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Darkest hour before dawn

IT was Aristotle Onassis — the Greek shipping magnate, not the famous Hellenic philosopher — who said “it is during our darkest moments when we must focus to see the light”.

Editor’s Memo Dumisani Muleya

This probably applies to what is happening in Zimbabwe now. Things always seem to get worse before they get better, so hang in there and don’t despair. The country is at crossroads and is going through one of its darkest hours since Independence in 1980 against a backdrop of dramatic political events and economic turmoil.

President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF officials have just emerged from a vicious succession battle which left a series of high-profile political casualties in its wake, including former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and her top allies purged before and after their controversial recent congress. The purges are still ongoing.

The chaos in Zanu PF, triggered by Mugabe’s wife Grace and her gang’s rampage against Mujuru and her followers, has dramatised the socio-political and economic problems Zimbabwe faces.

The country has being going through a traumatic experience since the turn of the millennium as Mugabe fought a spirited battle for political survival at a time when his popularity plunged due to leadership and policy failures which gave rise to strong opposition internally and externally.

No country in contemporary history has gone through what Zimbabwe has and remained intact in many respects. The country has gone through an extended period of decline, record hyperinflation, economic meltdown and political instability, characterised by intimidation, violence and murder, since 1999, and yet it remains intact despite renewed problems.

Of course, it is broken in many ways.

Socially, people are languishing in poverty. Health and education systems are in tatters, while available decent services are beyond the reach of the majority. Safety nets are in shreds or non-existent. Social service delivery is not just poor and erratic but a mess.

On the economic front it’s equally bad. The economy is hurtling towards recession and deflation, the opposite of hyperinflation but equally damaging. More than 4 600 companies have closed down since 2011, resulting in over 55 400 jobs losses. More companies are set to close shop, particularly after this festive season. Inevitably, government revenues will further dwindle as the tax base increasingly shrinks, exacerbating Treasury’s fiscal crisis.

The country’s broken politics are thwarting change and economic recovery.

First, the political process is ram-shackled. Problems with the process involve different things — slavish partisanship, ruthless contests bordering on barbarism, brutality, gridlock, and so on.
Zero-sum politics hold sway.

Simply because our political parties and their leaders interpret politics as a zero-sum game: the us versus them mentality dominates. This is a problem of means to ends.

Second, the political system is unable to yield certain objectives, especially progressive policies. And government is virtually dysfunctional due to lack of capacity at the top to provide effective leadership, embrace reform and run the economy.

Mugabe failed to secure broad-based legitimacy after last year’s general elections to ensure a foundation for fixing the economy, or normalising external relations. More than a year on, the country faces multiple social and economic problems, spawned by endemic governance failures, compounded by a debilitating ruling party succession crisis.

Both Zanu PF and the MDC are embroiled in major internal power struggles that distract their urgent attention from the collapsing social and economic fabric. So in many ways Zimbabwe is an insolvent and failing state. Its institutions are hollowing out and the haemorrhaging of the moribund economy is incessant.

The tragedy, though, is that its leaders are at sea on what do to.
Despite speculative Chinese and Russians deals, the country remains hamstrung by acute liquidity constraints, policy incoherence, corruption and mismanagement.

Mugabe (almost 91) has become deadweight — a heavy or oppressive burden — on the nation. Perhaps it’s the darkest hour before dawn.
Nobody really knows.

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