Stories of the worsening crisis in Zimbabwe

GRANTHAM, Pa. (Dec. 11, 2008)—With many in the international community calling for the resignation of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, the situation for most citizens of the country continues to decline. In an interview conducted yesterday, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that an estimated 14,000 Zimbabweans have been infected by the cholera epidemic that’s ravaged the country since August. And relief agencies report that about 2 million are in need of immediate food aid.

In a communiqué with Brethren in Christ World Missions, Jake Shenk, BICWM regional administrator for Southern Africa, affirmed the country’s further economic deterioration. “Two days ago, there was a steep decline in the value of the Zim dollar, and prices of all commodities shot up unbelievably overnight, some as much as 300-600%. Yesterday, we were shocked to find that a dozen eggs cost Z$30,000,000 (2,500,000 per egg) or US$3. As we went into the shop, we saw one lady walking out with 2 eggs. Obviously, all she felt she could afford.”

With so many suffering from extreme hunger, the fear of violence has spread across the country. Jake reports that in Harare, a group of low-ranking soldiers took to the streets, looting street vendors and assaulting others who crossed their path. The government quickly crushed the uprising, and the soldiers explained that hunger caused by their meager earnings fueled the violence. To stem the tide of similar outbursts, the Zimbabwean government has responded by printing more money and raising the salary of civil servants. However, as Jake notes, “the printing of more money only fuels inflation and causes astronomical price increases. So, the whole cycle begins anew.”

Due to extremely low student and teacher attendance rates, most schools have been closed, though they’re scheduled to reopen in January. Jake comments that, “Some wonder whether this will actually happen.” The government completely shut down the National University to repress student activism.

Jake also shared this about the cholera epidemic: “City councils have not had sufficient funds to import water purification chemicals and have failed to provide water to many of the residents. Some suburbs have been without water for 2–4 months. They also do not have funds for garbage collection. Sewer pipes burst, and there have been reports of children playing in the spillage.  The brother of one of our overseers died a few days ago from the disease.”

He also reports that “health services have almost totally collapsed. Many hospitals have totally shut down, and those which continue to operate do so on a reduced level, having completely shut down some of their wards. Hardly any drugs are available. People are dying from treatable diseases because of the unavailability of drugs. Another serious problem for hospitals is the frequent power cuts. We heard the other day of an individual who was in surgery when the power was cut. The hospital did not have funds to buy fuel for their generator, and the man died on the operating table.  It was the husband of a friend’s house maid.”

And the bad news continues. The rainy planting season has begun, but hardly any seed is available, and that which is available is very expensive. This means that hunger problems will not be solved any time soon.

As politicians continue to disagree about the formation of a government of national unity, Jake says, “It is very hard to see how they can continue while there is so much suffering and hunger in the country. Most people in Zimbabwe are not encouraged. Many are now saying that the situation is hopeless, and the only hope is in God’s intervention."