A year on and little changed in Z’babwe

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the 2018 presidential election.
Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa won the 2018 presidential election.
Image: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwean businessman Munya Chihota’s face lights up when he recalls taking part in a march in 2017 with tens of thousands of people calling for then-president Robert Mugabe to step down.

The march came after the military had briefly taken over, and days before Mugabe was forced from power on November 21.

“There was so much joy,” 41-year-old Chihota said, describing the outpouring of excitement as Zimbabweans waved flags and placards and sang songs urging an end to Mugabe’s 37-year hold on power.

“We were all there. Young, old, black, white. There was a collective sense of hope that . . . things were going to change.

“The general feeling was the system had to go,” he said.

But Chihota now looks back on those euphoric times with mixed emotions.

“Unfortunately only an individual and a few of his hangerson were removed, and the system remained in place.”

Mugabe, who held power from independence from British colonial rule in 1980, presided over Zimbabwe’s decline from a regional power with huge potential to a ruined country from which millions fled.

Many hoped his fall would mark a new era for the country and a rebirth of its economy, but Chihota says business at his plastic manufacturing firm is at its slowest since he started eight years ago.

“A lot of things have turned out bad,” he said. “This is definitely not what we expected.”

Mugabe maintained his stranglehold on power by using brutal tactics, deploying security forces to crush opponents and rivals.

Finally last year, when he reached the age of 93, a long brewing succession battle burst into the open.

The military, fearing that Mugabe’s wife Grace, now 53, was being lined up to take over from him, seized control and forced the president to resign.

The army top brass ushered in close ally Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe had recently sacked as vice-president.

Mnangagwa, who secured his hold on power by winning disputed elections in July, had pledged to revive the economy, attract foreign investment, and create jobs. But the dire financial problems of the Mugabe era haunt the new reality.

Unemployment is estimated at more than 90%, and the economy has been cut in half since 2000 when many white owned farms were seized.

With banks without cash, a government without money to spend, and inflation above 20% in October, Zimbabwe’s suffering shows no signs of ending.

Shortages of basic goods have created a thriving black market, with some prices rising 200% in recent months. A litre of cooking oil can be sold for as much as $12 (R168) on the street compared with the retail price of $3.70 (R51.82).

Hopes that the July 30 election would mark a new chapter for Zimbabwe were quickly dashed when soldiers opened fire on protesters in Harare even before the presidential race results were announced.

Six people were killed, triggering global outrage and undermining efforts to re-brand Mnangagwa, a 76-year-old Zanu-PF loyalist, as a fresh face.

The election result was also engulfed by accusations of fraud and opposition supporters and activists have since complained about harassment.

However, Zanu-PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo insists “there has been pronounced freedom and democracy” in Mnangagwa’s first year.

“The economy is also showing signs of growth, with many foreign businesses interested in investing. We have had hordes of foreign tourists – clear signs things have changed.”

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change disagrees. “Shortages continue unabated and the government continues to intensify the suffering of people,” spokesperson Jacob Mafume said.

Zimbabwe must clear its arrears before it can raise more loans needed to rebuild the country. With a total debt of $16.9bn (R236.7bn), it says it will clear almost $2bn (R28bn) of arrears with the African Development Bank and the World Bank by October 2019.

But continuing targeted US sanctions, which remain in place due to lack of reform, could block fresh loans. -AFP