Back to the dark future?

A newcomer to Harare could be forgiven for thinking that things are normal and it is business as usual. There is congestion on the roads and a lot of people are driving around in flashy cars. There is a remarkably high concentration of Mercedes Benz models on our roads, perhaps higher than in any other country this side of the Equator. You can still get your gas at the service points without a hassle and the supermarkets are loaded with goods, albeit mostly imported items.

Before the Government of National Unity was established in early 2009, the shelves of most shops were bare. And although many of us cannot afford the imported goods, at least the basics are also available – in stark contrast to the dark days prior to 2009. Sadly, it looks as though this glossy picture is unlikely to last. A different narrative has been unwinding since 31 July 2013 – a slow yet steady regression into the dark past.

I see many faces getting longer again. Since Zanu (PF) claimed victory in the July election, people have become anxious. They are not sure what the future holds and are wondering if we are sliding back into those painful days of acute shortages, long and unending queues for all sorts of things and empty bellies at night.

This anxiety is not without basis. Most of the people I have talked to are complaining that money is not circulating. In Harare, this is a euphemism indicating that there is hardly any money to spend, a trend that started off in earnest just before the elections. In other words, more and more people are getting poorer, and could get very poor very soon if nothing is done.

Getting cash from the banks is already not an easy stroll in the park, as quite a number of institutions, particularly the indigenous ones, are limiting withdrawals. Naturally, the trend is unsettling, as it tells a very familiar story. I remember the nights I had to spend in the queues to get a worthless wad of Zimdollars, and the moment there are cash shortages, I get really scared.

But the story is longer than this. Who has forgotten the cholera tragedy of 2008? It started off with severe water shortages, then isolated cases of dysentery and diarrhoea, then full blown cholera that killed thousands of people. While the water shortage crisis might not be peculiar to the post-election period, it is still bad, in two senses.

First, several reliable reports indicate that water-borne diseases are on the rise. Second, the water situation is in itself worsening, leaving thousands of urban dwellers to keep vigil at creaking boreholes and collapsing wells all night long, just as they used to in the medieval era. And no-one seems to be doing anything about it.

Add to that the increasing darkness across the country. There is less and less power to light our desolate homes, with no solution in sight.

I was shocked recently to hear a Ministry of Energy official admit that Zimbabwe is currently accessing only about 2.5 percent of the power we need on a daily basis! Now, if there is darkness that is heavier than that, I would like to see it. Again, there is no evidence that someone is doing anything about it.

Zimbabwe is currently suffering its worst hunger since 2009 when the coalition government was formed and things started looking up. We all remember the hunger of the period before that, and how people ate cowhides and all sorts of roots. While even the government has acknowledged the severe hunger, it has not come up with any strategies or actions to alleviate the problem. All we have heard from the new government is a deafening silence.

All these are signals that do not augur well. They are sharp reminders of what we have been through before and it is my hope that what we are seeing now does not presage a slide back into the dark future. They are strong warnings of what might be lying ahead for us – is anybody listening? – For feedback, please write to [email protected]

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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