Page last updated at 08:25 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Failing Zimbabwe: Reporter round-up

A cholera epidemic is sweeping across Zimbabwe, causing further suffering to millions of people already struggling to survive in a country close to systemic collapse as food shortages and hyperinflation continue to take their toll.

The map below shows the extent of hunger and cholera in Zimbabwe. Click on the towns to read more about the situation on the ground.

Chinhoyi Harare Mutare Bulawayo Masvingo Hwange

The BBC does not have permission to report from Zimbabwe, so the names of some contributors have been changed to protect identities.


A strong odour pounces up your nose, choking it stone dry, as you drive into Harare's Mbare township past hostels and its popular market, Mbare Musika.

The stomach-churning stench is enough to kill your appetite for a week.

Raw sewage flows through Mbare Musika - Harare's rendezvous for farmers selling their produce.

A burst sewage pipe in Harare, Zimbabwe
Apostolic worshippers walk near a burst sewage pipe in a suburb of Harare

East of the township, more sewage flows effortlessly into the Mukuvisi River, one of the city's main suppliers of water.

Communal toilets in the surrounding hostels hosting hundreds of families have broken down.

As pumps are not working, sewage waste from burst pipes flows from the hostels' third floor down, leaving waste traces on the windows.

There are many sick people inside, they can't walk and relatives don't have money to send them to hospital
Mbare resident Majorie
And on the walls below, a thick dark layer of waste, hanging loose on windows has been accumulating over the past months.

It is a recipe for disaster, and a health scandal, according to a local priest.

"Even now, there are many sick people inside, they are frail, they can't walk and relatives don't have money to send them to hospital, so they are left to suffer," said Majorie, a middle-aged woman carrying a child on her back.

In the streets, piles of uncollected refuse are commonplace with flies feasting on the rubbish.

In this chaos, vendors selling tomatoes, mangoes and vegetables rove around.

Customers are still available. Some buy the produce and walk leisurely, eating mangoes, alongside streams of raw sewage to their hostels.

There is nothing they can do about it.

Goods in a Zimbabwean supermarket are priced in foreign currency
Most imported goods have to be bought with foreign currency

In this crisis, statistics of people dying of cholera rise each day.

But it is not just killing people, it is devouring Africa's traditional norms and values.

When Ruth Huni, a woman living in Glen Norah township died last week there were just six relatives seated outside when I visited her home.

Zimbabwean funerals used to be huge affairs with hundreds of friends, family and well-wishers. But no more.

It was common knowledge she had died of cholera.

"Where are our values as Africans?" asked John Mkwananzi, her brother and a famous musician with the popular Runn Family group.

There is a feeling here that people are being punished for supporting the opposition
Budiriro resident Claudios Mkwati
"They know she died of cholera. There are many friends, even relatives, around yet they are not visiting. Out of fear. I suppose," he said.

"What are we doing to our culture, if we can't pay condolences? Cholera is there, but we should rise above the problem and respect our cultural values that bind us together," he said.

Christians are not taking chances either.

At St Peter's Catholic Church in Mbare, there is something special missing during and after fellowship.

"Our usual shaking of hands which is a sign of peace and reconciliation - our custom to do during mass, during the holy service - we had to abandon it because people are afraid it might lead to more transmission of the virus," says Father Oskar Wermter, of the Catholic Church.

"People refrain from it so we just nod at each other in a friendly manner or just clap our hands to ourselves [the] traditional [way]," he says.

After the Sunday service this week, there were hardly any hugs, handshakes, or kisses.

Raw sewage running behind the church, a few yards away, left an unsettling odour.

A woman and her children walk past a heap of uncollected refuse in Harare
Rubbish has not been collected from the streets of Harare

Budiriro is Harare's worst hit township, recording close to 200 cholera-related deaths.

It is an opposition MDC stronghold.

"There is a feeling here that people are being punished for supporting the opposition," says resident Claudios Mkwati.

"Our local councillors and legislators can't do much, because the buck stops at the ministry of local government which provides the money," he explained.

The township has over 300,000 families.

Schools here in Harare are now officially closed for the Christmas holidays but most have been closed for months now.

The past schooling year has basically been one long break for the majority of pupils who have not attended a class in months because of the lack of teachers and unaffordable fees.

Most shop shelves remain empty of foodstuffs except for the few supermarkets in a position to sell imported goods, mostly available to those with foreign currency.

Their shelves are full but the items are so expensive that they are beyond the reach of most city dwellers.


Health officials have said that at least 51 people here in Masvingo have died from cholera over the past two weeks and more than 1,500 cases have been reported.

Over 20 people starved to death in my constituency alone last month
MP Tachiona Mharadze

There are strong fears that even more lives could be lost as the government has run out of the required medication to treat the affected.

Provincial medical director Julius Chirengwa said: "Although the situation appears to be under control the shortage of drugs and experienced staff still remain a challenge."

The critical food shortages which are forcing thousands of starving people to rely on wild fruits for survival is also worsening the situation because the fruits are not cleaned according to proper hygienic standards.

Thousands of patients have been left stranded because almost all the government-run health institutions here have been closed indefinitely, owing to a lack of finance.

Children collecting wild fruits in Zimbabwe
Many people are relying on wild fruits because of food shortages

Masvingo general hospital - the province's sole referral centre - has also been closed.

Hospital superintendant Amadiof Shamu said: "We have closed all the wards and we are urging people with relatives at the institutions to come and collect them."

"I do not know where to go and what to do," said David Muyaka, a seriously ill patient who was ordered to leave hospital.

Striking doctors and nurses have refused to return to work until they are paid $2,500 (1,690) per month.

Schools closed before the term had ended because teachers refused to work without being paid.

Policemen and soldiers were bankrolled by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe to oversee the end-of-year examinations.

A student in Zimbabwe studying by candlelight
Students wrote some exams in Masvingo by candlelight
However examination papers arrived late in the day at some centres, forcing students to write by candlelight.

Government officials are denying claims that at least 20 people in the past fortnight have died from starvation in Masvingo province, saying the figures are exaggerated.

Yet a legislator in Masvingo West constituency, Tachiona Mharadze, said: "People are dying every day because of hunger. Over 20 people starved to death in my constituency alone last month."

A villager from neighbouring Gutu, Edson Marima explained: "We are now living like wild animals because we search for food every day.

"We rely on edible wild fruits and sometimes eat vegetables only because we have nothing else.

"Some people are starving to death due to these food shortages."


Thirty people have died here in Manicaland province from the cholera epidemic sweeping across Zimbabwe.

It's a serious violation of rights
Trust Manda
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

About 450 cases have been reported.

Government officials conceded they were losing the battle.

While people are battling with the cholera threat, members of the Zimbabwe National Army are going from door-to-door in poor townships arresting residents found possessing foreign currency.

Those suspected to have given accommodation to foreigners who flocked to the eastern border city to buy diamonds also fell prey to the marauding soldiers.

Those found with hard currency are taken to the police station and then driven to the Chiadzwa diamond fields to fill up the illegal mine gullies.

Children eating maize meal in Zimbabwe
NGOs are distributing food to some rural areas
Once there, they are beaten up and ordered to sing songs in praise of the ruling Zanu-PF party and its leader President Robert Mugabe.

"It's a serious violation of rights," said Trust Manda, the regional co-ordinator of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

Teachers are still on strike, demanding decent salaries and better working conditions.

Non-governmental organisations are distributing food aid in rural areas after a failed agricultural season.

But the food aid is finding its way into the poor townships where it is being sold at hugely inhibitive prices.

Children are dropping out of school mainly because of hunger; and those that were at boarding schools are now at home because the fees are too high and there is no food any more.


Bulawayo's city health department says only eight deaths have been recorded in the city and those, they say, came from elsewhere.

A Zimbabwean family bury a relative who died of cholera
There are disputes about the number of people dying of cholera

But this figure is disputed by doctors and residents.

Bulawayo's ceremonial Mayor Thaba Moyo has said those who died of cholera came from Beitbridge, the town on the border with South Africa, 380km (236 miles) south.

Health officials in Beitbridge put the latest death toll at 56 but nurses have apparently told friends that as many as 80 people have died of the disease and the small mortuary is congested with decomposed bodies.

Villagers who live on the border with prosperous South Africa are crossing every day to seek medical attention at the hospitals in Musina town, about 10km (six miles) from the border.

The scale of the disease in Matabeleland is less serious than in Harare.

The cholera epidemic is one of the symptoms of a collapsed economy and health sector.

Someone selling containers in Zimbabwe
The price of containers to carry water has escalated in recent weeks

The crisis has also forced many schools to close. A situation made worse as thousands of Matabeleland's teachers have left the country for paying jobs in South Africa and Botswana.

Villagers in southern Matabeleland have appealed for more food aid as starvation worsens in the region.

Aid agencies put the figure of the population needing food aid at three million but the government says only one million are in need.

Cholera and hunger are not the only headaches for President Robert Mugabe and his ruling elite in the region.

Their party, Zanu-PF, is struggling to prevent mass resignations of senior and junior officials in this region which supported Joshua Nkomo, not Robert Mugabe, during the 1970s liberation war and has never fully supported Mr Mugabe.


The health system here in Mashonaland West province, where President Robert Mugabe hails from, is collapsing with the provincial hospital being the last of six district hospitals to close.

We have had seven casualties in prison and 16 more are under quarantine in one cell
Guard at Chinhoyi prison

For the past month, trained senior nurses and doctors have not reported for duty.

"'The provincial referral hospital is being manned by student nurses and no operations are being conducted here," said a senior doctor, who refused to be named.

He added that they had to down tools after they failed to get their salaries from banks, where there are daily cash withdrawal limits. The daily limit cannot even buy a loaf of bread.

The cholera outbreak has hit Chinhoyi prison. Seven inmates have reportedly died.

Zimbabwean children collect stagnant water despite cholera risk
School enrolment has dropped significantly in the past year

"'We have had seven casualties in prison and 16 more are under quarantine in one cell," said a prison guard, who cannot be named for fear of victimisation.

Provincial medical director Doctor Wenclilus Nyamayaro refused to comment, saying: "It's a security issue as it involves uniformed forces and I am not at liberty to comment."

In Karoi town, 204km (126 miles) north-west of Harare, immunisation programmes for children under five years old have been suspended.

Health workers at the hospital confirmed that immunisations for polio, measles, tetanus and other normally preventable and treatable diseases have had to be suspended as they have run out of the medication.

Last week district medical officer Dr Kudzai Zimbudzi was forced to carry out pauper burials for 10 bodies after mortuary attendants went on strike. The corpses had been in the mortuary for three months - no-one had come to claim them.

Power cuts have badly affected mortuaries.

Vending is the only paying job in Zimbabwe
A former teacher

Schools officially close on Thursday for the Christmas holiday but for many, going to school has not been a reality for months.

Pupils, especially in rural areas, instead spend their days gathering wild fruits to eat.

Teachers have joined the ranks of the country's starving professionals and many have turned to selling vegetables to put food on their tables.

In rural Hurungwe, teachers are not eligible for food aid.

''We are being sidelined by non-government organisations. We have to fetch wild fruits and edible roots for our survival,'' explained Sinikiwe, a teacher in remote Siakobvu, about 300km (186 miles) west of the capital, Harare.

Many in those towns have resorted to becoming street vendors in Chirundu - the border post town before crossing into Zambia - as a means of survival.

A demonstrating nurse in Zimbabwe
Many nurses and doctors in Zimbabwe are on strike

''Vending is the only paying job in Zimbabwe where you will not get frustrated by any employer. Government has neglected us and this year was the worst in the education sector. The army invigilated the grade seven [primary school leaving] exams. It is disastrous for the country's future,'' said a former teacher.

In Karoi, only a handful of pupils were going to school. School enrolment has dropped significantly.

In rural Zvimba, Mr Mugabe's home, the villagers are fighting with donkeys for wild fruit to eat.

If the government can defy court orders with such immunity, then they will never respect rule of law and political affiliation in Zimbabwe politics
MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama

Meanwhile, lawyers for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change are still battling to get access to 15 of their supporters who were abducted in Banket, a farming town in Mashonaland West, four weeks ago.

Among those abducted by suspected state security agencies is a two-year-old boy called Nigel who was with his mother, Violet Mupfuranhwewe.

MDC lawyer Alec Muchadehama said: "Our frantic efforts have failed to bring even Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi and Police Chief Augustine Chihuri to comply with High Court ruling to bring the suspects to any police station or court.

"If the government can defy court orders with such immunity, then they will never respect rule of law and political affiliation in Zimbabwe politics."


The municipality of Victoria Falls has banned the sale of mangoes and fish in the resort town in a bid to control the spread of cholera.

A school child sells wild fruits alongside a roadside in Zimbabwe
Selling wild fruit is also a valuable source of income

Mayor Nkosinathi Jiyane warned that anyone found selling fish, fresh or dry, and mangoes would be arrested and fined.

An anti-cholera campaign team has been formed and police are using loud speakers to announce precautions to be followed to prevent the spread of the disease.

Cholera has killed one person in Dete township and four in the urban area of Hwange despite government reports that the disease is under control.

Some residents in the province fear the disease might spread unabated with the onset of the rainy season because broken pipes have meant that a lot of business, health and education premises are now polluted with filthy and stagnant sewage.

In Hwange town, police and wildlife park rangers invaded the houses of owners suspected of selling uninspected meat.

Ladies carrying buckets of water are followed by a dog
It is feared the onset of the rainy season will worsen the cholera crisis

Their blitz has also affected the informal traders selling vegetables and tomatoes in the streets and at out-door markets.

Traditional chiefs as well as political and religious leaders are saying that people are dying of hunger because of the food shortages.

The MP for Binga South area, Joel Ghabuza, told a story of a grandmother and her two grandchildren who died after eating wild fruits they had not known were in fact poisonous.

And from reports going round, there are many other similar tales of needless deaths.

There is no food in the province and if donors fail to assist this coming year the situation will deteriorate even further.

Most families have failed to prepare for farming because there are no seeds to plant.

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