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Social Cultural and Economic Context of Zimbabwe Essay

The fall of the Ian Smith led Rhodesian government led to Zimbabwe gaining its independence in 1980. The ZANU PF government led by then Prime Minister Mugabe of the ZANU PF party embraced a policy of national reconciliation between races in order to encourage amity, nation-building and economic growth between the country’s white minority and black majority racial groups. This lead to a period of growth throughout the 1980s, the economy performed extremely well, which led the Central government expenditure to triple and increase its share from 32. % of GDP in 1979 to 44. 6% in 1989(Hazzlewood, 1967:284).

Having inherited a socially skewed system of allocation of resources from its predecessor, the ZANU PF government began to rectify this distribution of resources from the mainly white domiciled areas in the urban areas and commercial farms to rural parts of Zimbabwe focusing on provision of clean water (Transitional National Development Plan, pp. 61-62), and providing educational resources in areas where prior to independence there had been none (International Education Journal, 2005, 6(1), 65-74 Gibbs Y. Kanyongo).

However towards the end of the 80’s the growth experienced shortly after independence waned and by the early 90’s Zimbabwe fell into an economic crisis forcing it to implement IMF and World Bank proposed Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) which was designed to lure investors into the country and remove any limitations on growth on the country. This policy forced the government to create a free market place in which the government’s reach would be miniscule and market forces would rule the day (Dansereau, ‘Between a Rock and a Hard Place’, p. 3).

This policy eroded what little socio-economic gains that had been made in the first decade of the newly independent state (L. Sachikonye, ‘Whither Zimbabwe? Crisis and Democratisation) by introducing government spending on the socialist policies such as free education and projects with the intention of improving the infrastructure of the country to those habitant in the rural areas of the country who had been neglected by the former colonial government.

This was followed by the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) included among other things, removal of price and wage controls, reduction of government expenditure, a 40 per cent devaluation of Zimbabwean Dollar, removal of subsidies on basic consumer goods, a radical restructuring of various parastatals and other public enterprises (Sichone, 2003:1). SAPs also coincided with the years of drought (1992, 1993, 1995) which put a heavy burden on an economy that was mainly reliant on commercial agriculture through its export of teas, cotton and tobacco.

This already fragile economy was later shattered by the war veterans unbudgeted pay outs in 1997 which culminated in what is widely referred to as “Black Friday”14th of November 2007(L. Mambondiani :newzimbabwe. com). Already reeling the economy took another hit via the chaotic fast-track land reform that took place in 2000 which led to the United States freezing lines of credit by means of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001. This land reform led to vastly inexperienced persons receiving large tracts of farmland with virtually no experience which resulted in a substantial decrease in agricultural yields (Dancaescu, Nick. Note. Land reform in Zimbabwe. 15 Fla. J. Int’l L. 615 (2003).

This led to an enormous decline in agricultural production which in turn led to chronic food shortages which were borne by the people of Zimbabwe. This further compounded by underperforming state owned enterprises whose debt obligations were undertaken by the government. This led to rampant inflation which by 2008 had reached +11 000 000 per cent July leading to the rebasing of the currency by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe by removing 3 zeros and issuing new bearer checks which did nothing to alleviate the situation as the zeros quickly reappeared .

On top of all this Zimbabwe also had a spiralling external debt amounting to US$3 968 million. With the harmonized elections of 2008 which resulted in the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU) there was the complete abandonment of the Zimbabwean dollar and the adoption of the multi-currency (South African Rand, Tswana Pula and the US Dollar). This led to some growth which although was very small was a positive change as compared to what Zimbabwe had experienced in the last eight years.

Upon becoming the Prime Minister Of Zimbabwe in the Independent era from 1980 Mugabe preached a policy of reconciliation involving members of competing political parties in his early cabinet such as Joshua Nkomo leader of PF ZAPU and other whites who had previously worked under the colonial regime. However these policies were not to last long as from 1983 to 1984 there was a major suppression of Nkomo and his supporters based on what could be defined as ethnic basis. With government setting curfews in Matabeleland here Nkomo’s support base resided which was mainly the Ndebele tribe as opposed to the Shona tribe which Mugabe hailed from.

The sending in of the army, in particular the North Korean trained 5th brigade which attempted to supress the “dissidents” through a campaign of mass violence campaign, known as the Gukuruhundi, or (strong wind) which resulted in as many as 20,000 civilian deaths. This eventually led to Nkomo’s part agreeing to be swallowed by ZANU PF via the signing of the Unity Accord in 1987 thereby making Zimbabwe for all intents and purposes a one party state.

This status-quo remained for much of the 90’s with ZANU PF stifling any opposition to its power by amending the constitution following the lapsing of the 1980 Lancaster agreement, restoring corporal and capital punishment and denying recourse to the courts in cases of compulsory purchase of land by the government. Attempts by students trade unionists and workers to protest via demonstrations being curtailed via banning of anti-government protests by the police. This growing swell of antagonism by these various groups culminated in the creation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1999.

In 2000 besides the clear voter intimidation of opposition supporters the MDC managed to win 57 of the 120 seats in the parliamentary elections. These effect of these results then coloured the months leading up to the 2002 presidential election where intimidation and violence was rife towards opposition. The outcome of these elections were Mugabe wining by a large margin although international observers did call them to be rigged in the sense that the pre-election environment was neither free nor fair, and the election itself was marred by significant fraud and rigging regional opinion was however mixed.

The resulting legal challenge against these results by the MDC by 2004 still did not have a ruling which resulted in the the United States, the EU, and other European countries imposed travel restrictions against senior Zimbabwean officials and embargoed the sale of arms to Zimbabwe. The US and the EU also froze the financial assets of selected ruling party officials. In 2005 the MDC party then spilt into two separate parties with one retaining the MDC name under Welshman Ncube and the other being called MDC-T which was under its founding party leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The acrimonious split occurred over differing views over the party’s participation in the 2005 Senate elections. Tsvangirai’s camp didn’t want to contest these elections on the premise that the MDC had released a statement in 2004 stating that they would not participate in any elections till conditions prevailed for free and fair elections whilst the Ncube led faction was of the opposite opinion. In 2008 the harmonised elections first round the Tsvangirai led MDC was adjudged to have won won 47. % and Mugabe won 43. 2%, thereby necessitating a run-off. These figures however seen by many international observers to have been massaged as the results for the first round of elections took nearly five weeks to be released. The period leading up to the runoff between Mugabe and Tsvangirai saw an unprecedented wave of violence aimed towards supporters of MDC-T, resulting in the death of up to a 100 of Tsvangirai’s supporters leading him to pull out of the elections citing this violence.

This resulted in the Government of National Unity (GNU) which was mediated by the Southern African Community Development (SADC) where a power sharing coalition was negotiated between Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Ncube. The GNU was given a life span of five years in which the negotiated terms of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which govern it where meant to be put into legislature with the hope of putting in systems such as a new constitution that will reform Zimbabwe to the point of having free and fair elections.

Implementation of the GPA has however been fraught with disagreement with the pure lack of sincerity on ZANU PF’s part on stalling the reforms such as the repealing of repressive legislature like the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) which have been used to bar the MDC’s and civil society from holding rallies to simple internal meetings.


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