“We can’t afford to buy groceries,” said Jonathan Tiripano, a 46-year-old window-frame manufacturer who said he had gone without breakfast. His family had stopped buying meat, bread and milk and was surviving mostly on vegetables and ground maize, he added. “We can’t cope.”
People are suffering, Mr. Mnangagwa acknowledged, but he said he expected that with time, the situation would ease.
“The economy is going to be fixed through a process,” he said. “These things cannot be done overnight.”
Mr. Mnangagwa acknowledged that sanctions were only one cause of Zimbabwe’s escalating economic crisis. It has been exacerbated by decades of corruption, mismanagement and a recent austerity program enforced by Mr. Mnangagwa’s finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, a former economist at the University of Cambridge.
The austerity program has created Zimbabwe’s first budget surplus in years, which would allow the government to pay off some of its debts, which might in turn unlock more international loans. An electricity deal was being signed with a South African energy supplier, and he was negotiating with China to finance the renovation of the Zimbabwean water system.
“I have said always we should not bury our heads in sand and say, Ah, because America has put sanctions on us, the E.U. has put sanctions on us, so we’re going to cry. No. We are saying: With the resources that we have, let us apply ourselves using our resources and resuscitate our economy. And this is what we’re doing.”
But outside his office, in the serpentine lines that define today’s Harare, few believed him.
“Mugabe was better than this guy,” said Patrick Muza, a 33-year-old minibus driver who had been standing in line for two hours for fuel, and still had at least an hour to go. The most recent price hike had raised the cost of gas by another 15 percent, making his business increasingly unprofitable.
“During the coup, we were happy,” Mr. Muza said. “But we didn’t realize what was to come.”
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