/ 21 November 2018

A year later, Zimbabweans reflect: “I sort of miss Mugabe”

For those who were living and working in Zimbabwe last year
For those who were living and working in Zimbabwe last year, there was every reason to treat soldiers as messiahs, as they had engineered the resignation of Robert Mugabe, ending 37 years of uninterrupted autocratic rule. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

When Eddie Cross, a veteran opposition leader, saw soldiers being greeted as heroes on the streets of Harare last November, he was reminded of the end of World War II — the last time such scenes had been witnessed in the country.

For those who were living and working in Zimbabwe last year, there was every reason to treat soldiers as messiahs, as they had engineered the resignation of Robert Mugabe, ending 37 years of uninterrupted autocratic rule.

After the old political pangolin stepped down, Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party chose Mugabe’s former right hand man Emmerson Mnangagwa to finish off his term. Mnangagwa went on to narrowly win presidential polls in July this year. The polls were given the thumbs up by most election observers, although the opposition insists they were rigged.

This Wednesday, exactly a year since Mugabe’s momentous resignation, there has been no dancing or greeting of soldiers on Zimbabwe’s streets to mark the anniversary of the ouster of the ruthless dictator.

Byron Chamburuka, a retailer, is one of those who celebrated Mugabe’s fall, but says there is no reason to celebrate anymore. Twelve months on, he says he feels let down because in the euphoria of Mugabe’s removal, he thought it signified the end of the country’s problems.

“Now I see that Mugabe was not a person but a system. Local papers and government still give us the same stories about big mega projects that never materialise, just as it was during the Mugabe years. There is no accountability, the faces in the driver’s seat are not all new; they have been assistant drivers and so far they have dispensed nothing new,” he said.

“At least Mugabe managed to keep things stable from 2013 to 2017. Though I was one of the people that wanted him gone, one year after Mugabe I have to spend more on groceries than I did during his time. He left when the bread price was 90 cents, now it’s $1.50 and our wages have remained the same. Although Mugabe was not my piece of cake, I sort of miss him even with his failures.”

Chamburuka said under Mnangagwa’s government, people can now publicly criticise authorities which is a little positive, but he reckons that even when citizens do that, government still acts deaf.

“What good is it to give an opinion when the other party does not listen? As they say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. One year on we still have the same struggles socially and economically. In short nothing has changed, it’s a continuation of the Mugabe years in his absence,” added Chamburuka.

It’s not hard to find Zimbabweans who think that their lives have become worse-off under Mnangagwa.

In recent weeks, there has been a spike in the prices of goods and basic commodities, with pharmacies and some shops demanding payment in forex even though the majority of workers are paid in Zimbabwe’s bond notes.

The jump in prices resulted in year on year inflation rising to 20.85% for the month of October, from 5.39% in September.

Mhangarai Svosve, a 39-year-old self-employed cross-border trader, said the economy is the current government’s greatest weakness.

“Life under Mugabe has been tough but under this scarf-possessed president things have gone from bad to worse. The government has no solution to deal with the needs of the people. Like what economists say, you can rig an election but not an economy,” he said.

The leader of a residents association in Harare, Precious Shumba, noted that freedom of assembly and speech seem to be respected by the new authorities’, and that the new system does not tightly enforce the repressive Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

But the good news ends there. “At household level, during the Mugabe era a household could buy beef for about a dollar and everyone would have enough to survive on. But now with a dollar it is useless, thus most households now resort to vegetables,” he said.

“For an average worker receiving bond notes in monthly salaries and allowances, they need averagely 10 bond notes a day for transport and food. Price increases have left the worker most hopeless and alienated.”

On his part, Mnangagwa seems to be aware of the widespread disappointment that Zimbabweans feel with the way things have panned out, but adds that the pessimism is unjustified.

In his weekly column in the state-run newspaper, the Sunday Mail, Mnangagwa admits that he has read the critical analysis pieces that have been appearing in independent newspapers. “Indeed these negative pieces seem to suggest a sense of national regret,” wrote the President.

But not everyone shares the negative sentiment. Cross, who was a toddler when World War Two ended and has lived through plenty of upheaval since, said that people should give Mnangagwa a chance, and that Zimbabwe’s current economic malaise is not the same as the economic crisis of 2005-2008, when the country experienced world record inflation.

“Nothing could be further from the truth, our economic fundamentals are sound, exports and GDP are growing rapidly and once the new team in the Ministry of Finance started to tackle the macro-economic problems of the country, they were immediately rewarded by a sharp reduction in the fiscal deficit and we will be in surplus by Christmas. At this pace we will be in a different country by March 2019. Let’s keep our current problems in perspective — if we do, they will not look so entrenched or formidable,” Cross wrote last week on his blog.