Inflation: the Highest in the World
Mugabe also inflated the Zimbabwean currency, and printed more money. Massive impoverishment followed. The Rhodesian dollar was worth more than the U.S. dollar in the late 1970s. But in the mid-2000s it took multiplied thousands of Zimbabwe dollars to buy just one U.S. dollar.
The masses could no longer afford to live. Their salaries were woefully inadequate. Mugabe then commanded price-fixing; and he tried to fix the exchange rate. He went so far as to command bakers to sell loaves of bread for less than they cost to bake! The stores, of course, ran out of bread in no time.
Inflation rocketed to the highest in the world. It was so bad that pensioners could only afford to buy a single egg when they went shopping; for that egg cost about 1000 Zimbabwe dollars, which was a fifth of the average daily income! As for education, hardly anyone could now afford it. People were struggling just to survive from day to day. An estimated 5000 children were living on the streets of the capital, Harare (formerly Salisbury). In many families, only one meal a day was being eaten – if that. Doctors reported that increasing numbers of retirees were suffering from vitamin deficiency because they could not afford fruit. At that time a basket of fruit could cost more than a monthly pension. Unemployment in the country was estimated at 70% – and then it rose higher still. Prostitution mushroomed as women desperately tried to make just a few cents.
Of the tiny white population still remaining and unable to leave the country, there were between 7000 and 12000 pensioners, many British-born. Their position was absolutely desperate. Their minuscule pensions could not possibly keep up with the inflation, but they could not leave. These people built Rhodesia into the success story it was. Many of them came out to Rhodesia after World War Two, encouraged to do so by Britain – the very country which then abandoned them in their desperate hour of need. The pensions for some of them were as little as US $10 a month, and they would have starved to death were it not for gifts sent from relatives living abroad, and what charities were able to give them. Many elderly people, and many young people too, committed suicide. The retirement homes could not cope financially. Some pensioners were living in cardboard boxes, others in stables.
This is what the wonderful people of once-beautiful Rhodesia were reduced to!
Yet Robert Mugabe himself lived in the lap of extreme luxury. Not for him the suffering he inflicted on millions. He and his wife, Grace, built a vast palace outside Harare. Grace invested heavily in another mansion (nicknamed “Gracelands” by the locals), and she also acquired not one, not two, but a number of former white-owned farms. She frequently flew to Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa on shopping sprees.
Health Care, Infrastructure: the Collapse of Everything
The health care sector fell into such a pitiful state that the government introduced wooden cart “ambulances” drawn by oxen to carry pregnant women and other non-emergency cases along rural dirt roads to clinics. Midwives had to seal off the umbilical protrusions of newborn babies with string. Skilled doctors and others had emigrated in droves, and it was said that most Zimbabweans could no longer understand their doctors’ speech, because they were from Cuba, having been imported by the government from fellow-Marxist Fidel Castro’s disastrous country.
The State-run railroad system started to use gunpowder charges on the tracks, detonated by a train’s front wheels, to warn trains of danger ahead. There were regular power blackouts, and the fuel shortage was absolutely critical. As firewood consumption increased, massive deforestation occurred. And in desperation, disused mine shafts were being unsealed by people searching for the remnants of ore.
Fuel was in such short supply that people who had cars queued for days just to obtain a few litres. With at one time at least 3000 people a week dying of AIDS, bodies piled up at funeral parlours because there was no fuel to operate the freezers or furnaces, and in many cases the relatives of the deceased could not afford to bury them. Hearses actually had to produce the family of the deceased, and the corpse itself, at petrol pumps to obtain petrol to drive to the cemeteries!
Zimbabweans Flee Their Country
Literally millions of black Zimbabweans fled the country, crossing over into South Africa illegally, desperately trying to find work. They were prepared to brave the crocodiles of the Limpopo River, electric fences, and the South African police. When caught they were sent back to Zimbabwe, but they immediately tried to return, and many succeeded. Tens of thousands also fled to Botswana, one of Africa’s few success stories, placing a huge strain on this country of only 1.7 million people. Still others fled to Mozambique, another poverty-stricken country, unable to even properly feed its own people, let alone tens of thousands of refugees.
Amazingly, some of Zimbabwe’s white farmers were welcomed in Mozambique, Zambia, and even as far afield as Nigeria! The governments of these states recognised the vast experience and expertise of these farmers, and land was allocated to them. Zimbabwe’s loss was their gain. And astoundingly, some of the black Zimbabweans who fled to Mozambique ended up working for the very same white farmers for whom they worked in Zimbabwe before they were driven off their farms!
Rigged 2005 Election to Keep Mugabe in Power
By 2005 the people were desperate for change. Zimbabwe held an election in that year; but after a massively rigged election Zanu-PF and Mugabe maintained power. There was widespread intimidation of opposition candidates and voters. The press was almost completely shackled, and foreign journalists were not permitted into the country to properly cover the election. The main opposition newspaper was closed. Independent radio stations were jammed. All Zimbabweans outside the country were barred from voting.
The army, devoted to Mugabe because of the perks and salaries he paid the troops, was in charge of the election; and the army stated that even if the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the ballot, it would not be allowed to take over the country. This was the same army which controlled the internal coup which removed Mugabe from power in 2017! This just shows that by 2017 even the army could no longer stomach Mugabe’s rule – but the army itself has not changed!