Make no mistake – the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe remains critical.
Access to healthcare is limited. Schools are closed. Lack of food is widespread. A Cholera epidemic has killed 4000 people. Millions have fled. The country is in ruin.
One would say “Could the last person to leave Zimbabwe please switch off the light”, but as the electricity isn’t working there would be no point.
Yet Caritas Zimbabwe National Director Cornelius Hamadziripi says people are just starting to hope that an end to their suffering is possible.
The catalyst for this flicker of optimism is a shotgun marriage between President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC party, bringing the two together to form a unity government.
“It is too early to say,” said Cornelius Hamadziripi, “But we are hoping that freedom is beginning to open up with the new deal.
“Before, one crisis followed another crisis, leaving people with no breathing space. The new deal addresses some of the political challenges that we face and we hope people support the agreement inside and outside Zimbabwe.”
The uneasy power sharing arrangement remains fragile– the tragic death in a road accident of Morgan Tsvangirai wife, Susan, underlined just how easily things might unravel.
“We are sincerely saddened by the death of Susan and we hope that Morgan will remain strong,” Mugabe said. He called for an end to violence and said Zimbabweans needed to work peacefully together.
Yet political prisoners — including several close allies of Tsvangirai — remain in prison and power struggles continue.
Even if the deal sticks, the task ahead will require a mammoth effort from both the government, the people, and international donors and supporters.
“The outbreak of cholera was a symptom of bigger issues. It spotlighted the breakdown of the water system, the breakdown of health system, and the lack of planning where the same infrastructure since independence was expected to cope with a big rural to urban migration,” said Mr Hamadziripi.
Rebuilding Zimbabwe could cost $5 billion said Morgan Tsvangirai.
“This can be a good place again,” said Mr Hamadziripi, “It will take five years at a conservative estimate with the support of the international community.”
That support remains sceptical.
The West’s conditions for engagement include economic stability and reform, the release of political prisoners, news media freedom and restoration of the rule of law.
The Australian government is the first to stick its neck on aid to the new government in Zimbabwe, saying it will expand its assistance to beyond humanitarian assistance to help the national unity government in Harare serve the population.
The focus of Caritas work will to encourage people not to just be aid recipients, but to work for themselves to break free of poverty. Caritas will be running agricultural training and giving people the resources to invest in their farms so they become more productive.
Mr Hamadziripi said, “We’ll continue to rely heavily on the support of Caritas members globally. We can’t work this out on our own. Their help is the driving force of what we do.”