaper ten-year-old car from Japan with 50 000 kilometres on the clock? Then we have low income older workers who have slogged it all their lives, have never owned a car and will never afford one, new or used, in Zimbabwe. Should they also be denied the right to import cars they can afford?  

Has the government done any research on how many people will afford cars under the proposed changes? There is no doubt that most middle-income earners will not be able to buy cars with this law in force, so that would leave a very small percentage of workers with the ability to buy cars, disenfranchising the multitudes that would otherwise be able to own cars.

In any democratic country, people’s ability to import cars of their choices is an inalienable right that they should not be robbed of. Not even first world countries awash with cars have such a daft law. The US, Britain, France and all the other developed countries produce hundreds of thousands of their own cars every year and roads can literally be seen with hundreds of abandoned cars, but no-one cries foul over the issue of cars that have become an eyesore and they still allow their citizens to import cars of their choices. Built into the system is a mechanism for collecting these cars and scrapping them and it is all over and done with in no time at all. It is ridiculous for anyone in Zimbabwe to even think about introducing this irrational law, unless of course if they have alternative ways of making cars available to those who need them and supplying the funds as well.    

The proposed legislation is an anomaly that must be nipped in the bud and must never be allowed to rear its ugly head ever again in any shape or form. The MPs, who seem to be up in arms against the workers, must retract their position. MDC MPs must understand that the MDC is the workers’ party and that it fights for their rights.

Finally, rather than pick a quarrel with the workers, should these honourable ladies and gentlemen not be expending their energies on battling it out with Zanu-PF on vital unfinished business such as clipping the powers of the securocrats before the elections?