The end game is being played out for the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.
The country is bankrupt; Government workers have not been paid; the main hospital in Harare has cancelled elective surgery in an effort to husband its dwindling stock of drugs; unemployment is more than 80 per cent and rising.
In recent days desperate protestors have taken to the streets in a rare show of defiance towards the country’s 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe. They were quickly dispersed by supporters of Mugabe’s Zanu PF Party, some say with the use of live ammunition.
Last week Minister of Finance, Patrick Chinamasa made one last attempt to pull the country back from the brink.
Presenting his mid-year Budget review to Parliament, Chinamasa said that in the first six months of the year 97 per cent of the nation’s revenue went to pay the wages of the bloated Public Service. He announced plans to slash 25,000 public sector jobs and cancel the end of year ‘13th cheque’ bonus of a month’s pay which has been a tradition since colonial times.
Yet almost before the country had time to absorb this information, the edict came out from the presidential mansion overturning everything the Minister had said. There would be no job cuts and the bonus would be paid as usual.
Chinamasa, an experienced senior lawyer who has sought to re-engage with Western diplomats and international funds, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, might have expected this — a similar move a year ago was also overturned by Mugabe.
As a result payments to Government workers throughout the first half of 2016 have often been weeks late, although the president has been keen to ensure the army and police were always at the front of the line in order to keep them onside.
Mugabe can also reply on the support of roughly 70,000 Zanu PF party members which he keeps on the public payroll. Officially public servants, they do little or no work, but can be relied on to get out on the streets to break up any sign of popular discontent with the regime.
Former Minister of Finance Tendai Biti tried to reduce the number of these ‘ghost workers’ as they are known in Zimbabwe, but ran into the same presidential opposition as his successor.
Given Mugabe’s age, discussion about the succession is rife. There is growing support for 70-year-old Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is believed to have the best chance of re-engaging with the international community and securing the investment the country so desperately needs.
However Mugabe, who seems bent on retaining control of the country from beyond the grave, favours his wife Grace (51), known for her lavish lifestyle but with little administrative experience.
A key figure in the struggle against colonialism, Mugabe became Prime Minister after independence in 1980 and president in 1987; as such he is the only leader most Zimbabweans have ever known.
He took over a nation ravaged by sanctions and civil war, but with the potential to become one of the most prosperous in Africa. Instead, decades of his mismanagement have driven the country and its people into the ground.
Under different circumstances his name could have ranked alongside Nelson Mandela as one of the heroes of African liberation. Instead he will be seen as a throwback to the feudal concept of the absolute ruler regarding the nation and its people as his personal property.
That will be the sad legacy of Robert Gabriel Mugabe — and that is the tragedy of the ruined Zimbabwe he will leave behind.