ZIMBABWE commemorated 40 years of independence last week on Saturday. Unlike in the past when the country celebrated its Independence from colonial rule amid pomp and fanfare, which included an address by the president to a stadium packed with people from all walks of life, this year’s celebrations were muted by a nationwide lockdown.
To contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus (Covid-19), Zimbabwe is currently under lockdown that has worsened poverty levels in an already struggling country where the majority survive from hand to mouth. Zimbabweans celebrated liberation day in an unusually subdued way as the coronavirus kept them in their homes.
But for Abigail Maphosa, 35, she spent the day inside her mobile money vending stall in the poor neighbourhood of Kuwadzana hoping to get a few dollars to buy food for the day.
“I fear for my children, life is difficult,” Maphosa laments. I have failed to provide a decent life for them and did not celebrate 40 years,” Maphosa says, while munching a sugarcane stalk, her breakfast.
For many Zimbabweans struggling to put food on the table, the collapse of the once prosperous country has left a bitter taste in the mouth and deep fear for the future. A lockdown imposed to prevent coronavirus has just made things worse.
“Our own money is no longer enough to feed our families. All our efforts to work for our families have become as worthless as these notes,” she says, pointing to a wad of Zimbabwe dollar notes whose value has plummeted amid inflation of over 600 percent, the second highest after Venezuela.
At 40 — the number of years taken by the Biblical children of Israel to reach the promised land following perilous times in the wilderness — Zimbabwe’s promised land remains but a mirage.
Already struggling with high unemployment and shortages of basics such as bank notes, water, electricity and the staple maize meal, many residents in Kuwadzana, and indeed elsewhere across the country, try to beat the restrictions to run their small businesses like selling cash and vending.
“Our leaders are just worried about lining their pockets and filling their stomachs. That is the problem. We will just continue to struggle. The future is not promising,” a visibly angry Maphosa said.Clutching a wad of ZW$2 notes in her right hand, she points to how worthless they have become.
“What have we become?” she asks.
At Independence, the country inherited the Rhodesian dollar, which was pegged R$1 to US$1,50. It was one of the strongest currencies in the world.
Leadership failures and a cocktail of ruinous policies and practices, which include nepotism, patronage, corruption, bad governance, breakdown of the rule of law, property rights violations, and a chaotic and often violent land reform programme, sunk the economy, while hyperinflation decimated the demonitised Zimbabwean dollar.
So high inflation that Zimbabwe broke hyperinflation records in the 20th century — notably Germany in the 1920s, Brazil in the 1980s, Argentina and Angola in the 1990s. By November 2008, Zimbabwe’s highest monthly inflation peaked at 89,7 sextillion percent, according to leading economist Steve Hanke.
Many people, including Maphosa, are still counting loses from the 2008 era.
A widow, Maphosa was forced into mobile money and currency trading after her husband died five years ago.
The mother of two has borne the brunt of taking care of two school going teenagers at a time Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst economic recession, years after the country dollarised.
“We are 40, but nothing shows that we have come of age. My living standards have been going down since I was born. Only people with opportunities to line their pockets are living pretty, the rest of us are struggling,” Maphosa said.
Evin Mubata, 39, a firewood trader sweats the brow every day to eke out a living for his five children.
Earning a meagre US$10 on a good week, which is not enough for rentals and food.
“If only we managed to get a younger generation which is in touch with our everyday life to lead us, it would be better. I do not think our leaders have an idea of how we are surviving every day, especially during this lockdown. The regime has continued to hold on to power at the expense of the masses and it’s unfair,” complains Mubata. “The future can never look bright, as long as they remain in power.”
Mubata, who occasionally augments his earnings with proceeds from soccer betting, says the Covid-19 pandemic has affected his income.
“We are informal traders but they are saying we should stay at home. How do we stay at home when families are hungry? A sensible government would provide basics for its people. The future looks bleak and it is going to be very difficult for our children to go to school after this,” Mubata said.
A chronic shortage of potable water has also blighted residents as most taps in Harare remain dry, amid fears that this might brew water borne diseases.
This has rendered the advice to wash hands regularly pointless as the country grapples with Covid-19.
Food prices continue to soar beyond the reach of many at a time the World Food Programme (WFP) says urban poverty has risen significantly, with 2,2 million facing starvation this year. About 5,5 million Zimbabweans also face hunger this year after a failed 2019/20 agriculture season and 63% live below the poverty datum line, according to the UN agency.
This is a pale shadow of the country that Mugabe inherited in 1980.
Former Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere told Mugabe in 1980 that Zimbabwe was “a jewel in Africa, do not tarnish it”.
But 40 years down the line, the jewel has become a blight on Africa, troubled by unending economic woes, wrecked by corruption which, according to Transparency International, cost the country US$1 billion annually through illicit financial flows.