- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

MABVUKU, Zimbabwe It's the end of another long, hungry day. Chipo Riusika woke before dawn for a job that no longer pays the bills, and her four children out of school for lack of money stood in bread lines for hours under a fiery sun.
In Mrs. Riusika's blue-collar neighborhood outside the capital, Harare, supplies are so scarce and expensive that shoppers at the grocery buy cooking oil in minibar bottles, rice by the handful and one egg at a time.
The disintegrating economy has sent black market prices soaring. There are shortages of everything from basic foods to cooking oil to detergent. Lines for gasoline wrap in thick rows around city blocks and can last for days.
At night, Mrs. Riusika and the youngsters huddle in the darkness of their cramped cinder block house at the end of a barren yard. The electricity was turned off months ago, when the economic crisis first came home for the Riusika family.
In the afternoon shade, conversations among the women are punctuated by bitter complaints about President Robert Mugabe and his government. Anger simmers but is kept in check by fear of roving gangs of youths organized by the government to silence dissent violently.
"I have such pain," says Mrs. Riusika, 38, clutching her chest. "My heart feels the pain. Others are going to school but my children are not. I want them to make good livings, to be doctors, teachers."
Mrs. Riusika complains that her salary as a security guard hasn't risen with inflation which the government pegs at 195 percent but most economists agree is closer to 400 percent and says she can no longer afford her children's school fees.
At the average black market rate, the real gauge of buying power, Mrs. Riusika's monthly pay is worth about $6.50, and a semester's tuition for her four children runs about $6.
Zimbabwe's vast corn and wheat fields once fed the region, and its plentiful tobacco crops brought in foreign capital. But agriculture has crumbled in the wake of erratic rains and Mr. Mugabe's often violent land-reform program, and hunger threatens more than half the population of about 13 million.
Thousands of white-owned commercial farms have been seized since 2000 for redistribution to landless blacks, ruling party officials and their relatives. Fields now lie fallow and support only subsistence crops.
Even when Mrs. Riusika scrapes the money together for a complete meal, there is often nothing available to buy. Sometimes she cannot get to work because the bus is out of gas.
The family often gets by on one meal a day: a few vegetables and rice. The children say they miss sadza, Zimbabwe's staple of cornmeal mush.

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