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Year 2019: The good, bad and ugly

Tinashe Kairiza

THE curtain is coming down on 2019. It was a fast-paced year of gripping political intrigue, economic meltdown and spellbinding drama that could inspire A-list Hollywood film directors to weave a blockbuster of a movie. There were some good things, a lot of bad things and certainly a large share of the ugly.

The good

June: When this year’s Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) football jamboree roared into life in Egypt, a daredevil Zimbabwean fan, Alvin “Aluvha” Zhakata, relishing the prospect of watching his national team’s opening game against the hosts, embarked on a road trip from Cape to Cairo to watch the Warriors.

For his heroics, which took him through war-torn Sudan, Zhakata was accorded a prime seat at the continental showcase by Afcon president Ahmad Ahmad, where he watched the final pitting Senegal and Algeria. During the same month, Zimbabwe, hoping to end decades of isolation from the international community, particularly the European Union (EU), launched a formal dialogue process with the bloc, aimed towards normalising relations.

Zimbabwe and the bloc, having endured a frosty stand off for over two decades, largely under former president Robert Mugabe’s rule, entered into a fresh round of dialogue meant to reset relations under President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s re-engagement agenda.

September: With Zimbabwe’s health care system in shambles, characterised by an acute shortage of drugs and an indefinite industrial action by doctors over remuneration grievances, neurosurgeons at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals shattered global medical records after removing a kidney cyst weighing 12,3 kilogrammes from a patient. Renowned urologist Shingirai Meki led the team of doctors who undertook the successful operation.

Prior to performing the “medical miracle”, Japan, with its advanced health delivery system, held the prestigious accolade of extracting the largest tumour weighing 11,5 kilogrammes. During the same month, as acute fuel shortages became more pronounced, triggering a sharp increase in public commuter transport fares, the government reintroduced the Zupco buses to cushion struggling commuters.

The buses, which mostly ply routes around the high-density suburbs, have become a source of relief to the commuting public, which is also struggling to make ends meet under the worsening economic environment. However, Zimbabwe’s cash-strapped government, which is struggling to fund its budgetary priorities, has been criticised for ballooning expenditure through the reintroduction of the subsidised public transport system.

November: For a nation largely starved of sporting glory, Zimbabweans and generally most Africans were rallying behind South Africa when they faced England in the 2019 World Cup Final in Japan.

Apart from the neighbourly solidarity that saw Zimbabwe gravitating towards South Africa during the tournament, the Springboks also fielded Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira — a Zimbabwean-born rugby player who first cut his teeth in the game during his school days at Churchill High School and later on Peter House School.
As South Africa crushed England with a 32-12 emphatic victory, Zimbabweans celebrated too.

The bad

January: Zimbabwe plunged into grief after losing one of its finest musicians Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. When news of his death started filtering through on January 24, there was an outpouring of grief across the country as Zimbabweans mourned an artiste who, without doubt, had sung the nation through its cocktail of emotions in his illustrious career.

Tuku, as he was affectionately known by his legion of fans, was declared a national hero and is buried at his rural home in Madziwa, Mt Darwin.

Outside Zimbabwe, Tuku, was also internationally acclaimed, having sang alongside Hugh Masekela, Freshly Ground, Lady Smith Black Mambaso, Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dou.

May: Regarded in Zimbabwe’s armed struggle history as one of the finest millitary and intelligence strategists, Zapu president Dumiso Dabengwa died on May 23.

The liberation war icon was granted national hero status, with his remains interred in his rural home in Ntabazinduna. During the country’s liberation struggle, Dabengwa, then known as the “Black Russian”, was the intelligence chief of Zipra, Zapu’s military wing.

June: Nearly a decade after abandoning the Zimbabwean dollar after it was rendered worthless by severe hyperinflation, government reintroduced the local unit without first addressing macro-economic fundamentals. The Zimbabwean dollar, currently on a free fall against the United States dollar, was restored as the sole legal tender even as the southern African country was gripped by spiking inflation and low industrial productivity.

July: The International Cricket Council (ICC) banned Zimbabwe cricket, citing government interference. This came after the Sports and Recreation Commission had suspended the Zimbabwe Cricket board over alleged poor corporate governance. Subsequently, the suspension, which lasted three months, cost Zimbabwe participation at the T20 World cup qualifiers for both editions of the men’s and women’s games, as well as funding. In the same month, Mnangagwa appointed commissioners to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc), in a move widely welcomed as a positive gesture towards tackling graft. However, the body has widely been criticised for its perceived vindictive approach.

Critics say its arrests are largely informed by the need to settle political scores against those who have fallen out with the establishment.

August: A month after the country was slapped with sanctions by the ICC, former Zimbabwe Cricket Union chairman Peter Chingoka died at the age of 65.

Chingoka, who had a long career as a cricket administrator for over two decades is widely credited for popularising the game particularly among black high density suburbs. During the same month, Treasury banned the publication of annualised inflation figures as Zimbabwe stood on the verge of tripping into another cycle of hyperinflation in less than two decades. At the time of the move, inflation stood at 175,66%.

September: Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader, died in Singapore, nearly two years after he was toppled from power through a military coup by his trusted lieutenant Emmerson Mnangagwa. Before the November 2017 millitary putsch, Mugabe was at the helm for 37 years, during which time he pursued some of the most ruinous policies which saw Zimbabwe isolated and reduced to a pariah state. Mugabe, a controversial liberator-turned-tyrant, is honoured for his contribution to the country’s struggle for Independence.

The country’s public hospitals, already beset by a myriad of challenges, degenerated into death traps after doctors embarked on a strike that is still ongoing.
In response government has dismissed 448 doctors while it pursued disciplinary action against 1 000 others.

In September, Harare experienced its worst prolonged water and power cuts as the country struggled to mobilise foreign currency required to import treatment chemicals and electricity.

The country plunged into darkness as Zesa rolled out a blanket 18 hour load-shedding regime that paralysed industrial activity.

November: Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, in his presentation of the 2020 national budget, understated China’s contribution to the fiscus, prompting Beijing’s officials locally to query the “accounting” model Harare was using. In his budget statement, Mthuli said China had contributed a measly US$3,6 million during the first nine months of this year, a figure which Beijing disputed, insisting it had channelled US$136,8 million to Zimbabwe. Treasury acknowledged China was right.

During the same month, cabinet cancelled the US$400 million recapitalisation bid of the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) by the Diaspora Infrastructure Development Group (DIDG). Following the shock cancellation, the consortium instructed its lawyers to institute legal action against the NRZ.

The ugly

January: A brutal crackdown by security agents left 17 people dead as the state battled to arrest a wave of protests which rocked Zimbabwe after government increased the price of fuel by 150%.

March: Zimbabwe is ravaged by Cyclone Idai which devastated eastern parts of the country, leaving at least 259 people dead and thousands displaced. The storm caused destructive winds and heavy precipitation in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, causing riverine and flash flooding, deaths, and destruction of property. Official figures say the floods affected 250 000 people.

In the wake of Cyclone Idai, which had been forecast two months before it struck, the authorities were still caught off-guard.

During the same month Vice-President Kembo Mohadi, wielding an axe, threatened to shoot his former estranged wife Tambudzani Mohadi at her Beitbridge home. An enraged Mohadi besieged his former wife’s home, threatened to kill her, and in the process, seized three vehicles as the duo’s dispute played out in the public.

August: Drought takes its toll, leaving over two million people facing starvation. To alleviate the hunger, the United Nations (UN) and the government launched a US$331 million food relief programme.

Also in August, Zimbabwe was hit by another wave of protests, which saw the security agents brutally quashing the demonstrations. In the aftermath of the protests, various human rights activists were abducted as the state quashed dissent. Notably, comedian Samantha “Gonyeti” Kureya was “abducted” by suspected security agents. She was beaten, stripped and forced to drink sewage.

December: Following his return from China where he had been hospitalised for four months, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga instructed his lawyers to institute divorce proceedings with his estranged wife Marry. No sooner had Chiwenga instructed his lawyers to kick-start the divorce proceedings than his wife was arrested by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc). She appeared in court this week on allegations of attempting to kill her then ailing husband. She is also facing charges of externalising over US$1,9 million. Marry was denied bail and remanded in custody until December 30.

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