BY TAURAI MANGUDHLA
TURMOIL and suffering marred the first half of this year in both political and economic terms with fears the remaining months of the year could even be worse as Zimbabwe marches towards the 2023 elections.
Increasing human rights abuses, political violence, runaway inflation, protracted and yet to be concluded wage negotiations between the government and its employees as well as a free-falling local currency are some of the reasons behind the turmoil.
In May, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) exposed Zanu PF as the main perpetrators of human rights abuses across the country.
In a report titled The Wall, the ZPP exposed the existence of Zanu PF torture camps that have been set up in rural areas to crush dissent.
“President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF party was responsible for the majority of human rights violations across the country. ZPP recorded 165 incidents in which the ruling party was responsible,” ZPP said in the report.
“In the majority of these incidents, Zanu PF supporters were hounding people they suspected had supported the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) in the run-up to the March 26 by-elections.”
But Zanu PF has dismissed the claims that it is behind human rights violations and other acts of political violence. The ruling party says the claims are meant to tarnish its image.
ZPP said Zanu PF had structures meant to intimidate and silence people in rural areas ahead of the 2023 elections, adding this was more prevalent in Mashonaland East, Central and West provinces, where the organisation recorded a combined 77 cases.
The highlight of political violence during the first half of the year has been the alleged abduction and gruesome murder of known opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Moreblessing Ali.
Ali was allegedly abducted by Zanu PF thugs before her mutilated remains were found weeks later in a horrific suspected case of political violence.
In February, a CCC supporter Mboneni Ncube was stabbed to death at an opposition rally in Kwekwe. Police identified the suspects as Zanu PF members.
Police arrested 16 Zanu PF youths for Ncube’s murder but later released 11 of them. Prosecutors said Ncube was stabbed at least twice with a sharp object.
CCC activists including trade unionists such as Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) president Obert Masaraure have been arrested on several occasions.
Masaraure is now facing murder charges in connection with the death of an activist, Roy Issa, in 2016. Critics have dismissed the charges as an attempt to silence Masaraure’s Artuz as an inquest into Issa’s death dismissed any foul play.
CCC legislators Job Sikhala (Zengeza West) and Godfrey Sithole (Chitungwiza North) have spent almost three weeks behind bars facing charges of inciting public violence.
On the economic front, the local currency has been on a slippery slope and is now trading at more than 750 against the green back on the parallel market as forex shortages persist.
The Zimbabwe dollar is trading at just over $400 at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) run official auction system that battles a huge backlog of more than three months.
Prices of basic commodities have been skyrocketing with the country’s inflation ranked as the highest in the world, evoking memories of the 2008 hyper-inflationary era.
Inflation now stands at 192% with the local currency described as the worst performing in the world. Some businesses are now pricing their products strictly in USD to hedge against losses from a free falling local currency.
In a bid to stem the crisis, a panicky Mnangagwa introduced a host of controversial measures including a temporary freeze on lending in May to arrest rising inflation.
The measures were later reversed.
Mnangagwa also used his Presidential powers to increase interest rates to 200%, and made the multiple currency regimes valid at law for five years and allow US dollar lending.
But critics said the move was unconstitutional and an apparent admission the economy was in tatters.
Nurses and teachers have been striking demanding US dollar salaries of at least US$540 versus their combined cocktail of basic salary plus incentives worth below US$200.
Development economist Chenayimoyo Mutambasere said Zimbabwe’s economic situation is abysmal with indications the situation will deteriorate further.
“We are in the same place we were when we started, it was the same place we were the year before,” Mutambasere added.
“The fiscal and monetary policy has failed to really address the fundamental attributes that will contribute to positive economic stimuli so we know that in Zimbabwe we have a currency crisis that continues to be fuelled by having a multicurrency that they continue to fail to support.
“We have been calling for the past two or three years for the disbandment for the interchange option and that continues.”
She argued there was nothing on the ground showing genuine commitment to bring Zimbabwe back on a recovery path.
“It looks like the status quo is going to continue and we will continue to devalue both in US dollars and in local currency,” she said.
“We will continue with high inflation, the issue of wages for civil servants also contributes to the performance of the economy. Where there are no wages we don’t have a stimulated domestic market.
“We are seeing things like 200% policy rates and all this which will continue to reduce productive value in our economy and with that there is no way we can get back to any form of recovery path which is a shame really.”
But Zanu PF insists that Zimbabwe is on a rebound, and that the economic shocks could be traced to the Ukraine-Russia war that has caused global economic upsets.
Opposition Harare mayor and lawyer Jacob Mafume says the country’s sordid human rights image has not changed.
The March by-elections, he said, failed to show any improvement from the past in terms of the freedom of association, expression and freedom to participate in an election.
“In particular we still have a monopoly in the media space, the opposition still was not given access to campaign in the State media except when they were being vilified.
“TV and radio remains closed to other actors,” Mafume said, adding that freedom of association was greatly curtailed and opposition rallies disrupted.
“There were issues of right to life where people were killed in the run-up to the election, beatings by the police and politically affiliated individuals,” he added.
Vote buying and abuse of State resources by the ruling party was also rampant.
“In terms of human rights, we have a long way to go.”
Mafume said the political situation had increased levels of toxicity with name-calling, violence and intolerance on the rise.
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