News Analysis

All hope vanishes as social services collapse


Ray Matikinye


IF an old gypsy lady gazed into her crystal ball and proclaimed to crisis-weary Zimbabweans that the latest in a series of government economic initiatives would transform their lives for

the better by December this year none would believe her.

Even if the gypsy allowed them to take that rare glimpse into her crystal ball, and they saw the slightest of evidence for themselves, they would still have severe doubts.

The odds are heavily tilted against any optimism.

Most Zimbabweans have every reason to doubt the hardships they have been enduring for more than half a decade could be remedied by a crop of politicians that firmly hug populist, yet calamitous economic programmes.

They have become used to an administration with a long history of maintaining its record of disappointing deliveries.

Zimbabweans have witnessed the gradual deterioration of services in every sphere of their lives to a point where none of their expectations have been met, while government harps on Utopian promises of “better times ahead”.

There is no better evidence for their pessimism than the commonplace collapse of the service delivery system in health, transport and electricity supply to their homes and other services that a working bureaucracy ought to deliver with minimum hassles.

Frequent nationwide power blackouts, erratic fuel supplies, perennial increases in the prices of basic commodities or intermittent shortages of the same, failure by local authorities to provide essential services and other annoying inconveniences have done little to reassure Zimbabweans that things will change for the better.

Acute shortages of electrical power with cuts disrupting business and manufacturing worsen economic woes of a nation confronted by 1 193% inflation. The unending economic burden has upset normal life among Zimbabweans.

It has taxed their resilience and even thrown residents in upmarket suburbs like Highlands back into the Stone Age with chores of hewing wood and drawing water from the most unlikely of sources.

Analysts say the failure to provide basic service is a serious indictment on the state’s capability to govern. 

Crisis Coalition coordinator Jacob Mafume says Zimbabweans are being held to ransom by a group of people who have failed to carry out their mandate for the past 26 years. 

“They have enriched themselves at the expense of the nation and now the poor state of the nation is in direct contrast to the personal wealth of individuals amongst the ruling elite,” Mafume says.

He says in a normal situation the central bank governor and the rest of the ministers would have long ago resigned as a result of their failure to carry out a simple mandate.

Analysts also say all indicators point to a failed state. Zimbabwe, others say, is a case study not in state failure, but in the failures of a state to acknowledge and remedy the devastation it has inflicted on its people.

“Zanu PF’s policies, corruption and repressive governance are directly responsible for the severe economic slide, growing public discontent and international isolation, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group — a Brussels-based think-tank.

“Unemployment has risen over 85%, poverty above 90 % and foreign reserves are almost depleted. There are severe shortages of basic consumer items, and the prices of fuel and food are beyond the reach of many.”

The report says more than two million persons are in desperate need of food and malnutrition kills thousands every month.

Yet in the midst of ubiquitous failure government ministers, with tacit connivance of the state media, have taken simple routine work and flaunted it as unparalleled achievement that can anaesthetise a society fatigued by economic hardships.

Go into any hospital and witness how a serious shortage of drugs, obsolete equipment and an overworked staff has hobbled efficient service delivery. In a number of cases high medical fees have consorted to make treatment unaffordable to the desperately ill. The urban poor and middle class have opted to seek medical attention at rural clinics and hospitals even though acute shortages of drugs and material also point to an irreversible collapse in that sector as well.

For instance, four of the seven districts in Masvingo province with an estimated population of 1,3 million people are operating without doctors due to the brain drain.

Government has been long on promises but short on delivery to review working conditions in the medical field to stem the temptation among professionals attracted by better opportunities abroad.

Exasperated officials have tried to appeal to the Zimbabwean professionals’ sense of patriotism in an effort to induce guilt in them but none has paid heed.

The capital Harare, with its piles of uncollected garbage and pot-holed roads is a microcosm of the nationwide collapse that vividly illustrates central government’s inability to offer solutions.

A state-appointed commission has failed to imitate even the basic ruse by tomato vendors where they arrange their wares in such a way that the juicy side faces forward while the spongy side is hidden from public scrutiny.

“There is need to improve and mend the pothole-ridden city roads. Residents pay rates yet there is no water, the sewerage system has all but collapsed,” says Progressive Harare Metropolitan Residents and Ratepayers Association (Phamera) leader, Munyaradzi Guzha.

“Residents have the right to be furious when service delivery system is at a crossroads and in a state of confounding chaos.”

But the Combined Harare Residents Association (CHRA) has been more precise in identifying the root cause of the socio-political distress.

“Let there be no confusion as to the causes of our situation: the disintegration of the social, political and economic fabric of our society as a result of the policies of the Mugabe regime,” CHRA chairman Mike Davies says in a document released last month.

Davies says whatever the shortcomings of our society that existed before 1997, the blame for the subsequent devastation lies squarely at government’s feet and its policies that promote primitive accumulation by a parasitical elite that relies entirely upon plunder and patronage while impoverishing the vast majority.

While Harare literally burns, the emperor and his cronies are fiddling — this time with their faces directly facing the flames.

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