Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Government Policies Backfire Time and Again

No let-up in directives that alienate and demoralise the population.
By Hativagone Mushonga
The ZANU-PF-led government appears to be shooting itself in the foot with policies it has implemented in the last few months.

In addition to continuing farm seizures, these include the imposition of an import duty in foreign currency for items including clothing, footwear and electrical goods, thereby cutting the source of livelihood for cross-border traders; and the price slash in July that resulted in empty supermarket shelves, job losses, company closures and the arrests of company executives.

Some commodities are slowly starting to re-appear, but at unaffordable prices for ordinary Zimbabweans, whose salaries had also been frozen through a government directive. The prices of some commodities have now gone up by as much as 800 per cent.

“I simply cannot afford anything now. Some of the prices are now too high for small people like me. What this means is that the prices are going to be even worse on the black market,” said Mary Chanakira, an administrator at a factory.

“I have to earn at least 100 million Zimbabwean dollars to live comfortably in Zimbabwe. At the moment, I earn five million a month. How many things can I buy? My salary is worth only five bars of one-kilogramme washing soap.”

The official exchange rate is currently one US dollar to 30,000 Zimbabwean dollars, ZWD, but on the black market it’s trading at around one million ZWD.

“You tell me where we are now,” said Chanakira. “I have never felt so helpless in my life and I never thought I would be forced to go hungry – this is not the reason why I went to school and university. When is change going to come?”

The few goods that have been delivered to supermarkets have found their way on to the black market at double or treble the gazetted prices.

Meanwhile, essentials like sugar, salt, maize meal, cooking oil and all meats including beef, chicken and pork are still in short supply.

As if that is not enough, Harare residents now have to fork out between five million and 24 million ZWD for their water bills, despite the supply being erratic.

The government has approved high water tariffs - a rise of between 3,000 and 8,000 per cent, depending on the area - thereby violating international laws and universal declarations, which make access to basic water requirement a fundamental human right.

At the same time, several suburbs of the capital are experiencing water cuts of more than four days and in some cases even one to two weeks.

The Zimbabwe National Water Authority, Zinwa, has started cutting supplies to residents who have failed to pay the huge bills and has threatened to continue doing so if they are not paid on time.

In the leafy rich suburbs of Highlands, Borrowdale and Mandara, residents were shocked to receive bills of up to 24 million ZWD.

Pensioner Sekuru Murehwa, who looks after five orphaned grandchildren in the poor suburb of Highfield, could believe it when two weeks ago he received an eight million ZWD water bill.

In previous months, he used to pay an average 250,000 ZWD. At first, he thought it was a mistake, only to be told that water charges had gone up by a huge percentage.

“Where am I going to get eight million ZWD? I have never held that kind of money before. I am not the only one, everyone is crying about their water bills. I think they will have to cut us off if the government does not intervene because I know for a fact people in this area cannot afford to pay even a quarter of their bills,” he said.

“I know the water authority is looking for money to buy chemicals but to do so this way is wrong. It is very cruel. How many ordinary Zimbabweans earn that kind of money? And even if they did, they also have to eat, go to work, educate their children and clothe them. We are suffering already and all blame falls on the government. Things have to change…”

People should not be mistaken by the crowds at Harare International Airport welcoming or bidding Mugabe farewell to assume that ZANU-PF still commands huge support in Harare.

These are borrowed crowds from Harare’s largest vegetable market, Mbare Musika, and the nearby flea market at Mupedzanhamo.

IWPR spoke to some vendors at the two markets, who are forced to attend such events.

“We are required to close the markets and we all have to go to the airport to welcome or bid the president farewell. If we don’t go, we lose our space in the market. There will be people there taking a register of everyone. So my dear, you either attend or lose your source of livelihood,” said one vendor.

“So we go, chant slogans, sing songs praising [Mugabe] but deep down in our hearts, we will be cursing him and normally by the time I leave I am so angry because I know he is the same man that has impoverished me, the same man who is making my kids go to school on empty stomachs, the same man who is making me live in near-destitution.”

When asked about his party’s campaign for joint presidential and parliamentary elections next year, an opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, legislator from Morgan Tsvangirai’s camp said jokingly their electioneering was being done for them by the ruling party, through their bad policies.

”No need to campaign,” he said. “ZANU-PF is doing it for us. Whatever move they are making is convincing people why they should be out of power. So really we are just watching ZANU-PF destroying itself. But still with politics we have to be always on our toes and work hard to get the Zimbabwean vote.”

If the situation continues its downward trend, which is likely, ZANU-PF will have to come up with a bag of tricks to convince the electorate why the party should be allowed to continue to rule the country for another five years. If not, it will have to employ the same tactics as it did in previous elections, of violent intimidation and vote-rigging.

Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Zimbabwe.

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