News - August 2007





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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
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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

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Seventh Spring

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.
Until next 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 country.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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