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Christmas Holds Not-So-Promising Outlook for Zimbabwe

Christians in Zimbabwe are preparing for the 2002 Christmas holiday, which promises to be one of the bleakest ever for the country, which is reeling from serious economic problems.

Zimbabweans are predominantly Christian and they take Christmas very seriously.

Christmas in Zimbabwe is a time of family reunions as the urban folk go to visit their families in the rural areas. It's also a time for those with the means to visit the country's many holiday resorts.

But this Christmas is going to be gloomy for most Zimbabweans. Among the reasons are chronic shortages of basic foodstuffs, such as the staple maize-meal, as well as sugar, bread and fuel, an inflation rate of 175 percent and the prospect of another drought. There are also widespread unemployment, the aftereffects of a chaotic land reform program and ongoing tension between the government and the opposition.

For the past few months, Zimbabweans have had to line up for commodities that are in short supply, and the country is faced with its most severe fuel shortage since supplies became erratic in 1999. This has resulted in people spending several hours in queues, sometimes in anticipation of supplies that never arrive.

At one of the many shopping malls in Harare, which would normally be over-crowded at this time of the year, business is slow. I asked some of the shoppers what Christmas means to them and how they plan to spend this Christmas.

"To me Christmas means a lot," said one person. "But unfortunately for this year I don't think it's going to be that exciting. Apparently we are faced with a fuel shortage that means we won't be traveling that much."

A second said, "Christmas this year I'd like to say it's going to be a difficult one. I couldn't find cooking oil, I couldn't find sugar, I couldn't find flour and worst of all I spent three days in the queue and I still couldn't find fuel so I think my Christmas is going to be miserable. I really wanted to take my kids out to some places and unfortunately I can't do that because of the shortages of fuel."

Yet another person told me, "Well the Christmas this time has been very boring for one major reason is that there is no money to buy the goodies. I am just keeping my money together for January because that's when we'll be paying school fees."

Ordinary Zimbabweans talking about the prospect of Christmas in what has been a particularly difficult year for Zimbabwe.

Although most of the people who spoke at the mall say this Christmas is going to be low key, there are some who remain upbeat.

"Well Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ so I think I will enjoy myself celebrating the day, and I love Jesus Christ that's why I love the day," one man explained. Another said,"Christmas to me means families getting together, people meeting. But Christmas this year, I think it's going to be better than all the years because it actually rained, it rained in Zimbabwe so I think that is a sign of good luck."

Yes indeed, it is raining. But midway through the rainy season, some parts of Zimbabwe are still not receiving their normal rainfall. If the trend continues, there could be another poor harvest, and that has led to concern that things are not likely to improve quickly for Zimbabwe in the new year.