THE TRUTH ABOUT ZIMBABWE
News - August 2006


   

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OTHER LETTERS:

A new year message

Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror


OTHER REPORTS:

Human Rights Group under attack

Another farmer attacked

QUICK LINKS:
THE ZIMBABWEAN
SW RADIO AFRICA
Zim Independant
The Standard
Human Rights Forum
ZW News
Eddie Cross letters The Zimbabwe Situation

OTHER LETTERS:

Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?


Under cover of darkness

A night of terror


QUICK LINKS:
THE ZIMBABWEAN
Daily News
Zim Independant
The Standard
Financial Gazette
Human Rights Forum
ZW News

 

Raining Leaves

Saturday 26th August 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
This week I write about peculiar and mixed messages. This is very similar to what our lives have become here - disjointed, fragmented, confusing and almost always with nothing guaranteed.

Everyone thought there would be an extension to the 21 days given by the Reserve Bank to hand in old currency and convert to the new money - that isn't really money and has been pruned of three digits. It seems we Zimbabweans haven't learnt a thing though, least of all the lesson that what we most expect is that which is least likely to happen. There was no extension to the deadline and in the first week of the new money most people were totally confused. Having just got used to counting zeroes and being able to distinguish between hundreds of thousands, millions and even billions, now suddenly we are back to hundreds and thousands. Our purses, pockets and handbags are frighteningly light in weight and most people are adding on three zeroes in their calculations to try and work out just exactly how much things really cost. The loss of three zeroes really is an illusion and it is just going to take a bit of time to get used to less digits which still don't buy enough and still leave you stone broke.

On the first night after the old notes had gone, the newsreaders on ZBC TV were on a propaganda high, glowing and grovelling and singing the praises about what they said had been a smooth changeover. This was despite monstrous queues at banks, building societies and cash machines which were painfully slow and clearly visible. By the next day the propaganda had done a complete U turn and ZBC was talking about people swarming banks and police having to control crowds who were stranded with the old money. Then on the third day the spin was back and the reports were about the happiness of the "Transacting Public." You simply had to laugh by then and wonder about which clever cookie had come up with the phrase Transacting Public!

Five days after the money changeover deadline had passed came a speech from the Governor of the Reserve Bank. This was serious stuff now and his vote of thanks included everyone who is anyone in Zimbabwe and went on for some considerable time. Nothing was said about the fact that neither the old money nor the new is backed up by adequate gold reserves. Everything assumed elevated proportions in the Governors speech and ordinary words became proper nouns and were given capital letters. We were told that a Special Window had been opened for Special Cases of people in remote areas in a Mop Up Programme to hand in their old money. This was apparently the last attempt to recover 10 trillion dollars of money that had not been accounted for. You have to shake your head in wonder at the utterly absurd though of desperately poor people living in dusty villages without electricity or running water having 10 trillion dollars buried in their back gardens!

There are some good things about life in Zimbabwe this week - it's raining leaves and summer is almost upon us. The temperatures are warming up and everything in the garden has started growing again. For this we are thankful.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Thanks Sister

Saturday 19th August 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
In the dying days of Zimbabwe 's old Bearer Cheques which have served as money, but are not really money, the change over has been messy, confusing and in many cases downright unfair. Regardless of the pronouncement by the Reserve Bank Governor that the old money would remain valid until Monday the 21st August, many establishments stopped accepting it almost a week before the cut off date. Shops and companies that were still accepting the old notes, did not have any new notes and therefore either couldn't give you any change at all or gave you back old notes. As the cut off date drew closer there was less and less new money in circulation and everywhere people were desperately trying to get rid of old money.

There was a double page, high gloss, pull out advert printed in 3 languages in the press which said:"Zero To Hero, let the hero rise in all of us." Then followed all sorts of smart subheadings in shiny blue, pink, orange and green boxes which answered all the questions people may have about the new bearers cheques. It told us how to write cheques, how to pay bills and how to round up or down figures when converting to the new Bearer Cheques. (Yeah right, as if anything, of any description is ever rounded down in the country with the highest inflation in the world!) At the bottom of the page was a picture of a nifty little white pick up truck. "Mobile Cash Swap Team " it said, "Coming to a town near you. Bearing good news." And written underneath the truck in purple print: "Money on the mooove!"

After reading the advert you sort of feel encouraged and think OK, this all looks smart, efficient and professional. For a moment you forget the body and vehicle searches for "illegal money" that are going on at the endless road blocks all over the country. You forget the queues out of the doors of the banks as people still try and deposit box loads of old money and you forget the fact that the electricity is off again and there's still no fuel to buy - even if you could afford it. Of course, the more you look for the nifty little Money On The Moove, mobile cash swap team truck, the more elusive it becomes and you are left wondering if in fact it ever existed at all.

Three days before the deadline I took myself off to the supermarket to spend the last of my old money. I had 1.8 million dollars. Just six years ago I could have bought a 4 year old Mercedes Benz 250D car with all the extras and in immaculate condition for 1.8 million dollars. I wandered around the supermarket doing mental maths in my head, and in the end settled on a packet of salt, a box of custard powder and 20 plastic clothes pegs. Standing in the line to pay, it was obvious everyone was doing the same as me - buying little things to get rid of the last of the money. The woman in front of me had a packet of soup, a bar of soap and a jar of peanut butter. Her bill came to 1 million and 70 thousand dollars - she only had a million. I gave her 70 thousand out of my purse, she clapped in thanks and the man in line behind me said: "Good, thanks sister, I'll help you if yours is short! " Then the man behind him said "and I'll help you!" This is the real face of Zimbabwe and this is what makes our country so special.

Please note that I write this letter for free, my mail server sends it out for free and no one has my permission to sell it.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Purple Paper

Saturday 12th August 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Two weeks into the change of Zimbabwe's currency and there is no shortage of horror stories about some of the things that have gone on. Stories of people being dehumanized at road blocks - ordered to strip and then being subjected to indecent searches in the hunt for concealed currency. Stories of multiple billions of dollars being seized, of mourners being ordered to open coffins and of huge bribes being demanded and given, to bypass the regulations and get old currency back into the banking system. The banks are full to bursting with depositors, the lines endlessly long, the whirring and clacking of the note counting machines incessant. In the queues are men, women and even children with shopping bags, cardboard boxes, suitcases of all sizes and shapes, canvas kit bags, tin trunks and huge steel safes - all full with money. The tellers behind the counters are literally encased in money tombs - huge walls of bank notes rising around and above them, against the walls, under their feet, alongside their elbows and slowly engulfing them almost completely from view.

In the towns and suburbs there are stories of people going on massive spending sprees buying anything and everything they can in order to use up the old money that they cannot bank. All of these stories, however, fade into insignificance for the great majority of desperately poor ordinary people in Zimbabwe. This week I talked to a man from a rural village and the whole hullabaloo about money hardly featured in his worries. There had been a late frost last week and the man and his wife had lost their entire vegetable garden of tomatoes and leaf vegetables. The tomatoes were just a few days away from picking but the frost burnt the tops of the fruits, turning firm flesh into brown mush. The rape leaves were almost big enough to start picking but the frost turned them crisp and yellow and worthless. When I asked why the man hadn't built grass frost shelters around the garden he said that as far as you could see in every direction there is no grass left - every blade has been burnt. There is no grass for the cattle to eat and bushes and shrubs have also been burnt. All unprotected maize stover has gone too in the uncontrolled fires that are sweeping across mile after mile of countryside. The man said that he hears on his radio the news that people starting fires would be arrested but every day great plumes of smoke rise up but the police never come.

I asked the man if he knew about the money being changed and he said that the villagers had been called to meetings and told they had to spend all their money as it was about to worthless. The man said many people did not believe the news, especially older people who hid their money in buckets and tins - buried it in the ground in the middle of their huts. The man said he had come to town to spend all his savings. He had five million dollars (equivalent of five pounds sterling) and wanted to buy one bag of fertilizer. His friend had found and priced the fertilizer for him at a big farm supply outlet - it was exactly five million dollars for a 50 kg bag. Just four days later the man went with his handful of money and found the price had gone up. The bag of fertilizer now cost six million four hundred thousand dollars. The man stood looking at his handful of purple paper and his hunched posture spoke volumes; in a few days it would be as worthless as his garden of burnt vegetables.

If the Zimbabwe government put anywhere near as much energy into growing food as they have into confiscating people's own money, we would be fat, fit and flourishing.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

Pimply Faced Youths

Saturday 5th August 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
As early as nine in the morning at least two hundred and fifty people stood in snaking lines waiting to be searched on the road side. Three buses, one minibus, one haulage truck and 14 cars had been ordered to stop at the roadblock. This is not a description of a scene in war torn Lebanon or Iraq, but of a simple single lane highway coming into the Zimbabwean town of Marondera on Friday morning. The passengers from all the buses had been ordered to get out, line up and open their suitcases, hold-alls and even hand bags so that they could be searched. The driver of the haulage truck had been ordered to undo all the tie downs and remove the huge tarpaulin that covered a full load of freight on his trailer. Most of the people in the string of cars that grew ever longer were having to get out and open boots and push seats forward. The interrogations and searches were being conducted by youngsters in their late teens and early twenties. And what where all these young "officials" looking for - it wasn't guns or bombs or drugs it was money - our own money. If people were carrying more than was "allowed" by the Governor of the Reserve Bank, it was being confiscated at road blocks by pimply faced youths until you could prove where you got our own money from.

It has been an utterly shambolic week in Zimbabwe which began on Tuesday when the Reserve Bank Governor knocked three zeroes off our currency and introduced a new set of notes which are to be used as money. He called them "a new family of bearer cheques." The Reserve Bank Governor said that we have three weeks to change all our old dollars into new dollars and that from the 21st August our existing bank notes would no longer be recognised as money. But it isn't really three weeks because there are two public holidays, three Sundays and three half working days in the change over period. The Governor then set limits for the amounts of money people and companies could change at a time - with maximum amounts being set per week. He barred all retail outlets from selling goods worth more than 100 million dollars ( 100 Pounds Sterling) in cash to one customer and said no one could move around with more than 100 million dollars in cash on them. If there was petrol to buy - which suddenly there isn't - 100 million dollars would only just be enough to fill a standard fuel tank of a family car. Cheques were being rejected by banks if they were written in the old denominations, ATM dispensers were shut down, most shops did not have the new notes and the banks were still giving out old notes for withdrawals. Everyone I met was panicking. Most do not have bank accounts so if the banks haven't got the new notes to exchange for the old, they are sunk and have no option except to frantically spend whatever money they have on things they can't afford, just to get rid of the old money.

And then, worst of all, came the typical threats and intimidation so characteristic of life in Zimbabwe. Just two days after making his announcement, the Governor of the Reserve Bank said he was considering shortening the time period even further - to stop the crooks. He did not say what happens to the plain, ordinary, desperately poor people who aren't crooks. People with just a few million dollars in remote dusty villages who would have to use most of their money just to get to a town with a bank. There are apparently no exceptions for the weak, the frail or the elderly, for those who are in hospital, incapacitated or unable to travel - there is not a glimmer of compassion for the common man and woman.

Zimbabwe this week feels closer to a revolution than at any other time in the last six years. The rage on people's faces as they stand waiting to be searched at the road blocks, waiting to have their own money taken from them, is palpable.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.


 
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