Two years after coup, Zimbabweans grow more despondent
Unemployment in the country is at over 90% while the size of the economy has more than halved since 2000.
HARARE - Two years ago, Linos Mutepera was among hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans who celebrated the toppling of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe with tears of joy.
Today, he looks back at that time with bitterness, his hope of a better life dashed on the rocks of poverty and joblessness.
"We were all there - the young, the old, the rich, the poor, blacks, whites and mixed race - waving the Zimbabwean flag, holding banners, hoisting placards, singing, dancing, praying together, holding each other's arms and hugging," he reminisced.
"We thought it was an end at last of an era that had been marked by poverty, joblessness, shortages, army and police brutality," the 33-year-old unemployed engineering graduate told AFP.
"How wrong we were."
Mutepera, sitting beside a friend hawking clothes at a Harare flea market, pointed bleakly to the promises made by Mugabe's successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, to rebuild Zimbabwe's shattered economy.
"We were used," he said. "I feel so let down, so betrayed. But at least I am wiser."
Mugabe came to power in 1980, surfing on his reputation as the guerrilla leader who had steered colonial-era Rhodesia to independence, ending white-minority rule.
By November 2018, the smell of corruption and cronyism that infected his regime prompted the military to take over - a coup code-named Operation Restore Legacy.
He was replaced as president by Mnangagwa, his former deputy, whom he had fired weeks earlier. The military supremo and face of the coup, General Constantino Chiwenga, became one of his deputies.
The following July, Mnangagwa won disputed elections on pledges to lure foreign investment, create jobs and turn the country into a middle-income economy by 2030.
But Zimbabwe's nightmares returned within months, as shoppers battled daily shortages of basics such as fuel, cooking oil, sugar and bread.
Unemployment today is over 90% while the size of the economy has more than halved since 2000, when Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms crippled Zimbabwean agriculture.
Inflation runs into triple digits, electricity is available for just six hours a day and in many urban areas, the taps are dry.
"Things have basically got worse," Professor Tony Hawkins of the University of Zimbabwe's School of Economics told AFP.
"People are getting poorer and thousands are losing jobs," he said.
"The economy has got worse and politically, nothing has changed except that the military are much more visible and much more powerful.
"Basically, it's back to square one, with a change of driver but the same bus or taxi."
Alex Magaisa, a lecturer at the University of Kent in England, said Mnangagwa's promise of a new dawn had become "nothing more than a mirage."
A spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Daniel Molokele, said Zimbabweans had mistakenly believed Mugabe's removal would end the country's woes.
"The euphoria that we saw in 2017 was not for the ascendancy of Mnangagwa but for the fall of Mugabe - and people also thought it meant the fall of the entire system created by Mugabe," he said.
"Two years later there is hopelessness, there is despondency, there is disappointment.
"People would rather go back to 2017 not because Mugabe was better but because people are much more poorer. There is more corruption with cartels running sections of the economy. It's a classic case of jumping from the frying pan into a fire."
Molokele suggested a dialogue involving Zimbabweans "from all walks of life... so that the people can determine the Zimbabwe they want."
Public fury at the state of the economy was an important factor in Mugabe's downfall.
That anger flared anew in January, when Mnangagwa more than doubled fuel prices, sparking protests that left at least 17 people dead and scores of injured.
Harare-based political analyst Alexander Rusero told AFP the November 2018 takeover had "never been for the good of the people.
"It's all about the political elite in (the ruling) Zanu-PF (party) and the preservation of their wealth," he said.
"The moment you have soldiers closing the barracks and joining politics, nothing good comes out of it."