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May-June 2012

Vol. 37, No. 3


Zimbabwe: Update on a country in crisis

Zimbabwe flag

In recent years, Zimbabwe has suffered profound economic insecurity and rampant human rights abuses perpetrated by its government. Today it moves along a tentative course toward some stability, but grave challenges continue. In late April, the tepid participation in an international trade fair accentuated Zimbabwe's chronic fragility.

On April 27, the BBC reported that India and Russia skipped Zimbabwe's international trade fair; other investors from Europe also avoided the event, held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. The boycott, according to the BBC, "highlights how relations, which soured between Zimbabwe and Western countries over allegations of human rights abuses, are still far from restored. … Chinese firms, however, have come to the trade fair … in droves … China is the single biggest investor at the trade expo, with Chinese companies taking up 90 percent of the stands."

In addition to protesting human rights abuses, other nations are boycotting Zimbabwe due to the new "indigenization policy," a demand by Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party that all foreign firms give majority control of their companies to Zimbabweans. According to the BBC, "Mugabe says such moves are needed to right the wrongs of the colonial era, which left most of the economy in the hands of the white minority. But his seizure of most of the country's white-owned land has been widely blamed for causing the country's economic collapse. Mugabe's coalition partner and long-time rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has always opposed his plans to seize control of foreign firms."

A Maryknoll sister who has served in Zimbabwe for many years recently wrote: "Zimbabwe provides the Chinese with rough diamonds (straight from the fields) in exchange for military arms and supplies. Blood diamonds indeed. This has strengthened the stranglehold of the ruling party on the people of this country."

She writes of the profound challenge faced by average Zimbabweans who are unable to secure funding for their small businesses; cash flow is non-existent. "Money goes in pockets, or out of the country, and does not generate for the good of those trying to make a living. … Everyday life is an exhausting, tireless, and frustrating existence."

"Water supplies are controlled by local governments in towns and cities, but tariffs on water – which have increased 300-400 percent – are dictated by the government in Harare," she continues. "Even if very little water is supplied, the tariffs alone are unaffordable. Wherever mining is present, water is turned off to households and small businesses so that mines have priority, with only a few hours of water available for families after midnight. The entire country is shaken by the water cost."

Due to rising education costs and exam fees, more children, particularly girls, are dropping out of school. Health services have diminished, she writes, and "clinics run by church groups are an absolute necessity. It has been reported that the HIV infection rate has decreased, but the reality is that fewer people can afford any medical services and shy away from clinics where blood testing could be done ... It can be argued that increased illegal mining and cross border trading have both provided the commercial setting where HIV infection increases."

Zimbabwe's economic and social forecast continues to be bleak, though programs such as the Mavambo Trust, organized by missioners and human rights workers, provide support, educational opportunities and care.

Learn up-to-date news at Zimbabwe §

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