1 year after Mugabe's ouster, Zimbabweans await change

By Hassan Isilow and John Cassim

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa / HARARE, Zimbabwe (AA) – It has been a year since longtime Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was forced to end his 37-year rule, following pressure from the military, protesters, and looming impeachment in parliament.

On Nov. 14, 2017 tanks rolled on the streets of the capital Harare as thousands protested, calling for Mugabe's ouster, after he removed then-Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

There was speculation that 93-year-old Mugabe had wanted his 51-year-old wife Grace to succeed him, an idea opposed by the army.

Mugabe was placed under house arrest, forcing him to step down on Nov. 21.

The news was greeted by wild celebrations across the country, with even lawmakers chanting and rejoicing in parliament.

But 12 months later, some Zimbabweans are disappointed, saying little has changed in their country.

“Sometimes we are faced with shortages of basic goods like bread, cooking oil, chicken and even petrol,” Happiness Anopa, a 45-year-old truck driver based in Harare, told Anadolu Agency.

He said some shops even limit how much a shopper can buy to give others a chance to also purchase similar goods.

Mnangagwa, a longtime ally of Mugabe who succeeded his former boss, promised Zimbabweans a new dawn of leadership, saying he would turn around the collapsed economy and engage the U.S. and Britain to lift sanctions imposed on the country during the Mugabe era.

Despite these assurances, challenges similar to those experienced during Mugabe’s regime still persist.

The sanctions have not yet been lifted. Long queues are a common sight at fuel stations, supermarkets, and even banks.

Most banks now restrict customers to withdrawing only $300 per week — that is, if the currency is available.

“There are no drugs in hospitals. We are often told to buy them in pharmacies, which insist on payment in U.S. dollars,” Pretty Akona, a resident of Harare, told Anadolu Agency.

Most traders in Zimbabwe are refusing to accept bond notes introduced by the reserve bank. The surrogate currency is pegged to the same value as the U.S. dollar, which currency traders refuse to acknowledge.

– Gradual improvement

Shadrack Gutto, professor emeritus at the University of South Africa and a former university law lecturer in Zimbabwe, told Anadolu Agency he is hopeful Zimbabwe’s economy will gradually improve.

“An economy doesn't improve within a year. It’s a gradual process, and good policies will help Zimbabwe to get investors to grow its economy,” he said in an interview.

Gutto said some policies had changed in Zimbabwe, while others remained the same. “In terms of governance there has been progress such as freedom of expression and laws protecting investors.”

During Mugabe’s reign, the media was often suppressed and performers risked harsh penalties if they made a joke about the president.

Gutto says Mnagagwa’s pledge to compensate white farmers whose land was expropriated during Mugabe’s reign gives assurance to would-be investors that the new government is determined to protect their investments.

This August Mnagagwa won the election to become president with 50.8 percent of the vote, beating opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s 44.3 percent.

The opposition rejected the outcome, claiming the vote had been rigged, and dragged Mnagagwa to court, which later ruled in his favor.

Gutto says Mnagagwa needs to reform the police and military, which were often used by Mugabe to suppress opposition supporters.

In August, security personnel shot dead six protesters who were part of hundreds demonstrating against alleged vote rigging. A commission of inquiry is currently investigating those responsible for the deaths.