ZIMBABWE on Monday turns 42. It’s a celebration of over four decades of independence from the shackles of Rhodesian colonial rule.
Independence Day is undoubtedly an important milestone in the country’s history, especially after almost a century of colonialism.
April 18 will always be a day to mark the beginning of a free Zimbabwe. However, this year the commemorations are marred by a biting economic malaise as the country slides back to hyperinflation, food shortages and unprecedented poverty.
The yesteryear gains in health, education and infrastructure development have been tremendously eroded by a sea of poverty.
The high number of people living in extreme poverty (7 million according to the World Bank), school drop-outs, preventable causes of deaths and high stress levels leading to mental health problems and drug abuse are problems that need to be solved urgently.
The country’s public health institutions have deteriorated to death-traps. The gap between the haves and have-not is yawning.
Covid-19 worsened the situation. Food prices have recently jumped to alarming levels, leaving many households clutching at straws.
Prices of goods, including basic commodities, critical medical drugs and rentals, have been increasing sharply in the past weeks, with inflation shooting up to 72,7%. The family basket for a family of six as measured by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) this week increased from ZW$39 000 in May 2021 to ZW$72 967 in December and now to ZW$93 146.
The Zimbabwean dollar (Zimdollar) continues to depreciate. The parallel market rate is now ranging between ZW$290 and ZW$310 to US$1, while on the official auction market the local currency weakened from ZW$145,87 to ZW$150,12 to US$1.
The country has high unemployment levels of around 95%.
The country’s roads are in deplorable state.
Power cuts have taken the nation back to the dark ages. The rate of infrastructure decay is alarming and needs urgent rehabilitation.
In 42 years, Zimbabwe is now one of the poorest countries on the continent. It has become a butt of jokes but in the 1990s, it was Africa’s jewel. A nation once a bread basket has been reduced to a basket case.
Corruption, according to Transparency International Zimbabwe, cost the country more than US$1 billion annually through illicit financial flows.
Millions of Zimbabweans are economic refugees and subject to bloody attacks in South Africa.
This year’s celebrations are in stuck contrast to the euphoria and hope of 1980 celebrations at Rufaro Stadium in Mbare where the late reggae legend Bob Marley sang about Africa’s and indeed, Zimbabwe’s liberation.
I was 10 years old at the time but I vividly recall my grandparents and many others in Kambuzuma celebrating. Millions of people were ecstatic. The energy and hope was breath-taking as a new historical epoch was birthed. But this was short-lived.
In November 2017, the hope was rekindled as the long standing leader Robert Mugabe was dethroned. Many gave President Emmerson Mnangagwa a chance to prove himself. But ordinary Zimbabweans are still suffering.
However it is not all gloom and doom. Zida acting chief executive officer Duduzile Shinya in an interview with Zimbabwe Independent said there was significant improvement in foreign direct investment into the country in sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, energy, infrastructure development and mining.
The tourism sector has been boosted by the launch of several new flights. The government has increased funding for capital projects. There is notable progress on the Gwayi-Shangani Dam, Kunzvi Dam, Beitbridge-Harare Highway and the Emergency Rehabilitation Programme Phase II.
It has increased spending on public infrastructure, such as schools, higher tertiary education innovation centres and student accommodation, hospitals and accommodation for the uniformed forces.
Construction of 38 hospitals across the country with radiography, laboratories are under way.
Eight boarding secondary schools in provinces, except Harare and Bulawayo, are under construction in marginalised rural areas. Exports continue to rise both in volume and value since 2019, recording a 3% increase from US$4,3 billion to US$4,4 billion in 2021. The increase has resulted in a positive current account balance.
However, a lot more needs to be. There has to be political will to deal with corruption bleeding the economy.
This year’s Independence Day should be a day of reflection by the ruling elite. It’s a time to commit to freedoms, poverty eradication and infrastructural development to store human dignity.