Zimbabwe economy in free fall
Inflation tops 7,600 percent as the country's economic crisis forces people to flee the country or scrounge for food.
Harare, Zimbabwe; and Musina, South Africa
Once considered a shining example of Africa's potential, Zimbabwe is now a country in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades.Skip to next paragraph
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Critical shortages of food, fuel, foreign currency, and, in some areas, water beset a nation where the official inflation rate tops 7,600 percent. Some analysts believe the real figure is much higher and climbing fast.
"We can't get anything now – no bread, no petrol ... nothing," says Shephard Lunga, a truck driver from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. "If you don't have somebody who's outside the country supplying you with things, you're finished."
The country's beleaguered economy has taken a turn for the worse since late June, when President Robert Mugabe ordered all prices cut by at least 50 percent in a bid to slow runaway inflation. The move backfired, causing manufacturers to stop producing their goods. Now grocery store shelves are barren, and people are increasingly hungry.
Even a casual stroll through the capital, Harare, shows the consequences of the country's record inflation. Supermarkets that once offered an impressive array of cereals and ice cream no longer carry even the basic goods every Zimbabwean relies upon: things such as cooking oil, bread, and cornmeal.
People loiter around grocery stores by the dozens, waiting for delivery trucks. The arrival of cooking oil or bread leads to lines that curl around street corners. When a store is able to put tea biscuits on its shelves, for instance, they vanish in minutes.
Gangs of men linger outside nondescript buildings, hawking fuel on the black market at prices few Zimbabweans can afford: about 2.3 million Zimbabwe dollars per gallon, which is $9,200 according to the official exchange rate (250 Zimbabwe dollars to $1) or $11.50 at the more realistic black market rate. Money merchants huddled near hotels are now offering roughly 200,000 Zimbabwe dollars to $1.
Key goods no longer available
Carrying rolls of bills the size of Big Macs, well-dressed shoppers walk into pharmacies stocked mostly with expensive imports.
More often than not, they walk out with nothing. Affordable bath soap is among the many items that hasn't been available for weeks.
"It's become like Zambia in the 1980s," says Iden Wetherell, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent, one of the country's two independent newspapers. "People are preoccupied with sustenance, getting by on a day-to-day basis, which successfully diverts them from politics."
The country's downfall was set in motion in 2000, analysts say, when Mr. Mugabe ordered the country's white farmers off their land and distributed a majority of it to cronies in his ruling party, Zanu-PF.
Since then, Mugabe's government has passed draconian measures banning public demonstrations, and members of the now emasculated opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), have been beaten.
"There is no life here," says a taxi driver who declined to give his name for fear of government retaliation. "We are struggling like it's nobody's business."