ELLEN Makusha* is no better than the average Zimbabwean. She is poor, downtrodden, depressed and underpaid.
She is also very bitter. Makusha, a teacher, does not remember the last time she bought a new dress for herself. What she does remember is buying a pair of school socks two months ago for her 14-year-old son, Brian – a student at Alan Wilson High School in Harare.
“I don’t recall the last time my salary was ever enough to buy anything after bus fare,” Makusha said in her classroom at a school in central Harare. “I struggled to buy Brian’s pair of socks early this year and those socks almost exhausted my entire salary. Clothes are not our priority at the moment.”
Makusha said she felt rage every time teachers got a salary increment and the prices of commodities and services skyrocketed.
“It hurts so much that every time we get a pay increase, everything goes up. It is almost as if no one wants teachers to survive,” she said. “I eat meat on average once a month.”
Makusha’s fate is tied to that of another 90 000 teachers currently in Zimbabwe. But then teachers are not the only ones getting a raw deal in an economy where goods are hardly found in shops and where inflation is the highest in the world.
Zimbabweans are now reeling from the effects of very high inflation which government has failed to rein in over the years.
Even more depressing for most has been President Robert Mugabe attempting to be re-elected when he takes on MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential run-off election to be held in three weeks.
“What can he do for us that he failed to do over the past 28 years?” an emotional Makusha asked, as rage quickly filled her up at the mention of the 84 year-old leader. “Is it fair for us to suffer because of his ego? Is it too much to ask for a better life?”
Mugabe lost the first round of polls to Tsvangirai who however failed to clinch the majority needed to make him president. Tsvangirai garnered 47,9% of the vote while Mugabe secured 43,2%.
Before the elections, the majority of Zimbabweans were in agreement that it was impossible for Mugabe to emerge victorious in the elections given the record inflation that existed at the time. Inflation for March stood at 355 000%.
“Nowhere in the world has a government won elections on the back of hyperinflation,” said one industrialist just before the elections.
Mugabe hung on by a thread after Tsvangirai fell short by just 2,1 percentage points of the vote to become president.
Mugabe launched his presidential campaign a fortnight ago but it was empty of pragmatic solutions to deal with the economic crisis which has put Zimbabwe in the economic history books. The theme is “100% Empowerment, Total Independence.”
The speech concentrated on the usual rhetoric of sanctions and Western interference in Zimbabwe’s affairs. Mugabe regurgitated the same message that Zimbabwe would never be a colony again and told supporters that reactionary elements had been waiting in the wings to reverse the gains of Independence.
His silence on the economy was deafening.
University of Zimbabwe political analyst Brian Ngwenya said Zimbabweans could not help but noticing how ineffectual Mugabe and Zanu PF had become.
“The effectiveness of their ideology is tantamount to sweeping back water with a broom,” said Ngwenya. “People don’t eat ideology and they are realising that Zanu PF is not about bread and butter issues.”
Ngwenya said Mugabe had lost in traditional Zanu PF strongholds because of inflation.
“It is not an understatement to say the economy has become his greatest enemy,” Ngwenya said. “What is even worse is how Mugabe and his party deliberately and conveniently choose to ignore the fact. The March 29 elections, however, showed us that even rural people are feeling the pinch of the economic crisis.”
MDC deputy secretary-general Tapiwa Mashakada said it had become obvious that both Mugabe and Zanu PF had no tangible solutions to deal with inflation.
“He has never campaigned on issues and inflation has been a major setback,” Mashakada said. “As the MDC, we have lost count on how fast we are surpassing world records on inflation. Zanu PF is now left with propaganda, which the people have long come to realise is worthless talk.”
The crisis gripping Zimbabwe for the past 10 years has intensified of late. Production across all sectors – manufacturing, mining and agriculture – is at an all-time low.
A defiant parallel market has outsmarted Mugabe’s administration despite liberal measures introduced six weeks ago to eliminate it. The Zimbabwean dollar has fared badly against all major currencies since the Reserve Bank floated the exchange rate.
Amid all this chaos, inflation has inflicted the most damage on an already battered economy.
Even spirited efforts by central bank governor Gideon Gono to fight inflation have borne no fruit.
Instead, Gono has found himself under attack for his interventions geared at saving the economy. Such interventions which have seen a huge increase in money supply growth have been labelled inflationary.
In a bid to save face, government has been stifling inflation figures since January. The last official inflation figures were 100 540%.
Figures for February inflation were 165 000%, while for March they were 355 000%. Inflation rose again in April to 732 604% and then 1 694 000% in May. The Central Statistical Office has however not confirmed March to May figures.
“Inflation now poses the greatest threat to Mugabe’s stay in power,” economist John Robertson said. “We are in a very serious decline right now and over the next 23 days, things will get much worse. This, together with the violent campaign, will only strengthen the resolve of people to boot him out.”
The consumer basket recently shot up to $25 billion a month according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe. But most employees in the country are currently earning below $20 billion a month.
Those with school-going children like Makusha face an even more difficult situation. Levies for most public schools have gone up with surveys carried out around Harare
showing that schools were demanding
between $30 billion to $135 billion for the second term.
“It means most employees in the country can’t afford to send their children to school,” Robertson said. “Most have two or three children and it means forfeiting six months to a year’s salary just to pay for levies. What of other expenses?”
Robertson said the biggest impediment to foreign currency inflows had not been sanctions but the failure by Mugabe’s government to pay its debts.
“Worldwide, it is good banking practice not to lend money to someone who does not pay you back,” Robertson said. “If you borrow, you should pay back. Banks don’t lend to defaulters.”
Despite such conditions, Mugabe’s defeat at the elections is not guaranteed amidst fears the elections will not be free and fair. For Makusha, it is not a question of imperialism or Zimbabwe being a colony again.
“I just want to reclaim my respect. I just want to feed my family and not worry about rising prices,” she said.
*Not her real name.
By Kuda Chikwanda