The plight of poverty in Zimbabwe

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ZIMBABWE – I’m looking at this photo that’s trending on social media, of two Zimbabwean women who work at a butchery, and have been caught with stolen meat hidden on their bodies…and I’m thinking to myself that this is a very sick world we live in where we make a mockery of something this humiliating. The humiliation is not so much in the act of stealing, but in the kind of system that can reduce a human-being to stealing food.

Many families in Zimbabwe and indeed, in sub-Saharan Afrika, can barely put food on the table. More than 60% of the population of this region is living below the poverty line. Having a job is not even enough to cushion anyone from the brutality of poverty, because our workers themselves are poor, that’s why a butchery employee steals meat. Their salary doesn’t even allow them to eat the meat they produce. It’s like those exploited waitresses who earn such little commissions that they can’t even afford the very food they serve us.

But this is where we are in Afrika. We ridicule a mother who steals food to feed her family and re-elect men who steal billions from state coffers, billions that are intended to finance development. We circulate photos capturing the humiliation of poverty, create funny memes about people who have already been trampled on by a diabolical system that has hurled them into the abbatoirs of desperation…

I’m not justifying theft. I’m saying the real problem lies not in a person who steals food to feed her family, but in a system that has reduced her to that level of dehumanisation and backed her into a corner where the only way she can feed her family is to steal. I cannot find it in me to regard as a criminal a poor person who steals food to eat, a person who just wants to have something in their stomach, a person who just wants to live. The real crime here is poverty. The real crime here is the shame and dehumanisation that these women and their families now have to bear – the shame of being poor. The shame of being hungry. And I hope Zimbabwean human rights lawyers will stand up and fight for these women.

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