Harare, Zimbabwe – For days now, Lolo Zuma, a 37-year-old mother of three, has pondered and agonised over how she will provide for her three school-going children.
“If Zimbabwe African National National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) wins, I will become a sex worker to earn a living for my three children,” Zuma told Al Jazeera as vote tabulation in the general elections was under way on Thursday. As if to underscore her commitment to her new profession, she opened a box containing hundreds of condoms she had picked up at a local clinic earlier in the day.
Late on Saturday, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) declared 80-year-old Zanu PF incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa the winner with 52 percent of the vote. Opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, 45, who heads the Citizens Coalition for Change, got 44 percent, according to an announcement from the commission.
Zimbabwe went to the polls on Wednesday but after the ZEC failed to provide ballots to voters in the capital Harare and in Bulawayo, Mnangagwa had to extend voting by an additional day.
Zuma says two of her three children are sitting for crucial O-level exams in November and she has been forced to make the decision to go into sex work because she can no longer rely on the income from her laundry and house chores in the poor neighbourhood of Kuwadzana, west of Harare.
“People don’t have money anymore and they would rather wash or do the chores themselves than pay,” she said.
Zuma said she voted fearing Zimbabwe’s ruling party, Zanu PF, could win again.
Chamisa insists he won the previous poll in 2018 but that it was rigged by Mnangagwa with the help of ZEC, a charge Zanu PF denies, maintaining it is popular with the electorate. After Saturday’s announcement from the ZEC, an opposition spokesperson said on X, previously known as Twitter, that it rejected the results.
A Zanu PF win is a reality many Zimbabweans are not ready to face. “If Zanu PF wins, it means suffering is continuing,” Taurai Gwatidzo, a Harare-based shoe cobbler told Al Jazeera.
Zimbabwe’s economy has tanked after years of economic mismanagement by Zanu PF, which has been in power since the end of white minority rule in 1980.
The economic crisis has led to 90 percent of Zimbabweans relying on informal work as the currency slumps and prices surge. Once a breadbasket of southern Africa and home to one of the continent’s advanced manufacturing industries, the nation is a pale shadow of its former self.
“I think if Zanu PF wins, the party will be under a lot of pressure to make significant economic improvements. He [Mnangagwa] will be under a lot of pressure to leave a legacy for himself given this will be his last term and this could be a good thing for the economy. As such, his second term could be better than his first,” Prosper Chitambara, an independent development economist, told Al Jazeera. “That is the best-case scenario.”
The worst-case scenario, he says, is a continuation of the economic policies of the past five years of Mnangagwa’s administration.
Under his management, the currency has depreciated against the United States dollar owing to the unbridled printing of money. Prices of goods are so high, everyday people cannot afford them and the majority of Zimbabweans have been forced to take on some sort of menial work to survive.
The US dollar is trading at $1 to 7,000 Zimbabwe dollars. Inflation is close to 200 percent.
“They were challenges in the economic reforms in the first five years. I am thinking they have learned from their mistakes. I think the ordinary person is looking for change in terms of the economy,” Chitambara said.
With Mnangagwa’s victory now confirmed, many fear that after decades of mismanagement, the prospects for the country’s economy have become bleaker.
‘I live hand to mouth’
Mnangagwa first became president in 2017, taking over from Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first post-independence leader who was removed in a coup following mass street protests against his rule. Before the two fell out, Mnangagwa had worked closely with Mugabe and held top government jobs including vice president and minister of state security.
“It is the hope of every Zimbabwean to see the perennial problems we have been having such as loss of savings, loss of buying power, loss of livelihood and extreme cases of poverty end,” Victor Bhoroma, an independent Harare economist told Al Jazeera.
But even if Chamisa had secured victory, he would have had his work cut out to revive Zimbabwe’s long-struggling economy.
“There is lot of work to be done for whoever takes over. The country has a huge debt burden and needs to normalise relations with international financiers, infrastructure is in shambles and the economy is by and large an informal one that failed to accommodate the university graduates,” Chitambara said.
The country owes $12bn to foreign lenders and a further $6bn locally. Economists say there is a need for macro-economic reforms, non-productive spending reduction, and monetary policy reforms to ensure there is discipline and a reining in of money supply growth.
Chitambara said a new administration would also need to take what he described as “institutional reforms” of state-run companies and ensure the business environment is not “onerous’.
“Our fuel is second most expensive in Africa. We need to reform our tax regime to become competitive. There is a lot of work to be done to make Zimbabwe competitive,” he added.
Independent economist Tatenda Mabhande holds out hope for the economy under Mnangagwa but warned electoral irregularities could negatively affect the “credibility of the outcome of the 2023 elections and dent confidence in the economy”.
He said the dual currency system was likely to continue for the time being and the central bank would try to stabilise the exchange rate.
“Strengthening the local currency is going to remain at the centre stage of the RBZ’s [Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s] mandate,” Mabhande told Al Jazeera. Zimbabwe uses both the Zimbabwe dollar and the US dollar for transactions after adopting the US dollar in 2009 to end hyperinflation.
On the fiscal front, balancing budgets should remain the central focus of the Zanu PF-led government, Mabhande said.
He anticipates spending pressure in agriculture, mining and infrastructure development, given the role these sectors have played in driving economic growth.
“Government spending will benefit businesses in these sectors’ value chains and create employment. An increase in the employment rate will positively impact aggregate demand in the general economy, stimulating much-needed economic growth through the multiplier effect,” Mabhande said.
Many everyday Zimbabweans, long victims of Zanu PF’s ruinous economic policies, see only more struggle ahead.
“The only time I enjoyed life in Zimbabwe was during the days of unity government in 2009 and 2013 when we used US dollars,” Gwatidzo, the shoe cobbler, told Al Jazeera. “Now, I can’t save because of inflation and I live hand to mouth.”