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2018: When hope turned into despair

After beginning the year with a flurry of investment deals, which the government at some point claimed were worth $17 billion, Zimbabweans started to believe that an economic turnaround was on the horizon.

By Everson Mushava

President Emmerson Mnangagwa seemed to be living up to the promises he made that he would hit the ground running after wrestling power from his mentor Robert Mugabe in a military coup in November 2017.

Soon colourful billboards littered vantage points in major urban areas across the country as the interim president at the time promised manna from heaven if he was given a five-year mandate in the July 30 elections.

However, a few days before the curtain comes down on 2018, hope for a better tomorrow among Zimbabweans is turning into despair.

After winning the presidential election, albeit controversially, Mnangagwa pledged to put politics aside and prioritise the economy.

But as the year draws to an end, economic revival remains a mere dream and Zimbabweans are drenched in despair as they face a bleak Christmas without fuel and cash.

The poor have to contend with astronomical price hikes and shortages as well as the collapse of the health sector, with a crippling strike by doctors going beyond 20 days.

Trouble started in September when Finance minister Mthuli Ncube unveiled the Transition Stabilisation Programme that entails a cocktail of “austerity measures”.

Ncube introduced a 2% electronic transaction tax that triggered price hikes and saw businesses shunning the bond notes, a surrogate currency introduced in 2016 ostensibly to end cash shortages.

At the same time, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe ordered banks to separate foreign currency accounts from those denominated in real time gross settlement (RTGS).

But the government still insists the surrogate currency is at par with the US dollar, triggering serious distortions on the market.

The response by the markets was emphatic with an acute shortage of foreign currency, fuel queues surfaced, basic commodities disappeared from supermarket shelves and prices sky rocketed.

A three-tier pricing system emerged, putting paid to government claims that the bond note was trading at 1:1 with the US$.

The government was forced to remove Statutory Instrument 122 barring importation of certain goods.

In November, Ncube introduced payment of import duty of certain goods that include “luxury” food stuffs and vehicles, among others in foreign currency.

On the political front, an otherwise peaceful election was tainted by violence of August 1, when suspected MDC supporters took to the streets demanding an immediate release of the presidential election results.

Six people were shot dead by soldiers and over 20 were injured after the military intervened to quell the protests.

A commission of Inquiry appointed by Mnangagwa and led by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe last week released its findings which concluded that the MDC pre-planned the demonstration and that the military and police were responsible for the deaths.

The tug of war between Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa dominated the headlines in 2018.

Chamisa became Mnangagwa’s biggest challenger after he controversially took over the leadership of the MDC-T following the death of Morgan Tsvangirai on February 14.

The youthful politician rejected the poll results as he accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of rigging in favour of Mnangagwa.

Although Mnangagwa was confirmed by the Constitutional Court as the winner of the presidential poll, Chamisa has refused to recognise the Zanu PF leader as the country’s legitimate president.

The church’s push for negotiations between Mnangagwa and Chamisa fell through after the two made demands that each one had to fulfil first.

Chamisa wanted Mnangagwa to declare that the youthful leader had won the elections, while the Zanu PF leader wanted the opposition leader to first acknowledge his leadership.

There were also reports of emerging factional wars in Zanu PF pitting Mnangagwa and his deputy, Constantino Chiwenga, but the two denied the rift.

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