HARARE, (The Source) – The morning after President Robert Mugabe sacked his deputy, pensioners are still outside a branch of NBS on Samora Machel Avenue.
While we all gorged on a stream of news in a day of high political drama, engaged in fire online debates, celebrated the downfall of one faction and the victory of another, some elderly men and women spent the night on the pavement to be first in line for a measly pension.
The losing ZANU-PF faction is throwing tantrums, and the winners and their backers, from journalists to businessmen, are gloating.
Yet, the reality remains; the economy is in crisis and Mugabe, and his victorious faction, still don’t know what to do about it.
On the same day many marvelled at yet another show of Mugabe’s brutally efficient political skills, elsewhere, his lack of basic economic skills were quietly on display.
Away from the media glare, the Government, saying “it is our duty to protect the nation”, reintroduced price controls. A raft of basic goods were put on a control list.
On the list are 16 commodities, from laundry soap, meat to cement. A special committee has been set up, and given a name that sounds like a lost echo from a long-gone communist era; the Taskforce on Price Stabilisation and Supply of Essential Commodities.
The last time a price controls were introduced, it did not end well. Agents from the National Pricing and Incomes Commission raided businesses, shutting down businesses, big and small, that refused to sell stock at a loss, arresting over 5000 businesspeople, including the head of OK, the country’s largest supermarket chain.
Because businesses were being forced to sell at less than cost, it made no sense to stay in business. As a result, supermarket shelves went empty, providing lasting images of crisis still imprinted in the minds of Zimbabweans to this day.
On the streets on Tuesday morning, the US dollar was still trading at a premium of up to 40 percent on the bond note, and as high as 70 percent on electronic transfers. According to a recent survey by Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, the price of a basket of selected basics has risen over 100 percent in less than a month.
At a hardware store in Msasa, Harare, last Friday, a staffer whispered to a client asking for a quotation for a range of building materials: “We are no longer allowed to do this (print out quotations).” This is because the prices keep changing. At the store, price tags are no longer printed below each product as before; just one list at the end of the shelf, because it is easier for the shop to change and reprint.
Cash shortages are deepening, with Zimbabweans finding themselves more and more isolated from the outside world as one bank after another cuts off international card transactions. Bank queues remain, the starkest representation of which are the pensioners who must sleep outside banks for their monthly $80 pay out.
Mugabe and his acolytes are toasting to yet another well-fought victory in his many battles to retain power. The battle was never about which faction had the best ideology or the best plan for the economy. It was, as ever, about keeping power; power not to be used to for good, but power just for power’s sake.
When the next succession battle comes – yes, there will be another one – the pensioners outside banks will once again be left out in the cold, literally. They, like the economy, do not have faction that fights for them.
The Mnangagwa faction was accused of sabotaging the economy. Now that the faction has been fixed, will the economy also be fixed?