“It’s another year. Just another year.” That was the reaction of academic, publisher and raconteur Ibbo Mandaza answering a question about how he felt about Zimbabwe’s 33rd anniversary of independence on Thursday.
“People are despondent, and there is no engagement with upcoming elections except in the newspapers. People don’t even know when elections are going to take place.”
He should know, as at the side of his attractive NGO in Harare is a restaurant where many of the main political talkers, across the political divide, gather at lunch. Mandaza and everyone else, including Zanu PF seniors know that the pattern of Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations hardly changes. President Robert Mugabe will make a long speech in English and Shona. He will be frail but his voice will resonate when he recalls the liberation struggle.
Since the inclusive government was established early in 2009 he has eased up blasting usual enemies, the West, and of course, Morgan Tsvangirai, his rival from the Movement of Democratic Change who these days is usually sitting in the stadium quite close to him.
Then, the main event begins, a soccer match which is why many ordinary folk turn up to independence day celebrations. The second day of the holiday is armed forces day where there are parades and where the man of few words and even fewer smiles, defence minster Emmerson Mnangagwa will make a speech.
He is so desperate to inherit the Zanu PF presidency from Mugabe, who for some reason does not trust him, and seems to prefer vice president Joice Mujuru.
Mnangagwa, blamed for organising or being involved in the worst political violence since independence, is a rich man and has been into alternative gold markets for years. However unapproachable he may be, however feared, some MDC seniors say that despite this he gets things done and keeps his word.
There will be little security sector reform before the elections, but the entire Zanu PF hierarchy is old, like Mnangagwa whose influence and that of the generals has waned. The powerful, right-wing generals who many believed ran the country behind the scenes, and who many fear will control elections, are no longer nearly as powerful as they were five years ago, not least because they are now very much richer than they were.
But for the first time since independence Zimbabwe cannot afford to fund elections which must take place before the end of September.
The maize harvest is only a third of what Zimbabwe needs so huge imports of grain from Zambia are on their way. But many thousand new tobacco farmers on formerly white-owned land are making cash as Chinese buyers boost the price of Virginia leaf, sometimes hitting R40 per kilogram. This year’s production will be about two thirds of productions prior to land invasions.
Despite the despondency on the streets Zimbabwe has begun to change even though Zanu PF’s opponents, human rights organisations, MDC activists and protesters are still regularly arrested and usually released before being charged.
There is more media now than ever before, and there is less political violence now than at any time since the Movement for Democratic Change burst on to the scene in 1999, while some of those who fled in the last decade have begun to return.
That, human rights defenders say, does not mean that there won’t be violence in elections this year. Zanu PF is used to winning. It cannot conceive of not being in power, but the inclusive government gave them a taste of reduced power.
Main roads linking all main border posts are being rehabilitated and Zimbabweans are paying for this via income from tolls which feeds the loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa.
Mining has surged ahead particularly new, controversial investments into alluvial diamonds in the eastern Zimbabwe and some recovery in the gold sector. There is Indian interest in large deposits of low grade iron ore and expansion and capital investment in platinum production is actually increasing despite talk of indigenisation.
Zimbabweans have not found money to buy the 51 percent shares offered by all large foreign companies to the government.
A few community trusts have been set up at some of the larger foreign-owned mining companies and there are credible reports emerging that some of these trusts are being looted by the network of people feasting on the beaurocracies set up to process indigenisation.
Mugabe is likely to tell people on independence day that no Zimbabwean will have to pay for the 51 percent of shares in mining companies because the underground assets of those mines belongs to the country and therefore sets off the share value.
But what Mugabe says is not law, and despite a largely pliant and underqualified judiciary, the rulings emerging from the courts in the last few years are more often rooted in the law. Diaspora, diamonds and divinity dominate recovery in the property market in Harare, according to one of the busier and most established estate agencies.
In the rest of the country few properties are being sold and there are spectacular bargains around for brave investors.
Everything including the birth rate is shrinking and statistics point to urban drift for the first time since independence, according to preliminary figures of last year’s census which recorded a 1.1 percent population increase to 12.9 million.
Will Mugabe be in power at independence celebrations in 2014? Maybe. He will be 90 then.
He has long-lived genes from his late mother, and although he will struggle to beat Tsvangirai in the presidential poll next year, he wants to die in office.