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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 23:43 GMT 00:43 UK
Little to celebrate on Zimbabwe birthday
By Orla Guerin
BBC Africa correspondent

President Robert Mugabe at his birthday party in February
Only a few Zimbabweans are in a position to celebrate
As a man of God, Archbishop Pius Ncube is used to the hearing the knock at the door.

Members of his congregation in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, regularly turn to him for spiritual guidance.

But these days many need more than food for the soul. They turn up on his doorway hoping he can save them from starvation.

"The situation is desperate," he told the BBC, during a recent visit to Johannesburg.

"There's many a family that I know spending two or three days without food. A lucky family will have one meal a day."

The outspoken archbishop has called on the people of Zimbabwe to take to the streets, to free themselves from President Robert Mugabe. But he acknowledges that many are afraid.

'Occupational hazard'

They have plenty to fear. Just ask the opposition. Challenging the regime can result in beatings, imprisonment or death.

I asked opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai if he feared for his life after he was attacked in police custody last month.

I will celebrate when the old man is gone - and that will be a big party
James, Zimbabwean

"It's an occupational hazard," he said, with a smile.

But as resigned as the opposition may be it has other problems - among them internal divisions.

Twenty-seven years after independence, life in Zimbabwe is brutally hard and increasingly short.

Life expectancy has plunged to 34 for women and 37 for men. And many in the former bread-basket of Africa have come to know the taste of despair.

Prices change not just by the day, but almost by the hour.

If you could afford a loaf of bread on the way to work, it might be out of your reach by the time you come home - assuming you can find a loaf to buy.

Today's price is 8,000 Zimbabwe dollars. For many workers that is close to a full day's wages.

Official inflation is the highest in the world - well over 2,000% and rising.

The International Monetary fund expects it to more than double by the end of the year.

Central Bank governor Gideon Gono calls inflation "the economic HIV of the country."

So while President Mugabe celebrates the anniversary of independence on Wednesday, many of his countrymen will be preoccupied with the daily battle for survival.

'Bitter man'

"James", a 42-year old book seller, says the regime will get up to its usual tricks - busing its people in, but he doesn't think anyone will really be celebrating.

"I will celebrate when the old man is gone," he says, "and that will be a big party. Everybody will celebrate big time on that day."

Street children scavenging for food in a pile of rubbish
Many Zimbabweans are struggling to survive
At 83, Mr Mugabe has outlived and outmanoeuvred many of his contemporaries, but there is a growing desire in the region to see a transition of power, and he is isolated as never before.

It seems certain that the long-time Zimbabwean leader won't go unless he's pushed, and who is strong enough to do the pushing?

Some observers believe the greatest threat he faces is from the enemy within - challengers from the ranks of his own Zanu-PF party.

With Mr Mugabe standing for president again in next year's elections, "everyone has lost hope," according to James.

Like many Zimbabweans, he's in mourning for the slow death of his homeland.

"Such a beautiful country," he says, "and it's being ruined by one man".

The Zimbabwe of 1980 - with all its promise - seems like another country, and the Mugabe of today bears little resemblance to the independence hero of the past.

"I'm seeing a bitter man," says Zimbabwean publisher Trevor Ncube, who has himself been a target of the regime.

"A man full of vengeance, a man unfeeling for the troubles he's subjected Zimbabweans to. And that's not the man we saw in 1980. It's not the man we hero-worshipped in 1980, who could never make a mistake."

The daily struggle faced by Zimbabwe's people

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