ZIMBABWEâ€™S decade-long crisis has deepened despite the year opening pregnant with hope for a permanent political solution to spur economic and social revival.
The majority of people are wallowing in abject poverty in a country with an economy characterised by hyperinflation, spiralling prices of basic commodities â€“â€“ most of them in short supply â€“â€“ an unemployment rate of over 80%, and the collapse of the health and education sectors.
Two elections were held â€“â€“ harmonised elections on March 29 and a presidential run-off on June 27 â€“â€“ but failed to settle the political impasse between President Robert Mugabeâ€™s Zanu PF and the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC. Â
The country is edging towards a tipping point with virtually everything going down, even though the year had started with high hopes.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki had managed to bring Mugabe, Tsvangirai and the smaller faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara to the table to hammer out a political solution to the countryâ€™s crisis.
The three parties agreed on Constitutional Amendment No 18 for harmonised polls and to amend draconian laws, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Public Order and Security Act and Broadcasting Service Act. The import of the agreements was to create an environment for free and fair elections in line with the Sadc guidelines and principles on democratic elections.
Zanu PF and the two MDCs also agreed on a transitional constitution, but it was never adopted after Mugabe unilaterally declared March 29 the day for the harmonised polls and insisted that a new supreme law should be crafted after the elections. The two MDC formations wanted the elections to be held in June. The talks between the parties were then stalled. Â
On February 5, Zanu PF was shaken when former Finance minister and politburo member Simba Makoni broke ranks with the party and announced his presidential ambitions. Zanu PF immediately fired him from the party.
A few weeks later, another politburo member, Dumiso Dabengwa, and former Speaker of Parliament Cyril Ndebele came out in support of Makoniâ€™s ambition.
Zanu PF primary elections to select parliamentary candidates claimed the scalps of senior ministers, among them former Education minister Aeneas Chigwedere and Agriculture minister Rugare Gumbo, amid allegations of vote buying and rigging.
The MDC-Tsvangirai primaries were also not spared the allegations of vote buying and to a large extent imposition of candidates.
The countdown to the March 29 elections was characterised by general peace, although local observes â€“â€“ the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network and the Zimbabwe Peace Project â€“â€“ said there were isolated cases of violence in parts of Manicaland and the Midlands. Mugabe, Tsvangirai, Makoni and Langton Towungana battled it out in the presidential election on March 29, which later turned controversial.
For the first time since Independence, Zanu PF lost its parliamentary majority to the opposition. The MDC-Tsvangirai won 100 seats against Zanu PFâ€™s 99 and the MDC-Mutambaraâ€™s 10. The other seat went to independent legislator Jonathan Moyo.
A number of ministers were defeated in the parliamentary elections. These included Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, Mines minister Amos Midzi, Energy minister Michael Nyambuya, Mechanisation minister Joseph Made, Womenâ€™s Affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri, Interactive minister Chen Chimutengwende and Water Resources minister Munacho Mutezo.
But with change on the horizon, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) was slow to announce the results of the presidential polls, amid claims by Tsvangirai that he won convincingly.
ZEC insisted it was still counting, collating and verifying the votes. It took the commission over a month to announce the results, which confirmed that Tsvangirai had out-polled Mugabe, but had failed to garner the 50% plus votes to win the presidency.
Tsvangirai polled over 47% of the total votes against Mugabeâ€™s 43% and Makoniâ€™s 8%. The MDC-Tsvangirai alleged that the results were rigged. While ZEC was holding on to the results, reports emerged that Zanu PF, using state agents were preparing for a â€œmilitary likeâ€ campaign for a presidential election run-off, which the commission later set for June 27.
Terror camps were reportedly set up throughout the country by state security agents, war veterans and Zanu PF militia.
In the countdown to the run-off more than 100 opposition supporters were allegedly killed, 200 000 internally displaced and at least 10 000 injured. Zanu PF also claimed that some of its supporters were murdered and others intimidated by suspected MDC-Tsvangirai youths in areas like Bikita, Shamva and in Manicaland.
While violence was stalking the nation, the humanitarian crisis set in and was worsened when the government banned the operation of humanitarian agencies on June 4 over allegations that they were campaigning for Tsvangirai to win the run-off.
The ban left millions of poverty-stricken villagers exposed to serious food shortages and Unicef reported that about 100 000 child-headed families were affected while 1,3 million orphans could not access free education, food and healthcare.
Despite the violence and the deteriorating humanitarian situation, Mbeki stunned the world when he declared that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.
Some victims of the political violence sought sanctuary at the MDC-Tsvangirai headquarters in Harare and the South African and American embassies. Due to the increased violence, Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off, which was condemned worldwide as a sham after ZEC went ahead with it and Mugabe won 85% of the votes cast.
The condemnation resulted in Sadc, the Africa Union and the United Nations calling for fresh talks for the formation of a unity government.
The talks culminated in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Zanu PF and the two MDC formations on July 21 and then an all-inclusive government deal on September 15.Â
The deal is yet to take off with Tsvangirai insisting that he would not be party to the unity government unless there is equitable distribution of ministerial portfolios, governorsâ€™ posts and the composition of the National Security Council, among other outstanding issues.
As Mugabe and Tsvangirai grappled for power, the humanitarian crisis deteriorated and the cholera outbreak made the situation worse.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said an estimated 5,1 million people would face hunger between January and March 2009. Governmentâ€™s own estimates put the figure at 8,2 million.
The UN this week said cholera has claimed close to 1000 people since its outbreak in August.
This year also saw the collapse of the public health sector in the country. Government hospitals and clinics faced a critical shortage of basic drugs, food, water, surgical equipment and above all staff.
Specialist doctors, nurses and nurse aides were on strike for part of the year demanding better working conditions and to be paid in foreign currency.
Their strike saw most wards in government hospitals closed and people failing to receive treatment.
On the other hand, private hospitals were charging medical fees in foreign currency â€“â€“ beyond the reach of many. The education sector was not spared the political impasse.
Primary and secondary schools, state universities and college students spent the better part of the year without receiving any education. Teachers and lecturers went on strike and teachersâ€™ unions called for the cancellation of examinations this year, but that was ignored by Zimsec. Results of Grade 7 examinations are yet to be released.
The opening of state universities for the last semester were delayed due to a number of reasons, among them shortage of staff. The cash crisis did not spare ordinary Zimbabweans.
The central bank has throughout the year set strict daily maximum cash withdrawal limits for individuals and companies. The amounts were at the mercy ofÂ spiralling inflation.
The situation was worsened by the licensing of foreign currency shops, which resulted in them charging forÂ most goods and services in hard currency. Last month Mugabe re-appointed central bank governor Gideon Gono to serve another five-year term despite concerns from the MDC-Tsvangirai and economic analysts that his policies had resulted in the current hyperinflationary environment.
Tsvangirai is yet to return home after attending a Sadc extraordinary summit in South Africa on November 9 and is now a guest of Botswana President Ian Khama.
He insisted last week that he would only return to Zimbabwe if the government issues him a new passport.
On the other hand, the government said if the MDC-T refused to support Constitutional Amendment No19 Bill in parliament it would call for fresh elections. The Bill gives legal effect to the power-sharing pact, but the MDC-Tsvangirai said it would only support it if outstanding issues were resolved.
With the year coming to an end, the MDC-Tsvangirai said there was renewed violence against its supporters. A number of people from the civil society and the MDC-T have been kidnapped. Among them is Jestina Mukoko, ZPP director. Court orders to produce the victims have been ignored.
Last Saturday, Air Force commander Perrence Shiri reportedly escaped an assassination attack on his way to his farm in Mashonaland Central. The state alleged that a gunmen shot at him.
This came amid claims by Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa that government had â€œcompelling evidenceâ€ that the MDC-Tsvangirai was training youths in Botswana to destabilise the country. Botswana and the MDC-Tsvangirai have since dismissed the allegations as a fabrication. South African president Kgalema Motlanthe said he didnâ€™t believe the claims.
One can only wonder what 2009 has in store for hard-pressed Zimbabweans!
BY WONGAI ZHANGAZHA