Tough year for post-Bob Zimbabwe

Anxiety, frustration as economic woes rob nation of promised bright new morning

11 November 2018 - 00:00 By JAMES THOMPSON

On Wednesday it will be exactly a year since the Zimbabwe Defence Forces seized control of Harare in a move that culminated in president Robert Mugabe's removal.
Then, the capital was awash with colourful marches as citizens poured out in their thousands to demand Mugabe's exit.
Today, the euphoria has been replaced with uncertainty, anxiety and frustration caused by Zimbabwe's economic meltdown. Inflation is at its highest in more than a decade, edging to 6%, and foreign currency shortages are acute.
Confidence in President Emmerson Mnangagwa is low, despite his brave face and insistence that the US dollar is on par with the local unit, the bond note.
The parity between the US dollar and the bond note was issued through a presidential decree by Mugabe while he was still in office. Hanging on to that part of Mugabe's economic legacy makes Mnangagwa's pro-business stance sound hollow.
The price instability of the past few weeks has resulted in the shuttering of several companies - a last-ditch effort by firms to survive in the volatile trading environment. After being closed for nearly a month, the US franchise KFC announced on Friday it was reopening its six restaurants in Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.
Its reopening came with increased prices - a feature of most businesses in the country.
The economy's toll on citizens and companies has dimmed the anniversary of Mugabe's fall.
Political science student Brian Chindoori said Zimbabwe had missed a turning point when Mugabe stepped down last year, because party politics took centre stage.
He ruled out the likelihood of marching in the streets again in support of the army.
"On August 1 the same army sprayed bullets at opposition supporters. The army has firmly asserted its direct involvement in civilian politics. They decided that Mugabe's time was up and they also decided that we should not protest against Mnangagwa's controversial narrow victory. They can even decide he should go if they are not happy," he said.
For Tawanda Moyo, an unemployed graduate, the removal of Mugabe by the military last year made sense because for 37 years, the former freedom fighter had ruled the country with an iron fist.
"Removing him through the ballot had failed and the closest was in 2008 when he lost the first round of elections. We were to learn later that the military refused that he should hand over power to [the then MDC leader Morgan] Tsvangirai. So, who besides the same army that kept him in power had the capacity to remove him?" said Moyo.
Ruvheneko Parirenyatwa, a panellist at the Mandela Institute of Development Studies 2018 African Democracy Dialogue series held at Wits University this week, said there was a misconception that there had been a coup in Zimbabwe.
"In reality, the military has always been the power behind the throne," she said.
While there has been a thaw in foreign relations, the purse strings to help the country out of its hole are not opening fast enough.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, who has been in the job for two months, has the unenviable task of convincing international financial institutions to accept Zimbabwe's new path of economic reform. His economic plan, which includes austerity cuts, received a cautious nod last month during the spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank. Legislators and government ministers accustomed to largesse have had to do with no new vehicles since they assumed office.
"We were sold a dummy," said a secondary school teacher who asked not to be named.
"You would hear and read stories from the state media about megadeals to be signed and money being poured in. Those things never materialised. Instead, the economy took a turn for the worse. It's as if these guys have no idea and Mugabe somehow had tricks to keep us moving."
Economist Stevenson Dhlamini at the National University of Science and Technology Graduate School of Business said the country was moving towards a liberal market-based economy.
"But before it gets there, there will be a lot of suffering for the ordinary person and joy for capitalists. It's almost similar to what happened when Vladimir Putin took over in Russia," he said.

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