A long-running gag says “in Zimbabwe there is freedom of speech, but no freedom after the speech”. But for journalists and activists who have been forced to endure nights in the country’s overcrowded and filthy holding cells, this is no laughing matter as prison inmates have no personal protective equipment to guard against COVID-19.
“I have long given up on active politics,” Gertrude Sidambe, a 36-year-old member of one of Zimbabwe’s opposition parties, tells IPS.
When female members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front complained last month about political violence as male members chose brawn over brains to solicit for positions, the party’s National Secretary for Women’s Affairs Mabel Chinomona advised that they enter the punch-and-insult battlefield and “fight” like everyone else.
Dotted across the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo, the water tanks installed in private residences is evidence that years of a water crisis, that has seen some suburbs here going for months without running water, has not spared anyone. The large plastic drums, locally called Jojo tanks after the company that manufacturers them, and which have a storage range of up to 10,000 litres, have assumed a class status of sorts in Bulawayo.
Sarudzai Moyo, a former teacher, has begun a new career as a fishmonger. Once a week she makes the 450km journey from Bulawayo to Binga, on the shores of Lake Kariba, where she buys between 100 and 150 kilograms of fish for resale as the demand for cheaper dietary options increase in Zimbabwe.
“As tall as he is, if he continues to do that I will kick him out of the country,” thundered Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe in 2008, his anger aimed at the then United States ambassador James McGee after the diplomat questioned the results of Zimbabwe’s 2008 general elections.
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe' second city of some 700,000 people, has experienced a shortage of vegetables this year, with major producers citing a range of challenges from poor rains to the inability to access to bank loans to finance their operations. But this shortage has created a market gap that Zimbabwe smallholders — some 1.5 million people according to government figures — have an opportunity to fill.
“I have never planted a tree in my life,” laughs Jairos Saunyama, a tobacco farmer, revelling at the absurdity of the question of whether he is involved in the country's afforestation efforts. Sawunyama is one of thousands of farmers who are blamed by local conservationists for turning the country's forests into deserts and dust bowls.
Similo Ntuli* looks like a ordinary, fashion-savvy woman in her twenties. As a hairdresser and beauty therapist in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Ntuli has her finger on the pulse of the latest styles and trends. But she also has, what she admits, are dark secrets.
Zimbabwe is making fresh commitments to open up its airwaves with government promising to issue licences to private television and community radio stations before the end of the year.
Piles and piles of rotting vegetables at food markets situated right in Zimbabwe's central business district would elsewhere be viewed as a sign of plenty.
But this Southern African nation has not been spared the irony of food wastage at a time of food shortages.
Zimbabwe goes to the polls in July for the first general election since the departure of Robert Mugabe, and the jockeying over who will represent the country’s major political parties is in full throttle.
With Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa just concluding a 100-day timeline to address what he considered the country’s most pressing issues, which focused on economic revival, human rights activists have their own timeline.
Sijabuliso Nleya has been kept busy in the past few weeks digging up sand. He is not a sand poacher like scores of people who local district councils across the country say are digging along dry river beds for sand used in the construction of houses. "The situation is terrible," said Nleya, who owns a plot in Douglasdale, a small farming community on the outskirts of Bulawayo.
Mildren Ndlovu* knows the mental toll of Zimbabwe's long-drawn economic hardships in a country where a long rehashed statistic by labour unions puts unemployment at 90 per cent.
Successive poor harvests have diminished Ndodana Makhalima's household food stocks and the family’s nutrition status.
A subsistence farmer in Lupane, about 110 kilometres north of Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo, 56 year-old Makhalima has learnt to live with hunger on his door step.
Noel Bhizori has a permanent post at a traffic light in Bulawayo’s central business district where he sells mobile phone recharge cards at a busy intersection.
Zimbabwe's planned Batoka Gorge power project on the Zambezi River is expected to generate 2,400 megawatts (MW) of electricity, upward from an initial 1,600 MW, but the worsening power cuts that are being blamed on low water levels have renewed concerns about the effects of climate change on mega dams.
The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.
With the U.N. Climate Change conference later this year in Paris fast approaching, Zimbabwe's climate change commitments face the slow progress on an issue that continues to stalk other developing countries – climate finance.
Pregnant at 15, Samantha Yakubu* is in a fix. The 16-year-old boy she claims was responsible for her pregnancy has refused to accept her version of events, insisting that he was “not the only one who slept with her”.
Despite a raft of legislation dealing with the environment, African countries are still falling short when it comes to enforcing the legal instruments that respond to challenges posed by climate change, researchers say.