Panning for Gold in Zimbabwe

The Guardian features a video apparently smuggled from Zimbabwe about desperate people, ironically, panning for gold to survive. Zimbabwe’s economy could hardly be in worse condition and people are bartering gold powder for a tin of millet meal, bread or salt. It’s hard to imagine a more dysfunctional and implausible situation.

Once the food basket of East Africa, Zimbabwe’s agricultural  production has been destroyed. Blessed with precious metals but unable to extract them, their market value is squandered as they are traded away for the bare necessities.

Astronomical inflation has rendered its currency valueless. Some interviewed in the video say those who can’t pan for gold, such as the elderly and young children, face starvation. Beyond the irony, this is the tragedy. People are starving.

I haven’t been back to Zimbabwe since the board of directors of United Methodist Communications (called the General Commission on Communications) met there a couple of years ago. The group I traveled with stopped at a rural village while our video crew taped a pre-arranged interview with a young mother with HIV/AIDS. As we waited, several young men came to us and offered uncut diamonds. In this region it was not uncommon for locals to dig for diamonds and sell or smuggle them. Still another irony.

Because it’s illegal to traffic in the diamonds, we, of course, declined. But the illicit diamonds were one more indication of the strange reality of Zimbabwe.

It’s too soon to know if the on-again-off-again talks about power-sharing will actually result in a coalition government. Humanitarian organizations are working to slow the hunger and a runaway epidemic of cholera. As bad as the global economy is,  Zimbabwe is one of the places where the suffering and struggle to survive are as stark and grim as it gets.

WHO has called for a stepped up response to the cholera epidemic and Americares has doubled its aid commitment and is responding with water purification efforts. Oxfam is calling on the nascent unity government to prioritize humanitarian needs and act immediately.  ZOE Ministry continues to provide aid to Zimbabwean children.

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