BY NIZBERT MOYO/MOSES MATENGA/LORRAINE MUROMO
ZIMBABWEANS are not enthused about the New Year, 2021, and see no improvement in the social, economic and political problems that bedevilled the country throughout 2020.
Most people entered January 2020 with the fresh hope that usually accompanies a new year, and resolutions that were left to the gods.
Little did they knew that a new virus was percolating across the other side of the globe that would have a tremendous impact on so many aspects of lives.
Since those early days, attitudes have changed, with many individuals reporting that 2020 has been the worst year of their lives and with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating slightly more than a year after the first case was detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, most people see no light at the end of a dark tunnel.
From captains of industry to ordinary people, Zimbabweans interviewed by NewsDay yesterday said they were entering 2021 with trepidation because of the terrifying prospects in the offing.
While New Year celebrations may be socially-distanced this year, workers, civil servants, vendors and several other Zimbabweans said they were bracing for an even tougher year, pleading with authorities to come up with a solid plan particularly in the health and economic sectors.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the country’s biggest labour movement, predicted a bleak year for workers saying nothing new was expected from either the government or employers.
Government has for the past two years been embroiled in endless disputes with civil servants demanding better salaries and employment conditions while companies were reeling from viability challenges which were exacerbated by COVID-19.
Teachers have long declared incapacitation signifying another looming battle before schools, which have been indefinitely closed because of the pandemic, were allowed to open.
“We do not expect anything from a neoliberal government that has closed ranks with businesses to enslave workers,” ZCTU secretary general Japhet Moyo said in an interview yesterday.
“Businesses have been profiteering in the sense that they are allowed to trade in forex and peg their prices according to the dictates of the parallel market rates, yet wages have remained very low and lagging behind the cost of goods and services,” he said, adding: “In most shops consumers are forced to buy sweets or products that they had not budgeted for, because 0,80 cents in US dollars cannot be paid back as change or in any currency.”:
Most government workers spent the better part of 2019 at home after declaring incapacitation.
Teachers have long declared incapacitation and said they will not be forced into workstations before their issues were addressed.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said: “In 2021, I think the major issue is government addressing the issue of salaries of teachers which have been drastically reduced from US$520 to US$140. Government must address the issue of the purchasing power. Most important is the issue of health and safety amidst the upsurge of COVID-19. Before the opening of schools in 2021, the testing of pupils and teachers should be a high priority otherwise the pandemic will run high.”
“Another key issue is social dialogue where government will engage the apex council and come to what they term collective begging which will lead to industrial harmony and productivity. Once schools open teachers should resort to teaching rather than worrying about the living wage.
“Its high time government prioritises and respects section 65 of the Constitution which prioritises social dialogue where the government engages teacher unions and partners as equal. Government should refrain from intimidating workers. In 2021 government should use a more constructive approach,” Zhou said.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said unless government came up with measures to curtail the prevalence of COVID-19 and improve nurses’ working conditions, the new year would still be tough.
“We want government to address the issues of salaries, improve the working conditions for health workers and come up with strict COVID-19 control measures if the situation is to improve this year. Otherwise, we are starring in the face of a catastrophic year,” Dongo said.
“As the health sector, we are worried about the upsurge in COVID-19. Government must kill corruption because we hear more talks about the pandemic but nothing is really being done on the ground. As we speak, there is no personal protective equipment in hospitals and there is nothing to celebrate in 2021 as cases are rising. There is going to be more loss of lives of the public and of essential service workers on the frontline and this is a terrifying reality,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) chief executive Takunda Mugaga said any prospects for a better new year would be premised on the weather.
“The year 2021 will dominantly be guided by exogenous factors, chief among them being the weather as well as ability to control the second wave of COVID-19,” Mugaga opined.
“It’s going to be a difficult year, notably the 1st half of 2021 given that gains expected from Agriculture due to impressive rains might be eroded by a 2nd wave of the pandemic which is definitely going to be more ruthless than the first wave. There is no question that we shall experience another season of lockdown. We certainly have to implement new stringent lockdown measures. Therefore 2021 might not be much different from 2020. The focus must be on trying to consolidate on the little gains made on both monetary and fiscal fronts during 2020. Unfortunately the challenges Zim is facing will push it to try managing the exchange rate which will see a reinvigorated parallel market thus leading to a struggling Zimbabwean dollar,” he said.
Just as the experts expressed much cynicism, ordinary citizens also said they have no hope for better lives in 2021.
In an interview with the NewsDay, one vendor plying her trade on the pavements of Harare Dalia Matsungwa said she has no hope that the year would bring any good tidings.
“There is no hope for 2021. It’s the same routine of doing business and vending under harsh conditions as we have been doing before, we do not expect anything new. We are trying as much as we can to follow the rules and regulations put in place by responsible authorities in a bid to pave safe passage for 2021 but it’s hard. I have a feeling that 2021 is going to be a hard year amid borders closing, COVID-19 cases rising,” she said as she arranged her imported merchandise including sex enhancement pills, bath soaps and toothpaste under an improvised lighting saystem.
Jacqueline Jaravaza said: “Borders are closing, more people are dying. There is no hope for a livelihood and as an instinct for survival; we will revert back to jumping borders as there is nothing we can do. We have families to feed and children to send to school and yet we are living by the thread and putting all of our trust in God as human intervention has failed us.”
Thelma Dzivarangwena, also of Harare, said she felt like plunging into an unknown dark world, the first such feeling at the advent of a new year in the 37 years she has been on earth.
“Honestly, I cannot say anything about 2021. All I can say is we will cross the bridge when we get there, there is no direction whatsoever particularly with corona in vicinity and for the first time, it does not feel like we are crossing into the new year, but plunging deep into a dark world. Fear now dominates our lives,” said the married mother of three and a social worker by profession.
To cap it all, police have banned all festivities like end of year music shows, crossover prayer vigils, the blasting of fireworks to colour the skies and even beating of drums at neighbourhood level in a move which certainly bring a sombre atmosphere, the first such in living memory.
Not even the worst of wars have managed to shut down the world in a manner that COVID 19 has.