Women lead protests in Zimbabwe

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With inflation out of control and their country on the brink of economic collapse, women are taking to the streets of Zimbabwe to protest President Mugabe’s policies. Gretchen Wilson reports.


Kai Ryssdal: Next time you hear economists talking about the risks of rising inflation, bear this in mind. In Zimbabwe the official inflation number is 3,700 percent. Most experts say, in reality, it might be twice that high. President Robert Mugabe told parliament this week he put price controls on basic goods to tame inflation. But it’s not playing out that way in a country that’s on the brink of economic collapse. Foreign investors have mostly packed up and left. And business owners have been arrested for “overcharging.” A report this week from Amnesty International says it’s largely women who are standing up to the government, because they have the most at stake — as Gretchen Wilson reports from Johannesburg.

A pro-democracy group says police arrested and assaulted more than 175 people in marches around the country yesterday. More than 40 were later admitted to a hospital in Zimbabwe’s capital. Most of the protestors were women, and some were beaten so badly they couldn’t walk.

GEORGE SIBOTSHIWE: They were staging a nationwide strike to try and put pressure on the regime to ensure that they stabilize the economy as soon as possible.

George Sibotshiwe is the press secretary for the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change. Women face increasing repression as they stand up to the government. Again, Sibotshiwe:

They bear the brunt of the economic collapse and the economic meltdown because traditionally they are responsible for the home and feeding the family. I think you have some very strong women who have decided that they will confront the regime at all costs in order to protect the interests of their families.

Two years ago, the government launched Operation Drive Out Trash, to clear the cities of street vendors. But with unemployment topping 80 percent, women hawkers have no other option than to sell homegrown vegetables on the side of the road. But they risk being arrested or having their goods confiscated by police.

SIBOTSHIWE: What’s going to happen is you’re going to witness more spontaneous and unorganized demonstrations, because people are beginning to take matters inTO their own hands.

A regional meeting is scheduled in Zambia next month. And human rights groups hope leaders from this region will press Mugabe to stop the crackdown on dissent.

In Johannesburg, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

All reporting by Gretchen L. Wilson, © 2007

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