Christmas is cancelled
Saturday 17th December 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
I think if you could ask any Zimbabwean what three things they most wanted for
Christmas in 2005, the answers would be the same in almost all households.
Firstly we want food security in all areas: we want food growing on our farms,
food stacked in silos and warehouses and food in our pantries and on our tables.
After seventy months of turmoil, food security would be a blessed gift for every
Secondly this Christmas we want our families. I don't think I know a single
family which does not have some or most of its members living outside of the
country. Siblings, parents, children and grandparents are separated - we are a
nation whose families and extended families have been torn apart. Over three
million Zimbabweans (almost a quarter of our population) have left home in the
last seventy months and they are sorely missed.
Thirdly this Christmas we want fuel. Shops, businesses, transporters, schools,
institutions and ordinary families - we want to be able to go to a filling
station and buy fuel. Ever since the elections in March, the vast majority of
Zimbabweans have been unable to buy fuel anywhere except on the black market.
The nine month unavailability of fuel affects every single Zimbabwean as black
market fuel prices are now tagged onto everything from bread to bus fares, shoes
to sugar and everything in between. We long to travel in our own country again,
to see our friends in other towns and to go to Zimbabwe's beautiful places
again, what a gift that would be this Christmas.
Seventy months - it is hard to believe that this has been going on for so long
and that we have endured so much The gap between the very rich and the
desperately poor continues to widen. The latest Standard newspaper told of the
extravagances of the Zanu PF annual Congress last weekend. Three thousand
delegates for four days were fed with: 50 cattle, 48 goats, 11 kudu, 5 reed
buck, 17 impala, 5 buffaloes and 60 chickens. This was accompanied by 1.19
tonnes of rice, 50 kg of wheat and 11 tonnes of maize. Also on hand were 250
bags of oranges, a tonne of tomatoes, 400 cabbages and 60 litres of ice cream.
And, all this in a country in which THREE MILLION Zimbabweans are eating world
And freedom, that flimsy concept taken for granted by so many, seems as elusive
as ever for Zimbabweans this Christmas. Darker days are already upon us as 2006
approaches. This week passports of outspoken government critics were seized and
the Minister of Information said that journalists were "weapons of mass
The excesses and traditions of Christmas are cancelled for most Zimbabweans
this year and we are left hoping and praying for an end to the hardships,
turmoil and struggle of living like this. I will not write another letter until
2006 and wish all my family and friends, wherever you are in the world, a
Saturday 10th december 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party have been holding their annual congress this
week and watching some of the coverage on television made for staggering
viewing. By any standards Zimbabwe is a country in dire trouble. Inflation,
which began the year at 134% is again completely out of control and presently at
over 400%. Life expectancy continues to plummet and is now just over 30 years.
Unemployment is well over 70%, almost a quarter of our population are eating
food provided by international donors and the number of people in need grows by
the week. With these dreadful facts and figures you would think that our ruling
party would have more than enough to worry and talk about at their annual
congress. The posters adorning the walls of the now well known enormous white
tent were damning. The slogans were not about the economy, early death, hunger
or inflation. They were the same old deflectory attacks, just as they have been
since Zanu PF first realised they had lost popular support when they were
the constitutional referendum in 2000.
"Mr Bush, how about New Orleans!"
"MDC beating about the Bush."
"Mr Blair, how about Brixton?"
"Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and Blairs horses couldn't put the MDC
So while the party which has governed Zimbabwe for 25 years finds it fitting to
focus its energies on attacking the world, ordinary Zimbabweans have been
looking to more pressing issues.This week the United Nations Emergency Relief
Co-ordinator Jan Egeland concluded a five day visit to Zimbabwe and saw first
hand the dramatically deteriorating situation in the country. His observations
and comments were not about nursery rhymes or Humpty Dumpty and will hopefully
again cause the world to look to the dreadful conditions of so many people in
Mr Egeland said : "The humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is very serious. The
need for international aid is big and growing." He said that: "When life
expectancy goes from more than 60 years to just over 30 years in a 15-year span,
it's not just a crisis, it's a meltdown." Mr Egeland said that "The food
security is now an exploding issue" in Zimbabwe and said that the need for
international aid was "big, and growing". He said the UN was already feeding two
million people in Zimbabwe and that this would increase to 2.5 million by
December and 3.3 million by January 2006.
In the course of his visit Mr Egeland offered Mr Mugabe tents from the UN for
the estimated 700 000 people whose homes were destroyed by the bulldozers of the
Zimbabwean government's Operation Murtambatsvina in mid winter. The offer was
declined. According to the Herald newspaper, President Mugabe told the UN envoy
that: "We are not a tent's people... We believe in houses." Mr Egeland
criticized the governments rejection of tents saying: "If they are good enough
for people in Europe and the United States who have lost their houses, why are
they not good enough for Zimbabwe?"
The situation in Zimbabwe is neither nursery rhyme nor fairy story but the
grim picture of real people struggling endlessly from one day the next just to
Until next week, love cathy
Words don't fill tummies
Saturday 3rd December 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
Having just come to terms with writing cheques using millions of dollars,
working out how many zeroes to add and being very careful about counting digits
on the ends of prices before I purchase things, this week all that carefully
accumulated knowledge became rather pointless. I spent one afternoon this week
listening to the Minister of Finance presenting Zimbabwe's 2006 budget. Millions
were gone completely and all the figures were billions and trillions. I sort of
lost the thread right near the beginning of the budget presentation when I heard
the announcement that the national football team had been allocated 10 billion
dollars. I already have to consult my dictionary to work out how many millions
make a billion but when I tried to tap in ten billion dollars to see how much
each player may get, it didn't work. My calculator has only got enough digit
spaces for nine billion and after that it reverts to gobbledy gook and so I just
sat in stunned open mouthed silence listening to next years budget.
It looks like the way things are going in Zimbabwe, and the speed at which
they are getting there, I might not have to worry about how many zeroes to add
to get billions after all. A lot of the numbers being used in the budget this
week were in trillions and unless some clever cookie invents a bigger
calculator, hey, I'm out! My dictionary tells me that a trillion is a million
million but that until quite recently it used to be a million, million, million
- either way there are just too many zeroes and my head spins in dizzy circles
trying to understand it all.
It wasn't just numbers getting my head spinning this week but also quite a
large number of words. The Minister of Finance announced that agriculture had
declined by 12.8% in 2005 but that this would change dramatically and
agriculture would increase by 14% in 2006. He said: "Government is committed to
enforce utmost discipline in the agricultural sector. Any disruption of farming
activities is not in the national interest and will not be tolerated." This
statement was met with jeers, scornful laughter and derisive comments by MP's in
the House. It comes at a time when commercial farming continues to be the most
dangerous and uncertain occupation in a country where millions of people go to
bed hungry every day. In the last three months over 60 commercial farmers have
been thrown off their properties; last week a commercial farmer in Harare West
was murdered and a dairy farm in Beatrice which produces nine thousand litres of
milk a day was besieged by none other than a High Court Judge who demanded the
owners leave as this was now his farm. Nine thousand litres of milk, by the way,
at last week's price, was worth 270 million dollars a day - no wonder his Honour
wanted the farm! So, the Minister's stern words are painfully hollow because
without political backing, enforcement at all levels from the bottom right up to
the top and plain and clear instructions to Zimbabwe's police - and judges -
they are mere words. What a shame words don't fill tummies.
Zimbabwe's budget in 2007 will, by all accounts have to be in Zillions and I
shudder at the thought because my dictionary doesn't define a zillion it just
says it is an "indefinite large number." Oops.
Until next week, love cathy.
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