People run at a protest as barricades burn in Harare, Zimbabwe January 14 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO
People run at a protest as barricades burn in Harare, Zimbabwe January 14 2019. Picture: REUTERS/PHILIMON BULAWAYO

In 2008 Nelson Mandela said there was a “tragic failure of leadership” in Zimbabwe. His words have never been truer than they are today. There is evidence of failure everywhere you look.

In March 1997, Zimbabwe launched Vision 2020. Among the promises under Vision 2020 were housing, healthcare, education, and jobs for all by 2020. Today, not a single one of these promises has been met. Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is facing its worst crisis ever. Its schools are witnessing the highest dropout rates in its history. Unemployment is worsening, amid currency volatility and an unstable business environment.

According to the UN, 90% of Zimbabwean children are experiencing malnutrition and stunted growth. In a nation as rich and talented as Zimbabwe, this should not be the case. It is a tragic failure of leadership.

The 2018 election presented a chance for Zimbabwe to transition to a modern, democratic leadership. That opportunity was stolen from Zimbabweans through a deeply flawed election that foisted an illegitimate government on the country. Ahead of that election, the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) calls for deep electoral reforms were ignored.

In the euphoria after Robert Mugabe’s ouster, many in the world and region bought into Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruse. They were sold the lie that he would bring stability and change. It did not take long for the mask to fall off. The murder of six civilians on August 1 2018, and the deployment of the army in January 2019 when at least 17 people were killed and many more wounded, revealed the true face of the regime. Zimbabwe is once again isolated from the world, facing a massive, man-made hunger crisis.

When the country entered the government of national unity in 2009, inflation had reached 500-billion percent. By the time the GNU ended in 2013, inflation was just 1.63%

Today the country is broken and divided, led through fear, governed by force and ruled through violence. “New dispensation”, “Open for business” and “Second republic” slogans ring hollow even to those that were once deceived by them.

It is the superficial rhetoric of a clueless administration, muddling through on directionless experimentalism, hoping that somewhere along the way it will somehow stumble on solutions.

No change can ever come under Zanu-PF, simply because the party itself will never change. The reality is that the country did better when the MDC was in government and in charge of the finance ministry.

When the country entered the government of national unity (GNU) in 2009, inflation had reached 500-billion percent. By the time the GNU ended in 2013, inflation was just 1.63%. As soon as Zanu-PF was left to run the economy alone, inflation started rising. Annual inflation is now well over 500%, and rising.

In 2012, a teacher was earning $300. It was not much, but they could afford to send their children to school. Today, that same teacher is earning less than $100. They cannot afford the bus fare to class, and can no longer send their own children to school.

Before the GNU, the economy had shrunk by 16.5% in 2008. Under the GNU, the economy grew by 5.4% in 2009, 11.4% in 2010, 9.3% in 2011 and 10.6% in 2012. As soon as the GNU ended, the economy grew just 2.4% in 2014. In 2019, the economy fell 7.5%. These are the facts.

However, Zimbabwe is not beyond redemption. Under the MDC’s agenda 2020, its programme of action and peaceful resistance, it will work this year to deliver the legitimacy the country was denied, and the prosperity its people deserve.

The party’s activities have been severely curtailed over recent months, including bans on peaceful protests. But it will not betray the people’s vote, nor let their voices be silenced.

In 2020, it will focus its efforts on the people’s fight on five key issues: the fight for a people’s government and reforms; the fight for a better life; the fight against corruption; the fight for the rule of law; and the fight in defence of the constitution.

Sliding into chaos

It will, over the coming months, push ever more resolutely for genuine dialogue. This should lead to a national transitional authority under which the MDC would implement far-reaching reforms, leading to credible elections. Only then can the country move on.

Zimbabwe is again sliding into chaos. Around the country, machete-wielding gangs are overrunning the police in the country’s goldfields. The greedy political figures that birthed these gangs, for self-enrichment, have now lost control. The hunger crisis will drive even more young people to despair, and into desperate action.

A dangerous impatience now engulfs the nation. There is danger of the country being overtaken by forces and processes that are intolerant to the continued status quo. The endless police crackdowns on its people have radicalised many youths against any form of authority.

The Zimbabwean crisis is no longer domestic, but regional. Every country in the region already faces growing social demands from their own citizens. It is deeply grateful to its neighbours for accommodating Zimbabweans, but in truth, none of them deserve to take on the added burden of another country’s failure.

Hence the MDC’s call for its neighbours, SA included, to intervene and help it talk and resolve this deep crisis. The policy of appeasement has failed and can no longer continue. More than two years after the November 2017 coup, and more than 18 months after the stolen 2018 election, time is fast running out for Zimbabwe.

It is time to correct Zimbabwe’s tragic failure of leadership before it is too late.

• Chamisa, an advocate, is president of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change.