FOUR years after the death of former president Robert Mugabe and almost six years after he was toppled in a 2017 military coup in that propelled Emmerson Mnangagwa to power, there is growing consensus that Zimbabwe’s multi-faceted crisis has worsened.
Mugabe died an angry man on 6 September 2019 at Glen Eagles Hospital in Singapore.
Mugabe divided opinion.
Admirers feted him as a principled revolutionary who sought to economically empower the black people through education and deliberate policies such as the indigenisation laws.
But detractors despised him as a dictator who vandalised one of Africa’s most promising countries to a laughing stock.
In his 37 years at the helm, Mugabe built an authoritarian regime which brutally suppressed opposition political activism, civil society and human rights defenders.
The free media was not spared as Mugabe entrenched his grip on power.
He is also remembered for implementing the controversial land reform programme in which productive white commercial farmers were violently evicted from farms and replaced with elite Zanu PF politicians, bureaucrats and activists.
This led to economic collapse as the farms suddenly became derelict.
When Mugabe was eventually toppled by his lieutenants in a coup, many Zimbabweans celebrated amid high hopes his successor, Mnagangwa, would catapult the country to exciting heights.
But far from being the expected messiah, Mnangagwa has presided over a crippling political and economic meltdown which has left many Zimbabweans nostalgic over Mugabe’s era.
The Mugabe era was ruinous, therefore it speaks volumes when people say he was a better leader than Mnangagwa.
The political crisis reached unprecedented levels after the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) election observer mission, for the first time, condemned the conduct of the 24 August polls.
This never happened under Mugabe despite numerous contestations by the opposition MDC then led by the late opposition party icon, Morgan Tsvangirai.
Sadc regarded Mugabe as a statesman and held him in high esteem but under Mnangagwa the reverence that Zimbabwe enjoyed in the regional bloc has now suddenly been lost.
Under Mnangagwa, more repressive laws which have shrunk the democratic space have been enacted as the 80-year-old strongman redoubles efforts to entrench his authority.
Mnangagwa signed the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Amendment Act 2022, also known as the “Patriotic Bill”, in a move that was described by civil society groups and pro-democracy activists as the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.
It was the latest in a raft of measures, which included the banning of opposition political rallies and the use of legal instruments to disqualify political nemesis such as the disqualification of presidential hopeful Saviour Kasukuwere, ahead of the 23 August elections.
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act 2022 Act criminalises any Zimbabwean citizen or national caught “wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe” and those who participate in meetings with the intention of promoting calls for economic sanctions against the country.
Some of its provisions are:
– Criminalising any citizen caught “wilfully injuring Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, dignity and independence as a nation”;
– Criminalising those who participate in meetings with the intention to promote, advance, encourage, instigate or advocate sanctions or trade boycotts against the country and;
–The death penalty for those perceived to have conspired to unseat the government, including individuals acting as agents or proxies for such entities.
Some legal experts said the law was ambiguously worded, complicated, and difficult to understand.
Therefore, it is susceptible to misunderstanding and law enforcement agents can interpret it broadly to fit their targeted agenda.
For months, civil society organisations had lobbied the international community to urge the Zimbabwean government not to enact the law which gives the state leverage to crack down on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, but Mnangagwa turned a deaf ear to the calls.
The Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment Bill, which was approved by Parliament and awaits Mnangagwa’s assent, prohibits civil society groups from political involvement, gives the newly established Office of the Registrar of PVOs the power to penalise non-compliant organisations, and empowers the registrar to collect registration fees from all PVOs.
More political prisoners, such as opposition leaders Job Sikhala and Jacob Ngarivhume, are languishing in Mnangagwa’s prisons.
When it comes to how ordinary Zimbabweans really feel about the economic situation, it is the runaway inflation that has had a devastating impact on their daily lives than overall growth or investment data.
At the end of 2017 when Mugabe was removed from office, the annual rate of inflation — defined as the rate at which prices were rising — was around 5%.
Inflation remained low until towards the end of 2018, but then rose sharply through the first half of 2019, reaching an annualised rate of 176% in June.
This is a measure of general consumer prices across the economy.
Professor Steve Hanke, an economics expert at Johns Hopkins University in the United States, who independently calculates rates of inflation, said the current inflation figure is considerably higher than official figures and is now over 611%, making it the highest in the world.
If this is narrowed down to just food prices, the picture looks even bleaker.
The annual food inflation figure released by the United Nations measured at more than 250%.
Under Mugabe, civil servants earned about US$540 but their total earnings have dropped to about US$300 to date after combining salary and allowances figures.
However, in RTGS, the salaries are an average equivalent to US$30.
Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe spokesperson and president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) Obert Masaraure concurred, saying life has become harsher under Mnangagwa’s rule.
“Mugabe had a soft spot for the teaching fraternity and as a dictator he would only go against teachers when he felt like his power was threatened. The easiest comparison is on teachers’ income. Under the last term of Mugabe’s presidency, teachers were earning US$540 which was slashed to US$30 by the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa,” Masaraure said.
“In the early ’80s Mugabe even afforded children free education and went on to spearhead construction of thousands of schools. It was clear that Mugabe treated education as a public good that shouldn’t be commercialised.”
Masaraure added: “Of course, later, because of economic mismanagement, Mugabe’s government failed to fund education. Mnangagwa, on the other hand, treats education like a commodity that has to be consumed by those who can pay for it.
Almost 50% of learners failed to write public examinations in 2020 because they couldn’t afford the price.
“Mugabe dismally failed to run parastatals but never attempted to either privatise them or strip them of their assets. Under Mnangagwa’s Zimbabwe is open for business, public property is being placed into private hands.”
Now a second term now firmly ensconced in his hands, Mnangagwa has promised to turn around the economy and improve the lives of restive Zimbabweans who witnessed rampant corruption and plunder of the country’s national resources during the first term of a politician known as “The Crocodile”.
With his election victory failing to attract global endorsement, it remains to be seen how Mnangagwa will reintegrate Zimbabwe into the family of nations and steer the country to economic recovery and ultimately prosperity.