TOPICS > Politics

Zimbabwe Struggles with Political Instability

June 27, 2006 at 6:50 PM EDT

ALEXIS BLOOM, “Frontline World”: This great natural beauty is what Zimbabwe was once famous for. It’s home to the Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world.

For us, the falls were our way in. We’ve come to Zimbabwe pretending to be tourists, to see for ourselves an increasingly repressive and secret state.

This was once one of the most popular vacation spots in Africa, yet we find our hotel eerily empty.

Ten years ago, Zimbabwe was one of the richest countries in Africa, but now runaway inflation tops 1,000 percent, and this money isn’t worth the ink on the bills.

We just changed our money, and thankfully they’ve issued a new note today, the $50,000 bill. When I said to the lady in the bank, “This is rather a lot of money to be carrying around,” she laughed and said it was nothing.

It takes stack of money just for the basic necessities here. Once called Rhodesia, Zimbabwe was ruled by a white minority until 1980. But after a fierce war of independence, Robert Mugabe rose to power. A freedom fighter-turned-dictator, Mugabe has transformed Zimbabwe from the prize of Africa into a state of fear.

We set off for Mugabe’s seat of power, Harare. If we were caught reporting, we’d be arrested.

We see a long line of cars at an empty gas station. People can wait here for weeks, we’re told, for fuel that may never arrive. Down the road, we find another sign of the hardships we’d heard about: a garbage dump where people scavenge for food alongside baboons.

These men told us they were surviving through luck alone. I asked who was to blame.

ZIMBABWEAN CITIZEN: You know, everybody knows. We can shut our mouths. We can’t say anything, but we know who is responsible. You even know who is responsible.

ALEXIS BLOOM: He was too scared to mention the name of President Mugabe.

So you would say that it’s not easy to talk about these things in Zimbabwe?

ZIMBABWEAN CITIZEN: It’s not easy. Because there are a handful of people who are enjoying their life, but the rest are not enjoying anything. So it’s very hard.

ALEXIS BLOOM: Harare, the capital. We were advised to film only through our car’s tinted windows. We immediately spotted more of what President Mugabe doesn’t want the world to see: long lines outside of a bank, shortages of everything.

This man was desperate to unload his Zimbabwean dollars.

How much did you get?


ALEXIS BLOOM: More and more, survival depends on a growing underground economy, but you won’t find any of this in the daily newspapers. They’ve now been taken over by the ruling party.