Comment: The Zimbabwe story behind the news

What do we actually know about what is happening in Zimbabwe as a result of the violence and intimidation portrayed in the media?

In what ways that are not shown on the news are these excesses destroying the life chances of the people of that country? Third sector organisations on the ground are probably best placed to tell us.

Leonard Cheshire Disability has an extensive international operation in more than 50 nations. It provides a range of services, delivering inclusive education programmes and residential facilities to disabled children from rural areas in Zimbabwe where there are no services. All this happens despite the violent instability in the country, some of which can be traced back to the tribal conflicts between the Matabeles in the south and Mugabe's Shona-based Zanu PF in the north in the 80s. These services have been quietly maintained by Leonard Cheshire Homes and the Zimbabwe Central Trust. Until now.

The intensification of the violence fuelled by the latest elections has had a negative effect on the work of many NGOs. Cheshire's Africa programme manager, a Zimbabwean national, told me with quiet and dispassionate clarity of the effects the current situation was having on the work in that country.

The education programmes, funded principally by voluntary donations, have virtually stalled. People have stopped donating because they think their money would be misappropriated by the state. The situation is exacerbated by Zimbabwe's eye-watering inflation, which has effectively made begging and tilling unproductive land the principal occupations for most. There is little place for education now. The unemployment rate is 90 per cent.

The rehabilitation services are gone too, the children dispersed, perhaps back to their families - but who knows? There was no food to feed them - what was available was sequestered by the state. Then the staff went - fearful of violence and being paid only in local currency. Outcome: project stops. When you watch the news next time, think about that story behind the pictures.

- John Knight is assistant director, policy and campaigns, at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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