HARARE - Zimbabweans take to the polls this morning saddled with chilling reminders of life under a hyper-inflationary economy but carrying hopes that the new government they will elect will speedily fix their lives and bring back food on the table through increased investment inflows, good policies and cordial relations with other countries.
The once prosperous southern African country has stagnated into a net importer of basic foodstuffs and processed commodities as its industries recline on the back of operational constraints. A bigger portion of its populace has been driven out of the country in search of greener pastures and remittances from expat Zimbabweans have played a key part in sustaining livelihoods, say analysts.
Today's election - in which current President Emerson Mnangagwa will contest against main rival Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance and 21 other presidential hopefuls - is landmark for a country that until last November had known only one ruler since independence in 1980. Yet it is the economy that will be under greater focus as Zimbabweans, weighed down by economic difficulties for a long time, cast their ballots.
"After the election we expect things to improve and prices to stabilise from this current wave of increases as people get over the apprehension over elections," Denford Mutashu, president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers said from Harare.
Zimbabwean retailers, among them Pick n Pay and OK Zimbabwe as the big players, source most of their stock from South Africa while Johannesburg based firms also have local units. South Africa is expected to continue playing a strong tole in Zimbabwe's economy post the elections, economists told Business Report.
"South Africa is our biggest trade partner and as such we expect increased cooperations and invesment flows from South African investors. We both have local content policies but as we go beyond the elections, whatever policies we adopt should be in line with agreements and Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion agreements that are in existence," Vandudzai Zirebwa, an economist with the Buy Zimbabwe pressure group said in an interview on Friday.
New South African investors in Zimbabwe include Karo which is developing a large platinum mine in the country which will be complemented by a refinery facility. Other existing SA firms such as Anglo Platinum are investing more into constructing a pgm smelter facility.
There are other investors through the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange who want Zimbabwe to quickly get over today's election so that they can refocus their investments. The stock exchange has been rising as people switch investment strategies from monetary assets that are considered risky to the stock exchange which is seen as a long term store of value until after the elections.
As Zimbabweans vote today, the aftermath of the election will need to be embraced with an open mindset by whoever would have emerged victorious, experts emphasize. There have been disagreements over the electoral framework but opposition parties have decided to go to the polls nonetheless.
"What is critical is to address the fundamentals of the economy - first issue is forex shortages, identify factors that are quick wins and for me this includes addressing viability in agriculture and mining sector. There is room for improvement only if the new administration is open minded enough," Zirebwa added.
With Mnangagwa promising to open up the economy for further investments and Chamisa stacking up a list of quick fixes for the economy through restoration of credibility and confidence in how the economy is managed, Zimbabweans will place their votes knowing that their fortunes for the next five years will depend on their decisions today.
- BUSINESS REPORT