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Zimbabwe: Luxury for the elite, misery for the masses

17/06/2017 00:00:00
by Albert Robinson
 
President Robert Mugabe
 
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PITY the poor people of Zimbabwe, having to endure year after year of abysmal rule by an increasingly doddery nonagenarian unwilling to give up the reins of power, and who has managed over more three decades to make the lives of his citizens ever more miserable.

President Robert Mugabe, even at the age of 93, continues to rage against his supposed enemies in the West, telling his people that they have never had it so good. Even if times are terrible, it’s certainly better than living under the colonialist yoke, he says, ignoring the fact that at least there were jobs then. Of course, no-one would regard the pre-independence days as any sort of paradise, but is almost complete poverty and a state of servitude for much of the population better.

Needless to say, if free and fair elections were ever held, the evil West would immediately jump in to provide assistance and low-cost, basically free, loans in a bid to support the country and help drag it out of its overwhelming poverty.

Mugabe is widely credited for single-handedly destroying one of Africa’s most promising economies, causing unemployment to soar to 80 percent, creating a continuously debt-ridden government and a persistent lack of cash. And despite all this, Mugabe is due to lead his ZANU-PF party as its candidate for the next presidential election expected to take place in mid-2018 when he will be 94.

A recent foreign travel advice on Zimbabwe issued by the British government said the availability of fuel was volatile and a second year of poor harvests as a result of drought conditions were two of the reasons that the economic situation in the southern African country is ‘increasingly’ fragile. The Zimbabwean dollar is no longer valid currency and almost all transactions are carried out in the currency of the great capitalist power across the ocean.

Mugabe, of course, remains on message even as his physical condition declines, telling the 2017 World Economic Forum on Africa in South Africa recently that his country is very far from being economically fragile. “Yes, we have our problems,” he generously conceded, before going to say that the country has apparently achieved much under his leadership.



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He also mentioned the country’s many resources, “perhaps more resources than the average country in the world,” thereby missing the point that a country blessed with such riches might be expected to find itself in a better economic situation. The country has had “a bumper harvest, not only maize, but also tobacco and many other crops. We are not a poor country," he said.

"Zimbabwe is the most highly developed country in Africa. After South Africa, I want to see another country as highly developed," Mugabe said, adding that the country had 14 universities and a literacy rate of over 90 percent, the highest in Africa. If it is true, the country may well have the world’s highest rate of literate impoverished workers.

But little can clearly be expected of a man who says that the southern Africa country is one of the most developed countries on the continent. If it wasn’t so very sad, it would be laughable. But how can one be anything than completely disillusioned at a situation where farm workers tell the press that farm owners and government are subjecting them to modern-day slavery.

“We fought against white supremacy but now there is black supremacy,” some workers told The Standard. “Farm workers, especially in the tobacco sector, are operating under poor working conditions and earning paltry salaries” of $75 per month, despite the fact that agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy.

“Employers don’t offer them any protective clothing,” said Raymond Sixpence, Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe general secretary. “As such, workers are vulnerable to respiratory and other diseases. Chinese employers go further [and] beat and harass employees. They don’t want to pay them.”

Some workers said employers pay them with farm produce due to tough economic conditions in the country. Farm workers and employers recently agreed a salary increment of 4.2 percent, or $3, for 2017 which saw the lowest earner being paid $75 per month and the highest paid worker now earning $150.

The General Agricultural and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) is fighting for a $100 minimum wage per month. In neighboring South Africa, where economic conditions are not wonderful for the lowest paid farm workers, they earn about $230 per month. More than 70 percent of Zimbabwe’s population derives its livelihood from the agriculture sector.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the economic misery, Zimbabwe also has one of the highest numbers of economic exiles among countries in the region. The country is number 13 among the world's most fragile states, according to the 2016-17 Fragile States Index published by the US think tank, Fund for Peace.

The index also places Zimbabwe as number nine among Africa's most fragile states. According to the index, the country is only better than South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Guinea and Nigeria. However, those countries have been greatly damaged by internal conflict while Zimbabwe enjoys relative peace, but remains in an almost continuous state of tense political stability.

The Mugabe regime has, over the years, seized white owned land without any compensation, encouraging militant war veterans aligned to his party to do so. There is also a no-nonsense indigenisation law requiring foreign firms to cede 51 percent equity to locals.

As for the situation regarding the diamond industry, the government has consolidated mining firms’ operations into one company, Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company (ZCDC), while giving itself control of the entity after injecting $80 million into it and paying some compensation to some of the firms.

Zimbabwe’s earnings from diamonds in the first five months of this year dropped to $27 million from $51 million in the same period last year, according to the Chamber of Mines of Zimbabwe. The number of reports over the past five years or so that the government has not received anywhere near the amount of income it should have received from diamonds are too numerous to mention.

Unfortunately, nobody should hold their breath that the situation is going to change.


 
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