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Shiny brown seeds
Saturday 30th August 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
It's a noisy afternoon as I sit writing this letter. The Msasa trees are throwing out their seeds in preparation for the new season. Every few seconds another pod loses control and cracks. There is a distinct click and then the pod splits, curls and falls onto the hard, dry ground, scattering shiny brown seeds into the dust. Summer is almost upon us and change is in the air. Smoke is also in the air as yet again uncontrolled fires burn in every direction and on every horizon but we look upwards as we wait for clouds and rain and pray for relief from the tragedy engulfing our country.
Amidst our desperate struggle to survive eleven million percent inflation and with so very many people going to bed hungry every night, there have been some dramatic developments in Zimbabwe this week that bring change another step closer. Just when we'd given up hope of the people's March 29th votes ever being respected, Parliament was suddenly re-convened and MP's sworn in. Then, for the first time in 28 years, Zanu PF lost control of the House of Assembly as an MDC MP was voted Speaker of The House.
The ceremonial opening of Parliament was a spectacle not to be missed and unbelievably the electricity stayed on during the entire procedure. Even more amazing was that ZBC TV filmed all the events that followed, live and uninterrupted. Zimbabwe saw Mr Mugabe arrive in the black open topped Rolls Royce alone, without his wife. We saw the long, long line of MP's going into Parliament. The MDC MP's were easily recognisable as they smiled and waved to the crowds - perhaps acknowledging that it was their votes and their sacrifices that had resulted in this day. The MDC MP's have not yet got that arrogant, I'm indestructible look that is so common to Zimbabwean politicians.
Many shocking things followed in the next hour, filmed live by ZBC TV for all to see. When Mr Mugabe walked into the House of Assembly only the Zanu PF MP's stood up. For half an hour Mr Mugabe's voice was drowned out by talking, jeering, singing and clapping MDC MP's. Never, in 28 years, has Zimbabwe seen their elected MP's do anything like this. Never, in 28 years, have Zimbabweans seen Mr Mugabe being openly challenged like this.
The final wind of change that blew into Zimbabwe this week came with the government lifting its ban on international and local charitable organisations.
People who are hungry, sick and desperate have been given back the right to ask for and receive help from people other than a bankrupt government.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy
Less than a tin of jam
Saturday 23rd August 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Our days and weeks blur into ongoing nightmare as we reel from one crisis to another. I'm not talking about the politics of our country where talks have either collapsed or stalled, or become corrupted - at this time it's not really clear what is happening. The only hint we are getting that any chance of a deal or coalition between the two main parties is collapsing, is the barrage of blaming and finger pointing against Mr Tsvangirai that is being aired by the State controlled ZBC radio and television.
The crisis that I'm talking about is the one of living every day. Food supplies are lower than they've ever been. One morning this week in my home town, four of the five main supermarkets were simply shut - doors closed, bars up, gates
padlocked: no notice, no apology, nothing. The one supermarket which has a South African franchise was open, but the prices were completely out of reach. A 250 gram bag of salt cost 150 dollars, a small tin of jam was priced at 250 dollars.
These amounts are the figures after ten zeroes were removed a fortnight ago. In real terms the salt was 1 and half trillion dollars and the small tin of jam 2 and a half trillion dollars. To put this in perspective you need to know that a junior school teacher I met this week told me she currently earns 2 trillion dollars a month (200 dollars without the zeroes). A month in the classroom for less than one small tin of jam.
I chatted with a man from a rural village and he said that the situation in the countryside had reached critical levels as people have started running out of grain from their last harvest. He said that there was no help at all coming to his village. The village Headman and the local Chief had not been given any food supplies from the government to distribute to hungry villagers. He said that the international organizations like the World Food Programme weren't coming anymore and neither were the smaller NGO's or even the Churches. He told me that feeding programmes for pre school children had been banned by the government and even the monthly distribution of food packs to pensioners had ceased. Elderly men and women, many in charge of looking after orphaned grandchildren, had been receiving maize meal, sugar beans and cooking oil before the March elections but now they were getting nothing at all. People with HIV and AIDS in the village who had been tested and registered and who had been receiving anti-retrovirals from NGO's have also been abandoned due to the government prohibition on outside help. The man shook his head sadly as he told me about the cessation of the drugs and said: "This is a death sentence for these people; what's left for them now is only to die."
I asked him if the villagers were able to get the cheap food through the latest government "People's Shops" scheme. He said 120 villagers had been identified for the programme and 10 were chosen each week to travel to the nearest People's Shop warehouse. It is 40 kilometre journey, one way, but so far only the first group of 10 people had managed to buy cheap food. For the others, every week 10 people went but every week the warehouse was empty. They persisted for six weeks in a row but now, he said, they have given up going, it is wasting precious money travelling the 80 kilometre round trip and returning empty handed.
The only hope is in the coming rainy season but with just six weeks until the planting season, rural villagers have yet to see any seed or fertilizer. "If they won't let anyone give us food or medicines, do you think we have a chance for seed or fertilizer?" the man I was talking too asked. I looked at the ground in shame and could find no words in response.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Just out of reach
Sunday 17th August 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
The will of the people. It is impossible to believe that 140 days after Zimbabwe voted for an MDC Parliament and an MDC President the will of the people has yet to be accepted or implemented. After nearly five months we remain locked in a truly horrible state without sworn in legislators, without a parliament and without legitimacy. Everything around us is falling apart so fast now and yet the people and party in power for the last twenty eight years simply refuse to go.
The electricity is now off more than on - in my area its only been on twice during daytime working hours in the last week. Urban water supply seems to have virtually collapsed and in my home area taps are dry for at least 20 hours a day. Massive environmental devastation is being done as people have no choice but to cut trees down for fuel wood. Shops remain barren of virtually all goods and banks have become nightmare places where hundreds of people queue for hours at a time to withdraw the maximum daily allowance which is now handed out as a small bag of coins. At some banks the situation is so bad that the doors stay closed and locked all the time and people are only allowed to enter in small batches.
Much as the old leadership would have us believe, we are not a country at war, no one is trying to invade us or take us over and the future is waiting, just out of our reach. It is very hard, however, to stay sane, healthy and focussed on the Zimbabwe that the majority voted for on the 29th March 2008.
One afternoon this week I went with a friend to a small environmental education centre and game park at a local school and the magnificence of the Zimbabwean bush helped revive flagging spirits. The Msasa trees are coming into new leaf and putting on a spectacular display of copper, caramel, burgundy, port and hot red. The wild oranges are starting to turn yellow and they hang heavily from branches of leafless trees. On rocks and kopjes there are unexpected and vivid scatterings of lime green and bright orange lichen. In between trees and rocks, superbly camouflaged, there were giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and impala. This small environmental education centre, a vision from the past, giving knowledge and understanding to our children in such troubled times and promising hope for the future of our beleaguered, broken Zimbabwe.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Kneeling in the dust
Saturday 9th August 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Coming into Zimbabwe by road from South Africa is an experience not to be missed - for all the right and all the wrong reasons!
As you approach Musina, the last South African town before the border with Zimbabwe, you are struck with a feeling of being in a place of great majesty and ancient history. Giant Baobab trees stand dramatically in the dry, scratchy scrub land. It's hard to take in their massive and strangely upside down appearance. They are leafless as summer approaches and you are left wondering if some great hand from above pulled them up and then plunged them head first back into the hard African ground. In Musina town itself, on a dusty roadside, a glorious blaze of pink flowers crowd the swollen, grey stems of a Sabi Star shrub. Their pink-ness seems ironic and out of place amidst the dust and the heat and this, together with the Baobabs, sets the scene for the approaching insanity that has become life in Zimbabwe.
Musina town is crowded with Zimbabwean vehicles. Cars, trucks and minibuses are filled to overflowing with food and household goods. The images remind you of the place you are going to: the land of nothing. There are piles of bread crammed against car windows, huge blocks of toilet paper stuffed onto roof racks; women with 10 kilo bags of flour, sugar and mealie meal on their heads; gaudy carrier bags bursting at the seams filled with all the essentials of every day - essentials robbed us by economic collapse due to gross mismanagement and leadership incompetence.
The border control entry point at Beitbridge is Zimbabwe at its worst: a grim nightmare and disgraceful window into our country. The officials are sour, surly and downright rude. You stagger from one filthy counter to the next with no volunteered information on what to do, where to go and which bits of paper need stamps on. There are more touts, con men and wheeler dealers than you can cope with and they operate openly, brazenly and untouched, in full view of police, security guards and officials. For American dollars or South African Rand they force their way to the front of the one and only counter for returning residents and there they get your papers stamped, pay your road access tax, your Bridge toll fees or your customs duties. Appealing to the man with the legend: "Modern Security" enscribed on his navy uniform incurs a disgusting display of rudeness, temper and heavy handed physical pushing, not of the bad guys but of innocent members of the public. Question Mr Modern Security and he rubs his thumb against his fingers indicating clearly that if you want help you must pay. If you don't pay the bribes you wait, and wait, and wait. I was 12th in line but was there three and half hours.
Once back in Zimbabwe you plummet from 1st world to 4th in less than 10 minutes. Fuel stations are dry, food shops are empty, mobile phones have no signal. Women wash clothes and naked children bathe in the pools of the Bubye River and one lady dressed all in white kneels in the dust, her hands clasped in prayer, under a leafless thorn tree in the middle of nowhere. Donkey drawn carts become more commonplace than cars, goats dawdle across the road, fences along the highway are gone and its not worth your mental or physical health to look for or use a public toilet. Huge farms stand empty and derelict, fields unploughed, no sign of preparation for the season now just weeks away.
As night draws in you pass towns and cities engulfed in the darkness of power cuts and an uncountable number of road blocks loom out of the blackness, manned by Policemen who look younger than my teenage son.
Its hard to believe that Zimbabwe is in the same place in time as the rest of the world. Perhaps not for much longer is our fervent hope.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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