Supermarkets run out of food as Mugabe tightens his stranglehold
Zimbabwe's long-heralded food crisis has finally arrived in the big cities as empty supermarkets have begun to enforce rationing.
Huge queues are forming in towns and cities for staples such as cooking oil and milli-meal porridge and millions are now trying to survive on a single meal a day.
"Even if the shops have cooking oil you are only allowed one bottle per person," said a teacher in Harare, speaking on condition of anonymity. "People are watching for delivery vans on every corner and then running to wherever they stop."
In the desperation, two babies died in the crush of food queues last week in the second city of Bulawayo and another small child has reportedly died in a similar incident in Harare.
Previously, even in the worst periods of the economic crash, the supermarkets' shelves, in what was once among Africa's most affluent countries, have been full. The World Food Programme estimates that as many as four million people are in danger of starving as the situation deteriorates.
Zimbabwe's 83-year-old president has sought to blame the economic meltdown on international sanctions but in reality they only apply to the movements and assets of his own cabal of apparatchiks and cronies.
While senior officials loyal to Mugabe continue to live lavishly, the southern African country is in the grip of unimaginable superinflation, with the real rate climbing above 13,000 per cent. The cost of keeping above the poverty line has this week risen to ZD12m per week. Average salaries for police officers, teachers, soldiers and factory workers remain around ZD4m.
The response of Robert Mugabe's government to the economic collapse has been to clamp down even harder on all forms of opposition. While talks between the ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change go on behind closed doors in South Africa, the arbitrary arrests and beating of Mugabe's opponents continues at home.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the largest of the two opposition factions, has reportedly sent an envoy to the South African president Thabo Mbeki, saying he will abandon the Pretoria talks unless there are firm guarantees that intimidation of his supporters will stop.
Mr Tsvangirai, who was himself badly beaten by police earlier this year, has been criticised by civil liberty groups after agreeing to a constitutional deal with the Mugabe regime this week that will see the President increase his control over the election process.
Opposition leaders insist in private that they have wrung concessions from Mugabe but their claims have been greeted with widespread scepticism.