FRONTLINE/World goes undercover in Zimbabwe to reveal what has happened to a country once regarded as a beacon of democracy and prosperity in Africa. Posing as tourists, reporter Alexis Bloom and producer Cassandra Herrman find a population struggling with hunger and poverty, and living in fear of a government that has become a brutal dictatorship.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS
FRONTLINE/World returns with three new "stories from a small planet":
Zimbabwe: FRONTLINE/World reporters Alexis Bloom and Cassandra Herrman go undercover to document how Zimbabwe, once a model of independence and Africa's fastest growing economy, now struggles with the world's highest inflation rate - over 1,000 percent - as well as food shortages and a desperate fear of the ruling regime. The crisis is so severe that a third of the population has fled, and now lives in exile. Posing as tourists, Bloom and Herrman meet secretly with opposition leaders, dissidents, and ordinary people struggling to survive.
"People are tortured, beaten, electro-shocked, interrogated, suffocated," says Archbishop Pius Ncube, one of President Robert Mugabe's most outspoken critics. Meeting with FRONTLINE/World in his church office, Ncube launches into a scalding attack on the regime that he says has brutalized the nation. "What I pray for is that people become ... angry enough to simply say 'We've had enough' ... and rise up and bring him down."
Hiding a camera in a backpack, Bloom and Herrman enter a supermarket in Bulawayo, a stronghold of opposition to Mugabe, and find that the mainstay of the local diet - corn - is nowhere to be found. Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of Africa, yet FRONTLINE/World learns that as much as 60 percent of the nation's fields now lie fallow. After the ruling party nearly lost in the 2000 parliamentary elections, Mugabe embarked on a radical land reform plan that took control of the country's biggest farms, mostly owned by whites. But instead of giving the farms to poor Zimbabweans, the president handed them over to members of his inner circle, who had little farming experience.
FRONTLINE/World visits one woman who describes how the army took control of her farm at gunpoint, forcing her to stop growing food for her family and replace it with corn for the government mill. "They destroyed everything of ours and ordered us to grow maize. They said they were going to take the maize themselves." The United Nations estimates that over five million Zimbabweans - half the country's population - will be in urgent need of food by this summer. "People are now saying, we have been promised lies for quite a long time," says a shop owner named Sibongile. "ZANU-PF is just doing some havoc to the people."
Meanwhile, Mugabe manipulates the state-controlled media to humiliate his opposition. "I was taken before cameras to make indications on a grave," says Khethani Sabanda, a member of the opposition living in exile after being imprisoned for three years. "There was a man buried there, a man that I never killed. And I was made to proclaim before the nation that I was the murderer." Khethani's confession was obtained under torture, and he says the government had no evidence to link him to the crime. Nonetheless, this videotaped admission of guilt was played on state television daily, for months. Khethani also describes other humiliations: "I was at one time raped at the hands of prison officers, raped by prisoners while prison officers watched... [They were] tearing away the moral fiber within me that holds me together."
Margaret Dongo, a former freedom fighter and the first independent member of parliament, once belonged to Mugabe's own party, the ZANU-PF, but has since turned to confront her former colleagues. "Is this what we fought for?" Dongo asks. "You're watching the country going down the drain ... there are people who wanted to see a genuine change, not yet another dictatorship."
"How do you deal with a fallen hero like Mugabe, a man that the whole continent looked up to," newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube asks FRONTLINE/World. "How do you tell your father to sit down and shut up?" Margaret Dongo casts a bleak future for her country: "Nobody knows what is going to happen tomorrow ... the entire system is rotten." Archbishop Ncube says of Mugabe: "He's holding the whole nation to ransom."
Mexico: At a time when the country is sharply divided over US immigration policy, FRONTLINE/World repeats a timely story by reporter Claudine LoMonaco about the hundreds of illegal migrants who die each year attempting to cross from Mexico into Arizona along the so-called "Devil's Highway." LoMonaco retraces the tragic journey of Matias Garcia, a chili pepper farmer from a small Zapotec Indian village in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, who crossed the border looking for work and died in the Arizona desert. LoMonaco finds Garcia's family and interviews his surviving brother and others. Their responses to LoMonaco put a human face on the dangers desperate migrants are willing to risk crossing the border illegally to seek work in the United States.
China: The final story of the broadcast, The Women's Kingdom, first appeared as a special video feature on the FRONTLINE/World Web site and has just won the silver prize for documentaries in the prestigious Student Academy Awards held in Hollywood on June 10. FRONTLINE/World reporter Xiaoli Zhou travels to an area in southwest China where she meets the remarkable women of the Mosuo, a Buddhist ethnic minority with a matriarchal society, one of the last in the world. The Mosuo practice "walking marriage" and raise children in households run by women with the help of their brothers. Zhou, who comes from Shanghai, told us she had always wanted to visit the Mosuo region to see for herself how much freedom a woman might enjoy in China, a country whose policies have favored boys over girls.
Stephen Talbot is series editor for FRONTLINE/World. Sharon Tiller is FRONTLINE/World series executive director. FRONTLINE/World is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. Major funding for FRONTLINE/World is provided by ABB Ltd., The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. FRONTLINE/World is closed-captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The executive producer for FRONTLINE/World is David Fanning.
Promotional photography can be downloaded from the PBS pressroom.
Diane Buxton (617) 300-5375
Andrew Ott (617) 300-5314
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running time: 0:30
AIRS ON PBS JUNE 27, 2006