Situation in Zimbabwe worsening

GRANTHAM, Pa. (Sept. 8, 2008)—Steve and Chris Newcomer, BICWM missionaries who are in Zimbabwe at the invitation of the Brethren in Christ Church there, brought this news in a communiqué to Chris Sharp and their supporters in North America:

Everyday life [in Zimbabwe] has progressed from “extremely difficult” to “practically impossible” The stores have no supplies of the basic commodities such as corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, tea, soap, etc. Almost everything is imported from neighboring countries or sold on the black market at very high prices since the importer adds on a mark-up and transportation costs and customs duty. Zimbabwe now has the distinction of having the highest rate of inflation in history (11 million percent) but is quickly attaining the status of being one of the most expensive countries in the world in which to live. Salaries can’t keep pace. The government funds its expenses by simply printing more money but even cash is in short supply and sometimes must be purchased at a premium. Locally grown produce is the only commodity available but it is very expensive. We stopped at one nursery that grows vegetable seedlings and were told that they had none for this week but that they would be ready next week. When I asked about the price I was told that one seedling is Z$5 (this represents the revalued figure of the actual Z$5 trillion) but that tomorrow the price would probably be Z$10.

One lady was traveling from Bulawayo to Solusi University to pick up her diploma and transcript (30 miles away). The hired local transport was Z$300 to get there and to come back the next day was Z$500. Her husband’s total salary was Z$3,000. She also has a son who is epileptic and must take two medications daily to be controlled. The cost of a one month supply of medications is Z$2,700. One man found disposable razor blades at a nearby store but the cost was Z$300; his entire monthly salary is Z$4,000. Chris enjoys baking when the electricity cooperates and so we try to provide little treats now and then. One student said that he hadn’t eaten bread this year. Another staff member had not had a Coke since February. The examples could go on and on.

School fees at Mtshabezi Secondary School for one term are Z$6 (revalued). Historically, school fees were paid at the beginning of the school term and were understood to pay all boarding and tuition expenses for three months. Mission schools have an excellent reputation for providing quality education at an affordable price. One reason is that the Ministry of Education pays the teachers salaries. These days, teachers, and most other workers, are working for nothing. For comparison, the cost of transport from Bulawayo to Mtshabezi is Z$10 for one person, one way. Since the money has no value each student is also required to obtain and bring to the school a specified quantity of roller meal (ground corn), sugar, cooking oil, rice, etc., since the school has absolutely no way to obtain a sufficient quantity of these items for the 900 students. Approximately 25% of the students at Matopo Secondary School did not return for the third term. Six teachers from Matopo also did not return. Mtshabezi Secondary School had eleven teachers not return for the opening of the term. Several years ago, the BICC Zimbabwe was asked to become the Responsible Authority for a school called Khumbula High School that is out in the Phumula District. The school had advanced to including ‘A’ Level subjects. Several church leaders visited the school yesterday and found not a single teacher. In about one month each parent will be instructed to pay an additional “top-up” fee since inflation will have depleted the school’s cash reserves.

For the past 5-7 years Zimbabweans have been fleeing their homeland in droves due to the unfavorable political and economic climate. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 4 million Zimbabweans are living and working abroad. They have settled in other countries such as Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Australia, England, Canada, and the U.S.A. Many of them are living and working illegally. In the case of South Africa there have recently been xenophobic attacks on Zimbabweans and illegal workers from other countries. Imagine the negative impact that this migration is having on the family structure. And this doesn’t even factor in the consequences of AIDS and practically daily funerals. We recently met one mother whose five children are working in Botswana, South Africa, England and Canada. Many of the grandchildren are sent to be raised by the grandparents in Zimbabwe who can barely obtain food for themselves. But the reality is that those with family members working overseas are often better off. If the family member is responsible they will send home foreign currency to assist their families. It is a pathetic state of affairs when a country’s most significant export is its people. There will also be consequences on long-term recovery and future development. In Zimbabwe an optimist is defined as someone who believes that conditions can’t get any worse. There aren’t many around these days.

When we arrived in Zimbabwe nearly two months ago the people in the rural areas were starting to insist on payment in South African Rand for cattle being purchased for slaughter. The Rand is a stable foreign currency used to make trips to South Africa to purchase all of the commodities not available in Zimbabwe. Now, people are requesting food instead of any currency. The situation is that desperate. We had a local woman bring some hand crafted trays and baskets to the house that she wanted to sell. She appeared devastated when we had to inform her that we had no cash on hand to purchase them from her. In the end, it turned out that all she wanted was food for her family of six. That we could provide. Personally, we are relatively removed from many of these dynamics since we have access to funds outside the country and contacts to facilitate the import of almost anything that is needed. But then how do we deal with the difficult scriptural passages such as Matthew 25, James 2 or Isaiah 58?

As you continue to pray for us, please ask that we will have the wisdom and discernment to respond appropriately in each individual situation. There are never any two the same. God bless each and every one of you.