THERE was almost no electricity load shedding in the 1980s. More than 20 years down the line, load shedding is rampant to a point of being normal.
Equally, tap water was always available in most cities in the 80s. Now some suburbs go for months without water. Boreholes and shallow wells are the order of the day across the country.
What has gone wrong with today's Zimbabwe?
A Hatcliffe resident, Tom Chamba thinks it is the government that has messed his life.
His suburb is one that has experienced erratic water supplies dating back more than three years. The 50-year-old man even says there was no such thing in pre-independence Zimbabwe. He says even after independence, things were stable and the Zimbabwe dollar was stronger than the American greenback then.
Some critics of much of Zimbabwean government policies since independence in 1980 point to populist policies as the country's drawback.
Once touted as Africa's breadbasket, Zimbabwe's fortunes began to plummet in 1997 after the awarding of hefty pay-offs and allowances to the country's independence war veterans who had demonstrated against an impoverished lifestyle while their "chefs" swarm in abundance.
The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by Morgan Tsvangirai was born and contested the 2000 elections, a closely fought affair. Violence marred the elections. For once, the ruling ZANU-PF had a credible and serious challenge.
After the war veterans' compensation, came ZANU-PF inspired violent land seizures, and the rest is history: The country went into a free fall.
Enter the critics of populist policies.
According to the Collins English Dictionary, a populist government is generally defined as one that uses a political strategy based and calculated to appeal to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people.
Populism is a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite. In 19th century America, populism had its roots in supporting agrarian interests.
Carol Jenkins, who at the time of writing her paper was a research associate at the Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford and Centre for Research into Economics and Finance in Southern Africa, London School of Economics wrote that there are two remarkable features of post-independence economic policy-making in Zimbabwe: The very limited nature of the changes made by the new government in 1980, and the complete reversal of policy announced in 1990.
"It was surprising that a more radical transformation had not been introduced soon after independence, since this had been achieved by a civil war prompted not only by the denial of even basic rights to the majority of the population, but also by an extremely inequitable distribution of economic resources. The volte-face in 1990 was also unexpected, because it required a repudiation of governmental rhetoric at a time when the economy was by no means in a state of crisis, even though under stress," wrote Jenkins in her research paper.
Critics say the land reform and black economic empowerment (BEE) policies are populist, and were necessitated by the need for political survival as ZANU-PF faced increasing pressure from a restive population and civic-groups backed opposition.
They say this has resulted in Zimbabwe failing to feed itself over the past decade, relying mainly on imports especially of grain which used to be abundant in the country.
That Zimbabwe now imports maize from Zambia has angered skeptics of populist policies who point to the fact that most of those producing the maize north of the Zambezi are farmers who escaped the violent land seizures.
Yet, although seen as populist policies, not many would argue against the importance of the land reform programme and the indigenisation and empowerment law.
While there is an increasing trend towards indigenisation across Africa, it is premised on the idea that to achieve economic potential within global capitalism, African governments will need to redress economic imbalances created by colonialism through such economic policies.
South Africa, neighbouring Zimbabwe to the south, has a relatively successful black economic empowerment policy. How-ever, allegations of cronyism in awarding government contracts reserved for BEE have sparked criticism and added to questions as to how best such populist policies can steer away from controversy.
But, Lance Mambondiani, a financial markets expert and teaching fellow at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom says while most African countries have implemented indigenisation policies, it was with less controversy or combativeness as is the case with Zimb-abwe.
"A command control implementation without a broad consultative consensus could be the catalyst for another man-made economic tragedy just when the country is showing signs of progress. Stakeholders have a legitimate fear that the empowerment law will be spectacularly bungled in similar fashion to the land reform programme which was by any standard a catastrophic success," said Mambondiani in a written response to questions sent to him by The Financial Gazette.
He said the land reform programme was by any standard the catalyst for a decade-long economic collapse and if implemented impr-operly, the indigenisation laws can significantly affect foreign direct investments and economic growth.
"In its current form, and based on the current policy position, there is no evidence to suggest that the law is any different to the land reform programme or that the outcome will be," said Mambondiani.
Another analyst, Dewa Mavhinga, concurred saying, indigenisation laws and land reform, as driven by ZANU-PF, have two things in common: Noble, empowering in principle but shambolic and disempowering to the majority of Zimbabweans.
"Both policies have been used as a smokescreen behind which ZANU-PF cronies loot and plunder, as exemplified by the grabbing of multiple prime land by a few who now resist a transparent land audit and well shady allocation of company shares political fat cats under the indigenisation laws," said Mavhinga this week.
"Instead of guaranteeing national food security, the chaotic land reform, due to deliberate poor implementation, has impoverished Zimbabwe. Similarly, the current - Saviour Kasukuwere - brand of indigenisation focuses on the grabbing of existing assets instead of a progressive and sustainable focus on real investment and wealth creation," said Mavhinga.
Mavhinga said: "Both the land reform and indigenisation policies are in real terms not policies at all, but simply an elaborate rogue scheme to ensure patronage and shameless, systematic loot and plunder of national assets".
So, while populist policies may seem good to the ordinary person, it is the politicians who have largely benefited. While the policies may be well intentioned, the end result has been a feeding frenzy by a political elite, further alienating themselves from the ordinary people. An "economic trauma" has also resulted from the gluttonous feeding of the elite and bad policies.