It is not every day that an ordinary vendor gets to meet the head of Zimbabwe’s apex bank to complain about the crippling cash shortages.
For 28-year-old Grievance Sipikita, Zimbabwe “is my country too” and there is no office that is too important not to be knocked at in his quest for answers.
Sipikita wrote a damning letter to President Robert Mugabe demanding an end to corruption among other ills.
He has now embarked on a series of solo demonstrations for which he has already been arrested and fined.
Senior Reporter Richard Chidza (RC) tracked Sipikita (GS) and below are excerpts of the interview he had with him.
GS: I am a 28-year-old Zimbabwean. A vendor and I went to school up to ‘A’ Level. I ply my trade in the streets of Harare.
RC: You wrote a letter to President Mugabe. Have you received a response?
GS: I have not received any response. I wrote the letter highlighting government expenditure and corruption because it is bleeding our country.
RC: What drove you to the idea of solo demonstrations?
GS: I have witnessed suffering, shortage of money and other ills. I am a vendor as I indicated; at times we go home without even a cent because people have no money to buy our wares. I have watched old people sleeping in bank queues. Authorities introduced bond notes arguing it was the best way to deal with the cash shortages. I realised we do not have to suffer. We have a government in place and it has an obligation to correct these things. Even with the introduction of bond notes things have gone from bad to worse.
RC: Tell us about your meeting with the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) John Mangudya. How did that come about?
GC: Zimbabweans are talking about the problems our country is facing everyday and everywhere. I met someone who gave me the governor’s contact details and I decided to send him a text highlighting the problems in our financial sector and his promise to resolve the cash crisis using bond notes. He ignored me for a while, but after a few days he called me and agreed to a meeting on May 10. He pointed out that he was aware of the situation, indicated to me that revenue from exports such as tobacco, gold and other minerals is deposited into what are known as nostro accounts. That money, he told me, is being used to pay for imports such as electricity and fuel as well as cooking oil. That is why there is this liquidity crunch. He said this was why authorities are urging Zimbabweans to use plastic money. I asked Mangudya whether he was aware of the costs associated with the use of plastic money and he did not have an answer. I told him his policies are affecting the poor person and benefiting the rich. Zimbabweans are losing a lot of money through the use of plastic money because of the charges, this despite the cuts imposed by the RBZ. Mangudya told me he was doing all he could to resolve the situation.
RC: Did he give any reasons for the cash problems?
GS: Yes, he said a lot of cash had been taken out of the country during the unity government. He also cited corruption and the indigenisation policy as impediments to government efforts to revive the economy and the financial problems the country is facing. He said indigenisation was scaring away investors and told me it is going to be impossible to attract foreign direct investment with the current policies.
RC: After sending a letter to the President, you decided to embark on a solo demonstration. What happened?
GS: I went to Africa Unity Square holding a placard inscribed with the words Mugabe Must Act on Corruption and Government Spending. I was immediately arrested by two police officers from the riot squad who handed me over to Harare Central Police Station where I was charged with criminal nuisance and disorderly conduct. I was fined me $10 before releasing me. They warned me against such actions (protesting against Mugabe). They reminded me that people can disappear and mentioned Itai Dzamara’s disappearance. I will be consulting with lawyers. I have already talked to them so we will be meeting in the coming days to challenge the arrest and fine. They are both unconstitutional because I have a right to protest and petition.
RC: Are you not afraid then that whatever it is that happened to Dzamara might happen to you?
GS: I have started a fight and I am ready to face the consequences and to this to it’s ultimate conclusion. I have a family, a wife and a six-year-old child doing Grade One. They are scared for my safety, but I have told them that something needs to be done if my child is to have any future to talk about. My mother has asked me to stop, but I have made up my mind on this one.
RC: Do you intend to meet the President and what would you say if given the chance?
GS: It is my wish to and I would like to tell him to stop corruption. I would demand that he does more because he has the capacity. He has defended corrupt people like Jonathan Moyo (Higher Education minister) and instead of firing Francis Gudyanga (permanent secretary in the Higher and Tertiary Education ministry and formerly with Mines ministry) he transferred him to another ministry. It is wrong.
RC: Have you ever worked?
GS: No, I have never worked. It makes me sad. My father worked for Ziscosteel for 40 years, but he has nothing to show for it. People are losing their houses in Kwekwe, but nothing is being done. I have tried to meet with First Lady Grace Mugabe to see if she could help. I went to the Zanu PF headquarters, but security personnel denied me the chance to meet her. She is also corrupt just like her husband.
RC: There have been indications that President Mugabe might hand over power either to her or Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Lately, the name of Defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi has also been thrown into the fray.
Would that change your feeling?
GS: No! Grace could be more autocratic than Mugabe. Look how she has been abusing her borrowed power in Mazowe abusing the people of Manzou Farm. I grew up in Kwekwe and saw how Mnangagwa watched as companies were pillaged.
Mnangagwa is worse; he is associated with Gukurahundi massacres. I saw what he did to (MDC-T official) Blessing Chebundo. The same as Sekeramayi, they are cut from the same cloth. Nothing will change. We will suffer even more under any of these people. Given that Grace is abusing power that she does not have, imagine what she would do with constitutional power.
RC: You do not think it is the people around the President who are corrupt?
GS: No. No. No. Mugabe is corrupt. The nepotism, corruption, cronyism and rot are Mugabe’s responsibility. It is him.
RC: What is your message to the youth?
GS: We must not allow ourselves to be used by politicians. If anything, the current generation must fight to take political power. We have to fight the system that has made us suffer. The vendors of this generation, touts and the youths in general must register to vote and vote Mugabe out of office. They should vote for anyone else, but Mugabe or his lieutenants.