PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration is under immense pressure to steady the ship and deliver the goods, amid an escalating economic crisis, with trouble mounting on all fronts, triggering massive social and political turbulence, which is shaking the country to the core.
With a cloud of political uncertainty hovering overhead, questions are being asked at home and abroad about Mnangagwa’s capacity to turn the tide and salvage the fragile economy, as well as assert his political legitimacy, 18 months after winning a disputed poll by a wafer-thin margin.
Mnangagwa has burnt his fingers on currency reform, after his decision to re-introduce the Zimbabwean dollar in June last year failed to stabilise the exchange rate, leading to price hikes, inflationary pressures and erosion of savings and balance sheets.
Foreign currency shortages have worsened, resulting in government failing to provide adequate funds for fuel, importation of raw materials, medical drugs and other critical supplies.
As the economic crisis worsens, Zimbabweans are increasingly losing faith in the authorities.The clearest manifestation of this was in Bulawayo, where 150 Njube High School pupils staged an impromptu street demonstration on Monday over school fees increases and the absence of teachers who are scrounging for a living away from their work stations.
The pupils took to the streets, singing protest songs and denouncing Mnangagwa and his government.They also pulled down his portrait and, which they contemptuously tossed around as they marched, before they were ordered by the school authorities to return to class, but not before videos and pictures of the protest had gone viral on social media.
Showing the government’s heightened sense of unease, dozens of police officers and state security details have been paying incessant visits to the school this week, interrogating teachers, pupils and support staff.
A school teacher, Brian Mutsiba, currently being hunted down by the police, on Wednesday wrote a letter saying he had left the country “after going underground for several hours on Monday as the police, members of the Central Intelligence Organisation and military intelligence and other arms of the state were looking for me saying I committed a serious crime.”
Apart from the economic pressure, Mnangagwa is feeling the heat from the military and other security agencies whose worsening restlessness has raised the likelihood of turmoil.
Mnangagwa is himself the beneficiary of a military coup which was orchestrated by his deputy Constantino Chiwenga in 2017.However, since the coup, Chiwenga — who still enjoys immense popularity in the rank and file of the army he commanded for over a decade — has been at odds with Mnangagwa as his presidential ambitions become increasingly apparent.
Mnangagwa has thus virtually spent most of his time seeking to consolidate power and coup-proofing himself in the wake of the highly fluid political situation.
He has, for instance, not helped matters by making wholesale changes in the army, the CIO and the police as he attempts to keep everyone in check, moves which senior government officials have said indicate his growing paranoia.
Government officials also said due to his growing sense of insecurity, Mnangagwa has been reluctant to leave the country for a long time, despite his well-known penchant for globetrotting.
He has spent his annual leave, which comes to an end at the end of the month, in the country and has only travelled to Mozambique for the inauguration of neighbouring country’s President Felipe Nyusi who was re-elected last month.
The Zimbabwe Independent can also reveal that Mnangagwa recently turned down an invitation to attend the ongoing World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, because he wants to closely monitor the situation at home.
“The sense of insecurity is huge right now. For instance, there has been talk that he (Mnangagwa) was not invited to Davos, but the truth is that the invitation did come, but he decided against it.
“It’s a matter of sleeping with one eye open, one eye closed,” a government source said.On the other hand, while internal pressure is telling, the country’s main opposition party, the MDC, has been ratcheting up pressure on Mnangagwa to mend the economy or face mass protests.
“This is the year when something must and will give. This year is our revolutionary moment,” opposition MDC leader Nelson Chamisa declared during his address to the nation on Tuesday.