The news has been a bit shocking this week in its reporting of life in Zimbabwe. At first we hear that the cholera epidemic is getting worse. And then Robert Mugabe says that it is under control and that there is no epidemic. Now we are told by one of his Ministers that Mugabe was just being “sarcastic” and another minister has announced it is the result of “biological warfare” by Britain. Probably some people actually believe this – I wonder if they would also believe it if the spokesman had announced cholera was being spread by blue aliens from the planet Zog and it was not the government’s fault in any way at all. By some accounts, Mugabe is very clever so the week’s outpourings from him and his government on the cholera epidemic seem confusing.
Having just stayed in Harare for a couple of weeks, I can honestly say that life there is awful. The only people who seem to be doing well are the government officials who drive around in large cars and live the life of luxury. Huge mansions are being built in the exclusive areas. But, the town is filthy. In certain areas you can smell the sewage running along the side of the road. There is very little water supply and some homes have not had water for months. Electricity is more off than on.
There are people sitting on the side of the streets selling whatever they can – a few tomatoes or onions, firewood, eggs. The children are ragged and look hungry. The beautiful parks and gardens are all overgrown. The streetlights are falling over at angles; the traffic lights often don’t work.
Harare had been quite dry; not a lot of rain. Now that the rains have come we can expect the cholera (sorry – which doesn’t exist) to increase rapidly. Of course, the cholera is affecting the poor people in the townships of Harare. The hospitals have no medicine, so, even though cholera is easy to treat, the people are dying.
We didn’t go to any shops because there is a new system now. Some people have set up shops in their houses. They bring stuff from South Africa sell it from home. If the Revenue Authority catches them they are going to be in dire trouble. But they keep their gates locked and only let in people who they know. Of course, all these sales are in US dollars because Zim dollars are not accepted by anyone and are impossible to use anymore. There isn’t enough of it and inflation means that it loses half its value every day. Fuel was available in limited supplies. Some petrol stations now openly sell in US dollars.
Driving through Zimbabwe there is only a little farming going on. The government has been handing out new tractors to its favored few and, I am told, giving out seed, fertilizer and fuel. Many of the inputs are being sold in the towns so that the “farmers” can make a quick profit. Maybe they are too hungry to wait for the crops to grow, or maybe they are rich enough not to need to plant. We did see a few tractors ploughing and … one tractor working … as a taxi. But, basically, many of the farms that used to be so productive are overgrown and going back to bush.
There were roadblocks at every town along the way. There are usually about four policemen at each. I think we went through 12-15 roadblocks from Harare to Vic Falls – a couple only a few hundred meters apart – each wanting to examine the same documents and ask the same questions. Only once did we meet up with one particularly venomous police officer but, as all the papers for the car were in order, there was little that he could do.
That is my story from Zim. It makes me so sad. And this has all happened in the name of “one-man-one-vote.” I think that if we asked the people who have lost their jobs; who are starving; who are sick, what they think of being able to vote, they wouldn’t care a hoot. And, whatever people think about the old Rhodesia, the country worked; the people were fed, educated and cared for. We should be ashamed of ourselves that this situation has arisen in Zimbabwe, especially now that there is nothing that we can do. We can only watch and cry. Maybe it will change one day.