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For Zimbabweans, No Cause to Celebrate Independence 28 Years On

Zimbabwe's economy is a shambles. Not long ago, Zimbabweans learned that their country's inflation rate, already the highest in the world, hit a new high of 165,000 percent.

A Zimbabwean woman who gave her name only as Netsai and who lives in Harare says an essentially worthless currency is just one of the reasons why there will be few, if any, Independence Day celebrations this year.

"It's easier to find such things like eggs and toilet paper at street corners than it is to find them in the shops," she said. "What people are doing to cope with that, is most individuals are selling products in U.S. dollars and [South African] Rands, because those are more stable currencies and you are assured that when you wake up tomorrow it wouldn't have lost its value."

But the problem is that most Zimbabweans do not have access to foreign currency.

To compound matters, only two in ten Zimbabweans have a job. Netsai says most of the unemployed have joined the informal sector. Some are so-called cross-border traders who go into neighboring countries and buy basics - fuel, power generators, car parts and even machine spares for factories - and whatever is scarce and sell them at a profit.

Critics say Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's policies, and his quest to hold on to power, are at the root of the country's economic and political problems.

Before the current economic crisis, Zimbabwe was considered the breadbasket of the region. But successive droughts and an ill-conceived government program that re-distributed land from white farmers to landless blacks caused food production to plummet.

President Mugabe's critics accuse him of handing over most of the land to supporters who lack farming experience or the money for farming equipment.

On March 29, Zimbabweans voted in national elections. They are still waiting for the result of the presidential contest. Rejoice Ngwenya is a Harare-based writer who hoped that by now he would be celebrating a new dawn for Zimbabwe. He says the delay announcing the election results is troubling.

"I have never at any one time in these 28 years seen so much paralysis, so much profound anxiety and anger," he said. "The rules of the game in a democracy, is that you accept defeat or winning graciously so even if there is going to be a presidential runoff it is possible that somebody else is going to refuse to accept defeat."

What is happening in Zimbabwe has led many to ask where it all went wrong. Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean lecturer at the University of Kent, says it was never right. He says the massacres in Matabeleland soon after independence is an example of Mr. Mugabe's abuse of power.

"As we all know it didn't take very long for the Zimbabwe government led by Mr. Mugabe to turn against some people," he said. "Unfortunately, it was a minority of people in the southern districts of the country where a lot of atrocities were committed by the government. So with the benefit of hindsight it was always wrong from the beginning."

Economist Tony Hawkins of the University of Zimbabwe Business School says even if Mr. Mugabe succeeds in holding on to political power, his inability to reign in the galloping inflation rate may be his undoing.

"We'll hit half a million [percent inflation] by May/June if not sooner," he said. "My feeling is even if President Mugabe does manage to cling on to power in a second round or by some other subterfuge, I think the economic pressures will wear him down very quickly after that."

Despite their difficult circumstances, the Zimbabweans VOA spoke to are unanimous in their belief that the current crisis will end and they can one day celebrate Independence Day in a free Zimbabwe.