Tinashe Chidzonga, 31, is one of the many Zimbabweans who took to the streets in November 2017 to celebrate the ouster of former Zimbabwe strongman and President Robert Mugabe.
To Chidzonga it did not matter how Mugabe was removed from power. All that mattered was the prospect of starting afresh. Many of his age are jobless.
“I felt my life had been on hold since I left university four years ago, but the new government was like a fresh start,” said Chidzonga, who lives in Glen View, south west of central Harare.
He was not alone. To many Zimbabweans the new dispensation, led by Mugabe’s former second-in-command, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was a chance to turn over a new leaf.
Indeed, the new president’s inauguration speech on November 24, 2017 in Harare’s National Sports Stadium, was pregnant with promises of a better future. Mnangagwa promised “jobs, jobs, jobs” and to repeal laws that kept investors away.
He promised peace, freedom and zero tolerance on corruption. The coup that brought down Mugabe was, after all, officially named “operation restore legacy,” by Mnangagwa and then general (and now vice president) Constantino Chiwenga. Mnangagwa and his allies said they would deal with “the criminals around Mugabe”.
“ED (President Mnangagwa’s moniker) was touted as a reformist, so we thought we were in good hands, but you don’t need to be told we were wrong,” said Chidzonga.
Mnangagwa’s talk of ending corruption gave some hope to Chidzonga. After all, he thought, the new president must know how it all went down, having been in government since 1980. Don’t they say, to catch a thief send a thief?
But for Chidzonga, Mnangagwa only flattered to deceive. How else do you explain a country that shuts down internet, in the middle of an investment campaign and ahead of a crucial gathering like Davos?
“Even Mugabe, as bad as he was, did not shut down the internet.
“His fight against corruption is just smoke and mirrors, it’s a half-hearted attempt. Were it music, it would be lip sync. To date no reasonable corruption case has been brought to finality. Even the so-called criminals around former President Mugabe, are still to be accounted for, behind bars,” said Chidzonga.
“It’s like government is playing a catch-and-release game with criminals,” he said.
Little reason to celebrate
Getting a job in a country where the unemployment rate is close to 90%, according to independent economists and NGO estimates, is a reason to celebrate.
But for Chidzonga, each day is turning to be a nightmare, as Mnangagwa’s policies, or lack thereof, continue to erode his disposable income. This is worrying for someone who has a decent job working as a teller with a local bank.
In October 2018, Mnangagwa approved the imposition of a 2% tax on all electronic transactions, and this is in a country where because of cash shortages, 95% of all transactions are electronic.
The tax effectively reduces Chidzonga’s disposable income by the same margin, plus more. Prices of goods and services skyrocketed as a result, to an inflation rate of 42% by mid-December 2018, while Chidzonga’s salary remains static.
This past week, Mnangagwa announced a 150% hike in fuel prices, in local bond notes terms. While it has been argued that fuel is still cheap in US dollar terms, Chidzonga feels it, as his salary is not only static, but is also in local bond notes.
This has made Zimbabwean petrol the most expensive in the world (in local currency terms, as the bond not is now trading at a huge discount the US$. For US$1, you need $3,5 in local bond note even when government claims the ratio is 1:1.)
The ripple effects are already being felt by Chidzonga and many like him. Businesses and transporters have already started passing the fuel price increases to consumers like Chidzonga, piling more pressure on his already burdened salary. Bus fares have doubled, and on the in store shelves, it would be worse.
All this is a far cry from what Chidzonga had hoped for when Mnangagwa took over.
Never did he imagine that in just a year after Mnangagwa has taken over, he would find himself sleeping in a fuel queue, only for the delivery truck to come a day after or never.
Every month fuel dealers get more foreign currency allocations, but the fuel queues get even longer. You can’t script it, even if you try.
This is at a time that Chidzonga is already frustrated that his dream to buy his father a car will now take a bit longer than expected, reason, Mnangagwa changed the rules of the game.
He now requires vehicle import duty to be paid in foreign currency. But for Chidzonga, whose salary is in local bond notes, getting the forex is a big ask.
His bank will not give him any, as it will have to first feed fuel dealers/importers and the connected elite. Getting it on the illegal black market is not an option either, as it now attracts a ten-year jail term, another of Mnangagwa’s new laws.
Getting a job, Chidzonga thought his elderly mother, who toiled to send him to school, would finally eat a full house breakfast. Little did he know, under the Mnangagwa led government, even bread would become a luxury, as bakers struggled to pay for raw materials. There is hardly any bread in stores, with back door sellers cashing in at double the recommended price.
In Zimbabwe’s main Shona language, there is a saying:”Kupururidzira n’anga neinobata mai,” meaning sometimes you celebrate the coming of a witchdoctor, only for him to accuse your mother of witchcraft.