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Donald Henderson
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Dark days ahead in the north

06 February 2014, 16:00

While the economic woes of South Africa continue to frustrate, the troubles to the north have reached a critical stage in its most recent continuing economic downward spiral.

Since Mugabe's ZANU(PF) party stepped into full control in the general elections of last year they have reintroduced all their party faithfuls into top positions. These same fairweather politicians were responsible for overseeing the economy's demise when inflation reached an unbelievable 231 000 000 percent and the Zimbabwe dollar was scrapped in favour of a basket of currencies - the US dollar, the SA rand and Botswana's pula - which worked for a while.

Now, however, the country is in deep economic trouble again. Industry has all but collapsed and the commercial sector is suffering which means that exports are down. This all adversely affects the government's tax income. And with a huge civil service and no money coming in the Zimbabwe Government cannot pay its massive wage bill. Add to that rampant corruption and the picture darkens.

In a desperate move recently the government added three more currencies to its legal tender basket – the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen and the Indian rupee. None of this, however, will make one iota of difference as it doesn't address the core of the problem. Government is already borrowing in a frantic effort to make ends meet but that debt will have to be repaid. And as the country cannot produce the currencies of their legal tender basket fears are that the Zimbabwe dollar may have to be reintroduced. That is not a pleasant thought for anyone concerned but it seems at this stage to be inevitable. The opportunity to print money will be too great to resist for this government in dire straits.

There are many causes for this economic stalemate, but high on the list is the fact that the country is not being ruled. Mugabe, by all recent accounts, has serious health problems. The government ministers are vying for positions for the eventuality of life without Mugabe. And senior servants are ripping everyone off by claiming astronomical salaries.

For years Mugabe has sidelined professionals in the civil service and employed cronies or relatives. Now all the parastatals are on their knees. This, however, has not stopped individuals from benefitting: Cuthbert Dube, head of the Public Service Medical Aid Society, has a US320 000 basic monthly salary – R3 520 000 - is entitled to US$ 500 000 long service award every five years, $50 000 travel allowance per trip and another $20 000 for his partner, unlimited fuel and free medical aid.  

Harare City officials jumped on the bandwagon when a contract to refurbish water and sewage plants was awarded to a Chinese company. The money was loaned by the Chinese Government and the council officials have inflated equipment prices and benefitted to the tune of $100million. This from a council whose town clerk and 18 managers were earning $500 000 a month.

The Zimbabwe Government is in deep economic trouble and, despite the praises by other African leaders in the African Union, Mugabe is the heart of the problem. His illness has weakened whatever control he had over the blatant opportunist thieves he has placed in government departments and parastatals.

The huge debts run up are now crippling the economy and, without a revitalised industry sector and export benefits, there is little hope of a turn around in fortunes.

The former chancellor, Tendai Biti, commenting recently on the state of the country's finances, said that “there is no government as it is clueless, impotent, sterile and indifferent”. This appears to be close to the truth and with little hope of investors coming to the rescue the immediate future looks bleak.

It looks like a case of “watch this space”.

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