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Zanu PF fiddles while country burns

Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF is locked in a bruising succession struggle while the economy ominously heads towards coll

apse, a South African research institute says.

In its latest report on Zimbabwe, the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies says Zanu PF is preoccupied with succession politics following Vice-President Simon Muzenda’s death at the expense of the country’s already battered economy. It says the ruling elite is fiddling whilst the country burns.

“While the politicians fiddle around as the flames that engulf Zimbabwe grow in intensity, the glaring reality of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse is there for all to see,” the report says. “The economic gains and expanding social services of the 1980s have been thrown into reverse.”

The report, quoting Zimbabwean economist John Robertson, says the economy has shrunk by over 19% over the past year, and the gulf widens daily between the official exchange rate (US$1 to $824) and the parallel market (US$1 to $6 000).

Economic output has declined by 19,3% over the past three years and 11,9% in 2002. The manufacturing sector declined by 17,2% last year, while mining shrank by 7,1% with gold production plunging by 18%.

Inflation – Zimbabwe’s most serious problem at the moment – is now 455,5% and is expected to surge towards 1 000% in the next couple of months. Africa’s annual inflation average is 12,6%.

“The effect of these factors together with the acceleration of company closures, and the worsening of countrywide fuel shortages clearly indicate that Zimbabwe’s economy is now in a shambolic state from which recovery will be arduous if not impossible,” the report says.

“Inflation is too high. The Reserve Bank cannot keep up with the volume of cash as a result of price hikes. Bread sells for more than $1 000 a loaf, and beef and maize for $7 000 and $300 a kilogramme respectively. When available, fuel sells on the black market for $2 000 to $2 600 a litre.”

The reports says Mugabe’s ill-executed agrarian reform programme has as yet been unable to create a new self-sufficient class of small-scale farmers to fill the vacuum left by evicted white farmers.

It says the controversial land grab has also resulted in the undermining of commercial farming in the country, which in the past was the bedrock of the economy.

“Production estimates for key crops for 2004 are forecast to be sharply down, which has also affected Zimbabwe’s formerly robust agro-manufacturing industry,” the report says.

“The prevailing drought conditions in Zimbabwe forecast to endure well into the next agricultural season, together with the negative effects of the land redistribution programme, have resulted in a severe food crisis.”

The report says this has been worsened by government’s failure to secure alternative financiers to replace vital frozen donor aid.

“It is almost certain that the rapid decline of Zimbabwe’s economic fortunes will motivate and push progressive forces within the governing party to pursue an exit strategy for the aging Zimbabwean president,” it says.

“Faced with the collapse of the economy and Mugabe’s alleged imminent departure from power, top Zanu PF officials, who have a great personal interest in the Zimbabwean economy, may have begun to reconsider their allegiance to the veteran president.”

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