PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has scoffed at insinuations that Zimbabwe is in crisis and instead boldly declared the country’s economy is second only to South Africa on the continent.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Mugabe, who took part in a panel discussion yesterday on fragile States at the ongoing World Economic Forum in Durban, South Africa, where he shared the stage with American actor Forest Whitaker and Donald Kaberuka, the special envoy for the African Union Peace Fund, among others, dismissed reports of poverty in Zimbabwe.
Asked by Anton du Plessis from the Institute for Security Studies if he thought Zimbabwe was in the category of fragile States, Mugabe sagged in his chair and slowly retorted: “That isn’t true. Zimbabwe is the most highly developed country in Africa. After South Africa, I want to see another country as highly developed.”
Mugabe said there was an abundance of mineral resources in the country.
“We have resources, perhaps more resources than (any) other country in the world,” he said. “We are not a poor country. We can’t be a fragile country. We’ve got these resources.”
This, despite at least four million citizens relying on donor aid for survival as hunger stalks almost half the population.
Mugabe’s government has been struggling to pay civil servants’ salaries and has had to stagger bonuses that were due last year into the second half of this year.
Bank queues have become a common sight, as desperate Zimbabweans search for scarce cash, despite a decision by Mugabe to print a surrogate currency known as bond notes, which is slowly disappearing as well.
Former Finance minister and opposition People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti yesterday said the problem was with Mugabe’s handlers who wheel him to such international events.
“It is criminal for officials in government to drag the President to such events knowing fully well he will bring the country into disrepute,” Biti said.
“Over 75% of our people are living in extreme poverty, 70% use the bush as toilets and our debt is over 43% of gross domestic product. Such social and economic data do not lie.
“It is clear that the President is living in a distorted reality of his own. He does not have to wait in bank queues for cash or drive on potholed roads.
“The President is stuck in the past because that is where his government’s source of legitimacy lies. Zimbabwe is basically a failed little banana republic that cannot pay its workers.”
Mugabe pointed to the country’s famed literacy levels and its 14 universities, saying: “And yet they talk about us as a fragile State.”
After years of strained relations with the United States and most Western countries, Mugabe could not pass the chance to take potshots at his arch-enemies.
“We have a bumper harvest, not only maize, but also tobacco and many other crops. We are not a poor country. If anyone wants to call us fragile, they can,” he said.
“You can also call America fragile because, at one time, they went to China on their knees.”
MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, through his spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka, said he had been shocked at the level of Mugabe’s disconnect from reality.
“With unemployment of over 90%, a virtually dead industrial sector, acute cash shortages, where people are sleeping in bank queues, the fragility of our country is not in doubt,” he said.
“If you add health and education, then you have a fully-fledged crisis.
“The nation is on edge and President Mugabe’s statements only serve to confirm that the regime has taken permanent residence in cloud cuckoo-land. The denial of the crisis at this level is astounding, to say the least. It appears even the leadership has become fragile too.”
Mugabe then bizarrely added that the southern parts of the continent were lucky to have little Islamic influence.
“In the Islamic world, the belief is that the more violence you exert on the population, the more they listen. In Africa, you also have a touch of the Muslim world in some countries, but in the south it wasn’t our experience, thank God,” he said.