Back to Square One for Zimbabwe's Ubiquitous Billionaires
I was in Zimbabwe from June 21 to 28. I traveled by bus, and my experience is typical of what has become the norm for road travel between South Africa and Zimbabwe -- long queues and delays at the border posts and police-controlled roadblocks.
Almost all vehicles going to Zimbabwe are loaded to maximum capacity with goods from South Africa -- mostly basic foodstuff. With ever-rising inflation currently at 3 million percent, the Zimbabwean dollar cannot keep up, and the government keeps printing higher denominations of money -- for example, Z$1 billion, 5 billion, 400 million, etc. It's mind-boggling! US $100 = Z $1 trillion.
Just to give you an indication of how this translates into daily life, one banana is Z$1 billion, bread is 5 billion, and one sweet (candy) is Z$400 million, and prices rise every day! Salaries can't keep up with inflation, and that is why many Zimbabweans are economic refugees in neighbouring countries and overseas. Everyone is a billionaire and struggling to survive!
It is estimated that about half the population is dependent on food aid. This creates a situation where food becomes a political tool. Add to this the ongoing political crisis and HIV/AIDS, and you have a struggle at every level of life -- physical, mental, spiritual, psychological, social, political, and economic. Out of these multiple crises new forms of social networking have emerged, enabling many to survive and maintain a semblance of normal life. As I stood in line at the border posts, there were several groups of women traders. These networks of traders support families and enable communities to survive. They and many others are the true heroines and heroes.
People did not talk much because of fear but there was a guarded hope that perhaps the elections would bring a change. The withdrawal by the opposition took many of us by surprise but it soon became apparent that the escalating violence and suppression of the opposition made it impossible to have free and fair elections. The government went ahead with the elections. The outcome was predictable. As things stand now it feels like we have come full circle, back to square one! There is talk of possible negotiations between government and the opposition. Should such negotiations take place, there will be a need for mediators to guide the process. Please pray for the appointment of visionary and courageous mediators committed to justice and democracy who will provide clear guidelines and frameworks for the negotiations. Also continue to pray that the ongoing international, regional, and continental pressure on Zimbabwe would continue until a solution is found.
I want to end with an event that coincided with the week of the elections. I trace my interest in connecting events to my love of history. When I was in high school, one of the questions that appeared regularly in history exams required us to describe and connect the events that led to a particular war or change, etc., and so I got used to stringing up events. The event last week was the celebration of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday! The unseen hand of history provided a critique in the form of the person of Mandela, his leadership, and his commitment to the values of freedom and democracy. It was, in Christian language, a "prophetic birthday!"
Nontando Hadebe, a former Sojourners intern, is originally from Zimbabwe and is now pursuing graduate studies in theology in South Africa.