News - August 2009





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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


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Burning House

Saturday 29th August 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
"The house is burning down" is how someone described the situation in Zimbabwe this week.

They weren't referring to the swirling rumours that 85 year old Mr Mugabe was apparently very ill and in Dubai for medical treatment.
They weren't talking about the continuing jostling for positions in the higher levels of Zanu PF since the recent death of Vice President Joseph Msika. The burning house didn't refer to the shocking reports in the State run press that AIDS levies deducted from salaries nationwide were being abused. Or that of the 1.7 million US dollars collected in AIDS levies this year, only 20 thousand had been spent on anti-retroviral.

The burning house reference wasn't connected to the visit by South African President and SADC chairman Jacob Zuma to Zimbabwe. It had nothing to do with the behind closed doors talks Mr Zuma had with Mr Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara about unresolved issues in the unity government's political agreement which have been outstanding for over 6 months.

The house is burning down is a literal description of Zimbabwe in the last week of August 2009. Fires are burning everywhere. In residential areas smoke rises as household garbage is burnt by residents desperate to try and keep down rats, snakes, mosquitoes and disease. Its a very sore point that six months after new town councils took office they still aren't even collecting garbage. They say they have no fuel but their officials, whose salaries we pay, are busy travelling to "workshops and seminars" in other parts of the country. In residential areas smoke rises during the increasing number of power cuts and from the houses of people who cannot afford the electricity charges. Smoke is also rising from roadsides, along railway lines, under electricity pylons and even on the corner of intersections as everyone prepares little patches of ground where they can grow a few mealies. On the outskirts of residential areas smoke can be seen at any time in any direction as fires burn unchecked. At night, any night, an orange glow lights the sky as the flames gobble up unproductive, unprotected farms, plots and wetlands.

Every evening as dusk falls the sun is crimson as it drops into the horizon through the haze of dust, ash and smoke. Every dawn, if you are lucky and can find a view without smoke, the Msasa trees are glorious, their leaves red as they announce a new season. Zimbabwe waits, holding its breath to see if something sensible is going to happen on farming land in the next month as we get into planting time.
Until next week, from the burning house, thanks for reading, love cathy

Of swine flu and flying pigs

Saturday 22nd August 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
Swine Flu has officially arrived in Zimbabwe. A ZBC TV news bulletin this week reported that there were a number of confirmed cases of swine flu in Mutare. The report said that people should not panic because hospitals were prepared, staff had been trained and information would soon be disseminated to private practitioners. Special attention is apparently going to be given to critical areas like the country's border posts.

This latter cannot come soon enough and I am sure that every poor soul who has had to endure the horrors of Beitbridge border post will agree with me. In the last few days I have met two Zimbabweans who have been through the Beitbridge border post this month. They say it is hell, a nightmare, a national disgrace, a shame on our country, a deep embarrassment to Zimbabwe. And this is being polite!

When you arrive at Beitbridge from South Africa you are overwhelmed by touts. Aggressive young men in their twenties who swarm around you and solicit bribes in order for you to proceed through the formalities. The touts control the speed and progress of everything: the queues, the forms, the stamps and signatures, the customs inspections and the final scrap of paper, the gate pass, that allows you get through the boom and into Zimbabwe. Both of the travellers I spoke to said they simply found it impossible to proceed without giving in to the demands for bribes. Every time they got near the counters in the border post the touts and their customers would push in ahead of them with great piles of papers and none of the officials on duty were interested in intervening, not immigration, security, customs or tax collectors. Touts appeared to be making an average of 500 Rand, or 50 US dollars per customer - half the month's pay of a trained teacher in Zimbabwe.

The toilets at the border are apparently a swamp, there is no toilet paper, no towels and no way at all to keep yourself clean. Everyone waits till they are through the border and then pull up on the roadside and relieve themselves in the bush. If we are to believe ZBC, it is into this madness of Beitbridge border post that there is going to be swine flu detection and control. Pardon the pun, but pigs might fly!

Zimbabwe's unity government has been in place for six months but it is still the thieves, con-men, blackmailers and bullies that are manning the entry points into our country. Until they are gone and until Zimbabwe can clean up the shop window to the country we haven't got a hope of controlling swine flu, of tempting tourists into the country or of getting any of the overflow of visitors from the 2010 World Cup football games in South Africa. Its about time that some of our senior leaders went incognito to Zimbabwe's borders and saw the thieves and bullies holding tourists, visitors and returning residents to ransom.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

Confused priorities

Saturday 15th September 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
A growing number of analysts are starting to say that the "honeymoon is over" for Zimbabwe's unity government. For the last six months the very long suffering Zimbabweans have been patient, very patient. After living through nine years of violence, hunger, disease, poverty and oppression, everyone wanted to try and make this botched up and hugely over-staffed government work.
"Its a transitional" stage, we were told by our MP's in March, April and May.
"Be Patient!" they urged, " in June and July. "The collapse is widespread, the corruption rampant and change is going to take time."

At a local level services remain largely non existent - garbage is still not collected, street lights don't work, roads are full of potholes and water supplies are scarce.

At a business level conditions continue to be extremely precarious. For the last three months the NEC (National Employment Council) have been announcing new wage levels for employees in the business sector. They are demanding increases for workers of 40% in some sectors, 50% in others and are saying that new wage rates are to be backdated by 2,3 and even 4 months. Employers are saying that if the wage levels are enforced they'll have no option but to make half their staff redundant and reduce business by 50%. Employees say they understand on the one hand but threaten to strike on the other. It's a time bomb.

At a professional level government doctors have finally reached tipping point and gone on strike. After a minimum of five years university and hospital training and working very long hours with negligible equipment and facilities, they've said enough is enough. They say they will not continue working for 170 US dollars (106 British pounds) a month.

Government teachers are very close to withdrawing their services too. Three or more years of tertiary education, teacher training, classroom experience and every afternoon of every school day spent supervising or travelling to one sporting event or another, teachers are very disgruntled. In return for their labour they are currently earning only 140 US dollars (87 British pounds) a month.

To put all this into perspective are two pictures:
First is the driver of the truck which killed the Prime Minister's wife, Mrs Susan Tsvangirai. The truck driver was reportedly earning 300 British pounds (US$ 480) a month at the time of the accident. (for which he was fined US 200. ) A truck driver earning almost double the salary of a doctor?
Secondly are the new NEC rates for security workers. A man standing at the gate of a complex lifting a boom across the road for vehicles to enter is now earning 140 US dollars a month, before transport, lighting and housing allowances. A gate guard earning more than a teacher?

Zimbabwe's priorities are confused and patience grows ever thinner.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

Ordinary Heroes

Saturday 8th August 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
As Zimbabwe commemorates Heroes Day in 2009 it again feels like a very partisan affair. For many of us who have suffered such trauma in recent times, it is appropriate to remember the ordinary heroes of our country who have died in the last decade. People who were not given state assisted burials and were not interred at Heroes Acre. Ordinary people who dared to work for change, dared to speak out and to stand up for democracy and who were murdered as a result. Ordinary people whose murderers still walk free amongst us in our cities, towns, villages and suburbs.

People like Morgan Tsvangirai's driver, Tichaona Chiminya, and his colleague Talent Mabika who were burned to death in a car set on fire by a gang in Buhera.

People like Patrick Nabanyama,an MDC polling agent in Bulawayo who was abducted nine years ago and has never been seen again.

People like 45 year old MDC supporter Milton Chambati, who was attacked by a mob, stabbed in the back and then beheaded in Magunge.

People like Tafi Gwaze, an MDC Polling agent who was abducted, tortured and beaten to death.

People like 22 year old MDC supporter Francis Chinozvinya who was shot in the chest during a Zengeza by -election and pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.

There are hundreds more people who have died because of their political affiliations since 2000.

There are thousands who will forever bear the physical and mental scars of being beaten, burned, tortured, raped or sexually abused because they supported the MDC. There are millions who have endured the pain of being separated from their families and relations, their homes and their country as they had no choice but to live in exile in the diaspora. And of course there are all the heroes here at home - all of us who have lived with hunger, sickness, destitution, fear and oppression.

Perhaps next year Zimbabwe will also honour its ordinary heroes.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Caramel sunsets

Saturday 1st August 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
There are stirrings of spring in Zimbabwe which lift our spirits and tease us with promises of better times to come. Seasonal changes are evident everywhere: hard green wild oranges weighing down leafless branches; pink and white Bauhinias flowering along roadsides; rolled, hooting calls of the as yet unseen Coucals; the veld grass bleached and brittle. And every evening caramel sunsets smudged with smoke blanket the horizon before the vista of African stars cover the sky. The smallest things which a decade ago we took for granted are now so rare because of unchecked environmental destruction. But there are still glimpses of life and therefore hope: a slender mongoose darting across the road; the slow heavy flight of a heron overhead, the nagging chattering of a hammerkop as it patrols what’s left of the wetlands, searching for frogs amongst the streambed cultivation which is destroying our vleis.

This spring and summer we look to our unity government to give some long overdue attention to the environment – not just on the farms but in and around our cities and towns, in and around our streams and rivers, forests and bush. Even the rocks have not been spared: beautiful balanced granite boulders, the edges of kopjes and even roadside rocks are being chipped away into building stones by men, women and children desperate to make a few dollars.

Already the uncontrolled fires are everywhere, smoke rising and staining the horizon in all directions. Six months into their terms of office municipalities continue to argue about assets and sit on their hands while garbage piles up on roadsides, under trees and in stinking piles outside flats and shopping centres. Residential areas in my home town, and many other areas, have not had dustbins collected for nearly two years, street lights have been off for four years and yet still every month the councils bill us for services they don’t provide. Someone in Harare wrote saying they’ve not had a drop of water in their suburb since the 27th of June 2008. In other parts of the capital city it has been even longer and yet they too receive accounts every month for water they do not receive.

The ugly scars of Zimbabwe’s dark decade are everywhere but the best news came this week when the BBC were allowed back into the country. Excellent news too came of the un-banning of the Daily News newspaper – hopefully they can be re-capitalized and start again. At last the real truths can be exposed for all to see and the puerile propaganda of ZBC TV and Radio will be counterbalanced.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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