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Comment: Time For A Reality Check

ON December 4 last year President Mugabe gave a state-of-the-nation address which when viewed today, 12 months later, provides an apt illustration of a wasted year due to leadership failure. Mugabe last year — as he will perhaps do this year — wished us a happy and prosperous new year. But that is all he can do — wish.

The fundamentals on the ground point to an even more difficult 2009 as long as the country continues to lack direction as a result of poor leadership and dated demagoguery practised in pursuit of legitimacy.

This has been the most difficult year in the post-Independence history of this country notwithstanding Mugabe’s promises last year that “government will continue to do all in its power to make life bearable in the face of existing difficulties”.

Last year, he thanked the people for their “stoic resilience in the face of these challenges”. But the stoicism is fast wearing off.

Mugabe said: “Government, in conjunction with key stakeholders, has pursued measures to bring about a sustained turnaround of the economy.” There was more positive talk of the narrowing of political differences between political parties to establish a broad consensus around national interests.

Then there was the usual fiction about economic recovery underpinned by growth in agriculture, tourism and mining. There was even special reference to the Marange diamonds as underpinning the revival of the mining sector. The chaos that obtained in Marange this year is emblematic of the state of affairs in governance across the country.

To address the situation in the fuel sub-sector, Mugabe said government had embarked on projects to revive petrol blending with ethanol, and the production of biodiesel from jatropha.

He also spoke of the problem of limited water supplies in urban areas. As part of measures to redress this situation, he said government would drill boreholes in the affected areas to augment existing water supplies.

None of this was achieved. As this year draws to a weary close, we look back at Mugabe’s promises with disgust and disappointment. It is time our leaders had a reality check.

Apart from pointing accusing fingers at the West and phony saboteurs at home, the Zanu PF regime has this year demonstrated in spectacular style that it has gone off the rails. It can no longer be trusted with fixing this economy and healing a society that has become restive due to gnawing poverty.

We deserve better but we continue to live in a divided society due to political intolerance and fear by our rulers of losing power. Each passing day this year was an excruciating grind for families with no food, water or electricity.

Basic health care has ceased to exist because government hospitals have become shells where people go to die. Government schools and colleges offered no tuition for the greater part of the year due to a year-long strike by educators.

Business lost many productive hours as workers spent half the day queuing for cash at banks or moonlighting to make ends meet. The year is closing as the country is grappling to control a medieval disease in the form of cholera.  How low can we sink as a nation?

But we have not reached rock-bottom yet. There is more suffering to come in the New Year for Zimbabweans as long as the political leadership in this country fails to put human dignity ahead of parochial political entrenchments.

The ingredients of greater poverty, political strife — even degenerating into outright anarchy and attendant economic collapse — are manifest. There is no properly formed government in place and no economic recovery and we are close to a year in this parlous state. There is no affordable food in the shops. 

There is renewed political tension due to abductions and accusations by Zanu PF that the MDC is training bandits to cause unrest in the country.

The economic collapse has escalated in December with the crash of the local currency against the US dollar. This, coming at a time when the whole economy has virtually dollarised, paints a gloomy picture in the New Year. 

There is real possibility that most manufacturers closing their plants for the Christmas break will not reopen due to viability challenges. As a country, we are inching closer to the tipping point because of the tension which has been building up.

There are two clear choices here: either the leadership works quickly to find a workable political settlement or allows the situation to degenerate into absolute chaos. The latter choice is too ghastly to contemplate but it is a real prospect.

In the next few days, or perhaps at the Zanu PF conference in Bindura this weekend, President Mugabe will once again wish us a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2009.

This time we hope that he does not make the pronouncements he made last year for the sake of ceremony. We hope to experience real prosperity in 2009 under a caring leadership that can free us from hunger and disease.

That certainly won’t come from Zanu PF.

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