The once-prosperous Zimbabwe has become the first country to hyperinflate in the 21st century, reaching an annual inflation rate of 10.2 quadrillion percent on Oct. 24 according to the Hanke Hyperinflation Index. With inflation rates rising daily, the economy is steadily spiraling toward collapse.
As Zimbabwe's economy continues to plummet, life for the estimated 12 million people who have not yet fled the country comes with immeasurable hardships. Food is scarce, and the majority of Zimbabweans are unemployed.
According to the Old Mutual Implied Rate:
- Just two weeks ago, the exchange rate between the United States and Zimbabwe was 2.3 trillion ZWD per 1 USD.
- As of Nov. 2, the exchange rate was 11.8 trillion ZWD per 1 USD.
(These rates would have been in the quadrillions of ZWDs per 1 USD had the Zimbabwean government not developed a third currency in July 2008 that effectively removed 10 zeroes off the number on the previous currency, i.e. 10 billion ZWD became 1 ZWD).
According to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook, unemployment in Zimbabwe in 2005 was about 80 percent, and that statistic has likely worsened now. Inevitably, unemployment, and thus limited incomes for some, affects everyone. For instance, if people need medical treatment but cannot afford to go to a hospital, then hospitals will receive no money for treating those people. In turn, eventually, the hospitals will not be making enough money to be able to pay their employees decent wages, if any wage at all. In this way, poverty is like an infectious disease spreading throughout the country from one Zimbabwean to the next.
Those who have been able to continue working often do not earn enough to cover the cost of transportation to and from work, or the cost of basic necessities such as food and water – if they can even find them.
"Shops are empty, there is no food, such that even if you have the money you cannot buy anything for your family, and where food is available, it's too expensive for the ordinary man to buy," says Francis Hweshe, who fled to South Africa from Zimbabwe two years ago after he was tortured by the government's secret service and labeled an enemy of the state for practicing journalism. I met Hweshe in Cape Town, South Africa, while interning at the Cape Argus newspaper, where he now works.
Hweshe stays current with events concerning his home country and "shares the same pain" with his people, especially his family members who remain in Zimbabwe. Hweshe tries to send money to his family regularly from his own limited income but still worries about them.
"My two little sisters are finding it hard to go to school because teachers have either left or were on indefinite strike due to low salaries and bad learning conditions," Hweshe says. "I worry what not having an education will mean for their future."
Like many throughout the world, Hweshe fears for the future of Zimbabwe, and he believes a handful of events led to the current economic condition of the country. Some of these events include: Zimbabwe's involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997; the Zimbabwean government's land reform program; and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's unwillingness to step down from his 28-year reign over the country.
Steve DeVilliers, a family friend who was born in Zimbabwe in 1951 and moved to St. Louis in 1975, shares similar thoughts.
DeVilliers' father and mother were some of the white farm owners removed from their farmland during Mugabe's land reform program, and he says, "When Mugabe started to remove white farmers from their lands, the downfall of the country started... Because the new farm owners did not know how to farm and Zimbabwe has an agro-based economy, no crops being produced triggered the fall of the economy."
Regarding Zimbabwe's controversial president who is more than reluctant to release his viselike hold over the country, DeVilliers says, "There is no future in Zimbabwe unless Mugabe and his friends are removed from power."
"The sad thing is there are a lot of people who are starving and have no future at all," DeVilliers adds. "They have no resources or food in the country, yet the infrastructure is still in place - all it needs is some good guidance."
With any hope, for the sake of Zimbabwe's economy and poverty-stricken population, some of that "good guidance" will come from the hands of Morgan Tsvangirai and his political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Tsvangirai was Mugabe's main opposition during the Zimbabwe elections in March 2008, and he won the majority of votes, even after supposed vote rigging by Mugabe's regime. Although there is still controversy surrounding the March election and the fairness of subsequent "runoff" elections, Tsvangirai and the MDC are still closer than anyone has ever come to diminishing Mugabe's authority throughout Zimbabwe. But, they still have a long way to go.
In September, Tsvangirai and Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement in which the two were supposed to divide chief presidential powers. This deal is now in jeopardy as negotiations on powers have proved to be difficult.
Most recently, the South African Development Community, which is made up of 15 heads of state from across southern Africa, were asked to help in resolving the political crisis. Hopefully, Tsvangirai and the MDC will soon be given the opportunity to work to restore Zimbabwe's crumbled economy.
The troubles in Zimbabwe are not new – they have been steadily worsening for years. However, it has only been recently that the country's crisis has received attention from around the world. The country's current dire state could have been possibly avoided if more pressure had been put on the government to make reforms sooner. Now is the time for leaders around the world to step up and continue pressures on Mugabe, so that the country and its people can start to make a change for the better.
Tsvangirai said it best during a radio interview with the Washington Post:
"The problem in Zimbabwe is not only an issue for Zimbabweans. Like any nation struggling to institute democratic governance, democratic ideals, we take a cue from American democratic principles. The fight for democracy is a universal struggle and therefore solidarity should be extended to those involved in that struggle."
Alicia Schamburg is a senior photojournalism student at MU from Ste. Genevieve, Mo. She has reported for the Missourian and is currently a staff photographer.