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There is life in Zimbabwe, native tells committee

Members and guests of the Africa University Development Committee pray at the start of their Sept. 23 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo by Linda Green.

By Linda Green*
Sept. 26, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

United Methodist-related Africa University is located in Mutare, Zimbabwe, a country suffering from an inflation rate of 7,500 percent. A UMNS file photo by
Mike DuBose.

Even as the African country of Zimbabwe falters under a staggering inflation rate of 7,500 percent, "there is life," says a Zimbabwean native.

Speaking to members of the Africa University Advisory Development Committee Sept. 21 and Sept. 22, the Zimbabwean — who asked for anonymity out of concern about government repercussions — said that while numerous challenges face the sub-Saharan country, the most difficult is shortages of basic commodities on market shelves.

However, food is available outside the established channels. "One has to stretch a little bit to make sure food is on the table," she added.

The development committee, established in 1993, works with the Africa University Development Office in Nashville and agencies of The United Methodist Church to raise money for the school's capital, endowment and operational needs.

Waiting for change

The Zimbabwean native assured the committee members that while the country is facing turbulent times, "there is life in Zimbabwe." "We are surviving," she said.

What is happening in Zimbabwe is not new to Africa. "The history of Africa and the history of a lot of African countries is that they all have gone through some of these adversities and have come out of it," she said.

The country has experienced water shortages and drought, a lack of foreign currency, electrical outages, political repression, economic hardships and poverty. An estimated four out of five Zimbabweans live below the poverty line. Since 2002, an estimated 3 million residents have fled to South Africa alone, while others have gone to Zambia and Botswana.

James Salley

"A few years ago, Angola faced similar economic challenges, but today has the fastest-growing economy in the world, at 35 percent, making it three times the growth of the United States," said the Zimbabwean, who does business throughout the continent.

Critics of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe blame government mismanagement for much of the nation's woes. At 83, Mugabe has been Zimbabwe's only president since the country achieved independence from Britain 27 years ago. His tenure has been marked by economic crises that include chronic shortages of food and fuel. Unemployment today is estimated at above 80 percent, and human rights leader Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Capetown, has called for Africa and the world to pay attention to Zimbabwe's plight.

School carries on

Despite all that is happening, Africa University officials say the school continues to function unaffected by the politics of the country. While it is affected by commodity shortages, the university farm helps make up for that by providing vegetables, milk and eggs for the school.

The university also "continues to operate without any interference from the government," James Salley, director of institutional advancement

He told the committee that all of Zimbabwe awaits a change. "We believe a change is going to come to Zimbabwe. The people are waiting for that change. It will not be violent but orderly and in God's time."

A sign of change occurred Sept. 18, when a constitutional deal was approved by the country's ruling and main opposition parties. The constitutional amendments pave the way for joint parliamentary and presidential elections in 2008 and would reduce the president's term from six to five years. Some consider the deal a first step in lifting the country from its economic and political malaise.

The amendments also are expected to re-draw electoral boundaries, increase the number of representatives and move up parliamentary elections by two years.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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