OPINION: Leading Zimbabwean economist John Robertson dies at the age of 85

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Zimbabwean economist John Robertson

by BEN FREETH
HARARE, (CAJ News) JOHN Robertson was a straight man. In a crooked world, and in what has become an even more crooked country, he was always a person of integrity who was reliable in supplying the unadulterated truth about the economic situation in Zimbabwe.

His father was a builder in Bulawayo, so John saw a massive amount of construction, particularly after the Second World War, and back in 1950s during the years of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and beyond. John catalogued the country when it was the fastest growing economy in the world, and then he catalogued it when it was the fastest shrinking economy in the world. He catalogued construction and then he catalogued destruction.

He catalogued the time during full Chapter 7 United Nations sanctions when the economy was growing. During that time, in the 1970s, he put forward a proposal to give title deeds to the communal people. It was turned down by the Ian Smith government. After independence from Britain in 1980, John put forward the proposal again. It was turned down by the government of Robert Mugabe for the same reason: the political authorities did not wish to relinquish control over the people by giving them ownership of the land that they lived on.

John was in a prime position to then catalogue the disastrous effects of nationalising privately-owned farmland in Zimbabwe. With the resultant and unprecedented economic collapse, he saw the government print money, resulting in inflation going into free fall. Consequently, the 100 trillion dollar notes, introduced in January 2009, could not buy a loaf of bread.

John was always a proponent of private property rights as a foundational aspect of a thriving economy. This was incredibly brave. He stood resolutely for private property rights for all people, right to the very end, despite huge opposition to this view initially from Mugabe and then Mnangagwa.

John was respected by all who knew him as a humble and supremely credible person. He was always helpful, always reliable and was blessed with a good measure of solid, old-fashioned common sense. He will be deeply missed by Zimbabweans, the international community and by all at the Mike Campbell Foundation.

Comment from the British Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Melanie Robinson

“I’m very sad indeed to hear of the passing of John Robertson. He always offered such sage advice and analysis, with integrity and humanity. I will miss him. My thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”

NB: Ben Freeth is executive director of the Mike Campbell Foundation

– CAJ News

 

 

 

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