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Saturday 25th August 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
The view from Zimbabwe's window is absolutely gorgeous this week. Evidence of
spring and renewal is all around us. The sky is cloudless and blue, the
temperatures are rising and the blue headed lizards are out basking in the sun
again. The indigenous woodlands that have survived the army of winter
woodcutters are breathtaking as the Msasa trees go from red and burgundy to
caramel and a shiny butterscotch colour before finally preparing to shade our
land for another year. After nearly two months of government price controls and
the ugly mess they have created, the beauty and warmth around us is the only
thing keeping many people sane in this seventh spring of Zimbabwe's turmoil.
This week, after a long silence, government inflation figures were announced
and, as expected, the price controls have not helped at all - exactly the
opposite in fact. Inflation which stood at 4530% in May, soared to 7634% in July.
I went to visit an elderly couple this week and we exchanged delights about the
season and the climate and then they showed me the letter which had just
arrived. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the news about their pension.
The letter was from a senior executive in one of the largest pension fund
companies in the country and read as follows:
"We confirm that you are entitled to a monthly pension of $0.85 cents. This
pension is currently suspended. As the monthly pension has now been eroded by
inflation, the company has now decided to pay out the balance of your pension as
a lump sum. The lump sum payable to you is: $2.9 million dollars."
I can't think of words that adequately describe the outrage of this. A monthly
pension representing a person's working life and the result of years of payments
being now worth just 85 Zimbabwe cents. There is not a single thing you can buy
for eighty five cents in Zimbabwe, not even one match stick; in fact there
aren't any coins in circulation in the country anymore. The couple told me they
had agreed to accept the lump sum payment because they really had no other
option but they knew that even this amount would only pay for 4 days of their
board and lodge.
Young or old there is just one way to survive these bleak times in Zimbabwe and
that is one day at a time. We have all been forced into short term thinking and
even shorter term planning as we try and keep food on the table in these days of
government induced famine. There is still almost no food to buy in our shops -
no oil, margarine, flour, rice, pasta, maize meal, biscuits, cold drinks or
sugar. No soap, washing powder, candles or matches. No meat, eggs, dairy
products or confectionary.
In a weeks time our children go back to school but even this fact does not seem
to inspire our government into action. How do they think schools are going to
feed the children who stay for lunch or are boarders? How do they think that
parents who have been forced to run their businesses at a loss for the last two
months are going to be able to even pay school fees? How do they think
pensioners can survive on eighty five cents a month? There are no answers to the
questions at any level.
Even more worrying is that glorious as the weather is, it is almost planting
time again and yet there is no seed to buy in our empty shops and our day at a
time thinking caused by our governments day at a time planning is condemning us
to even harder times ahead. It hardly bears thinking about and so we try not to
and hope and pray that there may be an end to this, just an end.
week, thanks for reading , love cathy.
All for Sugar
Saturday 17th August 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
A month ago I received an email from one of the last few commercial sugar
farmers still hanging on in Chiredzi. She described how in April a convoy had
arrived at the farm and announced that the government were taking over their
property and that the family had until September to wind up their business, give
up their livelihood, get out of their home and off the land. The government
delegation then proceeded to enter the family home and list all the things which
were not to be removed as these were also being acquired by the State. These
included fans and kitchen units and from the house the delegation moved out to
the farm yard. Here they took details of tractors, machinery and farm implements
and said these too were now the property of the State. The delegation said
compensation for the listed items would be made "One Day" in the future at a
price to be decided by State valuators when finances were available. The farming
family are now, as I write, closing down their affairs and preparing to leave
their home and property which grows sugar cane, citrus fruit and produces milk.
In her email describing these last weeks, the farmer wrote that her children are
well but very upset with these events and that they have so many questions about
it all but there are not many answers.
This farming family are leaving to make way, not for a landless Zimbabwean
peasant, but for the daughter of a high up political figure in the district.
This story of what is happening to one farm and one family in Chiredzi has been
repeated hundreds of times over in the last eight years. The continuing seizure
of farms in Zimbabwe by the State makes less sense now than ever before in our
hungry land which has the lowest life expectancy and highest inflation in the
world. The story of the seizure of this sugar farm is particularly poignant this
week as tragic news has emerged of how three people died when a sugar queue in
Bulawayo turned into a deadly stampede.
Just a fortnight ago I described being in a supermarket with my fifteen year
old son and witnessing a stampede for cooking oil. The sight and sound of the
rush, the pushing and shoving and the frantic snatching is still clear in my
mind. These events are being repeated every day all over the country as there is
virtually no food to buy in our shops as the government continues to insist on
price controls. The deadly stampede happened in Bulawayo where many hundreds of
people were queuing for sugar. A supermarket Security Guard opened the gates,
people surged forward and then a wall collapsed. The Security Guard died
instantly. Another man died later of head injuries and broken limbs. A 15 year
old school boy was trampled in the stampede, his limbs were broken and he too
died later in hospital.
As a farmer who suffered the indignity and outrage of the seizure of home,
business and farm by the State in 2000 and who was also given the unfulfilled
promise of compensation, I understand exactly the agonies of the sugar farming
family in Chiredzi. As a mother of a 15 year school boy my heart goes out
particularly to the family of the teenager trampled to death in a sugar queue in
Bulawayo. Like my son, this teenager would have been just a year away from
writing his 'O' Levels, about to embark on his life and perhaps go on to do
great things for his country.
In a week so many lives and families have been broken - and all for sugar but
all because of politics. Knowing this and then hearing of the standing ovation
at the SADC summit in Lusaka makes the events on the ground at home all the more
tragic. Do the SADC leaders know? Do they care?
Until next week, thanks for
reading. Love cathy.
Message sending failed!
Saturday 11th August 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
At the beginning of August the Interception of Communications Act was signed
into law and the government of Zimbabwe can now legally intercept emails and
faxes, listen to telephone conversations and open and read letters. At a time
when there is no fuel to buy at petrol stations and almost no public transport
on the roads, just getting to the local Post Office has become a major outing
for most people. Sending a simple fax has become a joke and it often takes
thirty or forty attempts to connect to a telephone number and even then success
is not guaranteed. Sending SMS/text messages is a mission of major proportions
and requires the patience of a Saint as scores of times in a row the words flick
up:" Message sending failed" until eventually you give up in disgust. Then we
get to the aspects of communications that require electricity and the joke of
the Interception Act gets even funnier. This week the electricity cuts in my
home town have been so bad that they've lasted for 18 hours a day, starting at 4
am in the morning and going on until 10 pm at night. And so, all things
considered,you have to wonder just exactly what it is our government thinks we
are saying to each other and how we are finding the time or means to say it.
Most people I've met this week are walking around like zombies. We are utterly
exhausted as the simplest of daily chores require great ingenuity, considerable
amounts of time and vast amounts of energy. People everywhere relate the absurd,
upside down routine that has become life here. Cooking outside on open fires.
Doing washing in the middle of the night if you're lucky enough to have both
water and electricity on at the same time. Ironing clothes at midnight after
frantically rushing around plugging in and recharging batteries, torches, cell
phones, fridges and deep freezes and hoping the power stays on long enough to
store energy for another 24 hours. In the rare times when the electricity is on
people are doing things to physically survive and frankly communication is not
one of them. Everyone knows this is a completely unsustainable situation that
now prevails in the country with no food to buy, no fuel for transport, very
little water and even less electricity and it has become a question of remaining
alert and focused and trying to stay positive.
This week, tired as we are, the sheer beauty of spring in Zimbabwe, is reason
enough to be positive. The Msasa trees have begun displaying their new leaves
and the crowns of red and their promise of new life are a real delight. The
Mahobohobo trees are crowded with golden fruits and the wild orange trees are
weighted down with their great green cricket balls, soon to ripen and at least
give food to people who have nothing. Conducting an errand by bicycle this week
I came across five young children dragging tree branches across a dirt road back
to their homes in a high density suburb. The kids paused from the heavy chore
for a minute and stared open mouthed as I passed. "How are you?" I called out
and as always this standard greeting led to a chorus of echoes from them and
then great gleeful giggling. Later when I got home and was tending a pot of soup
over a smoky fire I looked up and saw my latest distraction. A red headed weaver
is building a nest on the telephone line against the wall of my house. I can't
help but wonder what this will do to the intercepting of my communications and
watched in amazement as the female weaver arrived. After just three days the
skeleton of the nest is built and is obviously strong enough to hold her. The
female weaver sat herself down in the sticks and leaf midribs as the red headed
male spent the next hour going backwards and forwards busily constructing the
house around her. Zimbabwe is a country so rich and yet so poor but surely soon
we will turn the corner.
Until next week, love cathy.
Crawling under razor wire
Saturday 4th August 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Every day that price controls continue, the discontent amongst Zimbabweans
rises. Everyone, everywhere is now affected and it doesn't matter if you are a
political heavyweight, a soldier, policeman or ordinary member of society,
everything is either in very short supply or just not available at all. In one
big supermarket this weekend there were 78 empty shelves on a busy Saturday
morning and the goods most plentiful were wine, cleaning products and toilet
cleaner. Walking along one empty aisle after another with my 15 year old son,
home for the school holidays, we were looking for soft drinks - any colour,
flavour or make would have done but there was nothing at all to be had. We both
stood open mouthed at the sudden scrum that developed right in front of us.
From an internal storeroom a man emerged with a shopping trolley which was half
full with small, 375 ml, bottles of cooking oil. From all over the supermarket,
and the doorway and outside on the pavement, people ran, pushed, shoved and
shouted as they scrambled to get to the trolley and grab one of the small
bottles. Even security guards on duty at the exits joined in and it was
frightening to witness the dramatic changes in people from calm and dignified to
squabbling, scrabbling, pushing and out of control.
Even though he is a teenager and almost taller than me, I looked first to my
son, was he OK, out of the way of the madness, and then to a friend I'd seen, an
82 year old man who had gone white as a sheet and seemed rooted to the spot, not
sure what was happening or which way to move. I put an arm round him and he was
shaking and I couldn't believe he hadn't been knocked over in the stampede.
Outside in the car park the conversation was not about empty shelves, the lack
of essential food stuffs or the sudden and complete disappearance of even soft
drinks. It wasn't about the lack of meat or eggs, flour, sugar or rice or the
daily water cuts, instead it was about beer. Now Zimbabwe has run out of beer it
seems and for many this has been the anaesthetic which has dulled the pain of
this time of madness. Outside the main beer distribution warehouse in the town
cars and trucks lined both sides of the road, their vehicles piled high with
empty crates. A bread truck was stopped at a small garage where petrol and
diesel haven't been available for some weeks and perhaps a hundred people lined
up each to be allowed to buy a single loaf. These are scenes I have seen in
documentaries about the second world war and they are almost impossible to
comprehend in our country which until so recently was a land of plenty.
You really do have to see these scenes, walk amongst the people and witness
these shocking scrambles for food to understand why Zimbabweans are crawling
under razor wire and climbing over barbed wire border fences to get out of the
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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