a year on OLD FEUDS still simmer

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe's grip on power was pried open one year ago tomorrow when he was forced into a unity government - but deep-seated mistrust and political bickering are hampering Zimbabwe's recovery.

When opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai became prime minister on February 11 last year, the once vibrant nation had plunged into a seemingly endless freefall.

Political violence had engulfed the country after failed elections in 2008. More than half the population needed food aid.

Ruptured sewers sparked a cholera epidemic that killed more than 4000 people.

Doctors and teachers fled their jobs, while unemployment hit 94percent.

With Zimbabwe disintegrating, the government in January last year abandoned the local currency and legalised trade in US dollars.

Just weeks later, the power-sharing government took office, leaving Mugabe, 85, in control of security forces while handing Tsvangirai the purse strings.

More than any single action, "dollarisation" stabilised the economy, allowing once-bare supermarkets to restock at least basics such as salt, sugar and cooking oil - items that had become luxuries.

The economy last year grew by 4,7percent, the first growth in a decade.

"We need a political settlement that gets recognition from the international community," said economic analyst Antony Hawkins. "We need political certainty to move faster. The economy is being held back by the politicians."

Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Zanu-PF are still feuding over Mugabe's unilateral appointments of the attorney general and central bank governor.

"In terms of stopping the economic haemorrhage, we have succeeded," said MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

"The inclusive government has fallen victim to bickering and unnecessary politicking, particularly from our colleagues in Zanu-PF," he said.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a top Mugabe adviser, hailed the fact that the government has lasted an entire year.

"There is commitment to continue co-operation in the inclusive government and meeting the challenges that lie ahead," Chinamasa said.

"The future is in the hands of the MDC and their allies who imposed sanctions on us. If the sanctions were lifted, Zimbabwe would not be recognisable today."

Amid the bickering, new investors have shied away.

Zimbabwe's 230 000 civil servants launched an open-ended strike on Friday to demand an increase to their $150 (R1160) monthly pay. - Sapa-AFP