Angst and fear in Zimbabwe

The economic crisis in Zimbabwe creates hopelessness, fear and angst among the people.

    With inflation at record levels, even those with jobs struggle to survive [GALLO/GETTY]

    Many say they feel hopelessness in the year ahead as the Zimbabwean economy continues to collapse.
    While many around the world have been celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of the next, Dairai Muponda, a mother of two in the capital Harare, said she was resigned to hopelessness for the future.
    "I can't imagine what is going to happen to my family if the situation continues like this," she said of the harsh economic realities that have gripped most Zimbabwean families.
    "I have waited for too long to see an end to this suffering, and I might have to move my family to South Africa, where life is better." 
    Millions of Zimbabweans share Muponda's anguish and for them the New Year was received with fear and concern as economists warned that worse hardships lay ahead.
    This was a particularly dire forecast, as 2008 was the year Zimbabweans had to endure the collapse of public services, shortages of cash and basic commodities, and hyper-inflation.
    "I am hoping that things will get better in 2009, but nothing seems certain at the moment. We all have been waiting for our lives to get better," said Tendai Mahachi, a driver with a local haulage truck company.
    Economic quagmire
    While they say they have little to look forward to in the year ahead, many Zimbabweans remember 2008 as their most trying year.

    Each day Zimbabwe's currency is worth less while food costs more [GALLO/GETTY]

    Inflation in Zimbabwe has spiraled out of control. With prices doubling every 24 hours and unemployment hovering above 80 per cent, millions of people have been fleeing to South Africa and neighbouring countries in search of food and work.
    Inflation has hit low-income urban families particularly hard as prices for basic commodities can surge three times a day.
    According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, an economic watchdog, the monthly consumer basket of household necessities and basic foodstuffs was valued at 351,631 Zimbabwean dollars in January 2008.
    But as a political stalemate fuelled stagnation in the local economy, the value of the monthly consumer basket skyrocketed to 86.4 billion Zimbabwean dollars (US $288) in December [the last complete month for which figures are available].
    An average Zimbabwean worker takes home $300 million (US$1) a day.
    The situation was further worsened by new banking regulations which enforced a daily withdrawal limit of 200,000 Zimbabwean dollars in January 2008 but increased that amount to 500 million Zimbabwean dollars by December.
    However, that falls far short of people's daily financial needs; commuter fares are pegged at Z$200 million, a loaf of bread costs Z$300 million, and a sack of vegetables fetches Z$30 million.
    Poverty, hunger and disease

    The consumer watchdog is warning that many families are becoming increasingly vulnerable to poverty and hunger, as some basic commodities are no longer available on the market because of hoarding. 

    Many of the farms seized in redistribution schemes are left fallow [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Matthew Kufandirimbwa, an economic analyst, told Al Jazeera that the unstable macro-economic environment, which has been characterised by shrinking real income, has contributed to declining standards of living in Zimbabwe.
    He said: "High levels of taxation, low income, high interests, low production and inflation rates are among other factors that contributed to the declining of living standards of the consumer."
    Kufandirimbwa believes that many companies will choose not to re-open for business in 2009, leaving thousands of employees jobless.
    Political impasse
    However, the economic crisis is overshadowed by the political impasse between the ruling party and the opposition which has left the country in gridlock. 
    The ruling Zanu PF party led by Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, and the MDC-T splinter party controlled by Arthur Mutambara, have been unable to reach agreement on how to implement a power-sharing structure in parliament.
    This followed the heavily-disputed June election where 84-year-old Mugabe, who has been in power for nearly three decades, claimed victory; he maintains he will not step down. 
    "If they can't seem to agree on what is good for the country then, there is no way that the situation will improve for us come next year," said a journalist who chose to remain anonymous for fear of retribution
    Even political analysts agree that the prospects for a better future remain gloomy until the political deadlock has been resolved.
    "The political agreement which is crucial for the economic revival of this country is in the intensive care unit and in that state, it can either die or be resuscitated," said Eldred Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.
    "It is really in a critical state. It is in dire danger, a situation that does not give hope to the suffering masses."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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