By John Kachembere and Ndakaziva Majaka
Long-suffering Zimbabweans will endure yet another bleak Christmas and New Year holiday as a result of the country’s dying economy, severe cash shortages, rising food prices and the continuing misrule of President Robert Mugabe and his warring ruling Zanu PF.
This is happening at a time that Mugabe has once again insensitively refused to vacation locally, and taken his family and a large contingent of aides on his usual annual holiday in the Far East, in an expensive and State-funded jaunt which will gobble millions of dollars in scarce hard cash.
Indeed, there is little sign of the usual merriment or big cheer that has traditionally been associated with the year-end festivities around the country, as millions of Zimbabweans continue to wallow in abject poverty and debilitating hopelessness.
A Daily News crew that went around Harare yesterday witnessed far fewer shoppers than has been the case previously around this time of the year, with many residents of the capital city battling to secure cash from their banks despite the recent injection of more bond notes into the market by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) last week.
There were chaotic scenes at most banks as depositors jostled in snaking queues, in a desperate attempt to access their money ahead of the closing time of financial institutions.
Those who opted to use automated teller machines (ATMs) and Point Of Sale (POS) machines at retail shops were equally frustrated as most of the machines were seemingly buckling under the stress, amid network problems.
Retailers Association of Zimbabwe (RAZ) president, Denford Mutashu, told the Daily News that there was an urgent need for the government and other relevant authorities to increase the number of POS machines in the country.
“The current number of POS machines stands at about 25 000. Although it’s a huge jump from the 17 000 from last year, this is still not enough,” he said.
To add to the pain, jobless and impoverished Zimbabweans who form the majority of the country’s population have also had to contend with the soaring prices of locally-produced basic goods, including cooking oil, an assortment of toiletries and confectionaries.
There has also been shortages of beef at most of the country’s abattoirs, which have, in addition, also hiked their prices for all grades of meat.
A kilogramme of the lowest grade of beef, is now selling at $7, from about $4 recently, while cooking oil prices have jumped from $3 to$3,45 per two litres.
The Daily News was told that cattle farmers were currently reluctant to sell their stocks due to the ongoing severe shortages of cash, with many of them reluctant to accept bank transfers and other forms of payments.
To further compound people’s misery, motorists were also struggling to get fuel as most service stations were reluctant to accept card payments, instead demanding cash.
The few garages that were accepting cards struggled with long vehicle queues.
Many hard-pressed consumers who spoke to the Daily News yesterday moaned the fact that they had now “forgotten” how it felt to enjoy the Christmas and New Year holidays.
“How are we supposed to be happy and cheerful when we continue to have no money,” said Tendai Mahuni, 36, a fitter and turner with a local engineering company.
He also said he was not sure if his company would reopen after the Christmas and New Year break, as it was struggling to pay salaries.
“It’s heart-rending to fail to buy food and other basics, let alone new clothes for your family. If things remain like this, I am likely to join others and also leave the country in search of greener pastures next year,” he added.
Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) chief executive, Christopher Mugaga, said there were genuine fears that most industrial firms would not reopen next year, following the annual shut-down.
“Telegraphic Transfers (TTs) are not going through, so the difficult part will be for companies to decide if they should open next year without raw materials.
“Most companies are also not paying bonuses this year, as the environment is still harsh and there are certain things that need to be re-aligned,” Mugaga said, adding that 2017 was going to see even more company closures and failures than this year.
Opposition leader and former Prime Minister in the government of national unity, Morgan Tsvangirai, also said this year’s Christmas would be devoid of any festive cheer, as most Zimbabweans were languishing in poverty.
“We are all faced with a bleak Christmas and it is certain that the situation can only get worse next year. Everyone in the country is suffering. The situation is not unique to Harare but to all the corners of the country.
“Zimbabwe is in deep trouble and whether you are Zanu PF, MDC or any other political affiliation, the plight is the same.
“The situation has been worsening … and the introduction of bond notes is just palliative care on an economic patient who needs open heart surgery. We cannot cure the symptoms and think we have dealt with the disease.
“The solution is not bond notes but the resuscitation of production in our industries,” Tsvangirai said.
Former Finance minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader, Tendai Biti, said it was now “a public secret” that the Zanu PF government stole Christmas.
“As 2016 draws to an end, the Zimbabwean economy continues to be mired and arrested by a crippling crisis of confidence that is anchored on the structural issues of low productivity, deflation, stagnation and a corrosive macro-economic crisis.
“The fact of the matter is that Zimbabwe is in the fourth year of a structural economic recession which the authorities do not understand and are incapable of offering sustainable solutions to, to stem it. Zimbabwe thus finds itself on the throes of another sustained long term downturn,” he said.
Economist and opposition legislator, Eddie Cross, said as long as Zanu PF remained in power, 2017 would not bring any relief to the majority of Zimbabweans.
“It looks as if 2017 will be little different to 2016, except that all our problems will be amplified.
“There will be growing pressure on incomes (in 2017) as the regime maintains cash values using a currency that is declining in value. By the year-end, the main casualty of this situation will be the civil service whose real incomes will halve in value or more,” he said. Daily News