In Zimbabwe's meltdown, Christmas is out of reach for many

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Naison Makwechede rummages through piles of used clothes at a busy flea market in Zimbabwe's capital in hopes of finding Christmas clothes for his family. This secondhand search is new terrain for the father of three, who always buys new clothes for his children this time of year in line with local holiday tradition.

"The bond note is the only new thing in my possession," said Makwechede, referring to Zimbabwe's latest attempt to address a spiraling currency crisis.

Most people in this once-prosperous southern African country are struggling to afford Christmas as the economy implodes.

The U.S. dollar, the main currency used since Zimbabwe abandoned its own in 2009, is in such short supply that some people sleep outside banks in the hope of withdrawing what they can.

In this predominantly Christian country, the holiday period is traditionally associated with wild merry-making, travel, family gatherings and new clothes. This year is different.

But not for everyone. The 7,000 delegates who attended the ruling ZANU-PF party's conference last weekend took home goodies, including five kilograms (11 pounds) of rice, in a holiday bag decorated with pictures of longtime President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace.

The political meeting brought a temporary boom to the usually sleepy town of Masvingo, where hotels and lodges were fully booked and usually empty beerhalls teemed. Informal vendors, who now make up the bulk of Zimbabwe's adult population, said they had brisk business of several items, including condoms.

The party conference endorsed the 92-year-old Mugabe, who has led the country since its independence from white minority rule in 1980, as its candidate in the upcoming elections.

Mugabe told the delegates the economy was on the mend. But the government, which has failed to pay civil servants on time since June, indicated it will only be able to pay the military, police, prison services and health workers before Christmas.

"It is sad. Our members will not have their salaries, so they are foregoing Christmas this year," said Sifiso Ndlovu, the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Teachers Union

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