I refuse to be a delusional idiot

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

I lOVE our languages and culture because they teach us so much about life.

One of the Shona language’s wise adage says: “Totenda maruva tadya chakata,” which literally means ‘don’t count your chickens before they are hatched’.

It is quite foolish making a whole lot of hullabaloo over something that promises to be a good thing, without first waiting to see whether the “fruits” actually manifest.

Not only that, but we also pray that we all have the opportunity to eat of this “fruit” because it may actually end up being enjoyed by just a few, or taken by baboons and monkeys, or devoured by pests, or even stolen.

This aptly applies to our country.

Thus, as much as there is every reason to be optimistic about developments promising to take place in Zimbabwe, extreme caution is also of the utmost importance.

A farmer who has been repeatedly losing all his budding crops – which, at some point promised a bumper harvest — naturally becomes wary of premature celebrations, since he has become all too aware of the real possibility of another write-off.

In English we also say: “Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched” — because “once bitten, twice shy”, as most of our apprehension and apparent pessimism in life is primarily driven by tragic past experiences.

Let us take, for instance, the much-touted investment in the iron and steel-making industry in Zimbabwe — with the ongoing construction of the US$1 billion plant in Manhize, Mvuma, by Dinson Iron and Steel Company (Disco), a subsidiary of Tsingshan Holdings of China.

This, under normal circumstances, would undoubtedly be a thing worthy of exceeding jubilation and optimism for a brighter and better Zimbabwe — whereby, the country can re-establish its previous dominance in iron and steel production on the African continent, while our own local downstream industries are revitalised, our economy growing, and our people securing a higher standard of living.

However, why am I not particularly filled with uncontainable joy and hope?

Well, for starters, let me only say, I have been down this road before.

Having been born and bred in the small town of Redcliff – founded on the back of the iron and steel- making company Ziscosteel – I know all about high standards of living, built on the massive revenues of this continental and global giant, which provided its workers and their families one of the best lives and livelihoods in the country.

Founded in what was then Southern Rhodesia in 1942 — at its peak, Ziscosteel was Africa’s largest integrated steel works (wholly government-owned), producing up to one million tonnes annually, and employing some 8 000 people.

In fact, Redcliff was nicknamed “Little London” due to the excellent infrastructural development, exquisite houses, exceptional learning and health facilities, world-class sporting and recreational facilities, where workers were some of the highest paid in the country.

Actually, when my mother joined the company as a general nurse in 1964, she was awarded a starting salary of £18 — which many in the same profession, including her white counterparts in government (during an era of racial discrimination), could only dream about.

So what happened to that giant?

It fell, faster than Goliath, in 2008.


It became the victim of widespread looting and mismanagement – whose proportions reached such preposterous levels – with company buses vanishing overnight, iron and steel being smuggled to profit individuals linked to political power and under-qualified or totally unqualified relatives being given top jobs they knew nothing about, among a whole host of nefarious activities.

Today, the giant lies in utter ruin – reduced to a mere collection of dilapidated corroded structures — whose only meaningful purpose now is housing troops of baboons and monkeys. In the process, those who toiled and suffered for this company – including my own mother, who retired in 2005 — were abandoned without any retirement packages or pension, as if they never worked a single day in their lives. I nearly shed tears a few weeks ago, when I drove my mother to the township of Torwood, to see a place I was born in 1973 and had not visited in years having turned into a sorry disgraceful sight. Even a former tennis court changing room has been turned into a residential place.

Then, how am I supposed to feel when I hear of this talk of the construction of a new “giant” iron and steel-making plant, which is expected to be “the largest on the African continent?

I even saw President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa commissioning, a few days ago, this new investment — amid much pomp and fanfare. We have been proudly shown on State-controlled television various pieces of equipment and machinery being brought into the country, as construction work gets underway on the site.

I have listened as those interviewed, particularly local residents express much delight and optimism about the promising bright days ahead, as so-called economic experts and industrialists predict massive fortunes for the country.

Yet, deep down I keep hearing that quiet still voice saying: “Haven’t we been through all this before; don’t we already have a giant iron and steel-making giant?”

What has changed this time around?

What is to be done differently this time around?

Admittedly, Dinson is not a government-owned enterprise, as was Ziscosteel – but, we have all observed how this unholy alliance between the Zimbabwe ruling elite and dubious Chinese companies has previously harmed us.

Do these deals not appear more about grabbing all that they can lay their hands on from the country (regardless of the trail of destruction left in the process), without a care for both our labour and environmental laws, nor the rights of local communities? As such, why should I be overly excited about an initiative whose outcome may lead to tears for the populace in general, and the local community in particular?

What were the finer details of the deal signed by the Zimbabwe government and the Chinese company?

What are the nitty-gritties and the broader implications for the country — in both the short and long-terms?

Have we not watched in shock diamonds being plundered under unclear circumstances in the Chiadzwa area of Marange — where Chinese mining companies are among the main players — whereby, only a measly 1% of the US$25 billion worth of revenue got into national coffers?

In the meantime, over the past 15 years of diamond mining, villagers have been displaced from their ancestral lands, to areas without the most basic infrastructure and social amenities, to wallow in abject poverty – denied even a small share in that 1% that has gone to Treasury.

I am one of the millions of Zimbabweans who have suffered enough in this country – and, would naturally welcome any respite from this miserable existence – especially through desperately- needed investment (both domestic and foreign).

Nonetheless, I am certainly not a fool! At my age, I have been exposed to too many lies and had my hope dashed at the hands of the Zanu PF regime – and, I would rather be regarded as a “prophet of doom”, than be a delusional idiot — who continues to believe those who have proven incapable of telling the truth.

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