Little to celebrate after a year

A year after a political pact was forged in the hope of answering Zimbabwe's myriad social and economic problems, the country remains trapped in the same quagmire, with few signs of progress.

On 11 February 2009, with nearly 7 million people dependent on food aid and a cholera epidemic that had killed more than 4,000 and infected nearly 100,000 others sweeping across the country, bitter political rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai agreed to form a Government of National Unity (GNU). They have since agreed on little else.

The deal, facilitated by former South African President Thabo Mbeki and guaranteed by the Southern African Development Community, was touted as a new beginning for the once prosperous nation, but in reality simply moved the animosity from the street to the cabinet. Constant bickering has become the order of the day, and poverty and food insecurity are the nation's constant companions.

Mugabe, who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980 and is leader of the ZANU-PF party, retained the presidency; Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was appointed Prime Minister; Arthur Mutambara, leader of an MDC break-away party, became Deputy Prime Minister.

Tsvangirai claims Mugabe is failing to abide by the Global Political Agreement (GPA) - signed in September 2008 - which constitutes the basis of the unity government.

Mugabe has unilaterally appointed ZANU-PF stalwarts as attorney-general and governor of the Reserve Bank, but has refused to appoint five MDC provincial governors.

He has also refused to swear in MDC treasurer Roy Bennett as deputy agriculture minister. Bennett has been in a long-running legal battle, in which a variety of charges have been levelled - and then dropped - including sedition and a conspiracy to assassinate Mugabe.

In turn Mugabe claims that Tsvangirai has failed to persuade the US and European Union (EU) to lift targeted sanctions against him and more than 200 other ZANU-PF members.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa said after a recent meeting of the party's Politburo that there would be no concessions from ZANU-PF until "Tsvangirai and his Western allies remove their sanctions so that children can go to school, the sick can be attended to in hospitals, people can find jobs and farmers produce."

''There should be a land audit to bring sanity and order to the farming industry, but there are continued invasions and disruptions on farms''

Tsvangirai has routinely said that the decision to lift US and EU sanctions, which include travel restrictions and the freezing of bank accounts under their jurisdiction, rested with those that had imposed them.

However, a recent statement by Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, that the removal of sanctions would be determined on the advice of the MDC, is seen as undermining Tsvangirai's stance.

The MDC won a parliamentary majority in the 2008 elections but Mugabe won a run-off presidential poll unopposed when Tsvangirai withdrew in protest over the political violence; the run-off was declared unfree and unfair. ZANU-PF has been accused of ongoing violence and intimidation.

In 2000 Mugabe launched the fast-track land reform programme, in which white-owned farms were seized and redistributed to landless blacks. The chaotic programme led to the collapse of the agricultural sector and contributed to the dire food shortages in Zimbabwe during most of the past decade.

Farm disruptions

"Two of the key provisions under the GPA are that there should be a land audit to bring sanity and order to the farming industry, but there are continued invasions and disruptions on farms," said Morgan Komichi, the MDC's deputy organising secretary.

There have been persistent allegations that farms were being given to senior ZANU-PF members and high ranking officials in the security services. "Those with multiple farms are probably behind the chaos, as they have violated the principle of 'one person, one farm'," said Komichi.

"Another key provision is the constitution-making process, which has again been stalled. ZANU-PF fears that a new constitution would make them lose power. We believe a new people-driven constitution is part of a democratisation agenda."

The unity government ended hyperinflation, which was being measured in the quintillions of percent, by abolishing the Zimbabwe dollar and allowing the US dollar, South African rand and Botswana pula to be used as currency.

After a year, "Other than the cosmetic changes that you see, whereby people are generally free to meet in some areas, and a slight improvement in terms of the availability of goods ... we have no currency of our own," said Wellington Chibhebhe, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the country's largest labour federation.

"What that means is that only a few can afford those goods, which is why the entire public workforce has gone on strike. There are people out there who have never handled a US$20 bill. Our industries have not been revived, so we are essentially a supermarket economy where goods are brought in from South Africa," he told IRIN.

''The two main political parties have benefited immensely from the marriage of convenience''

"The two main political parties have benefited immensely from the marriage of convenience. The GNU helped to resuscitate ZANU-PF, which was on the verge of extinction, while the MDC has benefited from the visibility that comes with being in the inclusive government, which they were denied in the past," Chibhebhe commented.

In a bid to kick-start the ailing economy and salvage public services, the unity government lured civil servants back to work with an across-the-board hard currency salary of US$100, which has increased incrementally over the year.

In February 2010 public servants began an indefinite national strike, demanding a monthly salary of $502. They have been offered an extra $17 on their current $160 monthly salary.

Beasts of burden

"Why do we, as teachers and other civil servants, have to sacrifice all the time? We are told that we have to be patient because the economy is not performing well," said Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.

"We are tired of this, because we also have bills and rentals and transport costs. We are therefore not going back to work until there is seriousness on the part of the government in terms of giving workers realistic salaries," he told IRIN.

Pedzisayi Ruhanya, programme manager of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a non-governmental organisation advocating human rights and democratisation, told IRIN: "Certainly, there are measures of success in that before the GNU, schools had closed while hospitals had also closed, but they were revived following the GNU."

He told IRIN: "As a transitional government we should have been moving towards a new democratic culture with new institutions, but that has not happened. The constitution-making process has been stalled at each and every opportunity, media reforms have not been undertaken ... [and] the security forces continue to operate from ZANU-PF's armpit as a partisan force."