Meltdown: Zimbabwe Back from the Precipice?

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HARARE, Zimbabwe --Two years ago, Zimbabwe was on the precipice of an economic and social meltdown. There was widespread violence and lawlessness. Many people lost their lives.

Today the economy is slowly turning around, thanks to a coalition government that's trying to fix the country.

"There is no freedom without struggle; there is no freedom without sacrifice," Prime Minister Morgan Richard Tsvangirai has said.

At 58, this leading Zimbabwean politician knows a thing or two about what it means to struggle and sacrifice. He has been arrested, beaten and tortured. He has survived at least three assassination attempts, charged multiple times with treason, while hundreds of his followers have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed.

"So it has been quite an extraordinary experience," Tsvangirai told CBN News during an exclusive interview in the capital city of Harare.

Mugabe, Dictator of the Month

Many accuse Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, and his followers of orchestrating much of Tsvangirai's woes.

Mugabe is Africa's oldest president. He has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 30 years. The August edition of Foreign Policy Magazine ranked him as the world's second-worst dictator behind North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.

"I'm just going to be very blunt,' President Barack Obama said recently about Mugabe's leadership. "I do not see him serving his people well. And the abuses, the human rights abuses -- the violence that's been perpetrated against opposition leaders I think is terrible."

Rivals Share Power

Tsvangirai said his relationship with Mugabe is evolving. Despite being beaten and arrested by Mugabe's men, Tsvangirai joined forces with his long-time political foe in 2009 to form a coalition government.

The goal was to bring to an end years of a violent political rivalry between the two men.

Tsvangirai became prime minister of Zimbabwe Feb. 11, 2009.

"It has been an extraordinary experience," Tsvangirai said. "Never before have we had a coalition government and a coalition government coming out of a very polarized situation."

Hyper-Inflation Crisis

Economically, the country was in dire straits.

"It defies description," said Muchadeyi Ashton Masunda, the mayor of Harare. "I think we saw what is arguably the worst hyper-inflation that any country has ever had."

A staggering multi-trillion percent hyper-inflation destroyed the country's currency. One U.S. dollar was equal to 25 million Zimbabwean dollars. The inflation was so bad the government was forced to print a $100 trillion note.

On the streets, people thought Zimbabwe was finished.

"It was horrible," said a street vendor working in the capital's main market. "People lost money, there were no jobs, no food, everything was closed, shops, hospitals. It was terrible."

Winds of Change?

Now, 18 months later, a different Zimbabwe is emerging. Millers Café opened in Harare just in a few weeks ago. Business has been humming ever since.

Allison Kelly, who manages Millers Café, described it as "unbelievable".

"We've had an amazing response from people, an almost overwhelming response actually," Kelly said. "We've been very, very busy. We do probably about 500 people a day."

Kelly said people's confidence in the economy is slowly returning. One key reason -- the political climate has stabilized and people are beginning to have some faith in the future again.

Another big factor is the nation's currency. The coalition government abandoned the Zimbabwean dollar for the U.S. dollar and South African rand.

"Changing over to the U.S. dollar and South African rand has made a huge difference. It has stabilized the economy," Ebfania Ruchaka, who runs a small vegetable stand, said.

Human Rights, Freedoms

The streets are bustling. The stores are full again. Foreign investors are slowly coming back. Freedom of the press is also making a comeback.

Trevor Ncube is a successful Zimbabwean media mogul. In June, he launched the first independent daily newspaper in seven years -- breaking a state monopoly setup by President Mugabe.

"It is the most exciting thing I've done in 20 years undoubtedly," remarked Ncube.

Human rights abuses are down, although critics say there are still too many. And tourists are coming back to take in the spectacular views of Victoria Falls and the numerous wildlife parks.

Tourism in Zimbabwe is a huge money-making business. It ranks 3rd in terms of generating money for the country.

The government in essence is trying to tell the rest of the world that it is a safe country and they should all come and visit.

'Miraculous' Unity

Zimbabweans say these success are, in part, because the unity government has managed to survive this long.

Tsvangirai calls it nothing short of miraculous.

"I think everyone did not give us even two weeks," he told CBN News.

But the road ahead is going to be rough. Unemployment remains at a staggering 90 percent. And the country still suffers from an image problem.

Hundreds of people have been killed because of their political differences. Those images still linger.

"Yes, that is the past," Tsvangirai said. "That image will not go away. Yes, there may be eruptions of violence here and there, but certainly to expect this country to be degenerating like any other African banana republic where people are fighting in the streets and guns are shooting all over the place like Somalia, it is far, far away from that image."

Zimbabwe Turning a Corner?

Eighteen months after Zimbabwe's unity government was sworn in, there's still some concern that not enough is being done to fix the country.

Despite the power sharing agreement between the political parties, some are openly beginning to question whether Prime Minister Tsvangirai has the ability to run the government.

"I think the truth is that Robert Mugabe is still in charge of Zimbabwe, supported by the military, supported by the intelligence and the police force," a worried Ncube said.

Yet, Tsvangirai is hopeful about Zimbabwe's prospects.

"This is a country where the future cannot be brighter. I'm optimistic that the future of the country is assured."

Originally aired on August 13, 2010. 

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