HARARE – The give-away was a premeditated double take for defiant effect.
In the middle of Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in over a decade, finance minister Mthuli Ncube had dropped a bombshell that even his partisan audience of Zanu PF MPs needed to hear twice to digest.
Cue awkward cheers and table-thumping mixed with laughter.
Zimbabwe is going to orbit, Ncube had just announced as he unveiled his 2020 national budget in Parliament, boycotted by opposition MPs. Yes, space.
“The budget has set aside resources for research and development programmes, including the launch of a space satellite. I repeat, including the launch of a space satellite,” Ncube announced.
Research and development were “critical for Zimbabwe’s social economic transformation and competitiveness, as the country strives to attain Vision 2030”, he said, and Zimbabwe had to “innovate in developing new services or products, and also advance the value addition strategy.”
Zanu PF, which derided MDC leader Nelson Chamisa for campaigning with a promise of introducing bullet trains, had just launched for the stratosphere.
“If I needed a jolt, this was it for me in the 2020 budget statement,” businessman Nigel Chanakira tweeted. “I probably lack the sophistication of dreaming BIG because I just yearn for water, electricity and a functional health service for the masses in our country.”
It was all too much for Tsitsi Dangarembga, the award-winning novelist.
“The blustering veneer is off – that’s good,” she said of the former Oxford economics professor’s delivery, “but the irrationality continues disastrously.”
Dangarembga added: “Firewood bakeries in the rural areas, fish farming ponds in the CBD, low wages and poor equipment for teachers, doctors and their clients, and a space satellite? It sounds disoriented to me.”
Since the former Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, some 8,900 satellites from more than 40 countries have been launched into space, although just 1,900 are operational. They cost anything upwards of US$500 million.
The satellites can be used for various purposes, including weather monitoring, navigation signals, observing distant planets and communications deployed for military installations as well as intelligence gathering. Some superpowers are developing “killer satellites” designed to destroy enemy warheads, satellites, and other space assets.
There might just be another clever plan Zimbabwe’s rulers have up their sleeve though.
“If we go into space, the international community will respect us and sanctions will be removed,” Dangarembga opined, trying to make sense of the ridiculousness of it all.-zimlive