2015-2016: From frying pan into the fire

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A MAJORITY of Zimbabweans have experienced an extremely difficult and challenging year in 2015. As the formal economy continued to implode and more and more workers were rendered jobless, the year has been a very trying one so far.
In addition, the political scene has been dominated by the news of endless and vicious factional-fighting within the ruling Zanu PF party. Of late, the ghost of political violence has also returned to haunt the nation as evidenced by the serious political violence that occurred in Harare South constituency a few weeks ago when some Zanu PF thugs violently disrupted an MDC–T rally resulting in a number of people getting injured; some of them seriously. The political violence took a very nasty turn recently when a Zanu PF youth, Proud Mupambwa, set upon two of his party colleagues with an axe, killing them in a gruesome manner. Thus, the year 2015 is ending on a very sombre and sad note.
Unfortunately, the economy continues to face serious challenges and the prognosis for the year 2016 is far from being promising. Although the government has promised to pay bonuses to all civil servants, it appears that this promise is just another huge pie in the sky. Not even members of the security services have been paid their annual bonuses to date; in stark contradiction to the promises that were publicly announced by President Robert Mugabe some few months ago.
The year 2015 has witnessed an unprecedented liquidity crunch as most people, some of them very prominent politicians and businesspersons, have failed to service their loans with various financial institutions. This has resulted in many people having their immovable properties attached in execution of un-serviced debts leading to the public auction sale of numerous properties; particularly in the two major cities of Harare and Bulawayo. The government is completely at sixes and sevens; it doesn’t really seem to know what to do in order to arrest the downward spiral of the economy. Although several so – called mega deals have been signed by the government and several Chinese State – owned corporations covering a diverse field such as power generation, mining, infrastructure construction and rehabilitation, nothing tangible has really happened to the local economy ever since the highly publicised State visit of President Robert Mugabe to China in August 2014.These so–called mega deals have just remained paper tigers; they have so far, dismally failed to resuscitate the comatose economy. Even the hugely anticipated State visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in early December doesn’t seem to promise much to the economy since it is coming across more as a mere public relations gimmick by the Chinese authorities.Advertisement

In their much talked about ZIM–ASSET economic policy  blueprint, the Zanu PF regime promised to create a total of 2 265 000 (two million two hundred and sixty five thousand) jobs between 2013 and 2018 but it appears that the government will actually create a total of no less than two million jobless people within that five –year period. The job market has hopelessly failed to accommodate the huge number of unemployed persons in the country.
The alarming rate of unemployment has seen the emergence of a new social class, the informal sector. Most unemployed persons have resorted to the informal sector as a means of survival. Some of the activities in the informal sector are illegal, contrary to public policy and some even raise serious health and/or environmental hazards. Almost all the activities raise adverse results in terms of raising revenue for the country. The informal sector has raised tax challenges as it is difficult, if not impossible, to tax vendors. This has contributed negatively to the country’s economic growth. This is because tax has a significant contribution it makes to the economic growth of a country and tax revenues are not rising since there are no income tax returns from the people as most of them are informally employed.
On the labour law front, there were some historic and ground–breaking developments during the year. The Zuva Petroleum decision by the Supreme Court in July 2015 caused many people to lose their jobs. Many employers terminated their employees’ contracts of employment on three (3) months’ notice. This was an eye–opener to the Legislature which then reacted by amending the Labour Act, which was, according to a certain school of thought, a positive change to Zimbabwe’s labour laws. This controversial amendment to the Labour Act has changed the law of termination as well as the law of retrenchment. The full debate on the pros and cons of the recent amendments to the Labour Act surely deserves a separate discussion paper of its own. It cannot be adequately canvassed in the current paper.
Another challenge has been the increasing and alarming rate of electricity power cuts or load shedding that has affected the whole of Zimbabwe. Power cuts have become the norm since the beginning of summer. Most parts of the country have gone for up to 18 hours a day without electricity. This has adversely impacted on the economy, especially the agro-based sector that relies heavily on electricity for most of its operations, for example, irrigation, fertiliser production and poultry production. This has also affected the country’s industry as production has now been minimised.
Recent statistics that were published by both the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries and the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce indicate that industrial capacity utilisation is now between 34 and 36 %. Of course, these figures are quite frightening but then that’s the cold, hard truth.  Challenges being faced by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority (ZESA) have seen the government failing to address them as there has been no concrete and meaningful action taken to find other alternative means of producing electricity, for example making use of solar energy as well as activating the Sengwe thermal power station in the south western part of the country; which facility is capable of producing 3500 megawatts of thermal power once it is in full production.
Politically, Zimbabwe has seen its fair share of challenges as well. The ruling party has been bedevilled with an upheaval of factionalism and vicious intra-party conflicts. The ruling party continues to implode ever since the controversial sacking of Joice Mujuru and most of her key allies commencing from December 2014.This seems to have come as a surprise to the nation at large as it always seemed like Zanu PF had no serious and deep – rooted intra – party conflicts and succession disputes. President Robert Mugabe reacted by reshuffling the cabinet as a way of damage control. This had negative consequences on the government. It became very  difficult for the government to implement most of its policies since ministers were being constantly reshuffled from their portfolios .This phenomenon  has given rise to serious policy inconsistencies as well as lack of proper and holistic implementation of government policies and programs. Apparently, the ruling party is now more concerned with factional fights and intra–party conflicts than with the full implementation of government policies. Consequently, the legislative arm of the State has also been adversely affected since the country is now permanently in election mode with several by – elections taking place now and again. Thus, the toxic factional politics within Zanu PF has had a very serious negative effect on the much needed efforts to resuscitate and grow the national economy.
The immediate future is not looking good. An analytical prognosis of the future shows that the economy might actually get even worse in 2016. The meteorological department has forecast a poor rain season and as such, the prevailing food crisis will only get worse. The water levels at Kariba dam are dwindling at an alarming rate and there is a real possibility, that the Kariba dam hydro – power station might actually have to be switched off within the next few months. The repercussions of such a scenario happening are, indeed, too ghastly to contemplate. This will also mean that Zimbabwe will continue to suffer from serious power cuts. ZESA has already predicted that the power cuts will worsen and they will even continue for the next 18 months. This means that both the agricultural and industrial sectors will keep on facing challenges as there will be more power cuts in the country. The economy will continue to take a nose dive and the rate of unemployment will increase. One would also like to believe that intra – party conflicts, factionalism, and succession disputes will continue to affect Zanu PF and this will continue to affect government policies and the economy at large.
In conclusion, the year 2015 has seen its fair share of the good, the bad, the ugly and even the terrible. 2015 is a year that the majority of the people of Zimbabwe will not remember with fondness. The year has seen a catalogue of very serious socio–economic and political challenges. The emergence of Grace Mugabe onto the political scene has also heightened factional fighting within Zanu PF. Her brand of abrasive and confrontational politics has kept the whole nation on tenterhooks. Certainly, things will get worse before they can get better. In all likelihood, therefore, Zimbabweans should brace themselves for tougher times ahead in 2016 as there apparently appears to be no hope for a change for the better anytime soon.
Obert Chaurura Gutu is the MDC-T spokesperson. This paper was presented at the Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) Public Seminar that was held at the New Ambassador Hotel, Harare, On Thursday November 26, 2015