Harare – Thirty-two-year-old Brighton Mutanga* believes his fate, and that of his wife and three children, lies not in the hands of government policies but in individual efforts, which, however, are hinged on pronouncements by President Robert Mugabe’s government.
By Tawanda Karombo
Only last month, Mutanga, together with 25 000 other employees in Zimbabwe, lost their jobs and will only get three months’ notice salaries and no severance compensation.
He has had to quickly re-energise and venture into fruit vending around the Workington industrial area in Harare, where factory machinery and plant is lying idle in some instances, while also starting a backyard poultry project in his Sunningdale lodgings.
Together with millions of Zimbabweans, Mutenga was expecting Mugabe to offer guidance on economic revival and to pronounce measures that would help companies re-open and the few that have remained operational to grow productivity.
However, the veteran leader – in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 – only spoke for 30 minutes, got heckled by opposition parliamentarians and, according to economists, offered “no new insight” on how to address the declining economic situation.
“The company told us that it would recall us once things improve in the economy and we are just hoping. As for now, I have to put the faith of my family in my own hands; a man has got to do what a man has to do,” Mutenga told Business Report as he pushed his fruit cart for resale in the industrial area, brushing away sweat on a warm and slightly windy Wednesday morning.
Mugabe admitted as much, highlighting that things were not well in the economy, but also maintaining that there was growth, to be underpinned by mining and tourism, while delivering his first state of the nation address in eight years.
The last one he delivered was on December 4, 2007, towards Christmas, and it offered hope that a “new dawn” was now on the horizon.
“The night of trials and tribulations has indeed been long. We, however, are confident that a new dawn is now on the horizon. The country has continued to hold its own despite predictions of economic collapse and social upheaval constantly harped by our indefatigable detractors,” Mugabe said in his 2007 address.
Two years later, in 2009, the country ditched its own currency after goods vanished from shop shelves and firms closed down factories.
The industry and manufacturing sectors are still recovering from that era, with Mugabe saying on Tuesday that respite will come from a 10 point plan that economists say offers nothing new.
And now eight years after the 2007 state of the nation address, the economic situation appears to be worsening.
Mugabe said in his Tuesday address that his government would put focus on creating special economic zones, revamping labour laws, strengthening the financial sector, pursuing an anti-corruption thrust and enhancing capacity and growth for small scale companies. Zimbabwe’s economy has largely become informal, crippling revenue collections for the state.
“Overall economic performance to date indicates modest growth. Zimbabwe is already positioning itself for major economic take-off, in keeping with Zim-asset, which requires massive capital injections and rapid implementation,” Mugabe told a joint seating of the senate and parliament houses, amid heckling from opposition parliamentarians.
Policy measures would also be prioritised on investment in infrastructure development in the energy, water and information and communication technologies sectors.
The controversial mineral beneficiation thrust would also be spearheaded, although the government has now found ground with platinum miners which it was forcing to set-up refinery facilities inside the country.
Although he did not announce any new measures on the indigenisation policy – which experts say is scaring away investors – Mugabe said his government would focus more on “encouraging private sector investment”.
Local executives have told Business Report that uncertainty over policy pronouncements and safety of investments constituted major worries for international companies seeking to sink money into the struggling economy.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says Mugabe has not been realistic and added that he no longer has a grip on economic developments in the country.
Other economists said Zimbabwe’s plight is being worsened by depreciations in the currencies of its major trade partners, South Africa and China.
“As widely expected, Mugabe failed to rise to the occasion. The crisis (in Zimbabwe) is bigger than the capacity of him and his government,” said Luke Tamborinyoka, the spokesman for the MDC.
And with no control over monetary policy and waning sentiment over the government’s sincerity and capacity to addressing the current economic situation, Zimbabweans are bracing for further economic difficulties.
*Not his real name