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
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
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
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.
week, love cathy.
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