Loads of hope and food for Zimbabwe

Shoppers in an almost empty supermaket in Harare, Zimabwe.

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Voters in Zimbabwe head to the polls this weekend. The country's holding presidential and parliamentary elections. Most Western analysts expect President Robert Mugabe will win. Again. But he's facing the toughest campaign of his 28 years in power.

Zimbabwe's economy is in tatters. The inflation rate is running at 100,000 percent. Shelves are empty, and the currency's virtually worthless. Food is one of the only things with real value. Gretchen Wilson has our story, which starts in an empty lot in downtown Johannesburg.


Gretchen Wilson: Passengers crowd onto the Ebony and Ivory bus to make a journey to Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. Men heave boxes into the undercarriage. Knowledge Chivasa's bags are full of precious cargo.

Knowledge Chivasa: Food -- rice, cooking oil, soups.

With chronic food shortages, many Zimbabweans eat only one meal a day. U.N. agencies say last month, they provided food to a third of the country's population. But Chivasa remembers when Zimbabwe used to feed the region.

CHIVASA: Zimbabwe was a breadbasket for the whole of southern Africa. Now, just because of this political situation, that country is dry now.

Ross Herbert is with the South African Institute of International Affairs:

ROSS HERBERT: The government is printing money and driving hyperinflation at rates that hasn't been seen since Germany after World War I. And their means of mediating problems is effectively just to seize assets or beat people or intimidate people. And so anyone with any money or capability is heading for the exits.

The teachers, doctors and engineers who've come here to South Africa are literally the breadwinners for elderly relatives and children left behind.

HERBERT: Without that, the country would be utterly starving and without hope.

So busses like this one are the backbone of Zimbabwe's economy.

This bus sags under the weight of food tied to the roof and piled in the aisles. Passengers find seats between groceries and old refrigerators and TVs. Anything that can be eaten, or traded for food. Lovemore Mavhunga is the bus driver.

LOVEMORE MAVHUNGA: We have got no food in Harare. There is completely nothing.

Some pay the driver $3 to take one bag of sugar and corn meal to their family members. Others take the food themselves. But even a suitcase of rice can only last so long.

MAVHUNGA: With a family of four or five, it doesn't last two weeks! Then it's finished again.

The bus will get on the road when no more food will fit inside. With luck, they'll reach the border by midnight -- and the cheering crowds in Harare by tomorrow morning.

In Johannesburg, I'm Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

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