News - August 2005





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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


Ruling for the 25th year

Saturday 27th August 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
I was at the counter in a small shop in Marondera this week when an elderly woman came in clutching two bags of white sugar to her chest. "Please help me" she said to the shop attendant. "Can you spare me an old newspaper or a brown paper bag to put my sugar in. It is not safe for me to walk like this." A few doors down, a small supermarket had received a truck load of sugar and people had been queuing on the pavement for most of the night. As opening time approached, so did the bully boy queue jumpers and people who were cold, tired and hungry surged forward to try and protect their place in the line. Within minutes an orderly line had degenerated into a seething mass of pushing, shoving and shouting and then the police were there too, trying to keep order. By mid morning the pavement was completely clogged and swarming with people and the police were still there but a few at a time some were getting the chance to buy two bags of sugar. The elderly woman said that some people had been beaten and two had been hurt but there was nothing anyone could do and she was just grateful that she had got to the front and got her two precious bags of sugar.

Can you imagine not feeling safe to be seen carrying a bag of sugar through the streets? How absurd that life should have degenerated to this, just five months after Zanu PF said they had won the people's mandate to rule Zimbabwe for their 25th year.

This little example is a very representative picture of life here today. Everywhere people are on some sort of a desperate mission in order to survive and whole days and nights or more are sacrificed in an attempt to make the smallest of gains - a bag of sugar, litre of fuel or bottle of cooking oil. There is now an overwhelming "us and them" existence in Zimbabwe. While luxury double cabs and top of the range Mercedes' cruise our highways, ordinary family cars sit standed in unmoving fuel queues. In most fuel lines lately, the cars no longer park one behind the other, now they park side by side at an angle to stop the bully boys from pushing in. The vehicles are filthy, covered in dust and almost always driverless, guarded by youngsters who wait for days at a time on the off chance of a delivery.

Again I end on a sad note by reporting that the 37 tonnes of humanitarian aid donated by South African churches on the 1st of August remains blocked by Zimbabwean officials.
Until next week, with love, cathy.

Angry, hissy podium banging

Saturday 20th August 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
This week, again, everyone outside the country was talking about the possibility of our two main political parties taIking about talks. The Nigerian President appointed the ex Mozambican President to try and get Zimbabwe to talk about talks.The South African government then denied that they were using talks as a condition for financial aid and a few days later said they were not going to talk about talks, or insist on talks or even suggest talks, as it was clear that no one actually wanted to talk anyway. It got more and more confusing by the day! Mid week some international news stations said that it looked like talks were going to happen and those of us at home groaned, yawned sceptically and waited for the rhetoric which we knew was coming and sure enough followed shortly afterwards. In a couple of angry, hissy, podium banging speeches, it was all over. It is now official, yet again, that there are not going to be any talks between Zanu PF and the MDC. Those of us living in Zimbabwe know that it doesn't actually matter who asks, begs, pleads, cajoles or insists on talks between President Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, they are just not going to happen. President Mugabe continues to insist that the MDC is a British sponsored party containing sellouts and puppets and that he will not talk to them. It is apparently of no consequence that Zanu PF cannot resolve the problems crippling the country, they will be damned if they will let anyone else try, and so we plod on.

I was going to say that after all this talking about mythical talks we would now get back to normal but that would be nonsense because nothing is normal here. New taxes have just been announced to raise money to rebuild the houses that the government just knocked down. Official inflation rose to 254% in July and parliament is about to change the constitution to remove the right of appeal from people whose land is seized. Another change being proposed would give the government the power to refuse passports to some people if it was in the "national interest." While all this became common knowledge, the Botswana President Festus Mogae defended the SADC's inactivity by saying: "The problems of Zimbabwe are not my priority. We consult with Zimbabwe and we advise Zimbabwe in confidence. That's all we do, that's all we can do and that's all we are prepared to do." So, there it is, we are on our own, there will be no talks, no conditions on financial loans and no criticism from African governments.

I end on a very sad note with something else that became common knowledge this week. Almost a month after ordinary South African people reached out to Zimbabweans affected by Operation Restore Order, their goodwill is still sitting at the border. Trucks loaded with 37 tons of humanitarian aid including blankets, maize meal, cooking oil and beans are sitting unmoving in the sun at the border as red tape, bureaucracy and officialdom prevent it from being allowed into Zimbabwe. I believe that when the trucks were filled and sealed on the 1st of August, they were blessed by the South African Anglican Archbishop but even divine intervention has not helped and so the poorest of Zimbabwe's poor continue to suffer in silence.
Until next week, with love, cathy.

Eat the Quelia birds

Saturday 13th August 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
In a report this week the Washington based Centre for Global Development said that the purchasing power of the average Zimbabwean had plunged to levels that prevailed over 50 years ago in 1953. The CGD, which tracks economic and developmental trends, said that gains made by Zimbabwe over the past five decades had been wiped away in the last six years. The CGD said that the scale and speed of income decline in Zimbabwe was greater than that seen during recent conflicts in the Ivory Coast, the DR Congo and Sierra Leone. These are chilling figures to try and take in and it is very, very hard to see how Zimbabwe can come back from where it is without radical and dramatic changes at every single level.

Ever since the March elections, we have been slipping backwards and the pace has accelerated with each passing week. Inflation is soaring again, almost all basic commodities have disappeared from our shelves, fuel is virtually unobtainable, electricity supplies are erratic and the water, in my home town anyway, has literally been unfit to drink for the last fortnight. The country is in a state of almost complete paralysis and it is utterly absurd that we are sitting here like beggars waiting for a multi million dollar loan from South Africa when right there, on our front door step, nature is again holding out the key to change as summer arrives.

For the last half century Zimbabwe has fed itself from her own fields. We have survived crippling repeated years of drought. We mastered the art of growing crops that we could export in order to earn foreign currency; we filled our silos and warehouses in abundant years to see us through the bad seasons we knew would invariably follow. We built dams and reservoirs and dug wells and boreholes to give us water in dry times. We learnt to grow flowers under floodlights and exotic vegetables in plastic tunnels, to rear ostriches for their leather and to make fuel from ethanol and jatropha.

And now, hah, what shame upon Zimbabwe and her leaders with their masters degrees and doctorates. Now, in 2005, we wait for South Africa to give us food. We have no foreign money to buy fuel. Our fields are unploughed, our lands unprepared for the new season. Every year, as we get poorer and hungrier there is an excuse, a reason why, having produced more than enough food for fifty years, now we can't do it anymore. Our national newspaper tells us that our winter wheat crop has been severely depleted this year because Quelea birds are eating the grain. It does not tell us how, for half a century, our commercial farmers managed to keep bread on our tables and flour in our shops. Instead it tells us that this week the price of a loaf of bread went from four and half to seven thousand dollars and it tells us that instead of going hungry we should eat the Quelea birds that are stealing the national wheat crop. The Herald newspaper tells us we should find ways of catching, killing and canning Quelea birds and then exporting them to Europe for gourmet restaurants. Oh please, what shame, what utter shame.
Until next week, love cathy

Glow from the mobile phone

Saturday 6th August 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
Almost every day now I hear the country I live in being described as a "collapsed state". The way people talk so easily and casually of our "economic meltdown" puts in mind a square of chocolate sitting in the sun melting into a soppy pool. I hear South African leaders talking about economic "challenges" in Zimbabwe and the UN talking about human rights "challenges" and I wonder what happened to real words that mean real things. Words like catastrophe, disaster, chaos and crisis which really describe things in the Zimbabwe I live in, but it seems these are not diplomatically acceptable words and so they talk of "challenges". It has certainly been a very bad week in Zimbabwe and I am not sure if some of the events listed below would be classified as challenges so leave you to fill in the adjectives for yourselves.

On Monday the electricity went off at 6 am and only came back on six hours later but didn't stay for long. At 3.30 in the afternoon the power went off again and didn't come back on until 10pm that night.

On Tuesday a desperate father told me how he'd taken his daughter to Harare airport for a 6am flight to the UK. There were no lights in the airport public toilets and so men used the glow from their mobile phones to light a slippery path to the urinals. No announcements were made about the 5 hour delayed departure of the international flight which went to Uganda first to get fuel before finally heading to London.

On Wednesday the government announced that the public could now go and buy fuel from a named service station but that we would have to pay in foreign currency. Aside from the fact that it has been illegal for ordinary people to posses foreign currency for a number of years, the electricity blackouts were increasing and spreading and so petrol couldn't be pumped anyway.

On Thursday there was no electricity from 8am to 6.30 pm and when I phoned to enquire after having been off for 10 hours I was told that there was no foreign currency with which to buy power. On the same day my friend who is an epileptic went to the hospital for his monthly check up. He waited for three hours in a queue but didn't see a doctor because they "hadn't come yet". In simple English this actually meant that junior doctors weren't there as they were on strike for an 800% pay rise. My friend didn't get any phenobarb for his epilepsy as there wasn't any at this main provincial government hospital.

On Friday morning I got up long before dawn to try and cope with days of backed up emails but that was pointless as the electricity was gone by 7am. In the town, the supermarkets were also without power, meat had defrosted and the shelves were bare of basics that we all desperately search for :- bread, sugar, soap, margarine, cooking oil. Outside another supermarket a sea of people, standing in lines four deep stretched along the main road for over four hundred metres. They had heard that they may be a delivery of sugar. Outside the post office was a sign which read: "No electricity, phones not working".

On Saturday morning, as I write this hurriedly before the power goes off, we have no water because the pumps need electricity, generators need diesel. In a couple of days time it is Heroes Day here, a time when we remember the people who died to give Zimbabwe independence. I wonder what they would think if they could see these "challenges" twenty five years after their sacrifice.
Until next time, love cathy.

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