If West can embrace East, why can’t Zim?


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ZIMBABWE – This offering was prompted by an article that appeared last Thursday (December 3) at the peak of the visit to Zimbabwe by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was accompanied by a huge delegation that signed along with their local counterparts a total of 12 deals, mega-deals or so-called mega-deals, depending on which newspaper you were reading. Newspaper dragged former Education Minister David Coltart down from his Twitter domain and quoted him as having said that “so-called mega-deals signed between China and Zimbabwe this week will employ very few Zimbabweans and involve very few companies”.

While the newspaper described him as a senior opposition official, when he served as minister of education in the Government of National Unity, Coltart in fact represented the breakaway but original MDC of Prof Welshman Ncube, led at the time by then Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Guseni Oliver Mutambara. How times change – not a word in any newspaper these days about the loquacious robotics professor, justifiably viewed by many as Zimbabwe’s ultimate political opportunist.

“We desperately need construction deals which will involve our architects, our engineers, our builders, our workers, our companies (and) not Chinese,” the good former minister was quoted as having pronounced with finality. He did not explain, however, how he reached his worrisome conclusion that there was no benefit likely to be derived by Zimbabwean workers or companies following the signing of the deals between Zimbabwe and China last week.

Concerns have been raised in the past, however, against Chinese companies operating in Zimbabwe for their poor human resources management. Relevant Government departments must deal effectively with those who seek to exploit the grinding poverty of Zimbabwean citizens.

Coltart’s blog attracted a number of responses from fellow bloggers, among them Ranga Mberi, who was described as being based in Harare. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the same Rangarirai Mberi, who served as one of our leading journalists on the original Newspaper before it was banned in 2003.

While urging his compatriots to rethink their views on China, Mberi had the following wisdom to impart: “Some of our people still think, that it’s not ‘investment’ if it’s not from Europe or Washington.

“China is just doing what China does, putting its wares on the table. What we get depends on what we bring to the table and how well we bargain.”

Some Zimbabweans complain that China produces a certain quality of goods for the American and other Western markets, while an inferior quality of the same goods is produced for Zimbabwe and other markets in Africa. As a result in Zimbabwe any product of Chinese origin is derisively or contemptuously dismissed as inferior or zhing zhong, even while the more well-heeled citizens of Zimbabwe may be donning designer label attire bought in London or New York after being manufactured in and imported from China. In fairness it is said that the Americans demand that goods manufactured in China for their market are made to official American specifications.

At Mupedzanhano Flea Market in Mbare anything goes. Zimbabwean merchants and their Chinese counterparts who import goods from China into the country are motivated solely by profit and will buy the cheapest goods available at source.

Perhaps the Standards Association of Zimbabwe could focus its attention on protection of Zimbabweans from zhing- zhong quality apparel. It is likely, however, that there will be an outcry from that section of our society, quite significant it appears, judging from the brisk business at Mupedzanhamo, that survives on zhing-zhong.

In the same issue of NewsDay Conway Tutani, another journalist who, by coincidence also served in a senior capacity on the original Daily News, but now runs a column in NewsDay while in retirement, contributed an article under the headline, “Don’t take it out on the Chinese”. He cautioned fellow Zimbabweans against underestimating the significance or the value of the visit of the Chinese delegation to Zimbabwe.

“People don’t come bigger than Xi,” Tutan opined. “This, it must be said here and now, has been a mighty political coup for Zanu-PF – whether one loves or hates the ruling party, especially after Xi gave Zimbabwe a wide berth during his last trip to the region.”

Tutani was always imbued with the gift of good judgment going back to his undergraduate student days at the University of Rhodesia in the 1970s.

Former rebel Rhodesian prime minister Ian Douglas Smith must have turned in his grave as the decision was taken at NewsDay to reinforce Tutani’s article with an image of British Prime Minister David Cameron sharing a beer in an English pub with President Xi during the latter’s State visit to the UK in October.

Both Tutani and Mberi touched on a sensitive but significant issue pertaining to a perception prevalent among certain Zimbabweans, Coltart and some journalists included, who appear to have remained bogged down in an ideological quagmire in which anything of Chinese origin is viewed as negative; this notwithstanding that the West, the preferred source of similar ideas and goods has long openly embraced China as a development partner.

One Chinese trading company, which imports into the United States, offers a long list of “Made in China” products, including clothing, handbags, automotive parts, bicycles, cellphones and accessories, computers and accessories, construction equipment, golf products, granite products, hardware, musical instruments, machinery, T-shirts, toys, telephone equipment, tyres and tubes, watches and wheels for cars and trucks.

In all the company offers to the American market 52 different types of products made in China, and this is just one company. The Chinese have gone a step further. They now offer to the US market products “Made by China in America”.

Shandong Tranlin Paper Co. Ltd operates a pulp and paper company in China. The company is now working on opening a new plant in Virginia. The new paper products manufacturer outside Richmond in Virginia will churn out the region’s straw and maize stalks into household products, including napkins, tissue and organic fertiliser, all marked “Made in the USA”.

The new Chinese factory in Virginia is forecast to create about 2 000 jobs by 2020. Shandong Tranlin Paper is the latest Chinese company to invest in US manufacturing. Chinese foreign direct investment in the US totalled $12 billion in 2014, topping $10 billion for the second year in a row. In 2012 Chinese foreign investment in America surpassed investment flows in the opposite direction to China.

It would appear that everything in the average American home is made in China or of late made on American soil by China – the iPhones in their pockets, the flat-screens in their living rooms, the clothes in their closets, their luggage when they travel on business or on holiday, the toys in their children’s playroom.

China is, after all, the world’s largest producer of consumer goods.

The Chinese automobile industry has recently made significant inroads into the Zimbabwean market. While Chery is now assembled in Mutare, Foton, FAW, Great Wall Motor (GWM) and Yutong, are becoming increasingly visible names on our highways.

A typical and the most embarrassing example of the negative Press that characterized sections of the media during the Chinese president’s visit to Harare was “Jinping airport glitch embarrasses Mugabe” .

According to government databases there are about 14 000 airports in the United States. Out of the 5 000 there are 376 airports that have regularly scheduled airline service.

On Sunday, when I started working on this article, the total number of delays on flights within, into or out of the United States amounted to a total of 941. Now, if the image or the performance of the government of the US were to be measured on the basis of flight departures per day recorded by the American airline industry the government of President Barack Obama would have collapsed ages ago. Either that or the president would have died of embarrassment by now.

I spent more than five hours while waiting for an engine to be replaced on our South African Airways flight to Johannesburg some years ago.

The airline industry even has provision for passengers to be compensated for delays or cancellations of flights. President Xi Jinping and his delegation were delayed for only 12 minutes while sitting on their presidential flight before take-off.

My own realistic hope is that during the 12 additional minutes they waited for the Chinese plane to depart it dawned on the assembled Zimbabwe Government officials to amend their shopping list to include more modern aircraft for Air Zimbabwe, perhaps Boeing 777 or 787 Dreamliner to replace the ageing Boeing 767. If the Airbus A380 is too much of an investment on borrowed funds perhaps the A350 XWB, Airbus’ all-new family of wide-body aircraft that is now shaping the future of medium to long-haul airline travel operations could be considered.

A combination of young journalists, daily churning out articles on subjects they have little understanding of and with little inclination to research, even in these days of Google-assisted convenience, and young political party spokesmen, always shooting from the hip, even on subjects that they possess little inkling of, can be sufficient to generate “an exceedingly embarrassing diplomatic gaffe”, to quote MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu, even where none clearly exists.

“President Xi Jinping is the world’s second most powerful politician after President Barack Obama of the United States,” Gutu pontificated over the commonplace mechanical malfunction on the passenger staircase. “It was a complete disgrace for him to be subjected to such a degrading and humiliating experience.”

But, truly speaking, was this clearly insignificant incident in today’s world a complete disgrace and a degrading and humiliating experience as President Xi sat on his state-of-the-art presidential Boeing 747-400 for a fleeting 12 minutes while the passenger staircase was pushed away after a slight mishap.

The president and his entourage probably took off into the clear Zimbabwean skies that afternoon without realising that they had been delayed on the tarmac for 12 minutes and that a malfunction on a staircase was the cause of their alleged discomfort.

Jacob Mafune, spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party, had the final word on the whole debacle.

“It’s not a surprise,” he lectured with obvious relish. “We are a country with no shame and we have seen our President being pushed up podiums because he is old. The machines are probably as old as the President has been in power, hence are no longer in use anywhere in the world.”

But fellow Zimbabweans, is it really true that staircases such as depicted on the front page of NewsDay last Thursday are no longer in use anywhere in the world? Alternatively, is Harare International Airport normally serviced by moving staircases in a situation where access or egress is not through terminal gates, as is the case in other modern airports the world over?

My arrival in the United States in 2003 coincided with the departure of hordes of American journalists who were embedded with the US military at the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, an operation of dubious diplomatic value, which culminated in President Saddam Hussein being shamelessly pulled out of a hole in the ground like a rabbit. He was executed, but the region has not known any peace since then.

During my seven-year stay in Massachusetts, which included three years at Harvard, during which I interacted with Americans and other nationals from every corner of the world, I learnt much about patriotism, tolerance and the need for balanced perceptions.

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