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Rare Video Inside Zimbabwe Shows Impact of Hyperinflation, Food Shortages


We bring you a rare look inside the troubled southern African nation of Zimbabwe. Today, this nation of between 10 million and 12 million is teetering on the edge of what a member of its own parliament is calling "the world's gravest humanitarian crisis." But few outside Africa understand the depth of Zimbabwe's plight because the government has declared independent reporting a crime. There are harsh penalties, including beatings and jail, for journalists working without government approval.

But for several months beginning in June, a television reporter was able to travel across Zimbabwe with a camera. A reporter for VOA, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, files this undercover report from Bulawayo. The report begins in a place well-known to many international tourists.

We are cruising the Zambezi River that separates Zimbabwe from Zambia, with a boat-full of visitors from Europe, the United States and Japan.

It is called a "booze cruise" because the wine flows freely. The captain carefully maneuvers his boat into the shallower water -- better for close-up photos of sleepy crocodiles lounging along the bank.

But here, even the thunderous roar of one of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls -- cannot overpower the more discordant voices -- now being raised in the less tourist-friendly parts of this troubled country.

Here -- a noisy public street protest against the government of President Robert Mugabe, taking place in one of Zimbabwe's largest cities. This one is staged by more than a hundred members of a group called Women of Zimbabwe Arise.

Minutes after this undercover video was taken, marchers were attacked by blue-helmeted riot police. Many of the women were beaten and arrested. One said, "They come running with battle sticks. They beat me, beat me all over and then they beat me at the breasts."

Many tourists never hear or see this -- hundreds of Zimbabweans, desperate to feed their families, pressed against the iron security bars of a butcher shop, hoping to get in to buy a tiny ration of meat. It is a commodity that has basically disappeared from stores across the country. They shout at the shop workers, begging to be let in, waving their $100,000 Zim -- notes worth now only 14 cents U.S. each.

Other undercover video shot from a moving car shows Zimbabweans waiting, hour after hour, in massive queues searching for necessities of life -- bread, maize meal, beans, meat. They queue from first thing in the morning until late in the evening.

The cruelest irony is that in a country with rampant poverty and an unemployment rate approaching 90 percent, almost everyone on these streets is technically a millionaire.

Inflation in Zimbabwe is now the worst in the world, acknowledged by the government to be running at over 7,000 percent, although experts put it much higher.

$1 Zim, once equal in value to $1 U.S. is now actually worth less than a single sheet of toilet paper -- offered in one store in bulk for one and a half million dollars per pack.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president of 27 years, blames his country's hyperinflation on a plot he says was engineered by Great Britain and other western nations to sabotage the economy. He said, "Our detractors have redoubled their efforts to achieve illegal regime change in order to reverse our land reform program."

A woman shopping in the grocery store said, "One donut is $16,000." And so in mid-June, instant coffee costs over a million dollars a jar and a chicken sells for a quarter million. Days later, Mr. Mugabe's government simply ordered the price of everything sold slashed by 50 percent.

Zimbabwean police task forces were issued orders to force businesses to lower their prices, regardless of what they pay wholesale -- causing disorder on the streets, and forcing hundreds of businesses to close their doors for fear of bankruptcy.

Now most of the shelves are empty and there is almost nothing left to buy or eat.

"I think that one of the tragedies of Zimbabwe is that there are people who are not going to survive this," says David Coltart, a member of the Zimbabwe Parliament.

A leader of the opposition, David Coltart, was elected from a district that is overwhelmingly black.

He says, "The only graphic evidence that one can give a journalist or a visitor to this country of the devastation caused to people is by taking them to cemeteries. When you go to cemeteries they look like the Battle of the Somme [World War I battle in France, with more than one million casualties], acres and acres of mounds of earth, freshly dug, freshly filled, containing the bodies of thousands of Zimbabweans who are falling off the edge of our society."

It is these graves -- now dug even smaller than a coffin-sized template -- that Coltart and others say bear strongest witness to the human cost of the country's economic collapse.

This cold June in Zimbabwe, shortages include even the space that is needed to bury the tiniest of the dead.