By Wesley Ndebele- Political Analyst
Since the economic meltdown between 2008-2012, the government has increased its ties with China. China–Zimbabwe relations date back to January 1979, during the Rhodesian Bush War. The Soviet Union supported Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African
People’s Union, and supplied them with arms. Robert Mugabe’s attempts to gain Soviet support for his Zimbabwe African National Union ZANU were rebuffed, leading him to enter into relations with Soviet rival Beijing, culminating in a January 1979 meeting in Mozambique in which both sides affirmed their intent to cooperate more closely.
The two countries formally established diplomatic relations on 18 April 1980, the day of Zimbabwe’s independence. Two months later, Zimbabwe’s late foreign minister Simon Muzenda visited Beijing to express his thanks and was followed by Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe himself the following year.
Mugabe places great importance on Zimbabwe’s relations with China, especially after the 2003 standoff with the European Union which resulted in capital flight and economic depression. Ties have deepened inline with Zimbabwe’s political isolation from the European Union.
In 2008 we saw a shipment of arms from China which raised concerns all around the world. In a move to control the flow of information in and out of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s paranoid government is reported to have acquired sophisticated phone-tapping, radio jamming and internet-monitoring equipment from communist hardliners in China.
The Sophisticated Chinese bugging equipment is believed to have been installed secretly in homes, offices, restaurants and even lavatories. The Chinese technicians are said to have handed this project over to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) in an effort to block the circulation of what Mugabe calls “hostile propaganda”.
A communication from the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) pro vice chancellor Levi Nyagura to the office of the Minister of Higher Education reveals that he went to China in an attempt to engage Chinese lecturers to replace the mass exodus of lecturers, but was not successful.
Mugabe and his government also want to see Mandarin being taught in schools and Universities. The plan is part of President Robert Mugabe’s “Look East” policy which aims to expand bilateral and trade relations and offer priority to investors from not just China but Malaysia, Singapore and other Asian countries.
China has become the biggest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco. On the other hand The Zimbabwean government also purchases large amounts of military hardware from China, including a US$13 million radar system, six Hongdu JL-8 jet aircraft, twelve JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, and 100 military vehicles since June 2004.
The Zimbabweans are also worried about the increasing Chinese influence on the economy. They have complained about the low quality of Chinese goods that have not passed safety standards including buses. Nyasha Chikwinya, a spokeswoman for Zanu PF Women’s League, asserted that the Chinese had become the most active group in the non-official exchange of foreign currency, ahead of Nigerians and Indians.
Stories have been heard that if you want to buy a pair of shoes from the Chinese shops, you will be asked how many kilometers you intend to travel in order to get the right pair otherwise the shoe would fall apart before completing your journey.
Chinese expats have also been caught keeping endangered species of tortoise for their dinner table. Most people in the high density suburbs have complained about their pets going missing-especially dogs.
Those who have established companies in Zimbabwe are employing nationals who have seriously complained about the abuses they face from the Chinese employers. They are asked to work in appalling conditions without protective clothing.
In the Newsday, it was also reported that workers were not given payslips. Instead they received papers written in Chinese. Nationals have threatened to fight back with bricks and shovels if they are abused.
There is nothing wrong with having close ties with other countries. “No man is an Island”. But to compromise for sub standard goods and lifestyle at the expense of the population is a worrying move. Worse more to have too close ties with another country so much that you want to adopt their currency YUAN sounds scandalous.
After the Zimbabwean dollar was suspended in 2008, the country has been using a multi-currency regime, which includes the use of the US dollar, the South African Rand and the Botswana Pula.
God only knows what will be next. Russian Ruble, South Korean Won or Indian Rupee ? The government seems to be running like a headless chicken picking up and adopting policies as a desperate measure to fix the economy instead of admitting that they have failed.
Our own currency which had outrageous values ended up being used for wiping oil on dip sticks at service garages. It was a cheaper option to use the currency than buying a piece of cloth or a roll of tissue. Others used it to start fires especially in the rural areas whilst those who cared less threw it in the garbage bins.
Mugabe’s Zanu PF officials see huge potential (as usual) in using the Yuan, citing the growth of the Chinese economy under BRICS, which brings together emerging global economic powerhouses Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
There are concerns that the adoption of the YUAN could mean “handing over” the country to the Chinese who already have been offered huge mining rights by Mugabe despite protests from his coalition government partners. The country’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said that Mugabe is forfeiting state resources to China, whom critics are calling ”Africa’s new coloniser”.
Now is hardly the time for another currency experiment of ‘quintillion dollar proportions’ after our own currency failed. Its rather frightening why the government is so desperate to introduce the YUAN when the US dollar has made a significant change in the Zimbabwean economy.
Instead the government should seriously consider getting coins (cents) to facilitate the giving of correct change. At present, one can get change in Pula, Rand, sweets or chocolates, making the conversions too complex and even making the value of some products too expensive because of the unavailability of smaller denominations.
People of Zimbabwe want “REAL MONEY” and not ZHING ZHONG (fake or substandard currency). Zanu PF always has something under its sleeves; just like a magician. Maybe the agenda is to do a repeat of what they did in the past when they devalued the dollar and people lost all their savings.
Maybe to officially become “Little China in Africa”