After a tumultuous 2015, most Zimbabweans are punting for changed fortunes in 2016.
By Everson Mushava
The country latched from one crisis to another as the government increasingly became unable to pay its workers and companies laid off employees in their thousands following the July 17 2015 Supreme Court labour ruling that empowered employers to terminate contracts on three months’ notice.
There was no respite on the political front as prospects for opposition unity remained dead and the escalating succession battles in the ruling Zanu PF saw efforts to resuscitate the economy taking a backseat.
Below is a look into the big stories likely to shape 2016, and they could be more depressing than those of last year.
El Niño induced drought
Zimbabwe recorded a poor harvest during the 2014/15 farming season due to low rainfall, but climate experts warn that this year would even be worse as the country bears the brunt of “a record breaking” El Niño.
El Niño is the warming up of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, resulting in extreme weather conditions across the world. Weather experts warn that the phenomenon that began last year could be the strongest on record, leading to extremely low rainfall and high temperatures in most parts of the country.
Zimbabwe experienced one of its worst El Niño events in 1997/98 that saw significantly reduced crop yields and the death of livestock.
This year is likely to see soaring food prices that would leave many families on the brink.
Most parts of Zimbabwe are yet to receive meaningful rainfall just a few days before the planting season comes to an end, and farmers that had planted early could be forced to replant as a prolonged dry spell has seen most of the crops wilting.
Zimbabweans are also likely to endure water shortages due to poor inflows into major dams.
Civil servants’ strikes, job losses
The year 2016 started on a sour note for civil servants after the government failed to pay them their bonuses and December salaries.
Only soldiers were paid on time last month after the government failed to raise enough money to meet its statutory obligations.
Civil servants in the health sector are only expected to receive their salaries this week and there is no indication when the government workers would get their 2015 bonuses.
Doctors and nurses reacted angrily to the government’s failure to pay them on time and their unions have been calling for job boycotts.
The rest of the civil service is also disgruntled because of government’s failure to keep its promises on bonuses and its decision to deduct pensions from workers who have perennially complained about poor remuneration.
Treasury’s coffers are empty because of the deteriorating economy.
There is no indication of an economic turnaround in the near future; hence a prediction that delayed salaries would become a common feature in 2016 would not be far-fetched.
As such, strikes and protests by civil servants are likely to intensify.
Those in the private sector would not be spared as companies continue with their struggles to stay afloat. Retrenchments are set to continue in 2016.
Unrelenting economic woes
If Zimbabweans thought 2015 was a bad year for the economy, they would have to brace for an even more difficult 12 months ahead.
Company closures, job losses, death of the formal economy and failure by employers to pay workers on time are likely to remain the common thread in 2016.
The government is yet to put in place any coherent policy to arrest the economic decline with President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF expending their energies on retaining power.
Government’s much-touted blue- print, Zimasset has failed to transform the country’s economic fortunes, while mega deals signed between Zimbabwe and China remain on paper.
Birth of Mujuru’s party, opposition coalition
Former vice-president Joice Mujuru kept Zimbabweans guessing about her political future last year following her unceremonious departure from Zanu PF
She was accused of plotting to topple Mugabe from power through witchcraft and assassination plots, but a year after she was pushed out of the party, Mujuru has not been prosecuted.
The former liberation war fighter ensured that Zimbabweans do not forget her by publishing a manifesto and regular press statements, attacking her former party for alleged corruption and misgovernance.
Mujuru has been linked to People First, a movement made of her disgruntled sympathisers who were kicked out of Zanu PF for allegedly being part of the plot to remove Mugabe.
Indications are that the movement would morph into a political party this year as the ranks of opposition political parties continues to swell.
However, there is growing consensus that a fractured opposition has no chance of upstaging Mugabe and Zanu PF in the watershed 2018 elections, hence the push for a grand coalition.
Towards the end of last year, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai appeared more amenable to a coalition with Mujuru and his former colleagues in the original MDC that now lead different formations.
An opposition coalition would give the fractured Zanu PF more jitters as the party is struggling to manage Mugabe’s succession.
The rise and rise of Grace Mugabe
After a slow start to 2015 due to poor health, First Lady Grace Mugabe finished the year the same way she did a year ago when she first burst into the political scene.
Through her nationwide rallies, Grace tried to assert her authority not just in the women’s league, which she leads, but the party as a whole.
As Zanu PF went to its national conference in December, the First Lady made it clear that she will have a say on who succeeds her husband. She is likely to continue on that path as her husband becomes increasingly frail to influence events in Zanu PF.
In 2015, Mugabe showed signs of ill health after falling at the Harare International Airport and struggling to walk during visits to India and Turkey, leading to fears that he no longer had capacity to lead the country.
Political analysts even speculated that Grace was pulling the strings, especially after she inadvertently revealed that vice-presidents Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko took notes during briefings with her.
More Zanu PF purges, worsening factionalism
Mugabe is getting older and anxiety over who will take over will remain a key issue in Zanu PF. The veteran leader will continue to lose grip on the party with the escalation of infighting.
There will be more fights between factions linked to Mnangagwa and Grace (Generation 40).
Zanu PF’s succession wars failed to end with the purges of Mujuru’s supporters and with the imminent formation of People First, the factionalism is only bound to get worse.
Members of G40 will likely push for Grace to succeed her husband, which would raise tension in the ruling party.