HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new Cabinet has raised fresh hopes among long-suffering Zimbabweans that his administration could finally end the misery and despondency that characterised life under former leader Robert Mugabe’s decades of ruinous rule.
At the same time, business leaders and political analysts alike yesterday urged Mnangagwa to give his warmly-received new Finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, both the space and the requisite support to spearhead the much-needed turnaround of the country’s battered economy.
Mnangagwa — who turns 76 years old next Saturday — on Friday swung the axe on much of the deadwood that had been part of the team of “permanent members” in Mugabe’s Cabinets.
And in yet more pleasant surprises, a bold Mnangagwa also significantly reduced the size of the previously bloated Cabinet — while also taking the key Defence portfolio away from his influential deputy Constantino Chiwenga.
His new-look Cabinet includes former swimming sensation Kirsty Coventry, as well as the highly-regarded Ncube — a 55-year-old former African Development Bank (AfDB) deputy president — as Mnangagwa signalled clearly that his main focus will be to revive the country’s ailing economy.
A large cross-section of Zimbabweans, including some of Mnangagwa’s most strident critics, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday the new Cabinet was one of the best since 1980 — and particularly so since Zimbabwe’s political and economic problems took a turn for the worst two decades ago.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer, Eldred Masunungure, said most of the ministers who had been picked by Mnangagwa “fully deserved” the appointments and had the potential to do well in their respective roles.
“It is a lean team and most of the new ministers are deserving appointments … ED seems to have listened to the people and has tried his best within the political dynamics at play.
“On the whole, he has done well. Some of his new players are hard hitters like Ncube. I think this Cabinet will do well with him, although he has to learn to navigate Zanu PF’s politics,” he said.
Constitutional law expert, Alex Magaisa, also said he could pick several bright spots in Mnangagwa’s Cabinet — adding that it had the potential to perform well “as long as ministers were given the freedom to do their job without interference”.
“Overall, Mnangagwa has rid himself of the old faces that had become an embarrassment … There are important new names, notably Ncube, Coventry and (Sekai) Nzenza.
“More important … this is a transformation in the culture of Cabinet. Gone should be the days of sycophancy and the wasting of time on inane political events.
“If Mnangagwa gives freedom and resources to Ncube, perhaps Zimbabwe might just turn the corner. The question though is whether Zanu PF is ready to change and embrace the ideas of the newly-recruited technocrats,” Magaisa said.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president, Denford Mutashu, said business was expecting the new Cabinet — particularly Ncube and his Industry and Commerce colleague — Mangaliso Ndlovu, to urgently deal with all the issues affecting industry.
“Now is the time that the new ministers of Finance and Industry seriously look into the issue of liquidity. The business community cannot continue to rely on the parallel market for foreign currency while we have a central bank.
“The black market should be destroyed in its entirety and cash should be available in banks forthwith. We need real tangible change in the economy if the country is to succeed,” Mutashu said.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme also said the new Cabinet had the right people who could deliver if they got the necessary support from Mnangagwa and Zimbabweans at large.
“The taste of the pudding is now in the eating. Let’s give the team a chance as there is no one with real keys to the economy in and outside Cabinet,” he said.
MDC-T deputy president, Obert Gutu, said Mnangagwa’s new Cabinet team had brought “a breath of fresh air to the executive arm of the State”.
“Zimbabwe is certainly entering very exciting political and socio-economic times … Ncube is going to shine provided he is given the necessary political support and leverage.
“This is thus the time for all right-thinking and patriotic Zimbabweans to put their hands on the deck, roll up their sleeves and get to do some really serious and honest hard work.
“Let those who are still in denial remain locked up in their miserable, myopic and diminishing world of idiotic self-delusion. The train has moved on and they may not catch up if they’re not careful and smart enough,” the tough-talking Gutu said.
Mnangagwa, apart from sending several bigwigs packing, also trimmed the number of ministries to 20 — as he sought to cement the image of a new political dispensation in the country with his first major decision as Zimbabwe’s substantive new leader.
“I appointed a diverse, dynamic, youthful and streamlined Cabinet, with the skills and experience required to achieve our goals. Now it is time to get to work.
“We would want to grow, modernise and mechanise our economy. We believe that in the next five years we will be able to transform our people into middle income citizens,” he said on Friday.
Mnangagwa and his Cabinet are under pressure to stop the economy from sliding back into the throes of an economic crisis similar to the 2008 hyperinflation era.
Over the past few weeks, the prices of basic commodities went up sharply, while some goods disappeared completely from supermarket shelves due to the country’s acute foreign currency shortages.
This came at the same time that industry warned that the deepening foreign currency crisis was making it difficult for manufacturers to import critical raw materials on time.
Industry, as a result, warned of further price hikes and shortages of basic consumer goods.
Already the country is experiencing shortages of basic goods, hospital drugs and construction materials such as cement.
Last week, millers also confirmed that a bread crisis was looming as wheat stocks in the country had now reached critical levels.
Millions of Zimbabweans cast their vote in the historic July 30 elections, to choose both a new Parliament and president — following the dramatic fall from power of Mugabe in November last year.
The elections were the first since 1980 to be held in the country without Mugabe’s participation, whose 37-year iron-fisted rule was stunningly ended by a military
operation which triggered events that ended with his resignation.
The elections also marked the first time that the main opposition MDC was not represented by its founding leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who lost his brave battle with cancer of the colon on Valentine’s Day this year.
Zanu PF retained its two thirds parliamentary majority in the elections, with Mnangagwa winning a tightly-contested race by a revised 50,6 percent.