The countryside north of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, is littered with abandoned agricultural equipment. Massive silos, which once held the grains that made Zimbabwe the “breadbasket of Africa” have been empty for years. Irrigation systems rust upon deserted farmland. Villagers drive massive John Deere tractors as if they were cars. On a wall is written in spray paint, “Wake up Zimbabwe.”
“The land is rich,” explains Dr. Allen Tucker, “that is probably the only positive thing to come out of all this mess. At least the land is rich in nutrients because it hasn’t been farmed.” Nine years ago in an attempt to capitalize politically on racial tensions in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe began a land “reform” plan, which redistributed thousands of farms from white Zimbabweans to black Zimbabweans. Liberation veterans and ZANU PF (Mugabe’s party) thugs — with no farming experience — violently forced white farmers off the farms that once made Zimbabwe the second most prosperous country in Africa.
Much of the land that is not farmed holds the wildlife that brings tourists with cameras or guns, but that business suffers under Mugabe. Wildlife seems a luxury to those who are starving and are not part of the income stream from tourists. It is an old story of conflict among priorities on this continent.
It is the 85th birthday of President Mugabe this month and the zealots of his Zanu (PF) party are determined that it should be an occasion that their great leader will never forget.
In recent days they have been out soliciting “donations” from corporate Zimbabwe and have drawn up a wish list that is scarcely credible in a land where seven million citizens survive on international food aid, 94 per cent are jobless and cholera rampages through a population debilitated by hunger.
The list includes 2,000 bottles of champagne (Moët & Chandon or ’61 Bollinger preferred); 8,000 lobsters; 100kg of prawns; 4,000 portions of caviar; 8,000 boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates; 3,000 ducks; and much else besides. A postscript adds: “No mealie meal” — the ground corn staple on which the vast majority of Zimbabweans survived until the country’s collapse rendered even that a luxury.
CNN's Robyn Curnow meets Zimbabwean refugee children who tattoo themselves with a swastika as a show of toughness.
Editor's Note: For more on these Zimbabwean refugee children, read Robyn Curnow's report.
Roughly etched onto the upper part of Brian's arm is a swastika tattoo.
The 11-year-old says his 10-year-old friend Temashi spent two days "scratching" the image onto his skin with a match stick. It only hurt a little bit, says Brian, one of thousands of Zimbabwean children who have fled their ravaged homeland for what they hope will be a better life in South Africa.
Blogging for The Spectator
Driving to Harare down acacia-lined highways from Zimbabwe's border post at Victoria Falls and the casual visitor could almost mistake the country for being normal albeit with occasional touts peddling black market luxuries like Coke and diesel fuel in rural lay-sides. In the run-up to Friday's poll Zimbabwe has become a hybrid country, oscillating between queasy tranquility and sporadic outbreaks of extreme violence. Some areas, such as Matabeleland, home of the fiercely anti-Mugabe Ndebele people, have almost escaped the political violence altogether. One Bulawayo resident, an Ndebele, reasons as such: "Beating us delivers nothing for the government. We might be bloodied but will not vote Zanu-PF. Bobo [Mugabe] knows that its useless to target areas that have never voted for the government in the first place."
Program Note: Zimbabwe's opposition party warned Thursday of growing political genocide at the hands of government supporters, urging the world to intervene immediately before the situation gets worse. Watch full report tonight on 360°
David McKenzie | BIO
It is the eve of a vote here in Southern Africa.
It’s the eve of a vote with one candidate. A ‘sham’ of democracy.
Despite the calls from regional leaders, international heads of state and even Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Robert Mugabe is determined to go to the polls.
I had to get out of our studio where I am on live duty and see what ordinary Zimbabweans are thinking.
The Refugees I talked to in downtown Johannesburg are fed up. After years of economic meltdown and weeks of political violence, they have had enough.
In March, at the first vote, these refugees headed home to vote, many of them for the opposition. Now they see no point.
“There is no reason to go and vote since they are beating us like this,” said one man at the Park station, “It doesn¹t make sense.” Another agreed, I can't use any of their names, they are afraid that Mugabe’s government might monitor CNN’s broadcasts and website, “Even if we go back and vote, Mugabe would not accept it. It is better for us to stay here, we are free here.”
Free yes, but safe? Not always.
Foreigners in South Africa, many of them from Zimbabwe, were ruthlessly targeted in xenophobic attacks here. This is a country with rampant inflation and the foreigners are often seen as taking jobs and space from locals. Scores were killed.
But still they are forced to live outside of their homeland. At the station they pack big sacks of goods for their families. They take rice and sugar and warm blackest for their families suffering through the brutal winter months. Commodities are impossible to find in Zimbabwe. They take their simple gifts to their families and then come back to South Africa to toil at jobs often way below their station.
As the politicians bicker and the leaders join in to try and condemn Mugabe the loudest, it is these ordinary Zimbabweans who will suffer in silence
The calm and tightly controlled streets of the capital city here, Harare, are hard to fathom. Why aren’t we seeing protests in the streets, panic at the banks and brawls in the food lines? When I asked one young Zimbabwean about it he explained, ‘It’s like a person, on the outside we look healthy, but inside we’re rotting,” he said.
On a rare, undercover journey into the Zimbabwean countryside, we tried to find ‘the rot’ and we didn’t have to look long. We passed several police checkpoints, dodging police all the way along our route before we joined a journey made by millions here each day, an all-consuming hunt for work and food.