LOSING Zanu PF council candidates in Beitbridge have blamed the enactment of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016, which banned the importation of certain basic goods, for their defeat in the July 30 harmonised elections.
BY OWN CORRESPONDENT
Zanu PF performed dismally against the Nelson Chamisa-led MDC Alliance, which swept clean the six Local Government seats in the border town.
MDC Alliance, led by national youth organising secretary Morgan Ncube, who is tipped to become Beitbridge mayor, will now be in full control of Zimbabwe’s youngest, but strategic municipality.
Incidentally, it is the first and only municipality approved and signed for by President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa after he took over from former President Robert Mugabe after a military intervention in November last year.
On July 1, 2016, government gazetted SI64 of 2016, meant to boost domestic production by protecting local industries from perceived unfair competition from cheap imports.
SI64/2016 resulted in the removal of 43 products from the Open General Import Licence, but drew criticism from Zimbabwe’s neighbours, who claimed that the instrument had adversely affected their economies and violated the Southern Africa Development Community Protocol on Trade, which seeks to promote free trade among member states.
At home, ordinary citizens felt it protected big chefs who accessed licenses and imported the same banned goods and sold them to the poor at exorbitant and exploitative prices.
Economists said the policy, while being a noble idea, needed to be complemented by increased local production through addressing the supply side constraints and other key production enablers.
Beitbridge, with a population of approximately 60 000, who rely on cross-border trading activities, was worst hit.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, for fear of being labelled as undermining the government’s policies, some Zanu PF members pointed at SI64/2016 as the main cause of their political misery.
“It took away the livelihood of many people in this town and even yonder. We have no industries and people here survive on border post-related activities, most of which ended with the introduction of that nasty policy,” one Zanu PF member said.
“It does not mean that all Beitbridge residents lived on buying and selling. Others cleared goods for those who imported. Others were just porters. The long and short of it is people hinged their livelihood on the imports of most goods banned by that legislation,” the member said.
On July 1, 2016, violent demonstrations against SI64/2016 rocked Beitbridge town, but later spread like a veld fire to other towns.
Millions of dollars worth of goods, a State warehouse, Beitbridge Municipality vehicles and infrastructure, including traffic lights were destroyed in the demonstrations, which resulted in a blockage of the border by sympathisers on the South African side a week before.
The violent demonstrations caught police napping, culminating in the entire 600 police officers and cleaners at Beitbridge being transferred from the border town for alleged dereliction of duty.
Scores of people later arrested for the violent protests were acquitted for lack of evidence.
“That was not a good sign. It is when powers that be should have gone back to the drawing board to look at what had caused that in a town that had never before taken such action,” another losing candidate said.
“We have now paid dearly for that. It is sad we are no longer in charge of the face of Zimbabwe, which Beitbridge is.”
Beitbridge, the busiest inland port in sub-Saharan Africa, handles the bulk of imports into Zimbabwe.
Besides, landlocked nations in the region use the post to relay goods to their respective destinations owing to its direct link to South African ports.
Beitbridge is the only direct official surface link between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The losing Zanu PF members have a common feeling that going forward, their party has to revise that instrument and put bread back on people’s tables.
“We must realise this was one stronghold of the ruling party which has been snatched. From here, it will spread into our rural areas unless serious measures are taken,” another member said.