ZIMBABWE – HARARE – With only four days left before Christmas, critics of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling post-congress Zanu PF say the majority of Zimbabweans face worsening poverty and are “wondering why their festive season cheer has been stolen again”.
This sad sentiment comes as economic analysts have told the Daily News that 2015 will go down as one of the most difficult years of the past decade for the country’s citizens, who continue to endure untold hardships due to alleged Zanu PF’s misrule and mismanagement.
The president of the civil service Apex council, Richard Gundani, said yesterday that for the second year running, more than 530 000 civil servants would have to endure Christmas without their promised 13th cheque.
He said the staggering of bonus payments by the broke government not only robbed civil servants of their Christmas joy, but also disrupted all their plans for 2016.
“We would want government to come out clean on the issue of bonuses. They must pay us and we should announce the exact dates, not their promises and more promises we hear in the newspapers. We want an exact time frame because we know they will talk about staggering the dates.
“We are aware that they say they are broke, but we also know they can afford our bonuses nevertheless,” he added.
At the same time, shoppers say they are bracing for “a miserable” Christmas.
“There was a time, and it’s a long time ago, when I could afford to buy nice goodies and presents, but those days are truly gone,” said a Harare shopper yesterday.
Indeed, some shopping malls around the country were half empty at the weekend as poverty levels deepen, with the unemployment rate now estimated at up to 90 percent and rising.
Economist and MDC legislator, Eddie Cross, said it would be hard for the majority of Zimbabwean families – whose disposable income remained well below the poverty datum line of $560 – to experience the joys of the festive season when everything around them was falling apart in the country.
“We are going to have a very subdued Christmas this year. In the 30 months since the 2013 elections that gave us an old/new government, our economy has shrunk dramatically, confidence in the business sector has not recovered and if anything, has declined still further,” he said.
Cross also noted that stock market asset holders were now two thirds poorer than they were in 2013.
“The season is not looking good. A regional food deficit of record proportions is looming, prices are declining but incomes are falling even faster and there are few signs that our leadership even understands what is wrong, let alone what to do about it,” he added.
According to the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries’ latest manufacturing sector survey, the bulk of companies are operating well below their capacity levels, with only 34,3 percent of factory capacity in use.
Power utility Zesa Holdings has already warned of massive load shedding over the festive season, as the parastatal intends to take advantage of the annual shutdown in order to service its ailing power stations in Kariba and Hwange.
Political commentator Francis Mukora said the dampened mood in the country was likely to be worsened by the fact that even those Zimbabweans who were living in the Diaspora, who often supported their families at home and stimulated festive season spending, were likely to find the going hard this Christmas.
“Diasporans are likely to bear the biggest brunt of having their Christmas in Zimbabwe dampened by the prevailing harsh economic conditions. The appreciation of the United State dollar against regional currencies such as the South African rand means the ‘injivas’ will need to fork out more cash in order to access goods and services in the country,” he said.