Zimbabwe in chaos, but community stands strong
While our northern neighbour has experienced a long period of relative stability, over the past few weeks, there have been massive fuel and food shortages, rations, panic buying, and chaos in the streets. In the middle of all this, the tiny Jewish community battles on.
“Things are difficult in Zimbabwe with another round of hyperinflation and currency chaos,” says ex-Zimbabwean Dave Bloom, who lives in Israel. “I do know of a few cases in the Zimbabwe Jewish community of people struggling to purchase their medicines because payment has to be in genuine US dollars, which are hard to get.
“I also know that the little income that the community receives and uses for welfare has dwindled due to inflation, so there are retirees and welfare cases that are battling to make ends meet,” says Bloom.
“Remember, the community is tiny – about 80 souls in Harare, and 50 to 60 in Bulawayo. They are, on the whole, much better off than the vast majority of Zimbabweans where there is close to 90% formal unemployment, and most government services have almost collapsed. I have received offers of help from around the world which is very gratifying. We are trying to identify specific areas we can help with, but the logistics are a nightmare as the banking system is in total chaos.”
Why is this happening now? Says Baranov, “Many point to the political turmoil following the recent Zimbabwean elections, which included political violence and intimidation, as well as an election that has been questioned as truly democratic.
“Loss of hope after the transition from Mugabe to Mnangagwa has created panic buying as people try to stock up for the growing economic crisis. There is also political and social instability in the wake of a perceived lack of leadership and questionable government appointments.”
Dennis Murira of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) explains the situation: “Government is overburdened with foreign and domestic debt of about $18 billion (R255 trillion). A number of austerity measures were introduced by the desperate government, including a 2c tax per dollar per transaction made by every Zimbabwean.
“Prices in shops sky rocketed, and imports dried up because of the shortage of foreign currency. Consumers panicked and bought everything in the shops, while business people raised prices and started hoarding products, unsure of prices. So, in short, there is no fuel, no basics, and shocking prices.”
On Tuesday, the government lifted the ban on basic food imports, “and obviously South African products will flood the market. The few remaining local industries might actually cease production as they will fail to compete. It’s scary. We are trying to come out of the crisis that we created as a country,” Murira says.
But others remain hopeful. Arnold Joffe, the President of the Harare Hebrew Congregation, says that community members are not panicking, and they have experienced no real disruption besides crowded roads and some shortages in supermarkets.
Country Communities Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft says that all elderly Jews in old-aged homes have the food and supplies they need, but if the situation gets worse, international assistance may be called upon. However, he believes that the current chaos is temporary, and that President Emmerson Mnangagwe wants to make a name for himself and turn the country around by creating opportunities for investment.
How can the South African Jewish community help? “Besides supporting non-governmental and humanitarian organisations that are assisting the most vulnerable on the ground,” says Baranov, “South Africans can also pressure local media to raise awareness about the situation in Zimbabwe, and lobby political leaders to take real and effective action against the deteriorating political and human rights situation in the country.”