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Primed minister

"Primed minister" Continued...

Issue: "Geo-gizmos," April 25, 2009

Coltart-whose new position also pays $100 a month-said he knew the troubles ran deep when he arrived at the education headquarters in Harare: The building had no running water to flush toilets and a foul stench filled the halls. That made all the more surprising an offer Coltart received from a ruling party official on his first day in office: an E-Class Mercedes Benz.

Coltart refused the lavish gift, but other new cabinet members accepted. "There's a very real danger our members and ministers could be sucked into the patronage system," Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara told The New York Times. "Our members have to be vigilant and principled." Still, Mutambara is now driving an E280 Mercedes.

For most, luxury cars aren't a dilemma. On Frank Donaghue's last trip to Zimbabwe, he found out something as simple as bread presents turmoil. Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights, traveled to Zimbabwe in December to assess the spiraling health-care crisis as hospitals closed and a cholera epidemic killed thousands. His group hosted a luncheon for women afflicted by HIV, but Donaghue noticed the guests weren't eating. When he asked why, one woman answered: "Because I have to feed my family. They're starving." Donaghue gave his sandwich to the woman next to him and she cried: "This is for my son. He hasn't eaten in two days, and he also has HIV."

The UN says 70 percent of the population needs food aid to survive, yet the organization announced earlier this year it would halve food rations. Growing need from Zimbabweans and falling donations from foreign governments are forcing the UN to cut rations of corn maize to 5 kilograms per month-about 600 calories a day.

A cholera epidemic deepened the misery: The World Health Organization reported cholera has struck nearly 90,000 people since last August, and more than 4,000 have died. The infection rate has slowed, but the threat remains serious.

Indeed, the cholera epidemic is a symptom of the broader collapse of the health-care system and deplorable conditions for sanitation and water. Without sweeping changes to crucial infrastructure, temporary measures won't make deeper problems go away. "Bringing food to the hungry is not going to solve the problem," Donaghue said. "Until you stop turning on your spigot and getting human waste-it's no fix."

Donaghue says mission hospitals-like Catholic clinics and Salvation Army 
outposts-
are doing "an amazing job" and providing some of the most critical care. World Vision sent nurses and additional staff to areas most affected by cholera, as the Christian humanitarian group's in-country staff reported the crisis had shifted from urban centers to rural regions. Widespread access for humanitarian groups remains limited, though some hope Tsvangirai's Christian influence may open doors for more faith-based organizations.

Tsvangirai seems to understand the depth of his country's problems-and the depth of his challenge. The prime minister counts hospitals reopening and prices falling "small but significant progress." But he is also realistic, saying long-term success depends on consistency from his party and cooperation from Mugabe's side: "That does not mean the success of this new government is guaranteed."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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