ZIMBABWE – Harare (AFP) – Zimbabwe’s veteran President Robert Mugabe was booed and heckled by opposition lawmakers over the deteriorating economy as he gave his state of the nation address to parliament Tuesday.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lawmakers questioned his economic policies, jeering as the 91-year-old delivered a policy speech which lasted less than half an hour.
He spoke as the UN confirmed earlier estimates that around 1.5 million Zimbabweans or 16 percent of the country’s population will face hunger later this year and need food aid.
When Mugabe — who has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980 — outlined his government’s plan to improve the economy, one lawmaker yelled at him to admit that “you can’t do much about it”.
Mugabe presented a 10-point plan which included boosting agricultural growth, encouraging private sector investment and fighting graft.
“What about job creation?” one opposition member shouted while another accused Mugabe’s government of “corruption”.
Another parliamentarian shouted “if wishes were horses” while his other opposition legislator screamed “you have utterly failed”.
The economy of the southern African nation has been on a downward spiral for more than a decade with slow growth, low liquidity and high unemployment.
Many companies have closed, downsized or relocated to neighbouring countries.
The government has cut its growth forecasts for 2015 to 1.5 percent, from 3.2 percent, mainly due to slow growth in the agricultural sector.
Zimbabwe’s harvest of the staple corn has shrunk by half due to erratic rains and abnormally high temperatures.
The country will need to import 700,000 tonnes of corn to feed those facing hunger in the coming months.
Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa has already appealed for cash from “development agencies and the private sector”.
The UN’s World Food Programme on Monday said 16 percent of the population “are projected to be food insecure at the peak of the 2015-16 lean season, the period following harvest when food is especially scarce”.
“This represents a 164 percent increase in food insecurity compared to the previous season,” said WFP in a note.
Amidst the heckling, Mugabe — not known for not brooking dissent — continued unfazed and read his speech through to the end.
His ZANU-PF lawmakers then burst into a song praising their leader while the opposition countered singing “ZANU-PF is rotten”.
It is not the first time Mugabe has been jeered in parliament.
In August 2008, MDC deputies roundly booed the president during a speech to show they did not recognise his legitimacy following a flawed presidential vote held earlier that year.