Zimbabwe: supply crisis comes to a head – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Sunday, 08.12.2019

Now also the Victoria Falls. The widest waterfall in the world, dried up. "Less than a third of the water is still there," says the newscaster.

  A drone flight shows the plight: drought, climate change. "Big crap," says Brian Olonga, 56, electrical engineer, holding an empty canister, 15 and 20 liters, in each hand. With those he stands on the terrace of his boss, who has a large water tank in the garden. And a big TV in the living room, right next to the terrace.

  Olonga did not like to ask his boss, but today he had no choice. Nowhere else in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, did he get water for himself and his family. Not for two days. And now that too. The Victoria Falls, the country's landmark. A last tourist magnet in the former granary of Africa. Dried out.

  "There will be nothing left of us," says Olonga. He does not want to give his real name for fear of repression by the regime. Olonga straightens, goes to the tank, starts to tap.

  The situation in Zimbabwe is dramatic. Drought and climate change are like a last cut on an already stumbling and traumatized society. Dictator Robert Mugabe was deposed at the end of 2017 after 37 years in office by the military. That's two years ago. Two years in which his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa completely ruined the country.

  Ongoing price and tax increases, lack of basic food, mismanagement and corruption are increasing the population. The UN recently warned against "man-made starvation." Sixty percent of Zimbabwe's 14 million people are said to be suffering from food shortages or unable to afford food. In the country as in the city.


Anne Backhaus / DER SPIEGEL
Blackout in a supermarket

  The daily struggle for survival of the people in Zimbabwe is not to be overlooked even in the most respectable parts of Harare. In the city center, incredibly long lines of people are wandering the streets in front of the banks. If you want to withdraw money, you have to plan at least four hours for it. The amount that can be withdrawn is limited per capita.

  Supermarket prices are rising almost daily and the local currency, the Zimbabwe dollar, is steadily losing value. The government is holding back current numbers. The latest published inflation rate for August was 300 percent, non-governmental observers expect 440 percent in October. Zimbabwe is considered a hyperinflationary country and is experiencing one of the worst economic crises in recent history.

  Any foreign currency has been banned since June. Nevertheless, the US dollar is especially welcome in ministries. A press card costs US $ 200 and entitles foreign journalists to a six-day stay in the capital.


Back in the car, the jerry cans stowed in the trunk, shows Brian Olonga his hiding place. He takes off his left shoe, then the sock. In it a flat roll of bills, he fumbles them out, kisses them. "$ 100, I'll keep it for as long as possible." In the back pocket, he has another 30, he wants to exchange the same. Because he must not pay so yes.

  Not far from the magnificent downtown government buildings, Olonga stops just long enough to let a "special friend" get in. They hit, laughing, Olonga continues, then passes on the bills at waist level, the friend counts. Outside, "casual fashion" showcases and colorful Black Friday billboards fly by. And again and again long lines. "Welcome to Zimbabwe!" calls Olonga. He laughs out loud, the friend too. At the traffic light Olonga quietly goes through the Zimbabwe dollars. True, hit, the friend gets out.

  Now maybe Brian Olonga can buy gas. This usually takes several days. He's in one of the many WhatsApp groups where strangers write, at which gas station prices have not been raised that much. How long the snakes are – or even when they are moving at all.


Anne Backhaus / DER SPIEGEL
Start of a long line of cars in front of one of the few gas stations

  Some leave their car in a line in the morning in front of the gas station, walk into the office, come in for lunch and drive two meters forward, back to the office and from there in the evening back to the queue. "It can take forever to get fuel," says Olonga. "Often, but whole deliveries are out, then everything is waiting in vain."

  The doctors are also on strike. In recent months, the bottlenecks have solidified in such a way that in many hospitals there are no longer any bandages, syringes or surgical gloves. There are also hardly any medicines. A public statement from the medical profession speaks of a "silent genocide" committed against the people of Zimbabwe.

  435 physicians were recently dismissed because they campaigned for adequate pay. Since then, even people with actually curable diseases or injuries in public hospitals die because there are no doctors there. "It's not a good time to get sick," says Olonga. "The President is killing us and we can not do anything." Anyone who criticizes the regime in Zimbabwe is being persecuted.

  In August, a demonstration against the devastating economic situation in Harare was violently disbanded by the police. The protest goes back to the country's largest opposition party, the MDC Alliance (Movement for Democratic Change). Six opposition activists and activists were allegedly abducted and tortured in connection with the protest, and some were killed. The US, the EU and various human rights organizations condemned the violence and called for investigations.


Anne Backhaus / DER SPIEGEL
People line up at Mugabe Road in front of a bank

  The UN and human rights organizations estimate that millions of people, more than a quarter of the total population of Zimbabwe, have fled to neighboring South Africa in recent years.

  "What should we do?" asks Brian Olonga. "We have to continue somehow, and hopefully it will all be over someday." It's getting dark, he has to go.

  At night Harare lies there like a sleeping panther. Pitch black and tense, no light anywhere. Only sometimes a car with its headlights wipes quickly over a street. Shows the many potholes as dark shadows and sometimes, for a moment, people with canisters. Between 1 and 4 o'clock in the morning, it is said in the water WhatsApp group this night, there is still something to be had at three public taps. And the snakes should not be too long.

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