Zimbabwe sinking fast
From a distance it is always hard to picture just how hard life is in Zimbabwe and to imagine how much worse it can get. For so long we have been writing about economic collapse, inflation statistics beyond comprehension, the fact that at least a quarter of the country has fled to seek work abroad and that life expectancy has tumbled.
Commentators have long spoken of the dangers of a possible ‘meltdown’. The signs of what that might look like have grown stronger this week.
The death toll from the worst cholera epidemic in recent records is near 500 – and possibly double – with shortages of water in Harare and elsewhere and a health system hopelessly ill equipped to cope. Not so long ago, one of the region’s more prosperous countries would probably have been able to prevent an outbreak of cholera and would certainly have been able to treat it.
Unprecedented clashes on Monday between what the army described as “indisciplined” soldiers and Zimbabweans have added to fears the situation could get out of hand. The army understandably said it was worried by the troubles, put down by police. As too many other African countries have found out, angry soldiers can prove a danger to everyone.
Banks are so short of cash that queuing for almost worthless notes has become a full time occupation for some of those lucky enough to – in theory at least – have jobs. But the amount of cash the banks can give out each day is often not enough to buy a loaf of bread.
President Robert Mugabe’s government says the health system and economy are foundering because of sanctions imposed by Western powers it says are trying to oust him for seizing thousands of white-owned farms and redistributing the land to black Zimbabweans.
Mugabe’s critics, such as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, say it is his policies that have ruined Zimbabwe.
But no matter who is to blame, the situation looks dangerously as though it could get beyond anyone’s control.
Should the crisis force Tsvangirai to join Mugabe in the power-sharing government they had agreed to – even if he doesn’t get all the posts that he wanted? Should Mugabe give way to the opposition leader’s demands? Tsvangirai’s MDC said talks between the parties on the unity government would resume in two weeks. Is that soon enough? Does Zimbabwe have any choice but a deal between the two old rivals?