Ginny Stein reports from Zimbabwe, a ruined nation where inflation is spiralling out of control at well over 10,000%.
Armed with her spy camera to avoid arrest, Stein hitch hikes across the border from South Africa to find supermarkets virtually empty, with almost nothing edible on the shelves. Cities are without power and there's virtually no transport.
Many businesses stay open to avoid the government taking over their business, but others have given up.
However it's not just the lack of food, and the relentless queuing for what little exists that is causing distress for Zimbabweans battling to survive.
“Everything has become bigger than life. You can't get transport there is no transport. And for those who are working it is just a matter of charity. There is virtually nothing here”, says a resident.
The one thriving industry in the once rich African country is the funeral business. Zimbabwe currently has the world's lowest life expectancy; 37 years for men and 34 for women.
The Robert Mugabe led government is in denial about the scope of the crisis facing the country. The Zimbabwean ambassador to South Africa tells Ginny that there's plenty of food in the shops – but her pictures tell a vastly different story.
The government blames drought for the nation's food shortage but for years now it's been seizing productive white-owned farms and giving them to blacks with little or no large scale farming experience.
Zimbabwe, once one of the most prosperous nations in Africa, now holder of a new record, the highest inflation rate in the world, officially an almost unimaginable 10,000%, in reality, much higher! The economy is crippled and everyday life is hell for Zimbabweans. But the world has seen precious little of this daily battle for survival as the notorious Robert Mugabe has muzzled all media coverage. But not Datelines own Ginny Stein. At considerable personal risk, it has to be said, Ginny got in, armed with a secret camera.
REPORTER: Ginny Stein
REPORTER: I've got the visa. Do I have to go over there and get it stamped or anything, before we go out?
I'm at the border about to cross from South Africa into Zimbabwe. I'm filming secretly because the government of President Robert Mugabe doesn't want the world to know about his country's economic collapse.
REPORTER: OK, so I've got the visa, I've got this form, is there anything left?
To be caught filming or working as a journalist is to risk jail. Anyone seen helping me faces an even lengthier jail term, so I'm posing as a member of a church group until I know it's safe enough to say otherwise.
CUSTOMS: What are you carrying my sister?
REPORTER: I'm carrying my personal stuff, and some food and water.
REPORTER: Water. Yeah, drinking water.
My first stop is to meet a black-market fuel supplier. This is how those with connections or hard currency get around when even the government struggles to buy fuel. These cars are lined up outside a petrol station.
CHARLES MPOFU, BULAWAYO CITY COUNCILLOR: It's very bad, that's the only garage. Look at the size of the city, look at the moving around, not all of them getting fuel from this garage.
I'm being taken on a tour of Bulawayo, the largest city in the country's south-west, by city councillor Charles Mpofu. He says his city suffers from more than just fuel shortages. Whole areas have been without water for months. These people have been queuing for hours at a bore hole to pump some water.
CHARLES MPOFU: Some come early in the morning, around 4:00 or 5:00am and then some come just to prepare the children to go to school.
The supermarkets I visit throughout Zimbabwe's south-west all have one thing in common, virtually nothing for sale. Some shops are open, many no longer bother.
REPORTER: What have you got today?
SHOPKEEPER: Ah, today there is nothing.
REPORTER: He's just saying nothing, nothing has come in today.
SHOPKEEPER: Nothing, nothing, there is only these rolls, these bread rolls.
These bread rolls are amongst the few baked today. So few, they never even make it to the shelves inside the store.
REPORTER: When was the last time you had bread?
SHOPKEEPER: I think a month ago.
CHARLES MPOFU: And this is one of our busiest shops, providing services to the community that come. So this was the hope of getting everything you wanted. But now you can't. There is no washing soap, no bathing soap.
REPORTER: When was the last time you could buy milk?
SHOPKEEPER: Two months back.
REPORTER: Two months ago? When was the last time you could get meat in a supermarket?
CHARLES MPOFU: It was also over two months now. It is a dream to get beef anywhere, it is a dream to get fish anywhere. And it is a dream to get chicken anywhere.
These women have come in search of anything, but they hold out little hope.
WOMAN: Each and everything what comes, there is a queue. With a baby they push you. You don't get anything. At the end of the day and if there is someone who helps, they say “come here with your baby”.
CHARLES MPOFU: What makes it like that with the queues? There is scarcity of everything. The little milk that comes, everyone runs for it.
WOMAN: Whatever comes, queue. Whatever comes, queue.
The few things I am able to buy here, some water, vegetables and a plastic bucket to cart water cost more than a million Zimbabwean dollars, which is roughly what a junior shop assistant earns in a month.
REPORTER: Three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, a million. Sorry, I don't have.
The average wage for a security guard in Zimbabwe today is about $2 million a month. For a teacher, it's about $2.5 million. But to give you an idea of what that will buy you in Zimbabwe today, it's roughly equal to a simple fast food meal of chicken and chips for a family of four. Malnutrition and contaminated water is taking its toll on people's health.
DOCTOR THANDAZANI: I can say for the past two months about 50% of the patients who are coming in some cases up to 75% of the patients coming in have got diarrhoea and vomiting.
Doctor Thandazani, not his real name, runs a private clinic. But even if you can afford to see him, there's only so much doctors can do without medical supplies.
DOCTOR THANDAZANI: The main thing which has happened is that, as any tradesman or professional, a doctor needs to have his tools in place, like I need to have all the fluids I want, the drugs I want, the gloves whenever I want them, injections, syringes, but these are lacking and sometimes a patient comes who needs emergency care and I just look at them and I feel hopeless because I don't have the tools to use.
At this council clinic people can afford to seek help as consultation fees have been kept low, but there's no money to buy drugs. This is where the clinic's few drug supplies are kept.
NURSE: As I told you, we haven't got much, what we haven't got is the larger list.
The day after I left Zimbabwe, I arranged to meet the country's ambassador to South Africa. As it turns out Ambassador Simon Khaya Moyo happened to be visiting Zimbabwe at the same time as me, but it seems like we were in different countries.
SIMON KHAYA MOYO, ZIMBABWE AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH AFRICA: I was last there last weekend and I could see really a lot of activity in terms of manufacturers.
REPORTER: I was also there last week.
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Yeah.
REPORTER: And there's nothing in the shops.
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Depends where you were last week.
REPORTER: I was pretty much all over the southern region, I was in Gwanda, I was in Bulawayo, I was in Beitbridge. The shops are pretty much empty.
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Maybe this is what you wanted to see but I saw a different story.
REPORTER: I want to major shopping centres everywhere and they were shut.
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: I'm saying so, I also saying so I saw a different story.
REPORTER: Where did you see it?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Everywhere I went in Zimbabwe.
REPORTER: What shops?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: All shops, I'm a minister in government for 10 years, I was a minister of government for 10 years. I'm an ambassador of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mauritius and Lesotho.
This is rush hour in Bulawayo, a factory siren is calling people to work. Many here have been walking since before dawn. This is the only way for most people to get to work.
REPORTER: How far is it for you to get from your house to work every day and how long does it take you?
'TONY': Definitely around seven to eight kilometres, and I have to walk for 1.5 hours if I am fast.
I meet a man who we'll call 'Tony' on his way to work.
'TONY': But if I am walking slowly so I won't be tired it can take me two hours. If I took a transport alone, it will consume something like $5 to $6 million. As I'm talking, as I talk now, it has been increased to $150,000 per trip which makes it totally absurd. You cannot face reality when you earn less than $2 million yet the transport alone is $6 million.
Tony takes me to his office to show me on paper just how much people earn each month. I decide to chance telling him I'm a journalist. He takes a bigger risk in agreeing to speak to me on camera, saying he wants the world to know what's happening inside his country.
'TONY': There is no water, no mealie-meal, nothing, just nothing. Children are going to school but they're not learning because teachers are just sitting, they cannot teach from empty stomach. Children are just hungry, everyone is hungry. We are totally angry but definitely there is nothing we can do beyond this. Our government is a monster. We cannot get meat anymore, there is no meat in this country.
Tony invites me home to meet his family but the children aren't all his. With almost a quarter of the population having left the country in search of work, and a high death toll due to HIV/AIDS, almost everyone in Zimbabwe is raising someone else's children.
TONY: This young baby needs all types of good stuffs like milk and almost everything but she's getting nothing. We feed this child with this vegetable, we are using it, which is incredible.
Tony once considered himself middle-class, but his family has been thrown back in time. There's no longer any running water or electricity. These city dwellers are living a rural life. Water is gathered in buckets, and cooking is done outside. What were once little things have become major burdens according to Tony's wife.
WIFE, (Translation): We're struggling to survive. Most things are unavailable. There's no money. If we can find any maize meal, it's poor quality. Sometimes we can't get any, nor any meat or vegetables. And transport people have to walk to work. That's all there is.
REPORTER: You were there last week?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Yes.
REPORTER: What you saw, were you embarrassed?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: I was not embarrassed. I'm very happy because we're really moving in the right direction.
REPORTER: How did you get around when you were there?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Pardon?
REPORTER: How did you get around? What form of transport?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: What do you mean? What form of transport? I have a car.
REPORTER: You went by car. How difficult was it for you to get petrol?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: I didn't have difficulties.
REPORTER: Did you see everyone walking to work?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Pardon?
REPORTER: Did you see everyone walking to work?
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: Of course, the difficulties of transport, as I say if you are slapped with sanctions and your fuel does not come as it's supposed to be, naturally there will be problems but the government has done all measures possible, including even trains are now carrying people, buses are carrying people but certainly the difficulties are there, the challenges are there but those who are responsible for the difficulties know themselves very well.
Ground maize or mealie-meal is the dietary staple in Zimbabwe. At this school, like many across the country, children are fed porridge made from mealie-meal. For a lot of the children here this may be all they get to eat today. The school principal agreed to speak to me and to let me film, but did not want to be identified.
PRINCIPAL: Children are coming to school hungry, some dirty, because soap is so scarce and the water situation is unstable because water is sometimes cut off so children are sometimes forced to come to school without having a bath.
At this school, an international charity supplies the mealie-meal, but it still has to be cooked and with electricity almost non-existent they have to rely on firewood.
PRINCIPAL: We have problems, most of the time we have problems when the firewood runs out because the non-governmental organizations that is providing the porridge is not in a position to constantly provide us with the firewood and when it does run out the money that we use to purchase firewood for the school is so high that at sometimes we find it is very difficult to operate.
The government blames drought for the nation's inability to feed itself. But for years now it's been seizing white-owned farms and giving them to blacks with little farming experience or equipment. Today rumours have spread that new supplies of mealie-meal have arrived, and a queue appears from nowhere. Inside the store the manager is nervous.
REPORTER: Excuse me, Sir. I'm just checking about the mealie-meal. When are you going to start selling it?
STORE MANAGER: I'm sure within 10 or 15 minutes.
Customers are not allowed inside this store to buy, only staff are given that privilege. There's never enough, and there's always fear that hunger may lead to violence.
REPORTER: You're buying? Are you buying it for yourself?
WOMAN: Yes, for my family. At least I can get 10kg, which is for a week or so, and then we start queuing again.
When the gate opens, there's a new scramble to take up positions. And this desperation is only likely to worsen, with aid agencies warning food shortages are set to escalate in coming months due to poor harvests.
GORDON MOYO, POLITICAL ANALYST: The economy is totally collapsed in my view.
REPORTER: So it's not, it's not facing it, it has happened?
GORDON MOYO: It has happened. Only that people continue to say, “it is going to happen, it is going to happen.” But the truth of the matter is that it has happened because we cannot sustain anything, families are going for the all day, two days, three days without food, without water, without electricity, and the government can't supply anything.
Gordon Moyo works for a private think tank based in Bulawayo. He says there is only one reason people are able to survive, they rely on money remitted from people who've left the country.
GORDON MOYO: Over 5 million Zimbabweans are living outside of Zimbabwe, in South Africa, Botswana, United States and Australia and these are the people who are at least maintaining families at the household level. Otherwise, from within the country, there is nothing to lean on.
In 2005, the government launched an attack on market traders, and tens of thousands of people were left homeless when their homes were bulldozed. Now manufacturers and retailers believe they're the new enemy of the state. Sam Ncube is a businessman trying to make sense of the government's latest policies. He has outlets selling tyres in two cities but says he has no stock. He agrees to speak to me in his store, but I have to hide my camera when he gets nervous about being seen. We continue crouched low out of view.
SAM NCUBE: What we are seeing at the back here, they are customer tyres which have come for puncture repairs otherwise for new tyres, we have got just those two, few new tyres, big ones. I mean, otherwise we don't have the stocks.
In July, the government forced businesses to cut their prices in half. Widespread looting resulted. More than 10,000 retailers have been arrested and jailed for failing to comply with the new price controls. Now the government is proposing to nationalise 51% of foreign or white-owned businesses. Sam Ncube chooses his words carefully in daring to call for change.
SAM NCUBE: Unfortunately in Zimbabwe, there are certain words which are taboo, and they are things which are undiscussable, and I'm saying I think now, as a people, we have to allow ourselves to discuss the undiscussables, because we have to have a paradigm shift. We have to change ways of doing things. We have to think and say why are we in this predicament, and address, because if we don't do that we'll be fooling ourselves.
But it appears there's no turning back. Having ruined the economy, the government now says it wants to hand back what's left to black Zimbabweans. The bill to take over foreign and white-owned businesses is already before the parliament.
SIMON KHAYA MOYO: The economy must be in the hands of the Zimbabweans and that's exactly what we are implementing. It may not take two days, it may not take three days, but by the end of the day, I can tell you, Zimbabwe would be one example of the country where the economy's reverted to the hands of its indigenous people, and that is very, very correct and it applies to every country.
PAUL SIWELA, INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE: The farming community as you can see this is farming area. Most of these people they used to keep dairy cows, goats, sheep and things like that and do some farming. Nothing is taking place at the moment.
Paul Siwela stood as an independent presidential candidate in the last election. He's since been labelled an enemy of the state and charged with treason. He's taking me to his home just outside Bulawayo city where it should be safer to speak but even here, police have him under surveillance.
REPORTER: They're coming?
PAUL SIWELA: Yes, there they are.
We retreat indoors. He does not believe elections scheduled for March next year will be free and fair, or that Robert Mugabe will willingly hand over power.
PAUL SIWELA: What you are asking me is simply like saying Saddam Hussein would willingly hand over power to a democratically elected government. There was no way he was going to do that. Neither would the Taliban they've been pleased to see democracy in Afghanistan.
REPORTER: Why contest the election then?
PAUL SIWELA: Yes, why contest the election? It's a very difficult question. Because if you don't go to the elections in one way or the other, people will be saying, “Look, you have no support.” So this is why you're not going to those elections.
To speak out in Zimbabwe is to invite attack. Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube has been one of the most fearless and vocal critics of the state.
BISHOP PIUS NCUBE, CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP: Unless we care for the poor as a country, we will have failed in our duty to fellow human beings.
Earlier this year, Ncube called for foreign intervention to oust a president who he later called both a bully and a murderer. But he's now he's stepped down, a victim of what's widely believed to be a dirty tricks campaign orchestrated by the state. Just weeks after his attack on Mugabe the state media gleefully published these photos, alleging they are of Bishop Ncube and a number of woman taken in the bedroom of his home.
REPORTER: They showed a video tape on television unusual for here?
FATHER NIGEL JOHNSON, SPOKESMAN FOR BISHOP PIUS NCUBE: It's never happened before. I mean, they don't show people, whoever they are, in bed together on primetime news, even in Zimbabwe you don't. For the majority of the people, though, who are not Catholics, that was not a very big deal, whether it was true or false. The fact was that it was one of their leading people, a champion of theirs, who was being, well, mistreated, tricked, treated very badly.
For now, the one remaining industry in Zimbabwe that appears to be booming is the funeral business. The city's gravediggers can't keep up with demand according to Bulawayo city councillor Charles Mpofu.
CHARLES MPOFU: The requirement of people to be buried a day to move along with the requirement of meeting that demand, we have completely failed and that at the same time one of the reasons we don't have adequate staff.
Zimbabwe is presided over by an octogenarian leader, but it has the world's lowest life expectancy, 37 years for a man, 34 for a woman. This is the children's section of the cemetery. This gravedigger started early this morning. He works slowly because he's hungry. He doesn't earn enough to buy sufficient food for himself, or his family.
REPORTER: How many graves do you do a day?
REPORTER: Two a day?
GRAVEDIGGER: Yes. And I've never ate anything from morning.
GRAVEDIGGER: You've had no breakfast?
GRAVEDIGGER: No mealie-meal, no money. Very difficult.
With little water, electricity, food or fuel and no relief in sight, Zimbabweans can only pray that they survive the death of their economy.