News - December 2006





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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


Outside Christmas Tree

Saturday 23rd December 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
This December, for the second year in a row, my Christmas Tree has remained outside in the garden. This tree began life as a seedling amongst the fir trees behind our house on the farm. Just a couple of inches tall I planted the seedling in a black plastic bag when we were being evicted from our farm just before Christmas in 2000. Every year at Christmas time I dragged the pot inside, covered the tree with bits and pieces, starved it of water for a week and then back outside it went. As the tree grew I transplanted it into ever bigger pots and the Christmas tree has survived but not really thrived. Two years ago my son and I planted the Christmas tree in the garden, agreeing that it would stay there until there was a change in the situation in Zimbabwe. At first when I took the tree out of it's pot it stood there in the rich earth in a state of shock. For months it did nothing, did not seem to grow or lift up its branches or show any sign of life. Then suddenly as if it finally realised it was free of the restrictions on its roots, my little Christmas tree began to grow. Now it is over six feet (two metres) tall and is alive and well and growing on the front lawn.This week, standing on tip toes I have put a small silver star on top of the Christmas tree in the garden and it stirs gently in the breeze of our hot and humid December days.

Having my Christmas tree outside in the garden is symbolic of the state of affairs in Zimbabwe. Christmas is not completely cancelled but it is not far off. All the usual traditional Christmas trappings are just not possible anymore. The traditional Christmas meal is off the menu, unaffordable by almost everyone. Most families are again separated by borders, countries and even continents as almost a quarter of our population remain in exile across the world. Christmas gifts are this year sparser than ever before - restricted almost entirely to just the children.

I thought how I could best describe the atmosphere of this Christmas to people outside of the country and all week have added words to a list. This is December in Zimbabwe:
Two inch long Msasa beetles armed with fierce nippers;
Great fat sausage flies everywhere telling us the rain is near;
Flame lilies - scarlet and yellow in the jungly green bush;
Paradise flycatchers trailing exquisite long orange tail feathers;
The bubbling call of the Coucal and the mocking warnings of the Go Away Birds Big, orange, sticky mangoes
Towns seething with people and monstrous queues - not for presents or treats but queues for money, for petrol and, longest of all, queues for sugar.

This is Christmas in Zimbabwe in December 2006. To all my family and friends and to Zimbabweans wherever you are in the world, I send love and thanks for everything you all to do help this wonderful country.
Until my next letter in 2007, have a peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year, love cathy.


Saturday 16 th December 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
"Congratulations! You are a grandfather!" These were the words that greeted my friend Patson when he arrived back in the rural village after another arduous week working in the nearby town. His wife was sitting there outside their house holding a tiny baby in her arms. This miniscule little baby was Patson's grandson. Patson did not know his first born son had a girlfriend or that she was pregnant. For a while Patson just stared at his wife and the baby and the young teenage mother who sat nearby. She was still a child herself and had not even finished school. The girl had given birth to the baby at her own rural village but then her mother had said she had no money and would not support them. They must go to the father of the baby - he and his parents must take this responsibility.

Patson said that as the reality of the grandchild sunk in he got angrier and angrier.Patson is the only member of the family who is employed and the burden is very heavy. With his very small wage he already supports his wife and two children, he buys all the food,toiletries, medicines, seeds and fertilizer. He pays school fees for his two children and always has the worry of how to buy any of the clothes, shoes and school uniforms needed. Now, with the grandchild, the burden had increased by three. Patson said "the load is just too heavy for me now."

For a whole day Patson would not speak to anyone. The congratulatory jokes and calls from neighbours in the village just enraged him more. He could not think of anything positive. He did not experience any of the emotions of being a grandparent - pride, euphoria, amazement, delight, joy and the desire to tell the whole world of the momentous news. Patson said all he could think about was how on earth he was going to cope with all this now. The baby had nothing at all and so much was needed. Nappies, clothes, a blanket, a towel, cotton wool, vaseline - the list just went on and on.

For a while Patson tried not to think about his new grandson and the overwhelming burden of responsibility.

Patson was just 19 when Zimbabwe became Independent and Robert Mugabe came to power. Patson's son was born when Robert Mugabe was still in power and now his grandson has just been born and still Mr Mugabe is in power. Patson thought about the news of the week, President Mugabe saying that there were "No Vacancies in the Presidency." Just as Patson could not accept a new grandson, it seemed that the President also could not accept anyone else to lead Zimbabwe.

At the end of the first day Patson's wife came in but he would still not speak to her or take food from her. Quietly she put the thin, naked baby down on the ground behind her husband. "Your musukuru (grandson) is at your back" she said to him. Patson said he didn't move or respond but after a while he felt tiny feet kicking him and then he heard, for the first time, the voice of his grandson who began to cry. He turned and looked, and loved. This was his blood. A new Zimbabwean has been born, the child has no name yet, his beginnings will be impossibly difficult but with life comes hope.
Until next week, thanks for reading. love cathy.

Big Drink of Water

Saturday 9th December 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
A shameful and very distressing report has just been released in Zimbabwe. This time it does not come from the UN or any other international body, but from Zimbabwe's own Ministry of Public Service and Social Welfare. Research was undertaken and statistics gathered right across the country and included 58 rural districts and 27 urban areas.

The report says that living standards in Zimbabwe have dropped by 150% in the last ten years. Malnutrition in children under 5 has increased by 35% and the number of people without access to health care has increased by 48%.

Seeing the percentages in black and white is bad enough but when you see for yourself the evidence of this dramatic decline, it is truly terrifying. In the last month the basic cost of living in Zimbabwe went up by 47% percent. When you go shopping in a supermarket, everywhere you look people are carrying almost nothing. Finding sources of affordable protein is almost impossible. Meat is a luxury now - out of reach for almost all Zimbabweans. Long, long gone are the days when we would buy strips of biltong to snack on as we walked or when butchers would break off pieces of beer sticks to quieten niggling kids. Now people are buying scraps, bones and something called "shavings" which are the white crumbs which accumulate under the blade of the saws and butchery knives. Cheese is off the menu permanently; eggs and milk are very close behind. This week one single egg is selling for 200 dollars and half a litre of milk for 600 dollars (add 3 zeroes for the real cost). A cup of milk or an egg for breakfast is now the height of luxury and when you understand that, then you understand why malnutrition has increased by 35% in young children.It hardly bears thinking how bad nutrition levels must be in the vast majority of our adult population. Adults who, when you ask them if they have had breakfast say they are not hungry because they have had a "very big drink of water" to fill their stomachs - it will see them through till lunch time.

Outside the supermarkets these days there are the usual swarm of street children but if you look a bit harder, in between the hordes, you see the really desperate ones. Old men, skin and bone, bare feet, shaking hands, sunken eyes and it makes you just weep to see the depths we have dropped to. So very many people need help now but so few are able to help anymore.

I end on a positive note with congratulations for our rugby team. Its always very dangerous for me to write about sports because I know so little about it - and understand even less, however this is a story as much about patriotism as of sports. A friend wrote to say he had just watched the Zimbabwean rugby team do a lap of honour in the pouring rain at the end of a tournament being played outside the country. He said the team had lost in the end but they had done Zimbabwe proud. They were fine, upstanding men who had given their all and were so very obviously proud to be Zimbabweans. The Zimbabweans in the crowd were equally proud to stand and cheer the sportsmen from the country that is in such a mess, but that we all love so much. The rugby pitch might be a million miles away from the "shavings" in the butchery but all tell the story of the people in this wonderful country. As hard as it is, we all try to carry on as normal because we know that bad times don't ever last.
Until next week, with love, cathy

Rudderless and lost

Saturday 2nd December 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
As the Minister of Finance presented what he called a "people orientated" budget this week, two senior executives from the country's biggest bakery were starting a four month prison sentence. The two men, the CEO and Operations Manager were found guilty of putting the price of bread up by 50% in September without government permission. The bread price is controlled by government here but is set at sub economic levels which has left most bakeries cutting their staff, blending flour with maize meal, switching off slicing machines and reducing the number of hours that their ovens work. Bread has already become a luxury for most Zimbabweans but none of this was mentioned as the propaganda in the state media whipped the issue into a frenzied witch-hunt. There was talk of "economic saboteurs" and a state prosecutor called the men "leaders in a criminal enterprise." The sentencing of two men from the biggest bakery will undoubtedly have only one result - shortages. At first it will be bread and then other goods whose prices are controlled by government - sugar, margarine, cooking oil, milk, salt, soap and so the list goes on and on.

One can only imagine what words a prosecutor would use to describe the government officials who this week approved an increase in the cost of water in Harare from 8 to 130 dollars a cubic metre. It doesn't take an economist, mathematician or even primary school arithmetic to know that this is more than 50%. The double standards in Zimbabwe are so staggering that you are left in no doubt that it is all about control, plain and simple control.

This first week of December 2006 also saw control being exercised in the streets against the protesting voices of women. Waving placards and singing songs, unarmed women belonging to WOZA were arrested in Bulawayo. Calling for affordable housing, education and healthcare, the women were arrested by riot police. Some of the women had babies on their backs. When ordered to pick their placards up off the street WOZA said police beat the women on their backs and buttocks with batons. Can you imagine beating a woman with a baby? Several people were hospitalized, including a baby.

63 women, 4 men and 6 babies were arrested.

Perhaps they will meet the two bakery officials in prison.

It is hard to see sense in Zimbabwe this December. In the mayhem there is almost no sign of the opposition MDC - both factions seem to have gone quiet. The odd individual raises their head and their voice but the party as a whole seems rudderless and lost having spent almost the entire year fighting themselves rather than the oppression. Zimbabweans are cowed and need brave, decisive and united leadership. People generally are scared to act, scared to speak out and scared to protest. This week as people were called on to bang pots every evening for two minutes at 8 pm, to bang for an end to hunger, the night air was quiet, deathly quiet. My pot sounded awfully loud, alone out there every night.
Until next week, thank you for reading and for caring.
Love cathy.

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