25 days after the signing of a power sharing agreement between Mugabe’s Zanu PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change(MDC), there is still a stalemate on the allocation of cabinet posts. The agreement provides for 31 ministries (more than the nation needs) in the ratio 15 from Zanu PF, 3 from MDC Arthur Mutambara and 13 from MDC Tsvangirai.
There have been endless meetings of the three parties to the agreement and the MDC’s Tsvangirai has formally declared a deadlock. They have called in the mediator, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, to try to break the logjam
There is disagreement on the allocation of cabinet portfolios especially those of Finance, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs. Essentially the dispute is over who will control the economy and the security and intelligence forces.
Events in South Africa have also slightly complicated the Zimbabwe process with the ousting of Thabo Mbeki by the ruling ANC. His successor, Kgalema Montlante, recommended that Thabo continue the mediation and this was approved by the ANC and Southern African Development Community (SADC). Thabo flew to Harare on Monday, 13 October in an effort to kick-start the negotiations.
In the meantime, Zimbabweans have continued to live in the most untenable economic environment where galloping hyperinflation officially quoted at 231 million per cent reigns havoc. The banking system is not coping as people queued day and night to make withdrawals capped at Z$20 000 (NZ50c) and now Z$50 000 a day. The central bank has within weeks introduced Z$20 000 and Z$50 000 bills but none of these actions have solved the desperate cash shortage.
Practically all key sectors are trading in stable foreign currencies such as the South African rand, Botswana pula and American dollar. Fuel, groceries, transport and housing costs in major cities are now paid for in these currencies rendering the Zimbabwe dollar useless or non-existent.
Zimbabwe’s economy has defied all conventional economic wisdom. The IMF refused to give it an economic rating.
The Food Situation.
The food situation has deteriorated and this week the UN’s World Food Programme launched an appeal for US$140m to feed up to 5 million people between now and April 2009.
The New Zealand government was among the first nations to respond to the appeal for humanitarian aid in early October, once an agreement was reached to allow nongovernmental organisations and the UN to re-establish operations by giving a substantial donation to the International Red Cross.
Food security expert agencies are concerned that the rain season begins at the end of this month but without access to the inputs required Zimbabwe is in no way ready for the planting season. Yet every farmer knows that one has to plant in order to harvest.
It is hoped that South African farmers will come to the rescue of Zimbabwe’s farmers by providing seed, fertiliser, draught power, capital and expertise. Earlier Thabo Mbeki offered this assistance to the Zimbabwe farming sector and recent interviews by AgriSA, the South African farmers body, show there is some work in that direction.
Health and Education Sectors.
Zimbabwe’s two teachers’ unions, Zimbabwe Teachers Union and Progressive Teachers Union, have jointly made representations to the State to write off the 2008 academic year citing the fact that little learning took place in the country’s schools. They argue that the year has been largely disrupted by political violence.
This inconvenient truth is anchored by the reality that only 75 000 of the 150 000 teachers needed are still in the country. More than half have emigrated, mainly to South Africa. Of the remaining 75 000 only 40 000 are qualified. The two unions are also calling for teachers’ salaries to be paid in foreign currency. The pittance they receive is insufficient to meet their most basic needs.
In the health sector, a similar scenario prevails. Most medical professionals have long left for lucrative destinations all over the world. The central and local government health facilities are ill-equipped and dysfunctional.
The incidence of hunger-related disease like kwashiorkor and pellagra are rising steadily. Hospitals are seeing many more children dying from malnutrition as they are unable to provide food or care. Harare and Bulawayo have recently reported outbreaks of cholera. This is compounded by local governments failing to collect refuse over the past two years.
Zimbabwe’s future hangs in the balance pending a political settlement. As many Zimbabweans look with increased anxiety in the hope that Thabo’s return to Harare will break the logjam, they know the recovery will be a long and costly process. A successful political settlement, it is hoped, will lead to international support that is crucial to the revival of Zimbabwe’s economy.
Presently one in 10 Zimbabweans is employed while the rest live on remittances, informal trade and all sorts of survival tricks that sadly include crime and other social vices.
Zimbabwe’s collapse is not good for the sub region and especially for South Africa facing its own elections in 2009 and hosting a global soccer showcase, the FIFA World Cup, in 2010.
Together these factors are strong reasons for the SADC and indeed the ANC led South African government to step up efforts to resolve this interminable crisis for the sake of all Zimbabweans.
All eyes are on Harare this week.
Mandla Akhe Dube.