"Nothing has changed in this country. We are still suffering ... all the talk about political stabilisation is much ado about nothing."
Rufaro Mataka (28) a resident of Glendale—an outpost 50km northeast of Zimbabwe’s capital city—said he was horrified when he woke up one morning last week to find both water and electricity supplies in his neighbourhood cut off without any notice.
Across the country, two years of a tenuous power sharing arrangement have done little to halt rampant water and electricity cuts which have become almost a daily staple, destroying people’s electronic gadgets and strangling industry’s capacity to contribute to a recovery.
Mataka said he was forced to go to work without taking a bath and wearing creased clothes only to be told transport fares had suddenly gone up by 100%. Apparently the scarcity of fuel on the local market during the past week forced commuter omnibus operators to unilaterally hike fares much to the dismay of commuters.
When incumbent President Robert Mugabe signed a power sharing agreement with arch-rival Morgan Tsvangirai, and Arthur Mutambara two years ago, hyperinflation was estimated at 6,5 quindecillion novemdecillion percent, or 6,5 followed by 107 zeros.
Many Zimbabweans heaved a sigh of relief as the political agreement appeared to be the only way out of the country’s decade-long downward socio-economic and political spiral. However, two years later, the situation on the ground is doing little to inspire confidence in the country’s recovery.
“Nothing has changed in this country. We are still suffering. It’s all dog-eat-dog in Zimbabwe. All the talk about political stabilisation is much ado about nothing,” said Mataka, puckering up his lips.
Cost of living rises
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), the cost of living has shot up in recent months and is now close to the $500 mark, far below the paltry $150 basic monthly salary. In spite of the projected five% inflation rate, prices of basic commodities go up on a monthly basis.
“The cost of living has gone up to $499,96 for a family of five. The food basket has gone up to $144,19 from $142,77 in December, 2010. The items that went up include tea leaves, bread, fresh milk, and fuel,” said a CCZ official.
The dollarisation of the Zimbabwean economy which followed the political agreement, negotiated at the behest of then South Africa president Thabo Mbeki, brought some form of stability and supermarkets that had gone for months with empty shelves managed to stack up basic commodities imported mainly from South Africa.
While the dollarisation brought some relief, finding the greenbacks continues to be a daily, heart-rending struggle for most Zimbabweans.
To complicate matters, Zimbabwe’s industry is still struggling to find its feet, reporting an average of 47% capacity utilisation by end of 2010. Zimbabwe currently relies on imports, mainly from South Africa and China that drain the little foreign currency in the country. Prices of imported goods are marked up now and again, putting a strain on the already hard-pressed wallets of Zimbabweans.
“Everyone is saying things have gotten better here but the truth is that as long as the economy is not yet fully working, we are going to continue to have loads of problems,” said Mataka.
Just like Mataka, many Zimbabweans interviewed expressed a lack of confidence in the way the country’s economy has played out in the past two years.
“Our primitive politics is affecting every facet of our economy. There are coalition governments the world over made up of politicians from opposed backgrounds but these governments deliver,” said Cyril Zenda, a journalist working in Harare.
“The problem with our politics is that people do not get in there because they have anything to offer but because they want to get something—if not everything—out of it, which explains the corruption, greediness and all the ungodly things that are causing lot of uncertainty in the economy. Otherwise without these, we could be seeing the economy getting out of the woods.”
To complicate the picture, name-calling, hate speech and acerbic rhetoric emanating from the country’s political principals have been on the rise in recent months amid talk of a possible election sometime later this year.
“Everything seems to point to a violent election,” the New York Times quoted Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist and pollster.
Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister, Tendai Biti, recently warned that the country could face a “bloodbath” at elections and warned of “disastrous, debilitating consequences” if there is a repeat of the violent, contested elections of 2008.
“I think the past 10 years have left quite a big dent on the disposition of the country. There is a lot of mediocrity in this country. I am shelving my plans to come back home,” said Brian Zulu, one of the millions of Zimbabweans who fled their country to seek greener pastures in the United Kingdom.
“Our position as a country is one that is unfortunate. However, the blame lies squarely on our shoulders as citizens. We entrusted our future into the hands con-men, looters, thieves, murderers and heartless wolves. The results are horrible, as a country we have moved 100 years back, economically we are back to hunting and gathering,” said Job Wiwa Sikhala, leader of the little known MDC99 opposition political party in Zimbabwe.