Zimbabwe

Zimbabweans resigned to yet another year of misery and suffering

Although Marko Chiunye, a 43-year old accountant in Harare would have loved to dream big as 2006 approaches, the situation on the ground makes it clear that making any resolutions for next year would be a practice in futility.

For Chiunye, the New Year promises more of the same drudgery and hopelessness that characterised 2005.

Despite his "high earner" tag as an accountant, Chiunye has over the last 12 months struggled like any other Zimbabwean to put food on the table for his small family of four.

Now with the new year on the horizon, he says his main concern right now is where to find school fees for his four children who are enrolled at a private school in Harare, the only schools still providing some semblance of normality in the education sector.

Chiunye's sad situation is clear proof of how Zimbabwe's spectacular economic decline has flattened the ambitions of the country's well-to-do.

"The company has withdrawn perks such as school fees because of the poor business climate. Not long ago, my New Year's resolutions included buying a new car for my wife. This year I couldn't even take the family for a holiday or buy new clothes for that matter.

He adds: "If people with decent jobs like myself find ourselves in such a trap, I just wonder how the poor in our society are managing. I just shudder to think of next year."

Having spent Christmas, a revered holiday here, without running water, electricity and food, millions of suffering Zimbabweans say they have no reason to look forward to 2006 as a year when things might change for the better.

"I haven't seen or heard anything that suggests next year will be better. After all, (President Robert) Mugabe will still be firmly in charge. Things will only get worse.

"We no longer plan for big things because the money is simply not enough," says Andrew Mtewere, who makes a living selling mobile telephone recharge cards on the streets in the eastern border city of Mutare.

Zimbabwe, one of the strongest economies in Africa at independence from Britain 25 years ago, is in its fifth year of a bitter economic recession blamed on Mugabe's mismanagement. Inflation is at over 500 percent, one of the highest such rates in the world.

Food, fuel and basic medicines are all in critical short supply because there is no hard cash to pay foreign suppliers. The World Bank says Zimbabwe's economic decline over the past five years is unprecedented for a country not at war.

But Mugabe denies ruining the country's economy blaming the crisis on sabotage by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and Western governments whom he says are punishing his government for seizing land from the minority whites for redistribution to landless blacks five years ago.

John Robertson, a respected economic consultant in Harare, says the standard of living for most Zimbabweans is set to fall again as the economy hobbles towards total collapse.

"The new year does not bring much hope for changed fortunes. We are likely to hit four digit inflation early in the year. The way the economy is being run means more companies will close down or relocate to better managed countries thereby dealing another blow to the economy.

"The government did not actively promote agriculture hence food problems will worsen. Repressive laws that are being drafted every day will continue to scare away investors.

"The biggest threat to our revival is the government's refusal to repent and govern properly. A shrinking economy and more hardships are what would be in store for Zimbabweans for 2006," said Robertson.

But for Anita Dombo, a dressmaker in Harare, the solution to the country's problems lies in one bold move - kicking out those responsible for "our misery."

"It is no longer about making empty New Year's resolutions. Zimbabweans should just make one big resolution - to kick out those whom we trusted with power and instead abused it to mismanage our affairs. There should be no other resolution till we fulfil the one to rid ourselves of those responsible for our suffering," she said.