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Saturday 24th April 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
Saying goodbye to an old man this week was really sad. Joe is one of the forgotten generation, one of hundreds of thousands quietly slipping away in front of our eyes. Not cared for by Mr Mugabe's government and ignored by Mr Tsvangirai's party, Joe is 4 years older than our country's President but there is no dignity in his old age. There is no free or subsidized medical care for Joe, no rent assistance or food stamps, not even a bus pass for the elderly men and women who have made it through Zimbabwe's collapse.
For the last seven or eight years everything in Joe's life had become a struggle for survival. He lost his pension, investments, savings and
insurance policies as inflation reeled into hundreds, thousands and millions of percent. When he couldn't afford, and then couldn't find food to buy, he dug up his small back garden and planted maize, beans, pumpkins and sweet potatoes.
When Joe's wife passed away he couldn't afford to erect a headstone on her grave. This, he said with tears in his eyes, has been the hardest thing to bear in the last decade.
When I went to say goodbye to Joe and have one last cup of tea with him, we talked as we often did about growing fruit trees and about mulch and compost. Joe has got green fingers, greener than anyone I've ever known. Delaying the final farewell, Joe told me about fruit bats that spend their days in the funnels of banana leaves and then the talked turned to the new arrival in my garden. A Spotted Eagle Owl has moved in and seems to have taken up residence in a big old Msasa tree. Every morning he is there, sitting completely still in almost exactly the same place on the branch as the day before. His droppings are the only thing that give him away: filled with fur and fluff, brown beetle bodies and a mass of rats bones which litter the ground under the Msasa tree. Whenever I pass by this huge bird called Zizi in Shona, is watching me from behind big yellow eyes, following my every move. With his ear tufts standing high, Zizi presents an imposing figure, mobbed and scolded by little birds, feared and stoned by most people around here who say he is linked to witchcraft.
When I must say goodbye to Joe I know how much I'll miss him and our talks about bananas and figs, birds and trees and about the nightmare of everyday life in Zimbabwe. But much more than that, I'll miss our talks about his lifetime spent living, and loving, Africa.
Until next time, spare a thought for Zimbabwe's older generation who can't afford to live, or die in the land of their birth.
Thanks for reading, love Cathy
Dig your own grave
Saturday 17th April 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
Three months before Zimbabwe's 30th anniversary of Independence I happened to get lost in the vast urban sprawl that characterises the outskirts of the capital city, Harare. A huge shanty town lay on both sides of the road and stretched as far as the eye could see. Shacks and shelters made of tin and plastic were surrounded by mounds of rotting garbage which had even been scraped into contours in an attempt to demarcate little vegetable plots. Stinking streams of sewage ran right outside people's shacks and children ran barefoot through the waste and the filth. Hand painted signs were everywhere, on pieces of battered, rusty tin and written in charcoal on strips of warped cardboard: 'Floor polish,' 'Cement,' 'Tyres,' 'Abattoir.' One sign said: 'Hot Recharge' and a line of people with cellphones in their hands stood waiting for their turn to plug onto a car battery and get a precious top up of electrical power into their telephones. A near naked man with no legs was dragging himself by his hands along the road and I looked away but his image has stayed with me. How can this be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence, I keep asking myself.
Two months before Zimbabwe's 30th anniversary of Independence I went to the local electricity supply office to hand in an up to date reading of my electricity meter. I needed to bring accuracy to the wild guesstimates they kept making on my monthly bills and the even wilder amounts they were charging. The man at the desk was eating a sausage and when I told him I had a reading I would like entered into the computer record, he looked wildly around at the piles of papers covering every inch of his desk. Eventually he chose one pile and placed the sausage on top of the papers. He looked at his greasy fingers for a moment, picked up a piece of paper from another pile on his desk, wiped his fingers on the paper and entered my figures into his computer. Can this really be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence?
Last month I went with a friend who needed to have fingerprints taken at a government office. One by one each finger is squashed into the black ink pad and the digit then rolled onto the paper record. 'Wait for your form,' the government official announces and you stare at the filth on your hands and look around - no taps, no water, no cloth, nowhere to remove the ink all over your hands. When you ask if there is a public toilet you can use, the official mutters angrily that they are locked, they don't work anymore. People wipe their inky hands in their hair or in the sand. Can this be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence?
Last week a friend got a quote for a new garden tap but decided against installing it because they get stolen so regularly. Stolen to be melted down and made into coffin handles. Talking about coffins, I attended a funeral a few days ago and was reminded that you have to dig your own graves now as municipal workers don't, or won't do it anymore.
Can this really be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence? Can this really be a free and independent country when unarmed women are arrested and held in Police custody for handing out yellow cards in protest over electricity prices. Happy birthday Zimbabwe.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
Saturday 10th April 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
When you ask people how they've survived this dreadful decade in Zimbabwe, almost everyone mentions the name Gideon Gono (Governor of the Reserve Bank.) People say they would have been able to salvage something if it hadn't been for Gono's incessant printing of money - and bragging about it; for his inability and unwillingness to control government spending; for his looting of foreign currency from private bank accounts, and for his removal of zeroes from the currency: 3 were taken off in 2006 and 10 in 2008. It's hard to understand how any of us survived really and inevitable that we will feel the repercussions for a very long time to come.
For the first time in most people's lives we do not have savings to fall back on in case of accidents, illness or unemployment. Savings accounts we had in banks, post offices and investment centres have disappeared as each removal of zeroes literally stole our money away in front of our very eyes. You have to look at your bank balance, remove thirteen digits and then understand the state we are in here. Life insurance policies and pension funds have been similarly looted.
Anyone who held their assets in cash and savings and not in immovable property, has lost everything. Anyone who held their assets in land, livestock, crops or anything to do with farms and agriculture, has lost everything.
Trust funds established for disabled, sick and disadvantaged people have evaporated in the last decade. One friend told me how her parents had established a trust fund for their mentally handicapped son and built it up every month throughout their lives. When her parents died their assets were sold and also put into the Trust leaving enough money in the fund to support the disadvantaged man for the rest of his life. Thanks to the gross economic mismanagement of Zimbabwe, there is nothing left in the Trust Fund, in fact it ran dry four years ago and the handicapped man now lives entirely on charity in a dilapidated state institution.
Pensioners are in an equally perilous position, life savings lost in hyperinflation, assets sold and cash lost in repeated currency devaluations and no way to replace anything as their age forces them into a retirement of virtual penury.
Facing a future in such perilous conditions it brings little comfort to follow the ongoing seizure and auctioning of Reserve Bank assets. The Reserve Bank ordered and took possession of 60 tractors from Farmtec which they gave out to farmers in an attempt to persuade them to grow food on the farms seized by Zanu PF. Well, the food never got grown and the tractors never got paid for and now Farmtec want their money back - US 1,2 million dollars in fact! We follow the saga with interest as Reserve Bank assets get taken by Sherrifs and put up for auction. So far we've heard that some tractors have been repossessed along with chains, hoes, wheelbarrows, furniture, fridges and hundreds of generators. Hearing about the generators being auctioned brings back memories of Mr Mugabe dishing them out at every election rally in 2008 saying that every town would be electrified thanks to this Reserve Bank programme. Writing this letter by hand during another 16 hour power cut all I can say is : I don't think so!
Now we wait, holding our breath, to see if enough money will be raised through the sale of these movable assets to pay the Farmtec debt or if some of the lavish properties we've heard so much about will be next. Maybe it is true that what goes around comes around after all, albeit very slowly.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love Cathy
To learn or to teach
Saturday 2nd April 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
It has now been two years since the MDC won elections and were voted into power in Zimbabwe. There's not a lot to show for two years because every day and every week there's been another delay, excuse and stalling tactic to prevent real power being handed over to the MDC. To say that the MDC is in office but not in power is the most accurate description of our situation two years after elections.
Because there wasn't a referendum to ask the people of Zimbabwe if they wanted a Government of National Unity, we've had no choice but to put up with it. For two years we've been patient and lived from hand to mouth while the winners and losers of the election have squabbled over the basics. South Africa, called all manner of things from midwife to mediator, point man to facilitator, have been overseeing the squabbling.
This week South Africa's ANC youth leader, Julius Malema arrived in the country. He's been in the spotlight for some weeks for stirring up racial tensions in his own country and singing a revolutionary song translated as "shoot the Boer." The song has now been declared hate speech and a gagging order has been issued, so the arrival of Mr Malema in our very fragile and tense Zimbabwe, is cause for concern.
The usual fanfare awaited Mr Malema at Harare airport: people wearing Zanu PF clothes, their chests, backs and other places sporting pictures of Mr Mugabe. "Welcome to the Promised Land," one banner being carried by running, frenzied Zanu PF supporters read. Surrounded by bodyguards it wasn't long before Mr Malema made it quite clear that he wasn't playing the ANC impartiality game. He didn't mention young people in general in Zimbabwe but instead said he'd come to see Zanu PF youths and to talk to them about empowerment. Malema said he was going to visit farms and mines in Zimbabwe.
To learn, or to teach - it remains to be seen.
We have become very familiar with all manner of hate speech this last decade so rather than take in anymore, we look to nature to give us a bit of peace this Easter 2010. Summer is coming to an end and the grass is tall and golden and littered with pink and white Cosmos flowers along many of our roads. In the vleis the red hot pokers are in full bloom and in our gardens we compete with Mousebirds and Bulbuls to get to the guava trees first! The temptation to eat guavas straight off the trees is just too hard to resist; rain fed and sun ripened they are very more-ish, every mouthful watched by Mousebirds who sit nearby, scolding and fidgeting, impatient for you to go away.
Days end with golden sunsets, the call of a Heuglin Robin or a nightjar and then the evening star, clear and bright in the twilight. There's no place for hate speech here.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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