NINE weeks before Zimbabwe’s general elections, President Emmerson Mnangagwa faces a moment of truth as the imploding economy plunges the country into its third hyperinflation in 15 years amid rising social discontent.
OWEN GAGARE/NATHAN GUMA
A terrifying sense of déjà vu has gripped citizens, evoking unpleasant memories of 2008 and 2019 when salaries, pensions, savings and investments were wiped out by runaway inflation, impoverishing the masses and creating an existential crisis for the ruling Zanu PF.
Hyperinflation saw the real economy contract a cumulative 30% (2006-2008) and 16% (2019-2020). The 2008 episode rattled Zanu PF to the core, opening the party to electoral defeat and political humiliation.
It took a murderous campaign spearheaded by securocrats to rescue Zanu PF and former president Robert Mugabe from utter annihilation, after he lost the first round of the presidential contest to MDC-T founding leader and pro-democracy icon Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai withdrew from the 2008 presidential election run-off in protest, citing widespread violence against his supporters, resulting in Mugabe running alone and claiming hollow victory in an electoral charade that led to international diplomatic isolation.
Even then, the securocrats’ intervention did not stop the opposition MDC-T from getting into office after a Sadc-facilitated dialogue resulted in the Global Political Agreement which culminated in the formation of a power-sharing government.
Inside the ruling Zanu PF itself, the grumblings against Finance minister Mthuli Ncube’s stewardship of the economy are growing louder by the day, with many questioning his failure to learn from recent history.
There is strong fear by party candidates as well as the rank and file that the shambolic state of the economy is dangerously eroding Zanu PF’s electoral prospects — just as it did in 2008.
The unease is gaining momentum and has found expression several times at high-level strategy meetings.
As of Friday, US$1 was worth ZW$6 713 on the formal market and ZW$10 000 on the parallel market, whereas in 2019 it was trading at US$1:ZW$1. A loaf of bread was going for ZW$12 199.99. Zanu PF’s candidates in the 23 August elections have expressed concern that the economy could easily be their biggest hurdle ahead of the polls.
This sentiment came out strongly during the party’s candidate-induction workshop attended by the 210 National Assembly candidates, as well as the women’s quota candidates at the Zanu PF convention centre in Gweru at the beginning of the month.
All Zanu PF secretaries also attended the meeting. Mnangagwa, who is the party’s presidential candidate, officially opened the workshop.
“The number one worry for Zanu PF candidates is the economy. That came out very loud and clear at the workshop. The majority of Zimbabweans, in both rural and urban areas, are really struggling and it seems Mthuli (Ncube) has no solutions. He was challenged to find solutions fast and he promised to do so,” a Zanu PF candidate told The NewsHawks.
“You will recall that the state of the economy was also a major talking point during the Zanu PF congress last year as captured in the central committee report. Salaries have been eroded by inflation, the prices of basic commodities are beyond the reach of the majority and this is worrying in an election year.
” The central committee report to the 7th elective congress held in Harare last October highlighted that price volatility caused by sharp exchange rate movements had become a security threat “which consequently had blighted its chance of a land slide win in the 2023 harmonised elections”.
The party applauded government interventions to tame currency volatility, including the introduction of gold coins, but called for more measures to strengthen the economy.
“However, there have been concerns regarding the welfare of the population. It would therefore be prudent for the government to address social welfare issues, including service delivery so that as we approach the elections in 2023 the country does not fall into the same predicament that befell it in 2021 whereby the opposition won some of the crucial urban by-elections despite several infrastructural development programmes done by the ruling party,” the central committee report says.
Political analyst, publisher and academic Ibbo Mandaza said the economy will be one of the determining factors in this year’s polls.
“Social and economic issues have always been affecting election. And clearly, as things stand, you can see the panic within the ruling circles over the soaring prices and the crumbling Zimdollar. The panic is also denialism,” said Mandaza, who served for many years as a top bureaucrat in post-independence Zimbabwe.
“There has been blame on businesses for sabotage and so on — with little or no evidence of it — instead of highlighting the correlation between mismanagement of the economy, corruption, debt and unbudgeted expenditure.
“All those expenditures and more recently cars — judges were given US$400 000 each — have been impacting the economy. Where do you see a loan that is given out when the client is not vetted for qualification? The money is just dished out as loans, but these are just handouts.
“All that has an impact on the economy, but they do not mention that. The enormous expenditure has been done in the name of the election, in particular to ensure that Emmerson Mnangagwa wins the election.
“In a free and fair election, there is no doubt that Emmerson Mnangagwa loses the election, given the ever-increasing cost of living, the unemployment and several other factors that have grown to be sharper as we go towards the election,” he said.
Tensions between Treasury and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) — accentuated by policy contradictions, inconsistencies and turf wars — are boiling over, eroding public confidence in the government’s capacity to decisively tackle the economic crisis.
Opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change leader Nelson Chamisa ratcheted up the pressure on Thursday while addressing thousands of CCC supporters from Harare metropolitan province.
Speaking at his first rally on the 2023 campaign trail ahead of the party’s finalisation of candidate selection, a fired-up Chamisa told the energised crowd that Mnangagwa and Zanu PF are facing certain defeat.
Analysts say the troubled economy is now at the centre of a groundswell of national grievances. Public disgruntlement over the floundering economy is not abating. Independent economist Steve Hanke says contrary to official statistics, Zimbabwe now has the highest inflation rate in the world, at 1 200% (year-on-year).
In the National Assembly, legislators have repeatedly demanded an urgent ministerial statement from Ncube providing answers on pressing economic problems — but he has kept away from Parliament, accused of focusing on his campaign in Bulawayo’s largest constituency, Cowdray Park, where he wants to be a Zanu PF MP.
In July last year, senators said Ncube and the RBZ had run out of ideas as shown by the introduction of complicated policies that confuse and disadvantage the ordinary people while failing to address the worsening economic crisis.
The upper House said the introduction of countless measures had failed to address economic problems, arguing that the minister ignored advice to dollarise which came from stakeholders during budget consultations. In June, Zanu PF officials who had gathered at the Harare provincial offices to discuss the economy argued that the situation had worsened on Ncube’s watch.
The meeting was attended by national commissar Mike Bimha and central bank officials. Some officials remarked that former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa had performed better, despite being a lawyer and not an economist unlike the Cambridge-trained professor.
The central bank officials came under fire, with Zanu PF officials and supporters accusing them of failing to arrest the runaway inflation and stem the exchange rate volatility, an indication that they have failed in fulfilling their mandate.
Zanu PF provincial secretary for economic affairs Blessing Chimanga, whose department organised the meeting, said Harare needed proper development if the ruling party entertained any hopes of winning. He warned saboteurs, accusing them of endangering the party.
“While others in different provinces depend on mining, agriculture and so on, in Harare we depend on employment and businesses. Without all that, we are not safe,” Chimanga said.
“We hope to have answers for all those questions we are grappling with. If the economy remains unwell, we will have no joy as a party in Harare. Reasons for this mess are so many. We had a central bank official who clearly did not have answers for a number of problems raised here.
“In 2017, the rate was 1:1. The United States dollar and the black market were at 1:2 when Patrick Chinamasa was the Finance minister. When a professor of economics came in, Minister Mthuli Ncube, the exchange rate now is embarrassingly high.
“In October, there was over US$1 billion which was said to be from the US. Professor Ncube came and told us the money will stabilise the exchange rate and prices. He told us the money was credited, but rates continue to soar.”
Chimanga said under the prevailing economic circumstances it would be difficult for the province to perform well.
“Today, you cannot buy bread. How do you expect us to perform well as a party when the economy of Harare is not well?” Chimanga asked.
Economist Vince Musewe believes Zanu PF has been taking advantage of the passive voting by Zimbabwean citizens.
“Historically, elections have been more emotional than logical. People have been voting for many other reasons other than looking at the quality of life. If people were voting on the basis of logic, then we would have had results many years ago,” Musewe told The NewsHawks.
“To me, the economy, although it causes some disgruntlement, I do not think it is going to result in people actually acting on it, because historically that has not been the issue. People vote on the blind; they do not vote on ideas. We do not have an ideas-driven election.
“People vote for their vested interests. A lot of people are scared of the new. So I do not thinkpeople are going to be using the economy to vote. The quality of life for Zimbabweans has deteriorated over the past five years — there is no question about that — but this is not the first time.
“The only new thing that has happened is the currency issue, but regarding deteriorating infrastructure, people are almost used to that. People have been finding back-up plans when transport was scarce, among others. Those back-up plans are rarely expressed in the ballot box because our elections are not a logical selection of the best ideas,” he said.