Monday, December 3

Another heart-rending story on Zimbabwe

Read and Weep! And for those who celebrate that Monster Mugabe, watch over the mess he has created and weep for his victims.

Mugabe victims hit new low

WE knew Sarudzai Gumbo was still sick, but nothing prepared us for what we

The seven-year-old girl was lying alone and neglected in a dirty side-room
of a hospital in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, her head a mass of septic
wounds. Two large cancers were devouring the right side of her face. She had
lost the sight of one eye and the other was gummed up.

A filthy, bloodstained hat concealed untold horrors on her scalp. She
screamed with pain when we tried to remove it. Flies hovered around her
lesions. The stench of her putrefying flesh was overpowering. She weighed

The Times highlighted Sarudzai's plight in March after discovering her in
Mbare, a Harare slum. Her family was living on wasteland because its home
had been destroyed by Robert Mugabe's Operation Murambatsvina (Clean Up
Trash). Her parents' livelihoods had been ruined by a ban on street vendors.
They both had AIDS, as did Sarudzai, whose face was disfigured by open

Readers sent in pound stg. 7500 to try to help her - funds forwarded to the
Jesuit mission in Mbare - and Sarudzai was sent to an AIDS clinic. But her
mother died in April and her father took her away to the ancestral village
and - fatally - interrupted her treatment.

Sarudzai was transferred to Parirenyatwa Hospital just as Zimbabwe's
healthcare system was imploding. As with every other hospital, the doctors
and nurses who were there have left in droves for better-paid jobs abroad,
their salaries at home rendered almost worthless by hyperinflation.

There are no anesthetics, drips, painkillers, anti-retroviral drugs, blood
for transfusions or even bandages. This is a shell of a hospital, a place
where patients are left to die.

Sarudzai, whose father is also close to death, is a lovely, brave,
affectionate girl. She never cries. She claps her hands when given
something, waves when you leave.

Her condition was heartbreaking. We had her examined by a private doctor,
who said it was the most shocking case he had seen. Within hours she was
admitted to a private hospital. She has now been adopted by Kidzcan, a
charity that helps Zimbabwean children with cancer, but her chances of
survival are slim.

Sarudzai's is just one of the legion of horror stories that Mugabe seeks to
conceal from the world by banning foreign journalists from Zimbabwe. She is
one of millions of victims of his pernicious regime who will be largely
overlooked when the octogenarian autocrat enjoys the propaganda triumph of
being greeted as a legitimate national leader at the European Union-Africa
summit in Portugal this weekend.

Over nine days spent travelling clandestinely around this beautiful,
once-bountiful country, The Times found a nation where millions struggle to
survive on barely a bowl of sadza (a mealie-meal porridge) a day, the most
basic services have all but collapsed and thousands die every week from
starvation and disease. AIDS, like corruption, is rampant.

Once Africa's breadbasket, Zimbabwe can no longer provide its citizens with
bread and water.

"This is the world's worst humanitarian disaster, worse even than Darfur,"
opposition MP David Coltart says. "We lose more people a week to preventable
illnesses than are lost in Iraq, but because there's no blood on the
streets, little attention is paid to what's going on here."

Zimbabwe, like Sarudzai, has deteriorated dramatically since March. It is
closer than ever to complete collapse, according to the International Crisis
Group. Inflation has soared from 1700 per cent to 15,000 per cent. Draconian
price controls have emptied the shops because producers cannot cover their

Though millions are starving, farmers are slaughtering dairy herds because
they cannot sell milk at a viable price. But those who still have money can
buy almost anything on the flourishing black market.

Petrol is almost unattainable without foreign currency. Power cuts are
frequent because Zimbabwe no longer has the foreign exchange to repair its
decrepit generating stations or buy electricity from its neighbours. Taps
run dry for days on end, and when the water does flow, it is contaminated by

In Mabvuku, a township east of Harare that has had no proper water supply
all year, we found hundreds of women gathered on a patch of wasteland,
waiting with their buckets for tiny, muddy pools to form in the bottom of
half a dozen 4.5m holes.

"Some of us get up at 4am because there is more water then and it is
cleaner. Some of us wait the whole day," Joyce Dando, 46, said.

Four of the five reservoirs serving Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city, have
dried up. Some districts have gone weeks without water. Sewers explode for
lack of running water to wash away blockages. Coltart, who represents
Bulawayo, accuses the regime of deliberately blocking new water projects for
a city that is an opposition stronghold.

Agriculture, the backbone of the economy, was destroyed by land seizures
(which continue, with 160 of the 500 remaining white farmers having recently
received eviction notices). What remains of industry is being destroyed by
inane economic policies. Gross domestic product has fallen to the level of
1953, coal production to the level of 1946, and gold production to that of

Like its health system, Zimbabwe's once-proud education system has been
crippled by a teacher exodus, with an estimated 30,000 leaving the country
since January, many quitting in mid-term. The University of Zimbabwe has
lost at least half its 1200 lecturers.

The mobile phone networks are collapsing; only a skeletal train service
survives; bus fares exceed most people's wages. Even cash is running out
because the Government cannot print money fast enough, pay to repair its
German presses or buy enough chemicals and ink from abroad. John Robertson,
an economist, estimates that it printed $Z372 billion in March, $Z5648
billion in August.

The human consequences are desperate. A senior offical of a non-government
organisation said that almost half the population needed food aid. In both
rural and urban areas, The Times found children with the distended bellies
and swollen joints of kwashiorkor - a disease caused by severe malnutrition.

In one rural clinic, a 20-month-old boy lay dying of marasmus, another
disease caused by malnutrition. He weighed 5kg. There was no hope, the
doctor in charge said. The clinic treats hundreds of villagers who come from
far and wide each day on buses, donkey carts or foot.

More than 80 per cent are HIV-positive. Half are medically malnourished.
That lethal combination has destroyed their immune systems and caused an
explosion of other diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, meningitis and

In a Harare cemetery, The Times found five funerals taking place
simultaneously. An official said the city buried 5690 adults last year and
was on track to bury 8000 this year. Those figures exclude paupers' burials:
that morning alone, 38 people had been dumped in an unmarked mass grave with
no religious service.

A Bulawayo cleric took us to Kilarney, a desperate collection of shacks in
the parched bush outside the city that houses 500 families displaced by
Operation Murambatsvina. There is no school, no clinic. The inhabitants have
no jobs, no money, just a few cooking pots. They draw water from the shaft
of an abandoned goldmine with a sign reading: Danger - Cyanide Mining.

They survive on mealie meal provided by the church. Every few months, the
cleric gets soap, which he divides into tiny pieces, one per family.

Nokhuthula, 24, a stick-thin mother of two tiny children, stood outside a
shelter of corrugated iron and plastic sheeting held down by stones. A few
rags were drying on a thorn bush. Her husband was a carpenter, but his tools
were destroyed by Mugabe's thugs.

She used to supplement his income by sewing, but could no longer afford
needles and thread. The last time she ate anything but sadza was last
Christmas when she had a bowl of rice.

"There's no hope here. This is a place where people are lucky to reach the
age of 40," the cleric said. He then drove us further into the bush and
showed us rows of mounds in the red earth, each covered with thorny branches
to keep animals away. This was where he buried his parishioners, their
bodies wrapped in blankets, because their families could not afford proper

In Mbare, church workers rounded up half a dozen destitute women for us to
talk to, women such as Chipo Holaza, 32, who lost her husband to AIDS two
years ago. She lives with her four children under plastic sheeting, and
sells herself for less than $1. And now she is disfigured by AIDS.

"I'm desperate. The children will have no one to look after them if I pass
away. They'll be street kids," she said. One headmaster near Bulawayo said
that almost all of his 300 female students, aged 14 to 16, were selling
their bodies for food. A dental student at the University of Zimbabwe said
several classmates were doing the same.

No country has such a rapidly contracting economy or plummeting life
expectancy, but diplomats still believe Mugabe will retain the presidency in
elections due in March.

Boosted by the EU-Africa summit, he is certain to secure the Zanu (PF)
nomination at a special congress on December 14. With the opposition
Movement for Democratic Change demoralised, depleted by emigration and split
into rival factions, with 4 million of Zimbabwe's ablest citizens having
fled the country and those that remain debilitated by suffering, Zanu (PF)'s
superior political machine should ensure a Mugabe victory.

Even so, he is taking no chances, though. In remote areas, far from the
public eye, his henchmen are at work. An activist from Binga in the far
northwest said that 200 former members of Zanu (PF)'s youth militia arrived
last June. Since then, pumped high on drugs and alcohol, they had
systematically terrorised the poorest areas, burning homes, stealing goats
and gang-raping as many as 300 women aged between 16 and 51. The activist
described Zanu (PF)'s strategy: "If you're not for us, you are against us,
and if you're against us, you're going to be broken."

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

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