Zimbabweans still mired in misery

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa
Image: Supplied

In most countries, a 79% leap in share prices over just 11 days would normally suggest a surfeit of investor confidence.

In Zimbabwe, home in October to the world’s best-performing stock market, it is a sign of panic and inflation, just another terrifying statistic in a country that has been a world beater at producing them.

Nine years after inflation hit 89.7 sextillion percent and the central bank authorised a 100trillion Zimbabwean dollar banknote – still too little to pay for a bus ride – the country is again mired in financial woe.

In recent weeks, Zimbabweans have experienced a wretchedly familiar reprise, experiencing anew soaring prices, petrol queues, bare supermarket shelves and pharmacies running short of life-saving medicines.

It should not have been this way.

In November a year ago, the coup was launched that finally ousted Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabweans celebrated on the streets, but in the 12 months since, many have reached the gloomy conclusion that getting rid of a dictator is easier than erasing his legacy.

As a result of past mismanagement, profligate government spending and a failure to institute economic reforms by new President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabweans are facing a twin currency and inflation crisis.

Richer Zimbabweans complain that the cost of their weekly shopping has skyrocketed by 40%, while the poor are suffering even more.

The collapse of industry in Zimbabwe means that the cost of about 90% of goods, including staples such as flour, sugar and cooking oil, have gone up by about 20%.

Hyperinflation was finally brought under control in 2009 after the Zimbabwean dollar was finally abolished and the use of the US dollar accepted.

Government overspending saw the dollar largely disappear two years ago and the government launched new quasi-currencies, such as locally printed cash known as bond notes, and electronic money spent via mobile phones.

These methods of payment were at first interchangeable with the US dollar, but values deteriorated and plunged in the last few weeks.

So prices began rising, and panic quickly set in.

Crowds formed outside fastemptying supermarkets, with people desperately trying to stock up on basic items.

SA-owned franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken said it had had to shut down because it ran out of chicken, and locally produced fast-food outlets almost doubled prices.

Richer Zimbabweans found that often the only way to turn bond notes into dollars was to buy shares in foreign companies listed on the local stock market, explaining why prices have soared.

But nowhere has the situation been as grave or as tragic as in the health sector.

Inside a hospital in Chitungwiza, near Harare, HIVpositive Zimbabweans have been queuing in a frantic attempt to source antiretrovirals.

Mnangagwa’s options are limited, and he has been blamed for exacerbating the turmoil by increasing already unsustainable government spending to win votes ahead of July’s presidential election.

But cutting expenditure would mean slashing the bloated civil service – a move sure to alienate many in the already divided Zanu-PF.

Nor can the president approach the World Bank or International Monetary Fund until Zimbabwe pays off more than £1bn (R18.6bn) in debt arrears – money it does not have.