THE just-ended Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls last week clearly demonstrated how the succession power struggle has now taken precedence over an imploding economy marked by company closures and job losses on a massive scale.
Although the theme of the conference was “Consolidating people’s power through ZimAsset”, the occassion could as well have been themed “One centre of power” as praise-singing and consolidating President Robert Mugabe’s longevity in power clouded bread and butter issues during the two-day gathering held at the weekend.
The resounding applause met by provinces when the resolution that Mugabe will be the sole candidate for the 2018 polls was in stark contrast to the lack of interest when Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa presented his report on the state of the economy at the conference.
Despite pleas for silence by Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was chairing the meeting, delegates at the conference were more interested in catching up with each other than what Chinamasa had to present.
Even Mugabe’s speech at the conference rambled on intra-factional fights in Zanu PF, instead of focusing on moribund economy.
In demonstrating that widening fissures in the ruling party reigned supreme, Mugabe charged that some securocrats were dabbling in Zanu PF politics and fuelling factionalism, showing the political and security elite are sacrificing the economy on the altar of political expediency. “People want positions and want support. Ambition is allowed, but it should not split the party,” he said, while officially opening the Zanu PF conference in Victoria Falls on Friday last week.
“The military, police and the intelligence are now involved and split as well. Let’s stop this. We do not want factions. Nobody has people. We are all Zanu PF.”
This is happening at a time when the economy continues to nosedive with a debilitating liquidity crunch, capacity utilisation that has tumbled from 57,2% in 2011 to 34,3% this year and company closures with more than 4 600 companies closing shop between 2011 and 2014, resulting in the loss of 55 443 jobs. In what could be seen as an attempt to hoodwink the people concerning the health of the economy, Industry minister Mike Bimha potrayed a rose-tinted account of industry revival in Bulawayo, itself now a monument to de-industrialisation which has decimated the nation’s former industrial hub.
Using a handful of companies as a yardstick, Bimha waxed lyrical about revival and survival of industry. He clearly chose to ignore the sorry state of most industrial companies in Bulawayo, a city that has been relegated to an industrial carcass from a yesteryear status of industrial nucleus.
The spate of job losses worsened this year after a July 17 Supreme Court ruling allowing employers to dismiss workers on three months’ notice without paying retrenchment packages, throwing more than 20 000 employees on the streets according to estimates by trade unions.
This has had severe repercussions on revenue targets as the company closures and dismissals have drastically reduced taxes paid to government. The impact is reflected in government’s failure to pay civil servants on time and its struggles to pay bonuses to its workforce who gobble more than 80% of revenue. Added to this plethora of problems is the issue of serious power shortages that has been exacerbated by the plunging water levels at the Kariba Dam which has plummeted to just 17% as of last week, threatening industry already weakened by obsolete equipment and lack of affordable funding.
Although there were deals signed with China which will result in increased power supply, the impact will not be immediately felt as the energy projects are only expected to be completed in 2018. The deals have no immediate impact on problems such as liquidity constraints and unemployment.
Despite that some of these problems were noted in the various resolutions at the conference, there were no concrete solutions proffered. The fact that the resolutions were not adopted at the conference indicates to the lack of urgency by the party on economic issues due to lack of political will and capacity.
The focus on the power matrix in Zanu PF is coming at a huge cost to the economy, according to economist John Robertson.
“There is no indication whatsoever that Zanu PF leaders were focused on the economy at the conference,” Robertson said.
“The economy is of no importance to them, only political agendas of the elite take precedence.”
He said the fights, at the expense of the economy, were exacerbated by the shrinking of the economy which now threatens the pockets of the elite who are living in the lap of luxury, while the majority wallows in poverty. The continued focus on succession at the meeting puts paid to the growth forecast made by Chinamasa when he presented the 2016 national budget.
Presenting the US$4 billion national budget, Chinamasa projected a 2,7% growth of the economy on the back of the mining, tourism, construction and financial sectors. He also projected a 1,8% growth in agriculture, 1,6% growth in mining, 2,1% growth in manufacturing and 4% growth in tourism.
However, the situation on the ground militates against such forecasts due to falling mineral prices and poor agricultural season that will result in government having to buy 700 000 tonnes of maize, issues that did not get the prominence they deserved at the conference, according to economist and former Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce president, Oswell Binha.
“I think there are critical economic aspects that were supposed to be addressed at the conference given that it was not elective,” Binha reflected. “What we continue to read is not about economic issues, but the persistent undermining of each other’s party positions even though it was not an elective conference. We also continue to read more about the struggle and votes of no confidence in the ruling party.”