JOHANNESBURG — It has been 131 days since Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as the Zimbabwean president, following the resignation of Robert Mugabe. And during this time, the investment narrative has been positive. Mnangagwa chalked up a $4.2bn mining deal, the country will start the construction of a $4bn power plant complex in partnership with Zambia next year, and the government is slowly recovering previous illegally transferred funds, which is estimated at around $836m. But, says Cathy Buckle, the citizens of Zimbabwe are still waiting for this positive sentiment and investment to trickle down to street level. Buckle looks at a few situations in her piece below, which highlight the inequities of those in government, and those living on the ground. – Stuart Lowman
By Cathy Buckle*
The honeymoon is over in Zimbabwe. Four and a half months after the army made Mr Mugabe resign and enabled Mr Mnangagwa to take over as President, the infatuation of the nation has worn off. Every day we are being bombarded with good news stories: ”investors knocking on the door,” “huge deals about to be signed;” meanwhile ordinary Zimbabweans are looking at their empty pockets and devastated lives and saying: but what about us?
In a government still packed with the same people who sat alongside Mr Mugabe for three decades, the focus seems to be on charming the world with words while ignoring the desperate situation of ordinary people at home. Here’s what’s happening 137 days after President Mugabe resigned and 131 days after President Mnangagwa was sworn in:
- There’s still no money in the banks. An hour or two in a bank queue gets you twenty dollars worth of Bond coins. When people heard that $250 million of externalised funds had been returned to the country since January, everyone thought the cash crisis would start to ease. Instead it had absolutely no impact at all on the ability of ordinary people to withdraw their own money from the bank.
- Doctors have been on a strike for a month. Among their demands are increases in salaries and on-call allowances and a lifting of a recruitment freeze. Another demand of striking doctors that speaks volumes about the state of the country is for: “an improvement in the critical shortage of drugs and equipment in government hospitals.”
- Teachers are threatening to strike, demanding increases in salaries, rural allowances and the restoration of vacation leave. Chillingly the teachers are also demanding a: “guarantee of safe schools before, during and after elections.”
- Pledges made by Mr Mnangagwa in January when he was charming the world at Davos are fast evaporating. All Zimbabweans who are citizens by birth will be allowed to vote, he said but as many of us found out when we were turned away from registration, it doesn’t apply to Zimbabwean born residents if our parents were born outside of Southern Africa.
- Mr Mnangagwa pledged that all Zimbabwean citizens in the Diaspora would be allowed to vote but that too has just been reversed. Speaking in Rwanda the President said Zimbabwe did not have the resources to enable voting outside of the country. “Voting won’t take ten minutes, if you want to vote, come home and in less than ten minutes you will have finished voting and go back to your work,” the President said. An insensitive and unrealistic response to Zimbabweans scattered all over the world whose monthly remittances home have been keeping their families and the economy afloat for nearly two decades.
- Four and half months after the new President’s inauguration, 90% of Zimbabweans are still unemployed, going to work every day, not to an office but to a pavement. They are vendors selling anything they can get in order to feed their families, pay rent, educate their children.
The inequities between officials in power and ordinary people 131 days after Mr Mnangagwa was sworn in are as big and as insulting as they ever were. There is no example better than this one from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ): Rural teachers are being paid just S$13 rural allowance a month while “ top government officials award themselves hefty bush allowances averaging $50 per day for visiting rural schools.” (ARTUZ) Thirteen dollars a month as opposed to fifty dollars a day. It says it all.
- 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 www.cathybuckle.com.