ZIMBABWE – As President Robert Mugabe celebrates his 92nd birthday tomorrow at a high-priced bash, expected to cost US$800 000, in one of Zimbabwe’s hardest drought-hit region, Masvingo province, it is worthwhile for him to reflect on his legacy as the head of state.
While Mugabe and his supporters stage yet another feasting orgy to mark his birthday, the president must think about how he has run the country or should we say run-down the country, once known as the breadbasket of Southern Africa.
The festivities are being staged by the Soviet-style 21st February Movement to pay homage and show adulation to Mugabe, who has taken the way he is idolised as a God-given right.
Mugabe should not just drown in the incongruous scenes of lavish partying in the midst of hunger and grinding poverty among the majority of Zimbabweans. It is not a time to eat cake and merry make, but a time to reflect on his 36-year rule.
Indeed, when he swept into power to end colonial rule, there was widespread national euphoria that the intelligent and eloquent 56-year-old Mugabe, with his message of reconciliation, would usher in an era of development that would be the envy of the African continent.
It started off so well with the country’s education system, a source of national pride as evidenced by the statistic that Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa. Zimbabwe also made strides in the health sector. There were two central hospitals at independence in 1980 and now there are six, two provincial hospitals then and now they are 10 and there were just 10 district hospitals and now the country boasts of 52.
However, over the years of his presidency, that euphoria has been replaced by disconsolation and distress. Zimbabweans once exuberant swimmers in the sea of optimism have become huddled figures in the backwater of despair.
Mugabe now presides over a country whose economy has been decimated to the point of having to abandon its own currency. He presides over more than 90% unemployment, capacity utilisation of less than 35% and company closures. In a three-year period, 2011 to 2014, 4 610 companies shut down with 55 443 workers thrown onto the streets as a result.
So dire has been the unemployment rate, that Zimbabweans who have worked hard to earn degrees have been reduced to airtime vendors and commuter omnibus touts.
His ruinous economic policies which included the uncontrolled printing of the Zimbabwean dollar brought about record hyperinflation levels in 2008 that rendered the local currency worthless.
The economic implosion under Mugabe’s watch has resulted in millions of Zimbabweans leaving the country, some even daring to swim the crocodile-infested Limpopo River, in search of greener pastures in neighbouring South Africa.
Mugabe’s chaotic land reform programme which started in 2000, but is showing no signs of ending, has transformed the country from being the bread basket to a basket case of the region. Farms which used to boast of various crops for export have now been replaced by weeds and blackjacks.
As Mugabe cuts through his 92kg birthday cake, he must think seriously about the legacy he will leave when he finally goes. As things stand now, his legacy is that of turning what was once known as the Jewel of Africa into a land of poverty, destitution and hopelessness with no currency to call its own. It is not too late for Mugabe to leave office and save what is left of his tattered legacy. It is best to quit now before he plunges an already unstable country further into chaos and economic desolation.