AS we bid good riddance to 2014, veritably yet another annus horribilis for distressed Zimbabweans, President Robert Mugabe is, as has become his tradition, taking it easy in the Far East where he is holidaying with his family until mid-January.
Candi Comment with Stewart Chabwinja
In contrast, back home, impoverished Zimbabweans, for whom mere survival is a daily grind, face another bleak Christmas shorn off any semblance of festivity; for meeting basic needs remains a daunting challenge.
This is a year in which, against the majority’s hope against hope, socio-economic indicators continued to plummet, with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa revealing in his budget statement that more than 4 600 companies had closed shop since 2011, tragically throwing 55 000 workers onto the streets.
Retrenchments and closures largely remain the order of the day.
So stuck in the rut is the economy that only this week government, struggling to meet its public sector wage bill, bit the bullet and announced it would from next year start retrenching civil servants whose salaries devour 82% of the budget.
Indications are that in the absence of urgent, bold action the economic crisis will plumb new depths, but government appears indifferent — occasional ZimAsset platitudes notwithstanding.
For these, among other reasons, Mugabe’s costly vacation jaunt rankles, particularly as it suggests breathtaking detachment from economic realities confronting the Zimbabwean citizenry for which he is — at the very least — co-author.
While Mugabe can fly to far-flung Asia, many Zimbabweans cannot afford to travel a few hundred kilometres to their cherished rural homes for Christmas as tradition dictates, or if they do, they would ignominiously turn up with no goodies to share.
Ordinarily, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Mugabe taking a deserved breather from the rigours of the highest office in the land by flying to a destination of his choice to cool off. But these are hardly ordinary or normal times.
The economy is going through yet another decline, but throughout the year Mugabe has hardly engaged the issue, preferring stale rhetoric and politicking as usual.
Perception is everything and the impression is Mugabe has been immersed in matters political at the economy’s expense, as he sought to pull the rug from under ex-Vice-President Mujuru’s carpet and also safeguard his family’s future.
And at the party’s recent congress, he reserved much of his waning energy for political rhetoric and sloganeering, with the economy relegated to a mere footnote.
To show solidarity with poverty-stricken Zimbabweans, Mugabe could have symbolically chosen “local is lekker” and promoted the struggling local tourism industry by opting to holiday locally, and saved Treasury scarce cash.
By the same token, he could have at least maintained a presence at a time solutions to the country’s obstinate economic decline remain elusive, as Zanu PF fails to deliver on 2013 electoral promises, including creating more than two million jobs.
This would also have sent the crucial right signals from a leader who purports to be a man-of-the-people — and espouses servant leadership — in a year in which despite Mugabe’s glib claims that the economy was on the rebound, evidence shows things will get worse before improving.