‘We’re wait­ing for him to die’

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

HARARE — THE broad av­enues lined with li­lac trees in Harare show no images of 91-year-old Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, but his pres­ence tow­ers over the coun­try he has ruled for 35 years.

“The whole coun­try is on standby. We are just wait­ing for him to die,” said Evans, a taxi busi­ness owner.

Com­plaints abound about Mu­gabe’s au­thor­i­tar­ian rule, which is seen as hav­ing rav­aged what was once one of the re­gion’s most promis­ing economies.

But the pres­i­dent, who par­tic­i­pated in the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle against white mi­nor­ity rule in the 1960s and 70s and seized the land of about 6 000 white farm­ers to re­dis­tribute it to more than 240 000 blacks, also com­mands re­spect.

“He has done more to em­power black peo­ple than any other African leader,” Evans ad­mit­ted.

The ex­pul­sion of ex­pe­ri­enced white farm­ers con­trib­uted to a decade-long cri­sis that cut the econ­omy by half and forced Zim­babwe to re­place its in­flated cur­rency with the US dol­lar in 2009.

Western sanc­tions over hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, in­di­geni­sa­tion laws re­quir­ing that 51% of ma­jor com­pa­nies must be owned by lo­cals, and mas­sive cor­rup­tion have scared in­vestors away.

Less than 700 000 peo­ple are of­fi­cially em­ployed, said Gideon Shoko, deputy sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Zim­babwe Congress of Trade Unions.

That leaves about 80 per­cent of the work­force strug­gling to make a liv­ing in the in­for­mal sec­tor, far above the of­fi­cial un­em­ploy­ment rate of 11 per­cent.

A plunge in maize pro­duc­tion and the high prices of food im­ported from South Africa have ag­gra­vated the sit­u­a­tion of many fam­i­lies, which may skip meals and not have money to send their chil­dren to school, ac­cord­ing to lo­cals in Harare and Vic­to­ria Falls. Chil­dren beg un­der Harare’s traf­fic lights. Some women are re­sort­ing to pros­ti­tu­tion, while poorly paid po­lice of­fi­cers erect road blocks to ex­tract bribes from mo­torists, res­i­dents said. Health cen­tres treat poor peo­ple in ex­change for their rel­a­tives clean­ing wards.

“A few of my rel­a­tives died be­cause of lack of money for treat­ment,” busi­ness­man Nor­est Marara said.

Power cuts paral­yse an in­dus­trial sec­tor run­ning at less than 40 per­cent of its ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to the Con­fed­er­a­tion of Zim­babwe In­dus­tries.

Some Harare neigh­bour­hoods only have elec­tric­ity be­tween 10pm and 6am, with women cook­ing on fires in yards where peo­ple chat in the dark.

“Mu­gabe may not last much longer,” a Western diplo­mat said about the vet­eran leader who falls asleep at pub­lic func­tions, read the same speech twice, and re­port­edly keeps trav­el­ling to Asia for med­i­cal treat­ment.

“Every­thing here re­volves around one man. And when he goes, a vol­cano will erupt,” said Obert Gutu, spokesman for the main op­po­si­tion party Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change (MDC).

In its decades in power, Mu­gabe’s Zanu PF has taken the coun­try firmly in its grip, rang­ing from state-owned com­pa­nies to lo­cal chiefs and farm­ers who say they vote for the rul­ing party for fear of los­ing their land that of­fi­cially be­longs to the state.

At least three gov­ern­ment crit­ics have dis­ap­peared and more than 100 peo­ple charged with in­sult­ing the pres­i­dent over the past five years, while jour­nal­ists keep get­ting ar­rested, said Kumbi­rai Ma­funda from Zim­babwe Lawyers for Hu­man Rights.

Mu­gabe has re­fused to name a suc­ces­sor, al­legedly to give his fam­ily time to se­cure its wealth.

“He is a Machi­avel­lian strate­gist who pits Zanu PF fac­tions against each other,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst El­dred Ma­su­nun­gure from the Univer­sity of Zim­babwe.

A power strug­gle is re­port­edly rag­ing be­tween Mu­gabe’s deputy Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa and a group of am­bi­tious politi­cians, in­clud­ing Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Jonathan Moyo and min­is­ter Saviour Ka­sukuwere.

The group is pre­tend­ing to cam­paign for the pres­i­dency of first lady Grace Mu­gabe in an at­tempt to side­line Mnan­gagwa, ac­cord­ing to an­a­lysts.

Af­ter Mu­gabe dies or re­tires, “we may see vi­o­lence” be­tween Zanu PF fac­tions, Gutu said.

An­a­lysts say the party may win the 2018 elec­tions with rig­ging and in­tim­i­da­tion — but it also en­joys real sup­port.

“When Mu­gabe dies, many peo­ple will shed gen­uine tears,” Ma­su­nun­gure said, adding that the much-crit­i­cized pres­i­dent will also leave a pos­i­tive legacy.

Pres­i­dent rober Mu­gabe and his wife Grace at a Zanu PF rally.

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