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16.01.2020 Feature Article

Zimbabwe political, social and economic perspectives: 2019 dossier

Zimbabwe political, social and economic perspectives: 2019 dossier
LISTEN JAN 16, 2020

Political landscape
After the 2018 harmonized elections which gave the ZANU PF party the mandate to rule. President Emmerson Mnangagwa appealed to all political party Presidents who contested in the elections to come together with the aim of engaging in a national dialogue and find solution stop the toxic political polarization which continue to divide the Zimbabwean nation . Another reason for the national dialogue was to provide a viable platform for contributing towards lasting solutions to the challenges that confront the country. All the 19 political parties accepted the President’s invitation to Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) refused on the basis that they don’t recognize the Presidency of Emmerson Mnangagwa.

They claim that Mnangagwa is an outcome of a rigged elections despite the fact that they were deemed free and fair by many international observers and also by the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe. A southern Africa bloc, Southern Africa Development Commission (SADC) is in support of the POLAD platform created by the government of Zimbabwe and support a full inclusive dialogue. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki who brokered the Global Political Agreement (2008) before was in the country towards year end to bring all stakeholders to the table and consult .President Thabo Mbeki is pushing for talks to end economic crisis .Mbeki held marathon meetings with the protagonists in Harare as well as other political, civic society and church leaders. The opposition MDC says it is committed to “real dialogue” to solve the political and economic morass in the country and will not be part of President’s Mnangagwa’s POLAD platform.

The opposition in cahoots with their international allies, through foreign embassies and civil society groups are escalating their efforts to topple the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa. These organizations are fighting in the opposition corner by supporting and funding the MDC destabilization agenda. The same organizations have been urging USA and EU to maintain the illegal economic sanctions on Zimbabwe citing alleged human rights violations by the government and security services. The MDC opposition leadership has been on the whirlwind tour in western capitals asking for more sanctions to put pressure on the Zimbabwean government.

Economic Situation
Zimbabwe is in the throes of its economic decay in a decade characterized by acute shortages of cash, medicine, fuel and rolling power cuts of up to 20 hours a day. Inflation sky rocketed to 481.5% in November 2019, in the process eroding salaries and decimating pensions. Zimbabwe is also grappling with price increases which are changing every day. In the interim, salaries have remained depressed, with consumer spending severely curtailed. Zimbabwe economic morass constitutes one of the biggest threat to ZANU PF continued hold on power .According to the United Nations expert , Hilal Elver, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food , noted that Zimbabwe is on the brink of starvation , the crisis has been compounded by hyperinflation, poverty, natural disasters and economic sanctions. The ZANU PF Central Committee report of 2019 noted that the most latent security threat that has great consequences is the unstable economy, which is largely propelled by the parallel market (black market). Formal trading prices are determined by the parallel market exchange rate, which has been sharply rising on a daily basis .Prices of all commodities and services have followed suit to unsustainable levels.

The report admitted that most people are failing to make ends meet, so are poverty levels that are rising very much throughout the year. As a result anger is brewing among the citizens while there is loss of confidence on the direction the economy is taking .Early this year in January a steep hike in fuel prices led to violent demonstrations across the country which the army and police ruthlessly put down. The human rights groups estimated that about 17 people were shot down with live ammunition by the security forces during the three days protests,

Zimbabwe is suffering from massive power cuts which has brought a number of businesses to a standstill .The power utility in 2019 went on to increase tariffs by 320% .The increase in tariffs was meant to solve the power crisis in the country but failed dismally with some businesses bearing the brunt as they lost productive hours.

Economic Sanctions and the Regime change agenda

This is a sad chapter in the Zimbabwean recent history which marked the beginning of a well-organized, meticulously coordinated and generously funded campaign of economic sabotage and misinformation designed to mislead both the Zimbabwean population as well as the international community with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the elected government. Activists are being trained in foreign lands by intelligence forces on how to organize and apply strategies to undermine the government and its economic policies .This is meant to render the country ungovernable and incite the population to revolt and overthrow a legitimate government.

October 25, 2019 was declared a national holiday in Zimbabwe for people to march against western sanctions. Sanctions are causing more harm as they have affected people, companies and schools in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has for the past two decades failed to access lines of credit from IMF and the World Bank. Some banks in the country are restricted from trading with international financial institutions .Under the USA Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, American companies are not allowed to deal with Zimbabwe entities on the sanctions list. Some companies associated with the state have had their money intercepted and blocked when they attempt to do business with international institutions. Companies are finding it difficult to move money into the country because banks can be fined for dealing with sanctioned countries.

In April 2019, the USA fined the Standard Chartered Bank US$18 million for dealing with a sanctioned country .Many companies have been forced to close shop or to scale down their operations .This has led to a loss of jobs .Many international investors are shying away from investing in the country.

In the past two decades, various opposition leaders from the MDC party have been consistently calling for and instating on the maintenance of the illegal economic sanctions with the aim of regime change. SADC set October 25, 2019, as the SADC day against Zimbabwe sanctions which marks the start of a sustained call for the unconditional lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe through various activities.

There is an organization based in Belgrade called Centre for Applied Non Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) which is clandestinely training antigovernment activists with strong umbilical links to the Zimbabwean main opposition MDC, its mission is to layout the groundwork for civil unrest. Srdja Popovic is the founder and the executive director of this organization. He is based in Belgrade , Serbia and his job is to foment revolutions in the world in countries such as Sudan, Swaziland (Eswathini), Venezuela, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Burma, Vietnam, Belarus, Syria, Somalia, and Zimbabwe .Most of the activists which were arrested in Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the January 14 and 16 2019 violent protests and charged with treason and subversion received their training in Czech Republic and the Maldives .Their training involves organizing mass protests, the use of small arms and counter intelligence in the Maldives. Most of the organizations which are engaged in these nefarious and subversive activities to topple the government of Zimbabwe are also funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), an American private and nonprofit organization which focuses on “strengthening democratic institutions”.

CANVAS was founded in 2003 by Srdja Popovic and Ivan Marovic and ever since it has been training antigovernment activists in Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Iran, Lebanon, Tibet, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Srdja Popovic was one of the key founders and organisers of the Serbian nonviolence revolution group called Otpor! Otpor! Campaign which toppled the Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic in October 2000.CANVAS has been successful in most countries mentioned in fomenting uprisings save for Swaziland, Belarus and Zimbabwe which are still enjoying some peace .Foreign organizations are coordinating workshops and trainings in the country, the region and overseas to topple the Zimbabwe government.

Austerity and the International Monetary Fund

Zimbabwe launched its austerity measures under the Transitional Stabilization Programme (TSP) in October 2018 when it was presenting the 2019 national budget. The time frame of the programme is scheduled to run from October 2018 to December 2010. The purpose of the austerity measures are meant to implement cost cutting measures, to reduce the public sector wage bill, in Zimbabwe the wage bill was gobbling almost 90% of the wage bill. In addition to that, austerity reforms are aimed at increasing tax revenues by introducing the unpopular 2 % Intermediated Monetary Transfer (IMT) tax, restructuring the civil service and the privatization of ailing state enterprises and parastatals. These reforms are meant to bring about fiscal balances in the public sector. These reforms are meant to reduce government spending, increase tax revenues or to achieve both .The International Monetary Fund is keenly keeping an eye on these reforms through a Staff Monitored Programme which covers a period from May 2019 to March 2020 .These measures are very unpopular with the masses as they have proved to be anti-developmental, self-defeating and have an adverse effects on the toiling masses.

The civil service has been affected by the austerity measures in terms of salaries which are now pegged at less than US$30 a month. Persistent threats of strikes and demonstrations have crippled important sectors such as health, education and even provision of documents such as passports. These austerity reforms shrinks economic growth, cripple public service delivery .From past experiences IMF is unlikely to offer any bailout to the Zimbabwe economy , which means the country will have to lift itself out of any economic slowdown caused by the austerity measures . Critics of austerity measures fear that the reforms are acting as a double edged knife that leads to economic recession, job cuts and company closures whilst failing to tackle runaway government expenditure .Its most likely that history is going to repeat itself, cognizant of the 1990 Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) which left the economy worse off, further marginalizing the poor and vulnerable groups.

The impact of austerity measures are likely to widen the already high income inequality gap in Zimbabwe .Zimbabwe is worsening social suffering as the government cuts social spending by 62% . Low income households are the most affected through expenditure cuts on social protection programmes which are mend for the children, elderly and the disabled and beneficiaries of Basic Education Assistance Programme (BEAM) and health facilities. In the current budget the government prioritized Defense and Home Affairs. The impact of taxation policy on distribution and equality is so glaring. Big companies are being offered several investment incentives under the 2019 national budget, the citizens under distress of the additional 7c and 6.5c per litre of diesel , petrol and paraffin .Implications of the 2c on Intermediated Money Transfer above Zimbabwe $10 are similar . This shows the repressiveness of the Zimbabwe tax system, under this system the poor contribute more to tax than the rich.

By experimenting with TPS the government is repeating the mistakes of the 1990 under ESAP and it’s expecting different outcomes. The commercialization and privatization policy is being smuggled into the fiscal policy under the government mantra of “ Zimbabwe is open for business” .Under the Transitional Stabilization Programme just like the previous Economic Structural Adjustment Programme are affecting the economic opportunities for the urban middle income and the working class while marginalizing the poor further especially women and children. The combination of privatization with the proposed labour market reforms under the Special Economic Zones, further exposes labour to exploitation. The Public Private Partnerships model in public hospitals has led to segregation and depending inequality between the haves and have nots.

The austerity measures have failed to stabilize the economic situation as the cost of living has increased to extreme levels. The ever increasing prices of basic commodities has become a breeding ground for more poverty and vulnerability amongst the masses .The persistent hard economic situation is reversing and derailing some of the progressive plans the government has put in place to attain the UN sustainable development goals .The Zimbabwean government is a signatory to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the 2020 Agenda and it is committed to ensure that no poverty or hunger by 2030. It looks like there is no reprieve for the masses as fuel prices are continuing to rise due to the weakness of the Zimbabwean dollar against the US dollar and other foreign currencies.

The Zimbabwe government must come up with socialist policies that ensure that all citizens afford to live a dignified lifestyle. The economic hardship are causing moral decadence and erosion of social norms and values. The urban areas are becoming dangerous as incidents of robberies and prostitution are on the increase as well as reports of drug abuse amongst the youths. By intruding the TPS government is trying to please the IMF because since 2016 the government has been implementing the IMF staff monitored programmes.

Social services
Upon attainment of independence in 1980, Zimbabwe experimented with Socialism as it pursued a free primary school education and primary health care policies. This contributed to the high literacy levels which the country boasts as the highest in Africa, but the withdrawal of government support as recommended by ESAP climaxed in the introduction of school fees and user fess even in government hospitals .This had serious repercussions on women and children, as this contributed to gender inequality as parents were forced to priorities educating the boy child at the expense of a girl child. Child mortality heightened as expecting mothers could not afford the hospital fees. These reforms mainly target social services, even now in Zimbabwe is the social services that are bearing the brunt of the austerity measures. Under the TPS, the government has removed fuel and electricity subsidies and this has caused the skyrocketing of prices of basic commodities and services.

The removal of subsidies are greatly affecting the companies on production as many companies are closing shop because it’s now difficult to sustain operations using diesel and petrol power generation . Inflation is galloping at an alarming speed and the living standards, life expectancy and economic production are plummeting .These hardships are causing increase in inequality, disaffection and exclusion .Opposition to the ruling class is deepening each day. The government economic crisis is becoming more pronounced, with a mounting foreign debt, declining experts and urban strife due to increased food prices, unemployment, the rising cost of living and brain drain. Many educated Zimbabweans are leaving the country for the foreign countries where they are being subjected to xenophobia attacks and precarious labour and exploitation.

Zimbabwe government under the direction of TPS intends to privatize some parastatals. With the high levels of corruption in Zimbabwe is most likely that these companies will be sold to acolytes, fronts and elites. This could be reminiscent of what happened in Russia in the 1990s, a period that gave rise to the oligarchs who stripped Russia of its gas and oil resources leading to the emergency of overnight billionaires .The Russian ultra-rich, such as Chelsea Soccer Club owner Roman Abramovich, amassed wealth during the economic and social turmoil that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of the free market economy. Oligarchs are monopolistic by nature .These are pitfalls of privatization.

Greece is a good example of a country which experimented with austerity measures and. In 2010, Athens imploded after its Parliament voted and approved the draconic austerity measures which they thought would unlock 120 billon Euros of emergency loans for the debt stricken country to avoid insolvency .Up to this day Greece is feeling the negative effects of austerity measures nine years later .The Greece story is a good example of how negative and cruel the austerity measures could be. The experimenting with TSP will leave most of the Zimbabwean population in dire straits. The public expenditure cuts, linked with this year’s drought and the effects of Cyclone Idai will leave many people destitute. Pro poor and socialist policies is the only way that is going to redeem the toiling mases and bring social development. The government vision of an upper middle class by 2030 under its slogan Vision 2020 remains a pie in the sky as the economy is regressing at a faster unprecedented rate.

Drought and Climate Change
Zimbabwe is grappling with a nationwide drought that has depleted dams, cut output by hydro power generation at Kariba dam. The has caused harvests to fail as most crops are wilting and this has prompted the government to appeal for US$464 million in aid to stave off famine .These prolonged droughts , dry spells and heat waves are a result of climate change .Most major cities in Zimbabwe are rationing water in an effort to stretch the water supplies . The world over more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress and the UN has warned that the problem is set to worsen with demand expected to grow as much as 30% by 2050. A combination of drought and economic meltdown are pushing Zimbabwe to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe .In the rural areas, 5.5 million farmers are struggling to find food. In urban area, the inflation rate of 480% is forcing the poor families to survive on just one meal a day. The crisis is being made worse by a formal unemployment rate of 90% and also by an indebted government that is struggling to provide basic services, perennial shortages of fuel and foreign currency and regular 20 hours daily power cuts.

Zimbabwe is marching towards unprecedented food insecurity levels in its history, the 2018/19 was the driest season in 40 years and these are the signs of climate change. Approximately 8 million Zimbabweans are now dependent on food from the World Food Programme and other donor agencies from western countries. Water and electricity are in short supply and basic health services close to collapse .The galloping inflation has made the imported food in the shops unaffordable to many.

Zimbabwe was also ravaged by Cyclone Idai which devastated the eastern parts of the country leaving 259 people dead and thousands displaced .The storm caused destructive winds and heavy precipitation causing riverine and flash floods , deaths and destruction of property and infrastructure . According to official figures 250 000 people were affected by the cyclone The forecast was done two months before the cyclone struck but authorities were caught off guard.

Trade Unionism, Picketing and Demonstrations

As the nation is falling in a deeper economic abyss, trade unions have come under spotlight and clashes with the government and business over the working conditions are increasing .The Zimbabwean working class is dwindling with 10% employment rate. The working class in Zimbabwe is starving, failing to pay rent and to access health care .The purpose of trade unions among other things are to negotiate for living wages and better working conditions, regulating relations between workers and the employer, taking collective action to enforce the terms of collective bargain, raising new demands on behalf of its members and helping to settle grievances.

Trade unionism in Zimbabwe has been high jacked by politicians and no longer serve the interests of the working class .The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) came into existence on 28 February 1981, after joining of six unions, namely African Trade Union Congress (ACTU), the National African Trade Union Congress (NACTU), Trade Union Congress of Zimbabwe (TUCZ), United Trade Unions of Zimbabwe (UTUZ), Zimbabwe Federation of Labour (ZFL) and the Zimbabwe Trade Union Congress (ZTUC). These unions came together to form the now Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions .The ZCTU is now being used by the western governments as a tool for the regime change agenda which saw it becoming a bedrock of the opposition party , the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) which was formed and launched in September 1999.

The birth of the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) on September 12 1999 was the genesis of the ZCTU participation in politics. This unwarranted meddling in politics has left the working class poorer .Trade unionism in Zimbabwe has become a stepping stone for individuals to gain political power at the expense of the poor working class whom they claim to represent . The unions are failing to address the working class needs yet they must be the voice of the working class. Majority of the working class in Zimbabwe are being subjected to exploitation, unions must negotiate for higher living salaries, and jobs must be dignified and productive with adequate social protection .The unions have been captured by western government forces seeking to topple the government so that they can exploit the natural resources freely. Currently, Zimbabwe is reeling from the economic sanctions wrought by illegal economic sanctions imposed by USA and EU. The ZCTU must join calls and demand the lifting of the sanctions that are severely affecting its membership. The current crisis in Zimbabwe is exacerbated by the disputed 30 July 2018 elections, economic collapse, high prices and cash shortages, high unemployment and public health crisis .The local authorities in major cities are failing to provide adequate clean water to residents even basics such as regular garbage collections.

Companies closure and the slowing down of production in most sectors of the economy has to a decline of trade union membership , those that are still working are earning very low pathetic wages .Most workers are now in the informal sectors such as vending .Factory shells in the light and heavy industrial sites in major cities are deserted . Manufacturing and industrialization has stagnated and it has been replaced by importation of finished goods from neighboring countries.

Zimbabwe currency collapsed in 2009 which led to the adoption of the US dollar as legal tender but the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe lacked the foreign currency reserves to meet this obligation. Prices of basic commodities have risen dramatically and the purchasing power has been eroded. In January 2019, the country’s 305 000 civil servants gave notice to strike after they were paid in the local currency which is called the bond note instead of the US dollars. During that same period the government raised fuel prices by over 200 %, which made the Zimbabwe fuel to be the most expensive in the world. The following day, the ZCTU called a three day general strike, which was supported by many civil society organizations. Many people joined this nationwide strike because of widespread anger over economic decay but there was massive looting and property destruction .This provoked a brutal crackdown by the security forces and the government shutdown the internet to prevent social media coordination of the demonstrators.

Between the period of 19996 and 1999 , George Linke of the Danish Trade Union Council came to Zimbabwe with an agenda to transform the ZCTU into a political party and part of his mission was to identify other groups in the country which were to join the proposed new political formation .This party was to spearhead the regime change agenda .The transformation of the ZCTU as a political formation brought together , employers , workers, students , former white farmers .This new party was also formed as a response to a government resolution to designated 1500 white owned farms for expropriation and the increased emphasis on black empowerment and the draft constitution which would enable the government to acquire white owned farms compulsorily without compensation. The ZCTU allowed itself to be transformed into a political party so that it can serve the interests of the former white farmers and western capital. Labour unions are being funded by the arms of the US government through conduits such as the National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute which have nothing to do to strengthen workers’ rights but to topple governments.

In September 2019 Zimbabwe health care system became shambolic, characterized by an acute shortage of drugs and an indefinite industrial action by doctors over salaries .The country’s public hospitals, already beset by a myriad of challenges, degenerated into death traps after doctors embarked on a strike that is still ongoing .In response government dismissed 448 doctors while it pursued disciplinary action against 1000 others.

Also in August, Zimbabwe was hit by another wave of protests, which saw the security forces brutally quashing the demonstrations. The ZANU PF ruling party and the main opposition party MDC both feel the way forward out of this economic crisis is to impose neo liberal austerity measures against the working class and the poor .The right wing organizations that are currently pushing for social dialogue are fronts of the imperialist countries and are funded by them.

Demands
The Zimbabwe working class are demanding a living wage and pensions.

Workers are demanding that never again should they allow the workers struggle and trade unions to be high jacked by politicians.

Workers demand the immediate stoppage of harassment of street vendors who are trying to make a living to support their families.

Workers stand against the government mantra of “Zimbabwe Is Open for Business” as this is tantamount to selling the country to imperialist investors.

No to privatization of government companies, as this will benefit the elite connected to the government who will buy the company for a song.

In Zimbabwe, the rich which include huge mining companies, multinational corporations and foreign investors must be taxed more to finance developmental interests of the poor

The only way forward is to smash the system of capitalism which breeds wars, poverty, and misery and replace it with Socialism .This can only be achieved by building an International Workers Socialist Revolutionary Party .This is the time as capitalism is in deep crisis globally.

Aluta Continua!
By Mafa Kwanisai Mafa , [email protected]

Mafa Kwanisai Mafa
Mafa Kwanisai Mafa, © 2020

The author has 5 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: MafaKwanisaiMafa

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