HARARE - Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has implored President Robert Mugabe to cut short his overseas holiday and return home to attend to the country’s mounting economic crisis and threats of mass starvation.
Speaking to the Daily News yesterday after witnessing first hand “the terrible hardships that Zimbabweans are groaning under in Gutu” — where he had gone to attend the funeral of Kuwadzana legislator Nelson Chamisa’s younger brother — Tsvangirai said Mugabe should come back home to see for himself the suffering of most citizens.
The former prime minister in the government of national unity said he had witnessed heart-rending poverty in Gutu, which he said was being exacerbated by the worsening hunger which was “everywhere”.
In that light, Tsvangirai also advised Mugabe to declare a state of emergency so that resources could be mobilised quickly to avert the looming mass starvation in the country — that is blamed on Zanu PF’s misrule and the El Nino weather phenomenon that has seen little rainfall activity this agricultural season.
“Even though I went to Gutu for the funeral of Chamisa’s late brother, it was very obvious that the country is facing a drought which appears to be more severe than previous ones.
“My assessment is that this drought is going to be devastating and, therefore, it’s critical for the government to show more energy and declare a state of emergency to avert disaster,” Tsvangirai said — adding that this would enable both local and overseas development partners to chip in.
He said it would be unfortunate if the government continued to move “as lethargically as it was doing” on this emergency, pointing to the 2008 cholera outbreak which saw Mugabe’s administration “burying its head in the sand and refusing to declare a state of emergency” with disastrous consequences.
As a result of the government’s incompetence then, more than 4 000 lives were needlessly lost to the cholera epidemic — with Tsvangirai expressing the fear that “the current situation tragically mirrors the 2008 crisis”.
“We need to mobilise now and energetically, both the private and public sectors, as well as our international partners to deal with the situation,” Tsvangirai implored.
According to the United Nations World Food Programme and other aid agencies, at least 1,5 million Zimbabweans are in desperate need of food aid.
The country, once seen as Africa’s breadbasket is now widely viewed as a hopeless basket case that imports everything that it consumes — a tragic reality that is blamed squarely on Mugabe’s populist policies and Zanu PF’s chaotic fast-track land reforms.
Tsvangirai also observed ruefully yesterday that even in those few areas where the government was distributing farm inputs around the country, this exercise was being carried out in a partisan manner, with “food being used as a political weapon”.
“It is very worrying and tragic that food is now being used as a political weapon. The fact is that everyone should be looked after by the government because it is its responsibility,” he said.
Amid all this, analysts have also warned that Zimbabwe could be thrown into total chaos this year as the broke government also fails to pay its workers and other dues.
Respected University of Zimbabwe lecturer and political analyst, Eldred Masunungure, also warned that the country’s deteriorating political and economic conditions could also see a new era of rolling mass actions.
He said it was likely that while 2015 was “certainly a nasty year” that many Zimbabweans would like to forget, 2016 was going to be “nastier” as economic and social conditions continued to deteriorate.
“It will probably be worse than the nasty year of 2015 which was bad for most people and which most of us would like to forget. 2016 is definitely likely to be nastier.
“I don’t see any green shoots of recovery. It’s gloomy and most Zimbabweans are despondent,” Masunungure said.
“Asked about the possibility of escalated strikes this year, he said this was “highly likely”.
“That is likely but not inevitable because Zimbabweans have changed.
“In the 1990s, they used to express themselves easily but now the appetite has diminished and I think most Zimbabweans, even if they realise that the government has ignored them, have constructed ways of surviving and the most visible sign of that is the informal sector, which is the gateway for survival.
“As long as there is a way out they will tend to ignore the government’s incompetence because they can live without the State and that tends to dampen the likelihood of strikes,” Masunungure said.