Living Off Rats To Survive In Zimbabwe

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Dec. 19, 2006

Twelve-year-old Beatrice returns from the fields with small animals she’s caught for dinner.

Her mother, Elizabeth, prepares the meat and cooks it on a grill made of three stones supporting a wood fire. It’s just enough food, she says, to feed her starving family of six.

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“Look what we’ve been reduced to eating?” she said. “How can my children eat rats in a country that used to export food? This is a tragedy.” {snip}

This is a story about how Zimbabwe, once dubbed southern Africa’s bread basket, has in six short years become a basket case. It is about a country that once exported surplus food now apparently falling apart, with many residents scrounging for rodents to survive.

According to the CIA fact book, which profiles the countries of the world, the Zimbabwean economy is crashing—inflation was at least 585 percent by the end of 2005—and the nation now must import food.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to United States, Machivenyika Mapuranga, told CNN on Tuesday that reports of people eating rats unfairly represented the situation, adding that at times while he grew up his family ate rodents.

“The eating of the field mice—Zimbabweans do that. It is a delicacy,” he said. “It is misleading to portray the eating of field mice as an act of desperation. It is not.”

Western journalists aren’t allowed in Zimbabwe. CNN gained access via a cameraman who operated under the radar of the Zimbabwean government. Mapuranga said that there are news agencies allowed to film there but that the country was “under siege” by media outlets like CNN and the BBC, “which have shown themselves to be hostile to the people of Zimbabwe.”

Critics: Mugabe rules with iron fist

Critics point to one man for the nation’s downfall—82-year-old President Robert Mugabe, one of the longest-serving rulers in Africa. They say he rules with an iron fist and has reduced Zimbabwe to a nation of beggars.

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The downslide began, critics say, in 2000 when the government crippled the country’s prime commercial farms by running off white farmers and redistributing the land to Mugabe’s cronies. At least a dozen white farmers were killed and dozens were injured and hospitalized. Thousands more fled the country and the land. Most of that land now lies empty and abandoned.

Mapuranga said the program was “the greatest thing that has happened to Zimbabwe.”

The ambassador said the Africans who had been marginalized by whites before can now own land and control natural resources.

“This generation may suffer, but we are actually laying the foundations of prosperity and Zimbabwean control,” he said.

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‘We live like animals’

In the midst of the rubble that litters the once-scenic capital, Winnie Gondo, a mother of five, uses any means available to survive. She lives in a burned-out vehicle.

Gondo told CNN she lost not only her home but a twin son, who died from the squalid conditions.

“I’ve lost everything,” she said. “We live like animals here and there’s no relief in sight.”

Zimbabwe has been reduced to a nation of beggars, Archbishop of Bulawayo Pious Ncube said.

“Life has become extremely difficult in Zimbabwe and a lot of depression … people are very much depressed and they can no longer think idealistically. They’re looking all the time for food—‘Where do I get my next meal,’” he said.

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Ncube believes that if Mugabe keeps control, Zimbabwe will continue to sink into an “abyss,” and experts agree the only way the nation will eventually get off its knees is when a new president is elected.

“The key will be when Robert Mugabe moves out of the picture as a leader of Zimbabwe,” Gutto said.

Until such time, Zimbabwe seems set to remain as a nation of food lines and fuel queues, of shacks and squatters, of rats and rat-eaters—a nation fast grinding to a halt.

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