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Zimbabwe experiences post-election slump as finances and food remain in crisis

The witness loiters nervously in the shade of a tree.

He’s come to volunteer evidence to an inquiry – but now isn’t sure he’s made the right decision.

"I thought there would be many more here,’’ he tells me, keeping his voice down so no-one can hear us talk. "But there’s only me. Perhaps people are scared to come."

We’re at the opening day of Zimbabwe’s commission investigating the deadly violence that followed July’s election.

Two days after the disputed poll, the army opened fire on protesters on the streets of Harare.

At least six people were killed, many more – like the young man under the tree – were injured.

The shooting was the moment President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who won the election, lost his best chance to end Zimbabwe’s international isolation.

"I was a big step back," one western diplomat has told me.

Main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa claimed corruption was behind ZANU PF's win. Credit: ITV News

Zimbabwe needs friends, and it needs finance, like never before.

This past week has seen lengthening queues for fuel as many petrol pumps run dry.

In the shops, shelves have emptied of some essentials. The price of cooking oil has risen dramatically.

This economy, reliant on imports, seems to be running out of cash to pay its bills.

And as the country’s coffers have emptied, so too have people’s pockets.

A motorist waiting for petrol shows us the contents of his wallet. Nine bond notes, the local currency.

They’re not enough to buy the medicines he needs.

"The pharmacy has the medicine but they will only sell for American dollars. And I have no foreign currency."

Another man tells me his salary was paid into this bank three weeks ago. He has not been allowed to withdraw any of it.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa claimed victory in the disputed elections. Credit: ITV News

For many this feels like a return to the nightmare of Robert Mugabe’s rule. Some say the crisis is the worst in a decade.

But the new government is in some ways very different to the old regime, which regularly blamed self-inflicted economic disaster on the British and on the legacy of colonialism.

The new finance minister is an academic, an economist, and a banker. But he is not a member of the ruling party.

This is a temporary blip, short term pain, insists Mthuli Ncube, who’s invited me to his office to chat. Again, not a very ZANU PF thing to do.

He outlines bold plans; tackling corruption, cutting the burden of the huge civil service pay roll, privatising state industries.

But he knows nothing will come of big talk and good intentions without help from the outside world.

"Ending the years of isolation is key to us. We understand what it takes. It takes more than economic reforms.

"The world needs to see we are making progress on the political reforms. And I happy to say we are making progress.’’

According to locals, Zimbabwe remains in crisis. Credit: ITV News

And so to the August killings and the subsequent inquiry that is being watched closely by the US and the UK. It is a big test and Zimbabwe must pass before the money and investment can flow.

The shootings he says were ‘’regrettable.’’

"That is why the President has established the inquiry. The composition of that inquiry is people of stature. And the President is committed to following their recommendations."

It’s not clear how widely that confidence in the commission is shared. "They will rig the inquiry like they rigged the election," says one survivor of the shootings. The opposition is boycotting the hearings.

As for the young man under the trees, before he gets to give his evidence to the commission, we watch as he’s questioned by one of Zimbabwe’s feared security policeman.

In the new Zimbabwe, the old ways persist.