NOEL KING, HOST:
The family of Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe buried him this weekend. He was in power there for almost 40 years. And after he died, people hoped for a new start. But life in Zimbabwe hasn’t gotten any better. Last week, city officials cut off tap water in the capital city Harare.
Andrew Meldrum is Africa editor for The Associated Press. Sixteen years ago, he was expelled from Zimbabwe. Recently, he went back to look around at the country that he’d covered for decades. Meldrum told me the water shut-off in Harare is the result of both drought and economic crisis.
ANDREW MELDRUM: There’s no water going through the pipes. People were lining up to pump water from wells to wash their clothes in brackish streams or ponds. So we’re seeing a city and a country that is really suffering from huge problems from an economic downturn, as I say – you know, no electricity in the capital for as much as 19 hours a day, no water. This is something that was just unthinkable when I was living there.
KING: I would imagine, having spent so many years in Zimbabwe, you have lots of friends there. What are the differences in their lives since you’ve been away?
MELDRUM: Well, those of my friends who are still in Zimbabwe, they have experienced a rollercoaster. Since I was expelled, they have experienced hyperinflation of more than a billion percent…
KING: Oh, wow.
MELDRUM: …Inflation. Yeah. And also, they experienced something – you know, surprises in political situation. They saw Robert Mugabe fall from power. And there was a tremendous amount of optimism and excitement to think that things were going to get better. And now two years later, at the death of Robert Mugabe, they’re saying – well, actually, things aren’t better at all. And the government under Emmerson Mnangagwa has not achieved economic growth or an improvement in things. So they’re disappointed.
KING: So the big question is, why not? I mean, I remember the optimism – people saying the country will be more free; the country will develop economically. It’s Mugabe, essentially, many people said, that’s been holding us back. And then you’re saying – but in two years, nothing’s happened. Well, why not?
MELDRUM: Well, Robert Mugabe left. But the same party, ZANU-PF, and the same military are running the show. And they are not making the kind of substantial fundamental changes in the way the country is run that will improve things for the average Zimbabwean.
One thing that was interesting that I’d like to highlight was a doctor who was calling for a strike to get higher wages. He was abducted, he was tortured, and he has now been released because there was an outcry amongst the medical community and throughout Zimbabwe. And of course, it’s great that he has been released, but it was one of a series of abductions of government critics in recent months. So it shows that there is a level of political repression still in Zimbabwe.
KING: What do you think happens next in Zimbabwe? Is there some political leader or political party waiting in the wings that has the potential to turn things around?
MELDRUM: I don’t see that political leader waiting in the wings.
MELDRUM: It might be further in the wings than I can see at this point. You know, things are going to come together so that the country returns to the kind of prosperity that I saw it. But I think it’s going to take quite some time.
KING: Andrew Meldrum, thank you so much for being with us.
MELDRUM: Thank you, Noel.
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KING: Andrew Meldrum, the AP’s Africa editor, joined us on Skype from Johannesburg.