Why Zimbabwe Is Again In A Deep Economic Crisis

Sep 16, 2019
Originally published on September 16, 2019 6:14 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

For many years now, people in Zimbabwe have turned to one refrain over and over - when Robert Mugabe dies, things will be better. Mugabe was ousted from power in 2017, and now the longtime former ruler has died. But Zimbabwe's new government has used many of the same repressive tactics that its longtime leader once did, and the country is once again in a deep economic crisis. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: At night, the streets of Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, become one big open-air market. Sometimes, you find university graduates selling toilet paper from the roof of their cars; others sell electronics, clothes, detergent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Just across the street, I find Chidochase, who only gives me his first name because he fears government retribution. He's 28, wearing a business suit, an engineer by education, but these days, he's selling solar panels because right now Zimbabweans only get about six hours of electricity a day.

CHIDOCHASE: Like anyone else of my age, we thought if Mugabe go, that would be a little bit better, but...

PERALTA: Instead, he says, now that Mugabe is gone, things have gotten worse. Independent estimates put inflation at more than 500%. Zimbabweans line up for fuel and bread. Money and medicine are scarce. Urban professionals have turned to farming. Chidochase says he wasted his parents' money going to university, and the only thing he longs for is to leave Zimbabwe.

CHIDOCHASE: But, anyway, I can't even have my passport, so I'll be here until 2020.

PERALTA: No passport because the government doesn't have the money to print enough of them.

EVAN MAWARIRE: I think that's what depresses Zimbabweans. That's what we all look at and think this is unbelievable that the worst nightmare got worse at the end of the nightmare.

PERALTA: That's Evan Mawarire, a Baptist pastor who led some of the biggest protests against Mugabe. He says Robert Mugabe became such a fixture in Zimbabwe, everyone thought he would die in office. So for decades, his death represented hope. But he was ousted, and the hope of a new beginning vanished.

MAWARIRE: This person has died with our future. He's died with everything that we had ever hoped to be. He took it all.

PERALTA: A few days earlier, thousands of Zimbabweans lined up to see Robert Mugabe's body.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Foreign language spoken).

PERALTA: Evidence Jozingwa walks away from the coffin in tears.

EVIDENCE JOZINGWA: Although he did do some things bad, but there's pain. That's why I cry.

PERALTA: She says Mugabe was Zimbabwe's liberator, but he never listened. He never cared. I ask her if she thinks his death will indeed bring change.

JOZINGWA: No. It's hard. You see the way I look, my legs. It's swelling.

PERALTA: She points out her legs, which are badly swollen.

JOZINGWA: I can't work for myself. And if I am not doing anything - you see my bags. I am selling for me to eat.

PERALTA: Her life is a struggle. She sells trinkets to eat, to pay for medical care. She points toward Mugabe's casket.

JOZINGWA: It's because of this person, you see.

PERALTA: But you're still sad.

JOZINGWA: Yeah. My heart is pain.

PERALTA: A big part of it, she says, is because she's lost hope that things will ever change. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Harare.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOWERY ELECTRIC'S "DEEP BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.