That Zimbabwe is in a dire state is now common cause and a serious point of concern among the well-meaning.
Some say but for the façade of stability conferred by the multi-currency regime underpinned by foreign currencies over which we have no control, the situation is probably worse than that of 2008. This is bad news.
Many Zimbabweans remember 2008 as probably their lowest moment since independence. Then, hyperinflation hit the 231% million mark and entered the record books; the currency became virtually worthless; goods were scarce and supermarket shelves were bare.
This time though, supermarket shelves are packed with goods — largely imported from neighbouring South Africa. But most people are penniless and out of work. They can’t buy these goods.
Last month the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe issued a judgment allowing employers to fire employees on short notice and without giving any reason. It reversed nearly three decades of law which protected workers. In the three weeks, reports say over 20 000 jobs have been lost.
Government has responded with a quick-fire amendment ostensibly to protect workers. But that was not before various state-owned companies had used the judgment to fire thousands of workers. This has given the impression that government tears over job losses following the judgment were crocodilian.
Truth is, it wasn’t just the private sector that welcomed the judgment but government itself saw it as a welcome opportunity to shed off workers from the pay-rolls of its struggling parastatals.
Companies in the public and private sector were complaining over tough labour laws, which they said stifled business at a time most companies were struggling to make ends meet in a sterile economy.
Before the latest carnage in the labour market the grim statistics showed that less than 20% of Zimbabweans were formally employed.
Now, with the job cuts, that figure has shrunk even further, the majority joining the ranks of the unemployed. Many will probably join pavements as vendors.
In recent weeks, Harare, the capital city, has been battling with vendors who have set up their stalls on pavements of the central business district — where the market is. The city authorities and government say they are polluting the city and must go to designated spaces.
While Zimbabweans are known for their resilience and ability to adapt even in the most difficult of circumstances, and they are a peaceful and non-violent people, at some point desperation forces people to take desperate measures.
The fact of the matter is that the country’s economy is in the dire-straits but sadly at present, the government is showing neither the urgency nor the clue that they have what it takes to solve the problems.
Even those countries that the government counts as friends, among them China and Iran, have also joined Western creditors in demanding that we pay our debts. Zimbabwe is carrying a heavy debt burden. In 2014, government announced that the total national debt stood at US$9,9 billion. This translates to 54% of Gross Domestic Product. Apparently, external debt stands at 90% of the total debt.
When President Robert Mugabe visited China last August, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa announced that the country had been forced to make a token payment to Beijing. It was embarrassing to go and ask for more assistance when the country was not servicing its current debts.
The mistake the Zimbabwe government makes in dealing with so-called friendly nations is to think that they will be kinder and more lenient to Zimbabwe. But the world does not operate like that.
These nations are as business-minded as any. They look after their interests first and foremost before they look after friends.
It’s a brutal fact of life that the Zimbabwean government must get used to. If you owe them money, they expect regular payment.
If you don’t pay, you are blacklisted as lacking the requisite creditworthiness. Financiers are reluctant to do business with a country that has a poor credit-rating but if they do, they charge a high premium and demand greater security to protect themselves.
China, Iran or other so-called friendly nations will not give Zimbabwe any special treatment. When they are owed money, they expect to be paid.
The country’s plight is exacerbated by the fact that there is insufficient production. The reality is we are importing more than we are exporting.
As the Finance minister recently announced in his Mid-Term Fiscal Review Statement, in the six months between January and June 2015, total exports amounted to only US$1,23 billion, compared to imports in the same period which stood at US$3,1 billion. All this means we are spending more than we are earning from our exports.
This imbalance is unsustainable as revenues from taxes and non-tax sources are also dwindling. As the same report showed, revenues from income and corporate taxes are diminishing due to company closures, retrenchments and liquidity challenges that are forcing companies into arrears.
The fact of the matter is that all economic indicators are demonstrating that the economy and the entire country are heading in the wrong direction. And there is no sign that things could change for the better anytime soon.
The situation is made worse by political uncertainty and, in particular, the general vagueness, apparent confusion and intra-party fighting over the future leadership of the country. Mugabe (91) has pushed a 35-year shift as head of government. This leadership does not promise anything new that could propel the country from the doldrums. Investors are coy, unsure of what the future holds, especially because of uncertainty over the succession question.
Capital favours zones of security and at the moment, Zimbabwe is not providing a secure environment. Even countries like China are not comfortable with the leadership uncertainty. They know Mugabe is old and may not last too long in power. The trouble is Zimbabwe is not preparing for the transition and this doesn’t give any confidence.
Constitutionally, there are three ways by which a vacancy might arise in the Presidency during the current term: resignation, removal or death of the President. Removal is almost an impossibility on account of Zanu PF’s domination of Parliament.
They would rather do nothing but wait for him to drop dead on the job. This leaves two scenarios — resignation or death — of which only the former gives Mugabe control over the transition. He will not be able to control succession from the grave.
Mills Soko, an old colleague at the University of Cape Town has recently written a succinct piece on this in The Sunday Times of South Africa, urging South Africa to step up its engagements with Harare in order to prevent a crisis that is a highly likely scenario should Mugabe die without a resolution of the succession issue http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/opinion/2015/08/09/SA-has-a-duty-to-step-up-as-Harare-nears-the-end-of-an-era).
Zimbabwe’s constitution provides that the ruling party must choose a successor within 90 days should the President die during his term of office.
The biggest problem with this is that it does not specify how the ruling party makes this selection of a successor. Everything is left to the internal processes of the party.
Given the in-fighting that we are already seeing within Zanu PF, this scenario could be a recipe for disaster, not just for the party and country, but for the region as a whole.
Indeed, one might even see the military developing an appetite to step into the fray with its senior officers declaring their ambitions and suitability for the top post.
It has not gone without notice that senior security establishment figures have been busy fetching and adding academic titles to their names — all part of validation of their post-security leadership credentials.
We saw how former vice-president Joice Mujuru’s Zanu PF career was brutally terminated last year.
But alas, we now realise that the coalition that got rid of her was merely a coalition of convenience. What we see now is akin to a situation in which, after a big heist, bank robbers start squabbling and fighting over the loot before they have even reached their hide-out.
First Lady Grace Mugabe, who fronted the assault against Mujuru last year, is back in the news again, this time giving grim warnings to leadership aspirants that they too will go the Mujuru way.
There are signals of serious in-fighting, which could turn bloody should death be the avenue of dealing with the succession issue. Grace is clearly enjoying her moment of power at present, but what she does not realise is that her current authority is, in reality, borrowed power. It is tied to her husband and is therefore, to that extent, of a temporary and passing kind.
The authority that she wields and flaunts presently is unlikely to survive the end of her husband’s presidency. It is not in her interests to go around bashing anyone who shows ambition to succeed Mugabe. The President needs to protect her from herself by resolving the succession issue.
All the current in-fighting is giving the wrong signals to Zimbabwe’s trading partners and investors.
They look at Zimbabwe and see stagnancy and uncertainty over the leadership question. The man who holds those keys is Mugabe, but only if he manages the transition through the resignation route, rather than wait for the grim reaper.
Transitions from the first liberation leadership are never easy. They need careful management.
Other countries including Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and Namibia have handled these transitions fairly well. After initial difficulties, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique seem to have go the right formula.
Only Zimbabwe and Angola in the region have had long-standing founding leaders who can’t seem to let go or manage the transition process. This is not a strength but a point of weakness.
In Zimbabwe, Mugabe is the man in charge and carries the duty of managing that process.
Leaving it to his death will only lead to uncertainty and chaos. If he is motivated by the desire to ensure protection and security of his family after his departure, then it is in his interest to retire by way of resignation because that is the only route that gives him a measure of control over his successor.
A preferred successor will have time to settle in office while Mugabe is still alive, thereby giving him a measure of stability derived from the power that he holds within his political party. But more urgently, a change of leadership is the one different thing that might just offer a glimmer of hope at a time everything looks dire and hopeless.
Dr Magaisa is a lawyer and lecturer at Kent State University in the UK. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org