Events in Zimbabwe this week have taken many by surprise. The political situation is still unclear as negotiations continue to take place. What is clear is that Zimbabwe has fantastic people and huge potential for recovery, but that this will take decades to accomplish even if a new democratic government can be established over the next few months.
I am a trustee of a charity, ZANE: Zimbabwe a National Emergency, that helps pensioners and the poor in Zimbabwe. ZANE personnel in Harare report that the city is peaceful and quiet. Numerous police roadblocks, a feature of Zimbabwe's roads for many years, have now been replaced by army roadblocks. Everyone is going about their daily lives, waiting to see what happens next. I emailed a friend in Harare this week, checking she was OK and asking her what was going on. 'We're fine. You probably know as much as we do,' was her reply.
Zimbabwe has amazing natural resources and resilient people. The infrastructure of the country is slightly shabby and worn, but it is still there. If the economy gets sorted out then it can once again become the breadbasket of Africa, but there is some way to go. There is 90 per cent unemployment, an economy in tatters and hardly any hard currency left in the country; people queue all day to get their own money out of the bank, with no guarantee of success; they are then limited to $20 per day.
Oppositions groups are cautiously optimistic about the current hiatus, hoping it might signal the beginning of positive change. Churches are praying that there won't be a descent into violence.
Pastor Evan Mawarire, who pioneered the 'This Flag' protests in Zimbabwe in 2016, said this week: 'The reason that we began to stand up against our government in 2016 was that we found it in ourselves as citizens that we could get to a place, somehow, where we can bring a change to Zimbabwe... we're very cognisant of the fact that we must not take our eye off the ball in making sure that our constitution is not violated, in making sure that democracy is maintained as the preferred way to govern our nation.'
A couple of typical Zimbabwean stories:
Recently I visited a township just outside Harare and met a couple of boys, Albert (aged 14) and Joshua (11), in their tumbledown house made of corrugated iron, cardboard boxes and plastic sheets. They were roughly the same ages as my own two eldest boys back home. However, their mother had just died of AIDS and they were fending for themselves. Each day Albert would go out collecting sticks to sell by the side of the road as firewood and would try to scratch a living to keep them both alive.
Peter is 66 and white. He has lived in Zimbabwe his whole life. He worked hard at his job on the railway and saved up for his retirement so that he wouldn't be a burden on anyone. Peter lost his job, savings and pension when the hyper-inflation hit in 2009 and the economy collapsed. Then his wife died. With 90 per cent unemployment rates he was soon destitute. Today ZANE supports Peter with regular food supplies and essential medication. Without the help of ZANE donors, Peter would be dead.
Whether the current upheaval results in greater democracy for Zimbabwe remains to be seen. After all, at the moment what we are observing is a jostling for power amongst factions within the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Meanwhile, ordinary Zimbabweans will continue to struggle and to suffer. So please continue to pray and to give.
The Revd Clare Hayns is Chaplain at Christ Church College, Oxford University.