HARARE – Zimbabweans have implored President Robert Mugabe, to at least commit himself to meaningful human rights and economic reforms if his State of the Nation address today is not to become a complete damp squib, and if the country is to be brought back from the edge of the precipice.

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By Gift Phiri

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The nonagenarian will address a joint sitting of Parliament amid the worsening political and economic crisis ravaging the country. At the same time, his post-congress Zanu PF is reeling from its deadly factional and succession wars that have seen many of the party’s stalwarts being purged ruthlessly.

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But former Prime Minister and opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, added his voice yesterday to those who have called on Mugabe to take today’s opportunity to announce his departure from office — as a necessary first step towards reviving the country’s fortunes.

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“We hope that he announces his retirement because there are better prospects for the country if he takes advantage of this day to call it quits,” Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka told the Daily News.

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Respected labour expert, Godfrey Kanyenze, said unless there was a paradigm shift on the part of Mugabe and other senior Zanu PF leaders, Zimbabwe would remain trapped “in the throes of poverty and economic decline” despite today’s address.

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“If there was anything meaningful, it would have been announced in both the mid-term fiscal policy and mid-term monetary policy statement. As it stands, President Mugabe is just fulfilling a requirement, but we don’t expect much on the way forward.

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“There will be more and more of politics and less and less on remedies. He will obviously blame everything and everyone else, while absolving the government of any wrong doing,” Kanyenze said.

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Well-known economist, John Robertson, said it was clear that Mugabe had nothing new to offer to crises-weary Zimbabweans.

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“I am expecting him to come up with a list of people to blame. The main issue which I would like him to talk about is how the economy has tumbled.

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“The productive sector doesn’t exist anymore. The cost of doing business is high and this has been influenced by government regulation. The manufacturing industry is dead. Government’s support of labour is not appropriate right now, considering that government itself is struggling with its own employees,” Robertson said.

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MDC spokesman Obert Gutu chipped in saying Mugabe would not proffer “any sustainable solutions to the country’s economic and political crisis”.

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“We are dealing with a tired and sickly old man who has clearly seen better days in his political life. As such, the nation should expect the same old tired and recycled story of the so-called regime change agents working in cahoots with Western imperialists in order to force the collapse of the Zanu PF government,” he said.

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Speaking to the Daily News at the weekend, analysts also said that the only, but unlikely announcement by the embattled nonagenarian that would help Zimbabwe was if he announced that he was leaving office.

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Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said Mugabe needed to reflect deeply about his continued stay in office and what this meant for the country before he worried about making states of the nation addresses like tomorrow’s.

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“The only state of the nation worth looking at, at this time, is the state of the president. His state is affecting the political economy of the State. The shifting political economy requires that we have a shifting political culture that addresses this shift which has resulted in a huge informalisation of the economy.

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“The economy is now hugely informalised. In a normal State, 90 percent of the economy should be formal, while the remaining 10 percent is informal. But in our situation, it’s the other way round. The State requires that government needs to shift as well. But this can only happen when the political status is addressed,” he said.

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Ruhanya added that Mugabe had failed dismally to manage the country and save its economy, despite having inherited a fully-functional and self-sustaining country in April 1980.

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“There is decomposition and corruption on the political side and the president is not able to steer the country towards recovery. He is assisted by the opposition in this as it cannot challenge the government and put them to task over the ongoing misrule.

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“The economy needs a positive communication of reform. It also requires a change in the political leadership. The old ways of doing things will neither change nor revive the economy. We need new thinking which will encourage domestic savings and investments, thereby attracting investments,” he said.

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Ruhanya noted “the fact” that Mugabe was no longer “a spring chicken” and that he was “way past his prime to be leading any country”.

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“The president is 91 years old. Surely, it is not permissible that he can lead a 21st century economy. There is a time in an individual’s life when one has to say I have run my race and it is now time to allow fresh blood to take over.

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“By fresh blood we are not talking about regime change, but a successor even from within the ruling party or his family for that matter.

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“Mugabe is still trapped in the 1960s and we are in the 21st century where there is massive competition for resources. His ideas were competitive and sharp in the 1960s but that has changed. We are all born of women and we tire and must give way to new ideas,” Ruhanya said.

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Academic and Sapes Trust director, Ibbo Mandaza, also said nothing much should be expected from Mugabe’s State of the Nation address.

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“The whole thing has been turned into a public relations gimmick where Mugabe will paint a rosy picture of what is happening,” he said.

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University of Zimbabwe political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, said if the president’s address was going to be meaningful, he should address bread and butter issues.

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“What the people want to hear is the president talking about things they feel are important, especially the current job losses and what his government is going to do about all that? It affected everyone from Zanu PF to MDC supporters, as well as all age groups.

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“People would also want to know what he is going to do about corruption which is a national cancer. Corruption is a problem that is so chronic and that has been left to go on for years.

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“People don’t want to hear about sanctions that do not affect their basic needs. People want to hear about the bread and butter issues that are directly affecting them,” Masunungure said.

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Economist Moses Chundu said the topical issues in Zimbabwe are maternity leave, termination of employment and the approval of the Labour Bill.

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He said what was happening in the labour sector was a symptom of “something that is not right and in dire need of being fixed”. To that extent, what was expected from Mugabe was for the nonagenarian to address the core issues which could be the root causes of hardships in the country.

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Chundu said there were two major policies that were hindering development and investment in Zimbabwe — the country’s land and indigenisation policies. Unless these were addressed and finalised, investors would continue to shun Zimbabwe.

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“In the absence of closure on both policies, no investor will come. They are scared of investing in the country because of that. The land reform issue is so fresh that it is like a never-ending funeral where the deceased is not buried.” – Daily News

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