Zimbabwe’s ‘living hell’

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — I recently returned from Zimbabwe on an assignment that could have seen me behind bars if Robert Mugabe’s government got wind of the fact that I, a CNN correspondent, was in the country. CNN and other news agencies are banned from operating in Zimbabwe and those who violate this ban face arrest. When you are inside Zimbabwe you realise why Mugabe does not want the world to see what is going on.

Zimbabweans are dying on a daily basis because they lack basic things. Going into the hospitals was a horrifying experience. I visited two of the country’s largest public hospitals and found people lying on stretchers with no doctors available to attend to them. Doctors and nurses have left the country’s collapsing public health care system in droves and those who have stayed behind lack the most basic resources such as gloves, drugs and syringes. Machines cannot be repaired and life-saving operations are routinely cancelled.

A notice in a visitors room said it all: Please remember to collect your relative’s belongings after they die. Zimbabweans are dying of treatable and preventable diseases on a daily basis. In the 15 minutes that I was in a ward at Harare hospital someone died of AIDS, one of the leading killers in Zimbabwe. Doctors say with anti-retroviral drugs he could have lived longer but the ones provided by aid organizations are not enough to go around.

The desperate wailing of one of this man’s family members will remain with me forever. It echoed in the empty hospital passages laden with helplessness and utter frustration.

Another patient died two days after my visit, he had meningitis and pneumonia. In his case doctors did not even have antibiotics to give him.

I saw people looking after their own sick because there just aren’t enough nurses in the hospitals, a family gathered around their dying loved one because doctors could do nothing more for him.

There is now an outbreak of cholera in the country because Mugabe’s government says it does not have enough chemicals to clean water so they have simply stopped providing it, even in parts of the capital Harare. I went to Chitungwiza, a township just outside the capital. People there told me that they have not had running water since October of last year. Sewage pipes have burst all over the capital and surrounding areas. This raw sewage is contaminating wells and streams where many are now getting water. And people are getting sick and even dying from consuming dirty water.

I met a family of seven that has lost its sole provider to cholera. Joy Kabade was 29, and had recently been promoted to senior lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe. He was in the process of building his family a new home and planned to get married the day I visited his family. They were devastated and angry. Kabade had little brothers and sisters who depended on him to pay for their school fees and to feed them. He was the only person employed in that household. A promising life prematurely ended and a family shattered because a government that seems determined to rule Zimbabwe forever is unable to provide the very citizens it wants to govern with bare basics.

After every long day speaking to people who are suffering with no indication things will get better anytime soon, I would wonder how Mugabe sleeps at night knowing that his policies are destroying lives on a daily basis.

Mugabe keeps blaming Britain and the United States for the country’s woes but Zimbabweans have had him as a leader for nearly three decades and it is him they expected to create an environment for them to prosper and succeed, not Britain and the United States.

At the moment the average Zimbabwean survives on one meal a day if anything at all. The United Nations estimates that nearly half the population will need food assistance by early next year.

Zimbabwe used to have the highest literacy on the continent, today getting an education is almost impossible. Teachers earn so little many of them have downed tools, refusing to teach. As a result the majority of the country’s pupils will not be ready to write exams this year and will have to stay in the same grade next year. Those who want their children educated have to pay for private lessons in U.S. dollars.

With the highest inflation rate in the world, now officially sitting at over 200 million percent, the Zimbabwean dollar has become so worthless that professionals are being paid in food and fuel. “If you get paid in money and not fuel you will not be able to drive yourself to work everyday,” a private school teacher told me, because fuel is indexed in foreign currency.

The day before I left Zimbabwe I gave a waiter a U.S. $20 tip. The man started crying he had been saving up every cent he made to get a passport. A passport costs U.S. $220 in Zimbabwe, way out of reach for ordinary people (A doctor earns the equivalent of under U.S. $5 a month) This man said my tip had brought him closer to realizing his dream of leaving Zimbabwe.

The very government that presided over the collapse of the economy and the currency does not want its own money and expects Zimbabweans to pay for passports in U.S. dollars. This waiter asked for my email address and said he wants to stay in touch with me and keep me updated on his new life outside Zimbabwe.

Yes I was happy to have helped him but depressed that not only is life hell in that country, Mugabe has his citizens trapped because they don’t have the foreign currency he demands of them to get out.

Despite the risk, I will definitely be going back to Zimbabwe because the world needs to know the truth Mugabe is so determined to hide. Source: CNN