Waiting for Mugabe’s Exit, Zimbabweans Endure Shattered Economy

Edgar Garwe sits repairing mobile phones behind the counter of his tumble-down stall, worrying about a scarcity of customers and how he’ll pay his two children’s school fees.

Source: Waiting for Mugabe’s Exit, Zimbabweans Endure Shattered Economy – Bloomberg December 1, 2016

“We’re just waiting,” Garwe, 31, said in an interview in the town of Mvurwi, north of Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, where he fixes three or four phones in a good week. “It’ll get better when he’s gone.”

“He” is Robert Mugabe, who’s led Zimbabwe since independence from the U.K. in 1980 and overseen an economic meltdown that’s left an estimated 95 percent of the workforce jobless and driven as many as 3 million people into exile. Even though the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or Zanu-PF, insists Mugabe will be its presidential candidate in the next elections in 2018, there’s a growing belief that the 92-year-old’s rule is nearing its end.

As the Mugabe era enters its twilight, Zimbabwe is facing rising poverty and protests. A power struggle in the ruling party to succeed him pits one faction backing his wife Grace and another coalescing around Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former spy chief. At the same time, unrest is spreading over food shortages and a cash crunch that has delayed payment of salaries and prompted the central bank to introduce dollar-pegged bond notes that Zimbabweans immediately dubbed “zombie currency.”

Faction Fights

“Mugabe has been holding the various factions of Zanu together,” Aditi Lalbahadur, a researcher at the South African Institute for International Affairs, said by phone from Johannesburg. “I don’t think the question has been answered about who will take over. Until that is resolved, I doubt Mugabe is going to step down voluntarily. There is going to be some kind of shift, but nobody knows what that will be.”

While Mugabe and his aides say he is “fit as a fiddle,” he’s visibly frail and has traveled frequently to Singapore to undergo undisclosed medical treatment.

A former schoolteacher who was jailed for 11 years for fighting white minority rule, Mugabe was initially hailed for promoting racial reconciliation and improving health and education. Now he’s seen as a pariah by many Western nations, who accuse him of stealing elections, waging a violent crackdown against his opponents and ruining the economy by condoning the seizure of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black subsistence farmers.

Opposition to Mugabe’s rule has been fueled by widespread poverty, joblessness, the collapse of basic services and an abusive police force.  The worst drought in two decades has added to the gloom, with about 4 million people, more than a quarter of Zimbabwe’s population, in need of emergency food rations.

Brezhnev Zvouya, a 32-year-old resident of the town of Banket which lies about 96 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the capital, points at a Zanu-PF slogan “Empower, Employ, Indigenize” on his tattered T-shirt. “Big, big lie,” he said. “No new jobs, and people with jobs have no guarantee of being paid. Zanu is rotten.”

Sleeping in Streets

Seven years after abandoning its own currency and using mainly the dollar to end hyperinflation that reached 500 billion percent, Zimbabwe is grappling with cash shortages that have stalled salary payments to civil servants, the military and employees of private companies. Lines of people waiting to make bank withdrawals snake around city blocks in Harare. Some sleep in the streets to ensure they’re served.

In a bid to address the cash crunch, the central bank started distributing $10 million worth of bond notes.

Read more: New Notes Stir Memory of Hyperinflation

With many businesses refusing to accept the notes, protests erupted in Harare on Wednesday, and the police sealed off the city center and used water cannons to disperse the crowds.

“The introduction of bond notes won’t make any difference because you’re only allowed $150 a week and many places won’t accept them as real money,” said Joel Matamba, a farmer from the tobacco-growing region of Mutepatepa in northern Zimbabwe, who pays his eight staff about $150 each a month. “It’ll take me eight weeks to pay each worker what I owe them for a month of work. There are no banks here; these people have to be paid in cash.”

Opposition Unites

The discontent is strengthening the appeal of opposition parties, which are considering uniting to contest the 2018 vote. Mugabe’s main adversaries are Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and Zimbabwe People First, which is led by Joice Mujuru, who was vice president between 2004 and 2014 and was expelled from Zanu-PF two years ago after being sidelined in the succession race.

Mujuru, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s war for independence, has strong support in rural areas that have traditionally backed Mugabe, while Tsvangirai has overwhelming sympathy in urban centers.

“Mugabe’s decision to purge Mujuru and her allies was a critical blunder that brought to life the one party that could pose a real threat to the ruling party’s clutch on power,” Charles Laurie, head of country risk at Bath, England-based Verisk Mapelcroft, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Her personal knowledge of the Zanu-PF playbook means that for the first time the ruling party will face a political opponent that intimately understands its strategies.”

While the end of the Mugabe era can’t come too soon for Garwe, he expects the president to die in office or leave on his own terms.

“Life can’t improve while the old man is in State House, so the country’s waiting for him to go,” Garwe said. “No one can chase him out, no one has that power. When he’s gone, we can start repairing the damage.”’


  • comment-avatar
    Ndonga 5 years ago

    I have Just been watching the jubilation of the people of Gambia on the BBC TV news channel celebrating the electoral defeat of their 22 year oppressive President Yahya JANNEH, who has just been soundly defeated by former estate agent Adamu BARROW. This was against all the so called wise predictions.

    JANNEH, just like Mugabe, had the firm belief that he had the job for life. JANNEH is now writing out his defeat concession speech, but he is having problems. He was taken completely by surprise by the size of his defeat, and how determined and brave Gambians were to give him such a loud “goodbye”. Or was that the ruder “two word goodbye”, we Zimbabwe exiles in the UK have learned to use quite a lot!

    JANNEH was over educated, just like Mugabe, but he too had no clue on how to lead his people from poverty, or how to treat then well. As a result Gambians were always prominent on the leaky rubber boats paddling from Libya to Italy. Now these scattered Gambia people are expected to come home and rebuild the damage done in the 22 years of JANNEH’s oppressive rule. But he was only an apprentice compared to Zimbabwe’s Mad Mugabe. Mugabe is the world champion , when it comes to destroying an economy, a people and a nation.

    God speed the day to our turn for a second Liberation…this time a real one…!

  • comment-avatar

    It’s not about what these people say. It’s about what they vote for. Finish & klaar. They will cry & scream; but come elections they vote for same Mugabe & his thieves. Then immediately after that, they go on their usual nonsensical spree, blaming Tsvangirai ( or any other unfortunate guy for failing to rescue them from the jaws of the human-devouring crocodile, which is Mugabe & his ZANU PF). deep in their hearts, knowing very well that they never voted for the same guy they are blaming for all their socio-economic problems. so what kind of people/animals are we??? nxaaaaa

  • comment-avatar

    Anyone who does not appreciate that Mugabe’s Zanu PF has been tampering (to varying extents) with election results at the very least since 1990 (when the aim was to avoid Tekere embarrassing Mugabe by losing too closely) is seriously ill informed. Asking for proof is like asking for proof as to how Mujuru (Chindori Chininga or several others) died.

  • comment-avatar
    Mazano Rewayi 5 years ago

    We are likely to experience the Malawi situation where Banda lost but still believed he was the President and the Malawians had to continue calling him Ngwazi till he died!!! Looking at this old man of ours one is left wondering if he is in control of anything.That he loves power is not in doubt, whether he actually has it is very debatable – he is now just an excuse for the criminals that he surrounded himself with foolishly believing he was in control.