State of the Nations across Africa are usually reserved for power punches and reflections on what government thinks went right. And what’s usually left out are the realities most of its citizens are having to endure on a daily basis. President Robert Mugabe’s 2016 address was no different. Living in Zimbabwe has been flipped upside down in 2016 with the introduction of ‘monopoly money’, but it also saw a continuation of the downward spiral the country finds itself in. And having listened to his 28 minutes of reflection, Cathy Buckle fills in the gaps, and looks at the daily challenges most Zimbabweans had to overcome throughout the year, those that Mugabe missed. – Stuart Lowman
By Cathy Buckle*
On the same day that many thousands of people sat, stood and crowded the pavements outside the banks waiting to try and withdraw a few dollars of their own money, President Mugabe gave his annual State of the Nation Address.
It was a hot afternoon in Parliament where MPs were squashed in like dried kapenta fish in a tight plastic bag. There was a titter of laughter when President Mugabe invited everyone to sit down and a scramble for positions ensued because there aren’t enough seats to accommodate members of Zimbabwe’s bloated parliament. Shoulders touching, bottoms squashed, many MPs had to sit forward on the benches, perch on the edge or sit sideways. They waited in anticipation, but for what?
Perhaps Mr Mugabe was going to talk about the collapsed economy, the chronic shortage of US dollars in the country and the recent introduction of Bond notes, a surrogate currency forced upon us by Presidential decree. Perhaps he would say something about a year filled with demonstrations and protests which were squashed by horrific police beatings, the images captured on mobile phones for the world to see. Perhaps he’d say something about 90% unemployment or continued company closures, about 80 % of our food still being imported 16 years after farm takeovers, or about our crippled health care system or rampant corruption in government departments. So much to talk about; this was surely going to be a very long speech.
While we waited to hear just exactly what Mr Mugabe was going to say about the state of Zimbabwe in 2016 it was also a hot afternoon out there on the pavements where people had been queuing outside banks since 2 or 3 am in the morning. The vendors, Zimbabwe’s saviours, were there too, cruising the queues: selling air time, bananas, cold drinks, apples, boiled eggs and more. No one was holding out any hope of salvation or reprieve from the State of the Nation address but acknowledgement and a clear path ahead would be a good start.
As President Mugabe made his way slowly through his speech you couldn’t help but wonder if we live in the same country. Apparently everything’s fine in Zimbabwe at the end of 2016. The economy is on the road to recovery; tourism is on the increase; hotel occupancy has increased from 41 to 42 percent; milk production is meeting one third of local demand; gold production is up, electricity generation is on the increase and government is working on zero tolerance to corruption.
Nothing, not one word, was said about Bond Notes which the Reserve Bank is congratulating Zimbabweans on embracing, ignoring the fact that there’s nothing else to embrace because all the US dollars have disappeared into the vast hole behind government doors. No acknowledgment was made of thousands standing in bank queues everyday; of people not being able to withdraw enough of their own money to pay their bills, buy their food or medicines or even get on a bus. Not one word was said about unemployment or company closures or about human rights violations and police brutality.
At the end of just a 28 minute speech describing his version of the State of Zimbabwe in 2016, 92 year old President Mugabe said: “I commend our forces for the peaceful environment we have here…I conclude by paying tribute to our peace loving people who have endured all manner of hardships since we embarked on our land reform programme.”
With hardly a sound Zimbabweans turned back into place in the bank queues. Tragically we expected nothing better, we demanded nothing better and we got nothing better.
- Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at cathybuckle.com, or follow her on Twitter @cathybuckle.