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Home > About US > Magazine > Snapshot of Suffering

Author commentary: Money-fuelled problems in Zimbabwe


Kari Costanza reflects on her trip to Zimbabwe for World Vision magazine.

Kari Costanza
By Kari Costanza

The 200,000 Zimbabwean dollar bill used to be the highest denomination—until the government released a new $10 million bill in January 2008.
The 200,000 Zimbabwean dollar bill used to be the highest denomination—until the government released a new $10 million bill in January 2008.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
Zimbabwe is not a place to shop. There is virtually nothing to buy—very little bread, milk, meat, and little fuel. A scarcity of hard currency lies at the root of these shortages.

In 1980, when the new nation of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) printed its first dollars, one Zimbabwean dollar was worth $2 U.S. Today, 200,000 Zimbabwean dollars are worth just one thin American dime.

Zimbabwe wretchedly boasts the highest rate of inflation in the world—officially counted at 8,000 percent, but unofficially estimated at 25,000 percent. Goods are either impossible to find or impossible to afford.


The room service menu at the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo tells the story. A piece of chocolate cake costs $300,000 in Zimbabwean dollars, a club sandwich—$600,000. If you want the spaghetti bolognaise, bring your Visa. It will set you back 2 million Zimbabwean dollars.
The room service menu at the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo tells the story. A piece of chocolate cake costs $300,000 in Zimbabwean dollars, a club sandwich—$600,000. If you want the spaghetti bolognaise, bring your Visa. It will set you back 2 million Zimbabwean dollars.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision


If they’re lucky, there might be milk at the end of the line. If they’re really lucky, chicken or beef.
If they’re lucky, there might be milk at the end of the line. If they’re really lucky, chicken or beef.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
In an economy where money could be carried via wheelbarrow, people resort to desperate measures to survive. Many stand in grocery lines all day. When I asked one group was waiting for, a Zimbabwean told me, “They don’t know. It doesn’t matter. They just know it’s something they need.”

In Bulawayo, a once-thriving city, crumbling infrastructure combined with successive droughts has left a good portion of its 1 million residents without water. People get paid to stand in long lines to collect water for those in ill health or for the fortunate minority who have a job in a city with an 80 percent unemployment rate.

In the Food for Assets program, families receive food every 20 days in return for work on farming projects that directly benefit their families.
In the Food for Assets program, families receive food every 20 days in return for work on farming projects that directly benefit their families.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
But it’s the fuel shortages that cause greatest heartache. In Bulawayo, no petrol means no ambulance service. The ambulances have been grounded. Garbage is piling up around the city, causing disease. Garbage trucks have reduced their pick-ups to just once a month.

In Gwanda, south of Bulawayo, I met Mjabulisi Mkandla, 32, responsible for World Vision’s food aid programs.
Mjabulisa travels long distances, ensuring that Gwanda’s hungry families receive food for assets.

But about a year ago, Mjabulisi’s work and his life nearly ended due to Zimbabwe’s fuel shortages. “If it wasn’t for divine intervention, I wouldn’t be here,” he told me.

“We normally carry our fuel in our World Vision trucks in big drums. On the day in question, we were traveling with three drums of fuel—petrol and diesel,” Mjabulisi says. “I was sitting in front with the driver. Another person was sitting in the back with the drums.”

There was a problem. “The unfortunate thing about the vehicle we were in is the back door wouldn’t open,” he added.

When gas is available, World Vision staff purchase as much as possible, filling the back of their vehicle with tanks and extra containers.
When gas is available, World Vision staff purchase as much as possible, filling the back of their vehicle with tanks and extra containers.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
“It was a normal day for us,” remembered Mjabulisi. “We were just chatting about this and that.” Then the car hit a small bump in the road.

Suddenly fire was everywhere. The flash of flames was followed by a horrifying sound. “The guy in the back starts screaming, knowing he cannot open the door from the inside,” said Mjabulisi.

The driver was terrified. He jumped out of the car, now filled with flames.

Mjabulisi painted the scene for me of being a passenger in this driverless, burning car. “The car is still moving. I am so terrified. I try to think but I can’t think. I stretch out my hand and hold down the brake pedals to stop the car. Once the car stops, I jump outside. The whole car is on fire. I jump out to open the back door for the guy [in the back seat]. He jumps into the bush.”

Mjabulisi’s colleague sitting in the back was OK—frightened, but uninjured by the fire. The driver was in worse shape. The car had rolled over his leg when he fled.

As for Mjabulisi, he was changed. “It was an experience that showed me that if it is not your time to die, somehow God will always be there for you and will always help you to go through,” he said.

Reporter Kari Costanza with candle-makers from the women's group Vukuzenzele, which means
Reporter Kari Costanza with candle makers from the women's group Vukuzenzele, which means "wake up and do it yourself.'"
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
Mjabulisi, a husband and father of a toddler, now lives each day to the fullest. “I take it a day at a time,” he said. “Now I commit my day until the Lord. I say, ‘I will be traveling today, my life is in your hands.’”

I committed my travel into God’s hands several days later.
We were waiting at the World Vision office in Bulawayo as staff tried to find enough fuel to get us back to Harare, the capital, where we would catch a flight home the next day.

It took time. Staff had to siphon fuel from other vehicles in the parking lot to fill our car. We amused ourselves, tossing pebbles at scraps of tin, playing childhood games that never lose their fun—games that harken back to a time when imagination was our internet.

We finished up our game as World Vision staff began to load fuel into the back of the car, wedging the plastic containers between our suitcases so they wouldn’t tip over. We began the long drive back to Harare, carrying the fuel in the back.

Victoria Falls, the largest sheet of falling water in the world.
Victoria Falls, the largest sheet of falling water in the world.
© 2007/Jon Warren/World Vision
As the sun set, my head was filled with visions of Zimbabwe: Mjabulisi, addressing the excited throngs who have come to receive food for their families; how later, at the World Vision office, he tenderly fed his small child a slice of orange; the still awestruck look on his face as he recounted his story about the day he avoided a fiery death

I thought of the people standing in lines for food and for water, just hours away from one of the most spectacular water displays on planet earth, Victoria Falls. So many contrasts in one spot made for a jumble of feelings in my head. I leaned my face against the window so I could see the stars—bright in a place with little electricity to dim their glow. The faint smell of gasoline tickled my nose.




World Vision Magazine Cover - Spring 2008

Zimbabwe: Hunger leaves a long shadow


The above reflections were gathered by Coztanza as she traveled to Zimbabwe to write the story "Why hope still reigns in Zimbabwe" which was published in the spring 2008 issue of World Vision magazine .

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