Women in Zimbabwe now have the world's lowest life expectancy thanks to HIV/AIDS and Robert Mugabe
A rusted wire fence divides the old Zimbabwe from the new. On the one side lies Effie Malamba; born in 1901 she was buried beneath a granite headstone 90 years later. On the other is Sylvia Ncube; born in 1974 she was laid to rest just 32 years later. The wire separates Bulawayo's old Hyde Park cemetery from the extension opened this February. Effie lies amid ordered ranks of stone epitaphs. Sylvia lies in a chaos of churned earth. All around her the mounds of mud and stones, garlanded with plastic flowers, tell the story of the shocking disintegration of Zimbabwe, which now has the lowest life expectancy for women anywhere in the world: 34.
Life expectancy may even be lower than 34:
The World Health Organisation has plotted this precipitous fall in women's mortality in the former British colony from 65, little more than a decade ago, to today's low. Speaking privately, WHO officials admitted to The Independent that the real number may be as low as 30, as the present figures are based on data collected two years ago.
The reasons for this plunge are several. Zimbabwe has found itself at the nexus of an Aids pandemic, a food crisis and an economic meltdown that is killing an estimated 3,500 people every week. That figure is more than those dying in Iraq, Darfur or Lebanon. In war-torn Afghanistan, where women's plight has received global attention, life expectancy is still above 40.
This cull is not an act of God. It is a catastrophe aggravated by the ruthless, kleptocratic reign of Robert Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980. The Mugabe regime has succeeded in turning a country once fêted as the breadbasket of Africa into a famished and demoralised land deserted by its men of working age, with its women left to die a silent death.
Here are some more unpleasant numbers:
Zimbabwe is now a place haunted by incomprehensible numbers: 85 per cent of the population living in poverty; 80 per cent unemployment; 90 per cent HIV infection rates in the army and most unbelievably, 2,000 per cent inflation.
In this man-made chaos it is the women, bottom of the social heap, who are suffering the most. The men have the option of leaving children to jump the border into South Africa. Many return only to be buried but at 37 years, their life expectancy remains marginally higher.
3500 PEOPLE DIE EACH WEEK IN ZIMBABWE
Death rate in Zimbabwe higher than in Darfur, Iraq or Lebanon