Goodbye and good riddance to 2015

via Goodbye and good riddance to 2015 – The Zimbabwean 24/12/2015 by Jera

It was a bad omen, early in 2015, when the most powerful man in the land fell in slow motion like a right-hooked boxer, in full view of the unforgiving journalistic camera lenses. It was another sign when his henchmen looked on, for what seemed like an eternity while his Excellency lolled on the red carpet.

Shrinking economy

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa had optimistically forecast an economic growth rate of 3,1%. But the World Bank, like a scowling school teacher wielding a red biro, drew a bold scarlet line across Chinamasa’s ambitious forecast and gave a more realistic growth forecast of 1%.

As the famous speech goes – ‘it’s the economy stupid’ – Zimbabwe’s problems in the past decade and a half have been centred on the shrinking economy. In 2015, the downward trend continued.

Soaring unemployment

At the start of the year, the most optimistic of independent economic analysts estimated Zimbabwe’s jobless rate to be 80%. The government attempts to massage the unemployment rate, which it claims to be 11%. But when government announced an agreement with Namibia, Botswana, Angola and South Sudan to employ Zimbabwean graduates, Robert Mugabe’s administration only confirmed what everybody already knew. If indeed there were only 11% of employable adults out of work, why then should they look for work abroad?

The month of August will go down as the worst period in industry, post independence. Following a high court ruling, allowing employers to sack workers on short notice, over 20,000 people lost their jobs within a space of 30 days. The government which earlier in the year had fought running battles with street vendors abandoned its operation to remove hawkers as it slowly dawned on them that everybody is now effectively a vendor.

A government out of touch

Despite the state of government coffers, the ruling party’s spending habits continued unchanged. President Mugabe flew hither and thither, like a butterfly with a malfunctioning internal navigational system, taking with him the usual extravagant entourage of lickspittles.

Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko (pause to check spelling) did his bit to drill a further hole in the country’s leaking coffers by clocking a full year in the gleaming Rainbow Towers (formerly Harare Sheraton) where he stuffed himself with five star food and sprawled on the establishment’s starched linen. Apparently, the VP’s wife, Laurinda, pulled a diva move and turned her nose up at the offer of a house previously inhabited by former VP Joseph Msika. The VP’s wife declined two other plush mansions – one of them valued at over $3M – because who knows, maybe the pelmets didn’t match the floor tiles. While the ministry of local government searched for something more presidential, Mrs Mphoko reluctantly settled for a humble suite at the Rainbow Towers.

Despite her expensive shopping trips abroad, Grace Mugabe told the nation that she skips meals in solidarity with those living on one meal a day. And then a month later she joined her ‘children’ at the annual binge, euphemistically referred to as the ‘annual congress.’

Nowhere else is President Mugabe’s detachment from the real world more evident than in the costly by-elections held in 2015. Several MPs were dismissed from Zanu (PF), which necessitated by-elections at the expense of taxpayers. The MDC formations were no less guilty in this regard, after several defectors from Tsvangirai’s faction were expelled from parliament.

Other than these costly by-elections, throughout 2015, we seemed to be in election mode, with the message coming out of Zanu (PF) and opposition being mostly about the 2018 vote. It is odd that those in power have delivered little yet they already expect re-election in three years time. Just like their inactivity after The Great Fall, none of Mugabe’s men and women has had the courage to remind his colleagues about the job at hand.

Political uncertainty

In 2014, the catchphrase was ‘Zimbabwe, a country on autopilot.’ President Mugabe was largely invisible last year. In 2015, he was not only absent – due to African Union related globe trotting – but showed very little will to assert himself as more than just a figurehead. Consequently, Mugabe’s minions spent the entire year barking at each other at the State House gates while, inside, the alpha dog slept through all the yelping. As the noises outside State House grew louder, inside, First Lady Grace also made moves to fill the power vacuum.

When she returned from medical treatment in the Far East in February, she received a welcome fit for a queen, with several senior government officials and service chiefs squashed ear against ear, at Harare International Airport for the grand arrival. At Zanu (PF) politburo meetings, Grace sat in that stiff-backed regal manner of hers, on the left of Mugabe – a seat traditionally occupied by the token former Zipra VP – announcing her arrival as the new power in the ruling party.

The result of ongoing succession wrangles and general political uncertainty is that Zimbabwe remains in economic isolation. While investors have shook hands with government officials and smiled for cameras – Dangote the prime example – nothing tangible has come out of the much publicised ‘agreements’ and ‘mega deals.’

Ailing health sector

Apart from the shortage of drugs and skilled manpower, Zimbabwe’s health sector has also had to contend with labour unrest. In November, doctors employed by Psmas health institutions went on strike over unpaid salaries. Government is the largest employer. For most employees, medical aid was something once taken for granted. But the Psmas card, which was once accepted everywhere like Master Card, is no longer acceptable at private institutions, owing to mounting debts.

Food security

Due to law rainfall, lack of foresight by government and the ineptitude of local farmers, 1,5 million Zimbabweans need $86M worth of food aid. In October, the UN resident coordinator, Bishow Parajuli said Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Sadc, was in desperate need of food assistance.

‘The United Nations in Zimbabwe appealed today to humanitarian and development partners for $86M to urgently fill a shortfall to support 1,5million people affected by food insecurity in the country’ said Parajuli.

The rains have already fallen and our farmers are still singing the perennial song – ‘dei hurumende yatipa mbeu’ (please give us farming inputs).

Professional footballers are expected to have their own boots. Doctors have their own stethoscopes and only a foolish builder shows up at a construction site without his trowel and shovel. Yet our farmers seem to be stuck in the belief that inputs, such as fertiliser and seed, are owed to them by taxpayers.

Given the ill-preparedness of the agricultural sector and government’s financial straits, the country’s food reserves may remain low in the coming year.

Human rights

Where there is Zanu (PF) you can be sure to expect broken teeth and crunching bones. In Chitungwiza, ruling party supporters re-enacted Rwanda in a gory scene of swinging axes and blood spatter. In Mashonaland West by-elections there was more Zanu (PF) savagery.

But the most notable case of human rights violations is the abduction of activist Itai Dzamara whose wife and two children will, at best, only have his photograph at the Christmas luncheon table.

Year end

It has not been a good year for the ordinary person. To 2015, I say ‘goodbye, good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out.’

Here’s hoping for a good 2016.

My pen is capped