HARARE - With Zimbabwe continuing on its precipitous decline that is widely blamed on President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF — as manifested by rising poverty levels and a stone-broke State that cannot pay its workers — a ruling party bigwig has admitted that the country is “in dire straits”.
The unusual but welcome admission by the Zanu PF stalwart flies in the face of official communiqués by both government and ruling party officials who incredulously continue to claim that all is well in the country despite obvious evidence to the contrary.
Speaking to the Daily News yesterday, the senior official said “burying our heads in the sand like ostriches as we are doing” was not helping either the country or the ruling party — adding that it “pained” him to see so many Zimbabweans suffering to the extent that they were doing.
“It is a fact that the economy is in a very bad shape in Zimbabwe, and that the poor are being particularly hard hit. I think part of the way out of this is for all of us to admit that the country is in dire straits so that we can all sit down as Zimbabweans to find the requisite solutions.
“I feel pained to see so many of our people, particularly the poor in towns and rural areas having to make do with so little or nothing, and they have lived like this for so long.
“In fact, many young people who are under 25 years in our country don’t really know a good, normal life. It’s time for us to stop the denial.
“We need to rise above the culture of petty political fights that is now a permanent feature of Zimbabwean life, whether one looks at Zanu PF or the country generally. As Dr Amai (First Lady Grace Mugabe) always says, it’s time to stop all this,” the contrite bigwig said.
The official spoke as analysts warn that Zimbabwe is teetering on the brink of total collapse, a situation they say is spawning worsening citizen despondency which could lead to growing opposition to Mugabe and Zanu PF’s 36 years in power.
Most political and economic observers who spoke to the Daily News yesterday also warned that 2016 would in all likelihood be harder all- round compared to 2015, which was itself generally described as an “annus horribilis” (horrible year).
They said there was “little hope” that life would get better for most Zimbabweans, and that if anything, the country’s ailing economy would get sicker, while the deadly factional and succession wars ravaging the post-congress Zanu PF were set to worsen.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) chief executive Christopher Mugaga said with all the country’s key economic indicators — including inflation, unemployment and gross domestic product growth — heading in the wrong direction, the only way out was for the government to “quell the crisis of mistrust within the country”.
“Politicians mistrust each other more than ever before while they are the custodians of policy proposals. This therefore leaves a void when it comes to thoroughness in implementation.
“It is also vital to find feasible strategies to look for foreign direct investment without necessarily relying on the carrot approach of relying on incentivising potential investors.
“Let the policy environment be transparent and consistent while relegating populist policy measures to the dustbin. For example, what is the rationale of even considering giving bonuses both to the civil service and the private sectors when all the numbers are pointing southwards?” Mugaga said.
So bad is the economic situation in the country that thousands of companies have closed their doors over the past three years, leaving hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken employees and their families in the lurch.
And the situation is not any better in the agricultural sector, where the country has moved from being the breadbasket of the region to a hopeless and much-derided basket case over the past two decades.
“Zimbabwe is at crossroads with its survival and return to stability, in terms of food security, in serious jeopardy not only due to political influences but also because the climate will exacerbate the economic collapse we are in the midst of,” said Foundations for Farming chief executive Craig Deall.
The respected former commercial farmer said the country, which has been food insecure for the past 15 years, must embrace optimal farming methods to become self-sufficient again.
“It can be argued that wherever we see a famine in the world, it is a direct result of a lack of stewardship on the land. The current environmental degradation and production loss permeates through the whole society and economy,” he said in an opinion piece that was recently published in a Germany publication.
“Zimbabwe is now considered a low-income, food-deficit country, ranked 156 out of 187 developing countries on the Global Hunger Index, which measures progress and failure in the global fight against hunger,” he added.
Indeed, the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee report, which is compiled by a consortium comprising the government, the United Nations, NGOs and other international organisations, has also noted that rural food insecurity has remained very high in Zimbabwe over the past decade.
This has forced Social Welfare minister Prisca Mupfumira to call on the government to review the mechanisms it has put in place to curb an impending national food crisis, as it emerges that millions of people are facing starvation this year.
Mupfumira yesterday told the Daily News that the government had now realised that the situation was much dire than earlier envisaged.
“I will be presenting the food situation in our next Cabinet meeting because it has since come to our attention that while we have been targeting vulnerable groups such as child-headed families, the elderly and disabled, the number has since increased in the last two months to now include even those outside the vulnerable group bracket,” she said, bemoaning government’s current cash crisis.
“The challenge is that I am operating without a budget, I need money to get everyone taken care of because it is a fact that we require more food than we had initially gathered from the first crop assessment we did. People who are not vulnerable are also facing starvation,” she said.
In the meantime, other crucial areas such as the country’s health delivery system are also under severe strain, with all government hospitals currently facing a critical shortage of drugs and specialist skills.
As a result, most patients are dying needlessly or being forced to sacrifice everything to access expensive private healthcare.