News - April 2006





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A new year message

Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror


Human Rights Group under attack

Another farmer attacked

Zim Independant
The Standard
Human Rights Forum
ZW News
Eddie Cross letters The Zimbabwe Situation


Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror

Daily News
Zim Independant
The Standard
Financial Gazette
Human Rights Forum
ZW News


Trying to be normal

Saturday 29th April 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe apparently now has the highest inflation and the fastest shrinking economy in the world. While those may be headline grabbing words, the reality of living it are making these the hardest of times for us all. Everywhere you go, everyone is talking about the dramatic increases in the prices of food, medicines and services and undoubtedly this winter 2006 will be the worst any of us can ever remember. Going shopping has become a nightmare and budgeting an impossibility as the prices keep changing to both match and fuel the 913% inflation rate. A dozen eggs marked on the shelf at 260 thousand dollars this week, was actually 290 thousand dollars at the till. "It's up" the woman at the checkout announced when I asked why there was a thirty thousand dollar difference in the three metres from shelf to till . Every week more and more things get crossed off the shopping list as they become unaffordable. Cheese, fruit, eggs and cereals, all have become luxuries now, bought rarely and used sparingly - for a treat. They join goods crossed off the list a year ago when they also became too expensive; things like yoghurt, sausages, bacon, coffee, nuts, fruit juice and fish. These in turn join the things we gave up three or four years ago, things that were bad for us anyway like fizzy drinks, chocolates, cigarettes and alcohol.

913% inflation is so frightening that most people literally do not know how they will make it from one month to the next. Food prices are just the tip of the iceberg as hyperinflation rages into bills and services, swamps medical and dental costs and makes clothes and shoes a complete impossibility. School fees are now due for the winter term and they have so many digits that they look like long distance international telephone numbers. Talking about telephones, at the top of this month's phone bill is a statement which reads: "Tariffs were increased from $1400 to $8609 per unit with effect from 3 Feb 2006." The statement doesn't mention that this is an increase of over 500%, it doesn't offer a reason, excuse or apology - its just a case of pay or be disconnected.

But, for as long as we can, we cling on to the routines of life, trying to be "normal", trying to hold our homes and families together, trying to keep our children reasonably fed, clothed and in school.
Until next week, love cathy.

Eyes in the night

Saturday 22nd April 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
I don't know why, but after a short stay outside of Zimbabwe, and with things as tense as they are, you come back into the country and expect something to have happened. Its hard to believe that with inflation at 913% the country can carry on, the people can survive and tolerate or that anything can be maintained at all. Amazingly though, a fortnight has passed since my last letter and everything in Zimbabwe seems to be the same as ever.

Coming back into the country by road and at night took me back in time 40 years. On the main highway I travelled, for mile after mile the roadside vegetation has not been cut and golden grass, 6 foot high, waves and sways, dipping into the road as you pass. On either side of the road and in the valleys there are no lights from farms anymore and in the distance - as far as you can see in any direction - there is only darkness, not even an orange glow on the horizon from a big town or city. The sight of the bending grass and the intense darkness took me back to journeys in remote country areas during my childhood. Journeys sitting in the back of the family station wagon, elbowing siblings and squabbling, looking out into the darkness watching for eyes. 40 years on though, and the roadside darkness is not from a sparsely populated countryside but from mile after mile of empty or subsitence level farms. Farms once overflowing with production, powered by generators when necessary, which ensured the lights stayed on over vast fields of export flowers and vegetables and kept cold rooms humming day and night. The farms now are just silent and dark.

The lack of urban lights in Zimbabwe these nights is from major and widespread power cuts. On the night of my journey the electricity had apparently been off in an area covering three main towns and over 100 kilometres for twelve hours. The long roadside grass is from municipal negligence - there are no excuses for it - we have abundant manpower due to massive unemployment and pay exhorbitant rates every month in all rural and urban areas. The lack of road signs and reflective lenses to give some light in the night are the result of people desperate for money removing anything and everything they come across - even tin road signs and little squares of shiny material buried in the tar.

The only thing about travelling at night that is not reminiscent of 4 decades ago is that now there are no eyes in the dark. As a child I remember watching the road ahead and being filled with excitement, anticipation and even a little fear as the night time world came into view and raced passed in fleeting glimpses. The eyes of wild animals used to be caught, just for a split second in the car headlights - hares, antelope, civet and genet cats, mongoose and other creatures you couldn't identify but whose eyes glowed orange, even red as you passed. Now you see nothing, just nothing; the animals seem poached almost out of existence but still you watch, ever hopeful, mesmerised by the long grass bending and swaying along the roasdsides. Zimbabwe is staggering back in time and still there seems nothing happening to halt the regression. It is, however, very good to be home and, like looking for eyes in the night, I remain ever hopeful.
Until next week, love cathy.

Out if sight

Saturday 8th April 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe's rainy season has come to an end and now we start preparing for winter and 6 long months of dryness. Early in the mornings the dew lies heavy on the grass and the evenings have begun drawing in. Temperatures are getting cooler and already warning of what we all expect to be a very cold winter. According to official reports, almost the whole country received above average rain fall this season and nationwide our dams are 92% full. Everyone is saying that this is the best rainy season we've had since 1980 - the year of Independence - and that this is not coincidental, it is a sign from the Ancestors: a sign of change. By all accounts, after a season like this, we should be in for a bumper harvest, full silos and stacked warehouses. On the ground though, on the easy to see roadside farms, there is no sign of a bumper harvest waiting to be reaped. Perhaps the incessant state predictions of a time of plenty, are from crops that are simply out of direct sight. Having just gone through an entire year with virtually no fuel for anything but the most essential travel, few people have been able to actually get out and see what's happening on Zimbabwe's farms, or in fact anywhere off the beaten track.

At the start of the rainy season we were told that the army was being deployed into rural and farming areas to "help" with the cropping. The government called this "Operation Taguta" or Operation Eat Well. A church headed NGO, the Solidarity Peace Trust has just released a report on the impact of army deployment into rural areas. South African and Zimbabwean Anglican Bishops travelled to rural areas in Matabeleland and said that the army had "hijacked" plots and maize harvests. The report said that soldiers insisted that only maize could be grown and vegetable gardens and fruit trees had been destroyed to make more space. South African Bishop Kevin Dowling said : "This destruction has turned plot-holders into paupers overnight." The report also said that the presence of soldiers in the rural communities had:" disrupted the social fabric and left people angry and afraid." These two emotions are probably the most widespread feelings in every sector of Zimbabwe, rural and urban,and this is how we approach Zimbabwe's 26th anniversary of Independence - angry and afraid.

I am taking a short Easter break and will not write next week. I send love to family and friends for Easter and to Zimbabweans, wherever you are in the world, for a happy Independence Day.
With love, cathy.

Not in our name

Saturday 1 April 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
One year ago this week, Zanu PF declared themselves the winners of Zimbabwe's parliamentary elections. They returned to their government offices, strode back into parliament and continued the party's quarter of a century in power under the same leader. At that time, in March 2005, inflation in Zimbabwe was 123% and we thought life was hard. We didn't realise that we were about to enter the worst of times when you only bought petrol or diesel on the black market, when clean water from the tap would become a luxury and when electricity supplies would be interrupted every single day. It is hard to believe that just a year since those elections inflation has become unstoppable and is now officially quoted at 782%.

It is still incomprehensible that just a year ago there were many thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans surviving by making and selling goods on our road sides, pavements and flea markets. The vast majority of those people, cleared away in the government's Operation Murambatsvina last winter, have not been seen again in our local neighbourhoods. The trauma of that cleansing remains with all of us, whether we were victims or eye witnesses: the sound of the bulldozers, the smell of dust and smoke and the sight of smashed homes and piles of rubble. After a quarter of a century in power this is the legacy of our ruling party and now every single Zimbabwean asks just one question : how much longer.

Week after week I have delayed writing about or commenting on the opposition MDC. I don't want to have to write about sides and factions; about each insisting they are the official party, each saying they own the name, the slogan and the assets. Sadly though, it is still going on - the squabbles, bickering and accusations, and while it does, Zimbabweans, just ordinary men, women and children, are simply not coping anymore and are falling by the wayside.

This week I met a man I know who begged me to help him with money so that he could buy cough mixture for his two month old baby. Day and night this tiny little baby coughs and coughs. The baby is weak and failing, the parents are exhausted and desperate but neither government clinic nor hospital can help - they have no cough medicine to dispense. 25 year old promises of free health for all are mirages on a receeding horizon. The man dragged a shaking hand over his face to wipe away exhaustion and tears as we talked about how to help his baby and the huge cost of a simple bottle of infant cough syrup.

I do not have a direct line to Zanu PF or either of the two MDC's but if I did I would say that what they are all doing is not in our name. While Zanu PF leaders warn and threaten and MDC leaders argue and accuse, people are barely alive out here, on the point of death for a spoon of cough syrup.
next week, love cathy.

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