Zimbabwe's Natural Wealth Yet To Trickle Down To Citizenry

15 Aug 2013 12:30
By Charles Tjatindi

WINDHOEK, 15 AUG (NAMPA) – The dust of the 31 July elections might be slowly settling, but the road to complete recovery for the people of Zimbabwe since the country’s economic meltdown in 2008, could be a long and winding one.
For many the memories of that period, which left shop shelves empty and sent an acute shortage of fuel across the country because the Zimbabwean Dollar plunged to an all-time low, are still fresh in their minds.
The economic woes followed on the heels of a disputed election, in which rival political parties – the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – faced off in a battle of dominion over the tobacco-rich southern African nation.
Despite the political shake-ups and transformations which had taken place since 2008 and culminating in the formation of a government of national unity, ordinary Zimbabweans are yet to reap the full benefits of these transformations.
The introduction of the multi-currency tender regime for Zimbabwe has left the country’s vast number of unemployed youth, farmers and many who live below the bread line with little to go on as food prices and other commodities soar to new highs.
Zimbabwe has had to rely on the world and region’s stronger currencies to level the economic field between sellers and buyers, temporarily phasing out the inflation-prone Zimbabwean Dollar.
Amongst the prominent currencies accepted in the country as legal tender is the United States of America Dollar (US Dollar), which currently trades at just below N.dollars 10.
The South African Rand, a major currency in the sub-region, is also accepted in Zimbabwe in addition to the more stable Botswana Pula.
The constant shortage of change has meant that shops set most of their prices for commodities starting at the lowest denomination of US Dollar 1 – equivalent to N.dollars 9.90.
This means that anything which would ideally not cost that much; such as newspapers, snacks and other smaller commodities, are benchmarked at US Dollars 1 for transaction ease.
The government has attempted, to an extent, to stabilise exchange rates amongst the different currencies in use in the country for uniformity's sake, but even that could be too little too late for the hundreds of citizens who are without a steady income.
Seeing beggars at traffic light intersections with bowls in hand literally begging for a living, is not uncommon in Harare - the main economic centre of this once agriculturally-prosperous country.
In a conversation with John Sibanda, a regular beggar in the Harare central business district (CBD), it was not hard to realise that despite the economic hardships they may endure in Zimbabwe, many have not lost hope for a better tomorrow.
“I come here to ask for money from motorists and passers-by almost every day. With the little I get, I buy groceries for my family and save some for difficult days which could come,” he said in eloquent English, owing to President Mugabe’s robust education policies.
Sibanda, originally from Bulawayo – Zimbabwe’s second largest city located some 430km south of Harare - lost one of his lower limbs to an illness which remains undiagnosed to this day.
He said he developed a rash on his left leg, which later turned into wounds. When the wounds became septic, doctors had no choice but to amputate the leg to avoid further damage to other organs on his body.
“It is difficult for those with both legs to get employment, now what about me with just one leg? But I cannot sit at home and cry. I have to rise up and do something with my hands for the sake of my family,” he related.
A few streets down, another beggar, who refused to be interviewed, makes his way through the heavy Harare lunch-time traffic. He is blind and is being led by a lanky teenage boy who could not be older than 14.
Briskly jay-walking with his supposed blind relative’s hand firmly placed on his shoulder, the teenager makes his way from one car to another, raising his small bowl in front of drivers stuck in the congested traffic for donations.
Some respond with generous donations, others drop odd coins into the aluminium bowl. Many, however, simply throw their arms into the air, signalling that they have nothing to offer and slowly roll up their car windows as if to avoid further confrontation.
The unemployment situation has forced many Zimbabweans to leave the country in search of greener pastures in neighbouring southern African countries, most notably Botswana, South Africa and Namibia.
Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate on the continent, largely owing to the high standards of the country’s education institutions.
While the elections might have come and gone, the government of the day could be faced with even more on its plate to deal with if it is to stabilise the country’s fiscal outlook.
President Mugabe has bemoaned the collapse of the manufacturing sector in the country as amongst the chief contributors to the economic hardships facing Zimbabwe, in addition to sanctions from the USA and Europe imposed on the country.
Mugabe has, on several occasions during his recent campaigns for re-election in the run-up to the 31 July polls, raised concerns about the lack of manufacturing activities in the country.
The over exploitation of minerals, especially gold, has led to a serious decline of this commodity in recent years, which has had Mugabe’s administration scratching heads on the way forward.
Mineral exports, agriculture, and tourism are the main foreign currency earners of Zimbabwe. The mining sector remains very lucrative, with some of the world's largest platinum reserves being mined by Anglo American plc and Impala Platinum.
The Marange diamond fields, discovered in 2006, are considered the biggest diamond find in over a century, and has the potential to improve the fiscal situation of the country considerably.
Mugabe’s government faces the mammoth task of not only stabilising the country’s fiscal outlook, but also that of winning the confidence of many Zimbabweans who have given him another term in office.
Lest that is done, John Sibanda and hordes of other Zimbabweans living below the bread line, risk being 'beggars on a beach of gold', in reference to a popular 90s hit song by Mike and the Mechanics.