Unity Agreement Doesn’t Slow Exodus of Zimbabweans

AP, September 16, 2008

A power-sharing deal has not stopped the flow of Zimbabweans streaming into South Africa to escape the hunger and poverty wrought by runaway inflation in their homeland.

About 1,000 Zimbabweans seeking asylum formed a line that snaked across a packed-dirt parking lot in this South African border town Tuesday. Many had been waiting for days to file their applications.

Some said they feared President Robert Mugabe was still in a position to unleash violence on his enemies. Others said that while they found hope in the agreement signed Monday, they did not expect Zimbabwe’s economic crisis to be quickly resolved.

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In Musina, asylum seekers waited restlessly in a lot dotted with ash left over from the previous night’s fires and lengths of cardboard used as mattresses. Children gathered around a blackened paint pot balanced over a fire to await a breakfast of corn meal porridge and milk.

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For 15 years, Mucheana grew oranges, guavas, avocados and vegetables on a small farm in Chitungwiza, south of Harare. This year, with official inflation the highest in the world at 11 million percent, he could not afford seedlings, seeds or fertilizer. He and his wife resorted to selling vegetables on the streets, but were barely making enough to feed themselves and their three children.

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The International Red Cross estimates more than 2 million people are hungry in Zimbabwe, and that the number is going to rise to 5 million, about half the country’s population, by year’s end.

Some aid groups estimate that in recent weeks as many as 6,000 Zimbabweans have been crossing into South Africa every day. Many go back within a few days carrying groceries and other essentials that are scarce at home.

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High prices aren’t the only reason Zimbabweans are struggling. The last harvest was poor, and Mugabe’s government restricted the work of aid agencies in June, accusing them of siding with the opposition before a presidential runoff. The ban was lifted last month, but aid agencies say it takes time to gear up.

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Richard Zuza, a pastor in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, said the agreement was a start. But he was also in line for asylum Tuesday, as he had been for four days. He was fearful of returning because he said new elections were being held in his area and he had been counseling his congregation not to vote for Mugabe’s party.

He said he wanted details on the agreement, such as whether Tsvangirai’s party or Mugabe’s would get the ministries overseeing police and the army, two institutions accused of fomenting violence against Mugabe’s opponents.

[Editor’s Note: A story on the power-sharing deal that went into effect on Monday can be read here.]

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