HARARE – With President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF seemingly hellbent on continuing to steer the country on a manic stampede to a fully-fledged failed State, Zimbabweans are once again dreading the looming prospects of a complete government shutdown and civil strife.
The growing fears of pending chaos in the country follow Friday’s embarrassing admission by the government that it is stone broke, and that it cannot afford to pay civil servants their June salaries — with teachers, nurses, doctors and long-suffering pensioners — only scheduled to get their money in mid July.
Even the previously favoured security sector — including the army, Air Force and police — whose members usually get their pay mid month, will for the first time since 1980, only receive their wages at the end of the month, provided the government marshals enough resources to afford doing so then.
At the height of Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflationary era in 2008, angry soldiers went on an unprecedented rampage in Harare, looting shops and randomly assaulting people going about their daily business in the capital, after they were unable to access their salaries.
Well-placed government sources told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that a scheduled meeting tomorrow between the government and its 350 000-strong workforce was set to ignite fireworks, as workers take extreme issue with their poor treatment.
Contacted for comment, Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira said the government had tomorrow’s meeting in good faith, to map the way forward.
“Government is sincere. At the time of the last NJNC (National Joint Negotiating Committee) meeting, we were not aware (of the salaries problem) until Finance communicated the changes after the meeting, hence the call for the indaba,” she said.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general, Japhet Moyo, said it was incumbent on the government that it provided a clear strategy of how it was going to deal with the issue.
“We saw this coming a long time ago, and the government has not indicated how they are going to address these issues. I tell you, this is going to have a negative impact on the ordinary people.
“It’s going to disrupt the lives of people as there is no way we are going to plan as workers when you are not sure whether you get your salary or not,” Moyo said.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive, Sifiso Ndlovu, described the development as “an unfortunate situation”, adding that “the manner in which the delays were communicated is totally unprocedural and we are forced to think that the government has no interest in protecting the interests of its workers”.
Ordinary Zimbabweans who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday yesterday said it was “self-evident” that the country was once again teetering on the brink of total collapse, as manifested by worsening cash shortages and the government’s inability to meet its obligations.
University graduate, Regan Sibiya — who is having to make ends meet by operating as a street vendor in Harare — said “even the blind can see that we are a nation in deep distress and that the country is now on its knees”.
“My friend, I’m surprised that you are even asking me how things are. Maybe it’s because you are working and therefore don’t fully experience how bad things are.
“Just think how many people like me worked hard for our degrees, with our parents having to sell their cattle to get us through university, but we still can’t get jobs, not even as a security guard — and I don’t mean to demean security guards.
“When I hear politicians lying that all is well in the country, or that another so-called mega deal has been signed with this or that other country, I get very angry because it’s all lies. The reality is that the majority of the people are suffering and sleeping on empty stomachs,” Mtetwa said.
His friend, also an unemployed graduate who would only give his name as Lovemore, said the ruling Zanu PF was “useless”.
“They only look after themselves, their families and small houses. Other than that, they are also good at fighting among themselves about who should become the new Gushungo (Mugabe) as if that brings us food. As for me, I’m so fed up with everything that I don’t care anymore,” he said.
According to the latest Zimbabwe Poverty Atlas — a research carried out by ZimStat, the World Bank and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) — areas such as Nkayi in Matabeleland have a shocking poverty prevalence of 96 percent.
According to the survey, some of the other districts which are experiencing high levels of poverty are Lupane with 93 percent poverty prevalence, Gokwe South 91 percent, and Mudzi 90 percent.
In Nkayi, out of an estimated population of 107 613, with an average of five people making up a household, 21 112 households had no income sufficient to provide for their basic necessities, the study revealed.
“Poverty was found to be most prevalent in Matabeleland North, while it was least prevalent in Harare at 36,4 percent and Bulawayo at 37,2 percent,” the report said.
“The rest of the provinces had poverty prevalence rates ranging between 65 percent and 76 percent … districts with lower poverty prevalence rates were Marondera 43,4 percent and Gweru 45,5 percent,” it added.
Most analysts say the main factors behind this dire state of affairs are the misrule of Mugabe’s Zanu PF administration and the recurrent drought which has left most parts of the country relying on humanitarian aid.
Unicef Zimbabwe Country Representative Reza Hossaini said recently that it was high time the government and other stakeholders put their hands on deck to eradicate poverty, as children continued to be the hardest hit by the scourge.
“Seventy-eight percent of children in Zimbabwe live in monetary poverty. Progress towards reducing poverty has been uneven during the Millennium Development Goals and … we need to act on this,” he said.
Critics say instead of focusing on reviving the country’s comatose economy, Zanu PF has been consumed by its unending factional and succession wars, at the expense of bread and butter issues.
And the government’s much-hyped economic blueprint, ZimAsset, has so far proved to be a mirage, incapable of providing the stimulus needed to revive the country’s dying economy.
A senior Zanu PF official who spoke to the Daily News on Sunday recently said that the cash squeeze crippling the fiscus had now reached a “crisis” point.
“The economy is in free-fall and government coffers are running dry, and no one appears to have a clue of what to do. I fear for the worst,” he said, adding that the delayed payments to civil servants and pensioners was “a picnic” — with his biggest fear being that the entire government machinery was “perilously close” to shutting down because of the debilitating cash squeeze.
“The big issue now, the way things are going, is when, not whether government will run out of cash to keep key services going and to pay civil servants. And here, I’m not talking of delayed payments, I’m talking of a complete inability to pay,” he said.
Another official said “all is not well in the state of Rome”, adding, “the money we were promised by our Chinese friends is not coming through, and the ongoing company closures and job losses mean that government revenues are progressively getting less”.
The government currently spends more than 80 percent of its budget on the salaries of its employees.
Analysts have also said Zimbabwe has once again hit the depths of humanitarian and economic despair that were last experienced in 2008, when the country’s seemingly unending political crisis precipitated an economic meltdown of monumental proportions which culminated in the death of the Zimbabwe dollar.
The analysts said the only difference between then and now was that supermarkets were currently full of goods unlike eight years ago — although very few Zimbabweans were able to afford the goods as joblessness and poverty levels in the country continued to increase exponentially.
They put the blame for the country’s escalating political and economic crisis at the door of Mugabe and Zanu PF, saying the ruling party had more appetite for its mindless factional and succession wars than resolving Zimbabwe’s myriad challenges and advancing the lives of long-suffering citizens.