- Two years after the removal of strongman Mugabe, who for decades was blamed for the depredations endured by Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa looks cut from the same cloth.
By Reagan Mashavave
Hospitals across Zimbabwe are standing silent and empty after the government sacked hundreds of junior doctors who had been striking to protest against not only their own low salaries but the lack of basic medicines and equipment.
As the country plunges deeper into economic crisis, health is just one sector that has ceased to function. Zimbabweans are plagued by power cuts, foreign currency shortages, lack of investment, dilapidated infrastructure, unemployment of over 80 per cent. Long queues at petrol stations attest to fuel shortages. Banks have no cash. Factories have shut down.
Hopes have long gone that the coup that removed Robert Mugabe from power in November 2017 would usher in competent governance and economic revival. The doctors’ strike is just one more symptom of dire economic and social malaise in a country that has the resources to be self-sustaining, matched with world-class official corruption.
Around 200 doctors were fired in early November, three months after they started striking for better pay — of around US$100 per month.
“We are on strike because we are pained to see patients dying because of lack of medicines,” said a doctor, who asked not to be identified.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has threatened more sackings if the doctors do not return to work.
Amid the deepening crisis, Minister of Finance Mthuli Ncube on November 14 presented his US$4 billion budget for 2020. And in doing so he got to the heart of the problem facing Zimbabwe: massive and unmitigated corruption.
“Government is losing resources through corrupt activities,” Ncube said. “The full potential of young people is not realised owing to lack of access to productive and decent jobs.”
Nevertheless, he pushed on with announcing plans for developing the agriculture and mining sectors, which he reckoned would boost economic growth to three per cent in 2020 — from the current economic contraction of 6.5 per cent for this year, according to official figures. Few have faith that such a dramatic turnaround is possible.
Gone are the days when the former British colony — known until independence in 1980 as Rhodesia — was the breadbasket of Southern Africa. Now unable to feed itself, Zimbabwe’s rich mineral resources, including diamonds, gold, chrome, coal and other minerals, are being squandered and stolen by political and military cronies of Mugabe and his rapacious wife Grace. Mugabe died, aged 95, in September. Grace, still living in Zimbabwe, keeps a low profile.
Since taking power in a coup that ousted Mugabe from the presidency after 37 years, Mnangagwa has consistently failed to show any inclination for dealing with the crippling corruption at the top of the ruling ZANU-PF party.
Inflation, which had looked briefly like it was coming under control, notably when the currency was dollarised in 2009, is now above 400 per cent. The government, by contrast, puts inflation at 38 per cent, which for any normal country would be unbearable.
Basic commodities are simply beyond the reach of ordinary people, and hunger is an ever-present spectre. Government workers, including doctors, want to be paid in US dollars as the newly-introduced Zimbabwean dollar depreciates so rapidly. The official exchange rate is 15 Zimbabwean dollars to one US dollar while on the black market one dollar will buy 21 Zimbabwean dollars.
Memories of the hyper-inflation that preceded the dollarisation are still vivid — empty shops, bank notes worth 100 trillion Zimbabwean dollars. Fears are rising that those days could return as the US dollar has been outlawed as tender, though it is the most trusted currency, and many shops will only accept US dollars.
Tendai Biti, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was behind the dollarisation when he served as finance minister from 2008-2013 in an MDC-ZANU-PF coalition government. Having reversed one crisis, he recognises the signs of another in the making.
“The budget confirms that ZANU lacks the capacity, the skill and the desire of moving the country forward,” Biti wrote on his official Twitter account. “At this rate, total collapse in a few months is inevitable.”
As the situation careers towards the catastrophe that Biti expects, protests have been greeted with brutality instead of action. Mnangagwa likes to blame the west for Zimbabwe’s problems, pointing to sanctions that have, in reality, specifically targeted figures implicated in human rights abuses.
Aid still pours in; the 2020 budget anticipates US$670 million. The United States will spend US$250 million; Britain US$112 million; the European Union US$72 million; the Global Fund US$116 million; and the World Bank US$26 million.
The country’s total debt is more than US$10 billion, which is owed to the Paris Club, multilateral institutions and other countries.
Nevertheless, Mnangagwa sends the military to shoot protesters. Some outspoken civil society leaders, who have called for political and economic reforms, have been abducted and beaten by unknown assailants. Dozens of people have been killed or injured this year by armed police and troops, sent to put down streets protests.
Mnangagwa’s incompetence and brutality have not gone unnoticed. Recent comments by the US Ambassador Brian Nichols that corruption, not sanctions, was the cause of the country’s problems has set back Mnangagwa’s plan to improve relations with Washington. Thsese have been strained since 2002 sanctions were imposed over violent farm evictions and human rights abuses.
Two years after the removal of strongman Mugabe, who for decades was blamed for the depredations endured by Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa looks cut from the same cloth.