HARARE, Zimbabwe – Thousands of city-dwelling Zimbabweans travel back to their rural homes during the holiday season, taking gifts and foods for feasts to share with their families.
But this year, the holiday spirit has been dimmed by Zimbabwe's worsening economic situation marked by company closures and job losses.
Banks have experienced shortages of cash. Zimbabweans waited in long, winding lines at banks to withdraw money but many depositors came out with a just a fraction of the money in their accounts that they had hoped to spend during the holiday period.
The bleak festive season caps a year marked by a disputed election in July, mired by allegations of vote-rigging, that long-time President Robert Mugabe won with a 61 percent majority against his major opponent and former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Mugabe, 90 in February, has gone on his annual leave until the end of January. He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from British rule in 1980.
Tsvangirai, 61, blames Mugabe's administration for failing to deliver economic progress.
"It is clear the current government stole Christmas from Zimbabweans. Hunger is stalking the nation," he said in a year-end message. "I'm fully aware this is going to be a bleak Christmas with little or nothing to share. The nation is in a dire state."
Tens of thousands of workers swelled the unemployed because more than 700 companies shut down this year, according to a report by the state Social Security Authority. Zimbabwe's unemployment in formal industry is pegged at around 80 percent, say economists.
At the bus station in Harare's Mbare township, holiday travelers were determined, despite the hardships, to celebrate the holidays at their rural homes and carried beds and mattresses, building materials, seeds and fertilizer on buses.
One said he is bidding farewell to city life, as he won't have a job in 2014.
Blessmore Makuva, 38, said he won't be coming back to Harare as he sat beside a cart laden with two doors and roofing sheets waiting to be loaded onto a bus. He said he is going to complete building a house in rural northeastern center of Mutoko.
Accompanied by his wife and two children Makuva said he used most of his money to buy the building materials and bus tickets to travel to the village.
"There is no use for us to stay in Harare. I've got no job, I can't pay the rentals," he said.
Makuva said he will farm on the small family plot. "I'm worried about my family's future," he said. "What lies ahead, I don't know."