A short ride from joy to cynicism

HARARE – The joy Zimbabweans felt after the power-sharing deal was signed on 15 September is fast dissipating, and the deadlock between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is becoming part of a familiar political landscape, while the humanitarian situation worsens.

Citizens trying to navigate the country’s economic meltdown view the apparent lack of urgency by politicians in resolving the impasse as self-serving at the expense of the country.

"What I find sickening about this whole circus is that the politicians are more worried about sharing power, instead of being concerned about the welfare of the people," Jason Timba, 50, an employed man in the capital, Harare, told IRIN.

"If the politicians genuinely had the interests of the people at heart, then this issue would have been solved a long time ago. At least [the MDC’s Morgan] Tsvangirai has shown that he is concerned about the people because he has toured banking halls to assess the money crisis, while the government is pretending that there is no crisis."

Inflation is officially estimated at 11.2 million percent, but according to research by US economist and monetary policy specialist Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, hyperinflation has reached an annual rate of 531 billion percent.

Hanke told the Voice of America radio station that monthly inflation was 14,000 percent, although this was still lower than the rate in Germany’s Weimar Republic in the 1920s, which at its height recorded inflation of 30,000 percent a month.

Shortages of everything have become commonplace, the UN estimates that by the first quarter of 2009 more than 5 million people will require food aid, and without a political solution the prognosis for Zimbabwe’s future is dire.

The power-sharing deal, brokered by Thabo Mbeki a few days before his own party forced him to resign as President of South Africa, hit obstacles soon after it was signed, when President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the MDC failed to reach agreement on the composition of a new cabinet.

Mbeki mediation undermined

Mbeki was appointed as mediator by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 2007; according to South Africa’s Business Day newspaper, the SADC has asked Mbeki’s presidential successor, Kaglema Motlanthe, "to inform him [Mbeki] that regional leaders wanted him to continue [mediation]".

Cheryl Hendricks, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies, a political think-tank based in Pretoria, South Africa, told IRIN that Mbeki’s "credibility will be severely undermined by what happened to him: being chucked out [of office] so unceremoniously."

She said the confluence of events, in which Mbeki brokered a deal and then lost his presidency within a few days, saw Mugabe "take the gap" and grab what he could get, and that it was mistake not to include the composition of the cabinet as part of the mediation process.

Luke Tamborinyoka, the MDC’s director of information, told IRIN Mugabe was now pursuing a "smash and grab all" tactic. "Mugabe is now clamouring to retain most of the key ministries, such as finance, home affairs, information and foreign affairs, in a bid to grab all the power and not share responsibilities," he said.

"Suspicions are that the hawks in ZANU-PF, who are opposed to the power-sharing deal for fear of losing their jobs, have prevailed on Mugabe to pull out of the deal. The fact that he is making all sorts of unpalatable demands may mean that he wants to create a situation where the talks collapse," Tamborinyoka commented.

"What is obvious is that Mugabe is negotiating in bad faith. He should put the interests of Zimbabweans first, ahead of pursuits of concentrating power on himself."

Mugabe attended the UN annual General Assembly meeting soon after the deal was signed, amid indications that the deal was already floundering.

A senior member of ZANU-PF’s politburo, the party’s highest decision-making body, told IRIN: "Mugabe was told at our last stormy meeting, before he left for New York, that he had ‘sold out’ by agreeing to share power with the MDC, which we all agree represents the interests of imperialists [Britain and the US]."

The great relief with which Zimbabweans – enduring their eighth year of recession – greeted the power-sharing deal a couple of weeks ago has turned to cynicism.

Jaded citizens

Theresa Simango, a fruit and vegetable vendor, told IRIN: "Maybe Mugabe does not know that the rest of the population is suffering and, if he does, he probably does not care, because I understand he was recently in the USA, where his wife [Grace] probably did some shopping for basic commodities, which are either in short supply or too expensive for most Zimbabweans. Not all of us can go to New York and do some shopping."

A rural school teacher from Murehwa, 60km east of Harare, who declined to be identified, said she had spent the last three days in a queue hoping to withdraw part of her salary, Z$10,000 (US$0.01 at the parallel market exchange rate on 3 October of Z$1 million to US$1).

"Is Mugabe really Zimbabwean? Because if he was, he would have sympathised with his fellow countrymen and -women. How can he deliberately frustrate talks which are likely to bring prosperity to Zimbabwe if he is genuinely one of us? He probably regards Zimbabwe as his little property, which he can treat anyhow," she said.

Zimbabwe’s central bank has imposed a maximum daily withdrawal limit of Z$20,000 (US$0.02). Severe shortages of cash have increasingly forced people to use foreign currency, with many relying on the remittances of friends and family members to survive. More than three million Zimbabweans are thought to have left the country in search of work, mostly in neighbouring countries, but also in Europe and the US.

Nigel Makanza, a middle-tier bank manager, blamed the leaders for the country’s despair. "While it is clear that Mugabe is the one holding the nation to ransom, the other politicians cannot escape without getting some of the blame. Mugabe had the audacity to go on a holiday junket in New York – disguised as official business – while [leader of the MDC breakaway faction, Arthur] Mutambara is in China attending some leadership forum," he said.

"The truth of the matter is that the three people responsible for our suffering are not experiencing the kind of hardships that ordinary Zimbabweans are going through, and that is why they can afford to go on holidays and extend our suffering."  – IRIN