Huge street gatherings in major cities have since spread to the rural areas, the strongholds of the ruling ZANU-PF, whose residents have since independence in 1980 remained loyal to the party in recognition of its leading role in the nationalist struggle against white minority rule. Utilising social media to great effect, thereby evading the government’s repressive machinery, Zimbabwean youths have been challenging the 92-year-old leader and his circle of nationalist veterans, the military and party stalwarts. Police have turned out in force and physically prevented gatherings in many rural towns. Photographs have since emerged of tortured protesters, including women, after simultaneous demonstrations organised by the National Electoral Reform Agenda, a coalition of opposition parties, were broken up by police in several cities.
Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed. Once an economic athlete, powered by mining, agriculture, services and tourism, disaster set in, beginning in 2000, when, faced with his first electoral defeat in a referendum, he sought popularity by a controversial land reform policy, whereby 4,000 white farmers were forcibly dispossessed of their farms and handed over to “Africans”. These were the war veterans and ZANU-PF members, who promptly mismanaged and ruined the farms. The International Monetary Fund said Zimbabwe quickly moved from food exporter to being food-dependent.
As whites and skilled workers emigrated to escape ZANU-PF repression and violence, the economy tanked and, in response, Mugabe simply raised salaries of soldiers, policemen and civil servants and printed money at a furious pace, causing the landlocked Southern African country of 14 million people to break the world record in hyperinflation. This reached 231 million per cent by 2008 as government spending reached 97.8 per cent of GDP compared to 20.3 per cent in South Africa and less than 17 per cent in Nigeria.
A 2014 report said it would take Zimbabwe, at current form, 190 years to double its $600 GDP per capita. Today, the Zimbabwean dollar has been discarded in favour of the United States dollar and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has also accepted the South African rand, Botswana pula, pound sterling, euro, Chinese Yuan, Australian $, Indian rupee and Japanese yen as legal tender.
Recently, the ageing autocrat suffered another blow when some war veterans, his strongest support base, asked him to step down, joined by some youthful ZANU-PF members who are seeking a breath of fresh air for their country.