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Friday 28th december 2007
Dear Family and Friends.
The Litany Bird is still away from the nest; let's hope she's having a good break.
I can remember three or four years back sitting with her round the kitchen table discussing the various cut-off points beyond which life would be unbearable in Zimbabwe. For the Litany Bird it was medical care and education for her son; once those had gone, she said, life would be insupportable. For me, it was not being able to get my own money out of the bank; that would be the point at which life would simply be untenable I thought. At the time Argentina - or was it Mexico - was in the headlines with inflation over 1000% and pictures of desperate people trying to get their money out of banks before the whole economy crashed.
Inexorably over the last few weeks the pace of Zimbabwe's collapse has accelerated; the decision by the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, to introduce the new bearer cheques within days of Christmas has brought about the nightmare scenario of thousands of Zimbabweans unable to get at their own money. It's not the first time this has happened; this is the so-called Operation Sunrise Two designed, says Gono, to relieve the shortage of bank notes. The new notes were issued on December 19, just six days before Christmas. The timing of Operation Sunrise could not have been more insensitive with thousands of people trying to get to their rural homes and buy a few little extras for the 'festive' season. Was it an act of callous indifference on the government's part or just the usual short-sighted inefficiency, or was there some more sinister plan at work, designed to cause panic and mayhem among the populace?
In the Litany Bird's hometown and in towns up and down the country, desperate people have been standing in queues for days on end, some even with their cooking pots while they wait in the endless lines. In an unprecedented move the Governor ordered the banks to remain open on Christmas day and Boxing Day but his order was disregarded and the only resource for desperate Zimbabweans was the ATM. There are strict limits on the amount one can withdraw and with the issue of the new notes, prices went rocketing up again; even the state mouthpiece, the Herald, was forced to admit that a bottle of Mazoe orange now costs 9 million Zim dollars in a state owned supermarket in Harare! The banks are saying that they were just not sent enough of the new bank notes to satisfy the demand so what was the point of their opening?
Christmas for Zimbabweans was simply a non-event and with their usual arrogant disregard for the well-being of the people the Reserve Bank Governor and all the rest of the Zanu PF fat cats disappeared to spend their Christmas breaks far from the public eye. One thing you can be sure of is that none of the 'chefs' will be sharing the misery of the masses they claim to care so much about.
What next for a nation whose citizens have no cash and no food? Will it be more of the same in 2008 or will the people of Zimbabwe finally tell this utterly rotten government that 'Enough is enough'. I hear the ZBC is playing a jingle every fifteen minutes promising ' the mother of all harvests' next year. I'm sure the cruel irony of that cheap propaganda is not lost on the flood victims in Muzarabani and the millions of near-starving people throughout the country.
Ndini shamwari yenyu. PH
Litany Bird has flown the nest
Saturday 15th December 2007
Dear Family and Friends.
The Litany Bird has flown the nest for a while over the Christmas/New Year period so I am filling in for her. She will miss Christmas at home but apart from the joy of being with one's family it's hard to see that the festive season will bring much cheer to Zimbabweans still in the country. The nightmare has been going on for so long that it's hard to remember the last time there was a 'normal' Christmas when people were able to go home kumusha/ekhaya loaded down with groceries and gifts. The days of the 13th salary are long gone, I suspect. With unemployment at 80%, the workers are in the minority and even if you're lucky enough to have a job and lucky enough to receive a bonus, it's not likely to go far with inflation shooting up like a rocket on a daily basis. And just to complicate matters further there is nothing to buy in the shops. The shelves are still empty six months after Operation Dzikisai Mitengo. A friend phoned me this week from home saying that even if he had the money to buy new shoes for his kids, there were none in his local Bata shop. The shelves are completely bare. Not one shoe in a shoe shop! It reminds me of that wonderful old spiritual ' I got shoes, you got shoes. All God's chillun got shoes.' Not in Zimbabwe they haven't!
The truth is that Zimbabwe is in a sorry state and despite the much-hyped Million Man March at home and all the strutting and posturing in Lisbon at the EU/AU Summit no one is deceived any more. The African leaders may gather round the old man in a protective laager but the truth of Zimbabwe's collapse is there for all to see. For me, the picture of Robert Mugabe hand in hand with Sudan's President Al Bashir said it all. In the words of the old English proverb: Birds of a feather flock together. But there are signs that there are splits in the protective laager round the old man. Mugabe may shout as loud as he likes about the 'racist' Europeans and endlessly repeat his slogan that 'Zimbabwe will never be a colony again' but it is not only white Europeans who see the truth. Last Sunday a black British clergyman John Sentamu, originally from Idi Amin's Uganda, made a dramatic gesture of condemnation of the way Mugabe has destroyed his country. Interviewed on a widely seen TV chat show Sentamu suddenly whipped off his clerical collar and cut it into pieces to demonstrate what Mugabe was doing to his country. The collar is the public sign of my identity said the outspoken Archbishop of York and in cutting it up I am showing the world that my identity as a priest cannot continue normally while my fellow human beings are suffering at the hands of a despotic ruler. ' I will not wear a collar again until Mugabe is gone' declared the priest. It was a hugely symbolic public gesture, live on TV and seen by millions. It may not seem very important but such gestures demonstrate to the world and, above all, to suffering Zimbabweans that they are not alone. Another brave clergyman, former Archbishop Desmond Tutu also spoke out very strongly begging the Summit leaders to intervene to save Zimbabwe from absolute destruction. It is surely a sign of HOPE when men of such integrity have the courage to speak the truth about crimes against humanity committed by an African brother.
And Hope is what Zimbabwe needs more than anything else this Christmas. May the light of Hope shine in our hearts this Christmas and into the New Year.
Until next time. Ndini shamwari yenyu. PH
Flame Lillies and Quadrillions
Saturday 8th December 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
It was a rare occasion this week when the electricity happened to come back on
at the same time as the main 8 pm evening news on ZBC TV. Normally at this time
of the evening the power still hasn't come back on and we are grinding into the
15th or 16th hour of the day without electricity. The headline story and
accompanying film clip on the local news was of President Mugabe and his wife at
Harare airport preparing to depart for the EU Africa Summit in Portugal.
Ministers, security personnel and VIP's were lined up on the tarmac and formed a
corridor of smiles and hand shakes and inaudible little comments.
In the same week as our leader and his wife and the official delegation were
heading for Europe, Air Zimbabwe announced that one return air fare from Harare
to London had increased to 804 million Zimbabwe dollars. To put that price into
context is the recently publicised information by the Teachers Union saying that
government school teachers presently earn an average salary of just 17 million
Zimbabwe dollars a month.
The same week that our President flew to Lisbon, a couple of South African
visitors invited me to tea at a local restaurant. I queued at my local bank but
was again limited to how much of my own money I could withdraw and was allowed
to take just five million dollars. Immediately I spent three million dollars
buying one light bulb and one jar of peanut butter and so with just two million
dollars left, I hoped I wasn't paying for tea. At the restaurant three cups of
tea, one waffle and one toasted sandwich were ordered. The bill came to 7.2
Back in Portugal President Mugabe and his wife
didn't have any waiting around when they landed. They were ringed by security
men and hurried out of sight to their hotel. Meanwhile at home in Zimbabwe at
least three hundred people stood patiently in a winding line to buy milk from a
bulk tanker. Outside the banks the queues went into multiple hundreds and
outside a virtually empty supermarket an enormous crowd, uncountable in size,
pushed and jostled for a chance to buy a bag of maize meal. The day before a
similar desperate queue had resulted in riot police, baton sticks to control the
crowd and injuries.
This week as our President and his wife dine with 80 other world leaders in
Portugal there are still no staple foods to buy in Zimbabwe's shops. Our schools
have just broken up for the Christmas holidays and the search for food and lines
to withdraw pathetically small amounts of our own money from the banks are
getting longer and more desperate by the day. Roadside vendors are selling
pockets of potatoes for 11 million dollars; if you can afford them, it means a
gruelling three days of queuing at the bank just to put potatoes on the dinner
plate. If you are a government school teacher, they will cost three quarters of
your entire monthly salary.
To put these figures into perspective, or perhaps not, this week the Minister
of Finance presented a 7,8 quadrillion dollar budget for the coming year. None
of us have worked out how many zeroes this is yet and calculators can't help
Zimbabweans are facing an extremely hard Christmas this year but as always we
look for hope. Many events are drawing closer and all hold the opportunity to
bring relief to a battered and beaten country. The summit in Portugal will be
followed soon after by the Zanu PF Annual Congress, then the result of talks in
South Africa, then the MDC Annual Congress and then, in March next year,
Parliamentary and Presidential elections.
I will be taking a short break to draw strength and calculate the quadrillions
but wish all Zimbabweans, friends and supporters of the country a peaceful and
Happy Christmas. I saw the first crimson Flame Lily of the season in the grass
on the roadside this week and it heralds the end of another year and the start
of what must surely be a better time for us all.
Until my next letter in the New
Year, with love, cathy.
Weary Cheers Leaders
Saturday 1st December 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
On Friday morning in small town Zimbabwe the big ten-tonne trucks were visible
soon after nine in the morning and they were filled to overflowing with weary
"cheer leaders." Men, women and youths who looked dusty, wind tossed and tired
and theirs was certainly not a position to be envied. It was hard to know where
all these people had come from but they weren't familiar faces so they must have
been collected from somewhere in the surrounding rural areas. Crammed into two
open topped trucks, there were perhaps 50 people in each, sitting on the floor ,
squashed up against each other like livestock going to slaughter: without
dignity or individuality - just faces, numbers to swell the crowd.
It only took a few seconds to work out what was going on when the vehicles
turned into the local ruling party offices in the town. The trucks were from a
well known parastatal and had the Zimbabwe flag wrapped around and tied onto
bumpers and roll bars. These vehicles aren't buses and undoubtedly don't have
permits to transport people but they have become very familiar to us in the past
eight years, disgorging great crowds of people at ruling party rallies and
meetings. When the worst of the farm invasions were going on, the big white
vehicles with the red and blue stripes on the doors bought fear, dread and a
feeling of finality to farmers and their workers. They trucks came carrying
masses of people who would swarm over fields, camp outside gates, barricade
roads and sing, drum and shout, throwing stones at walls, windows and roofs
until the occupants were beaten into submission and left.
Some of the people in the trucks on this last day of November 2007 were wearing
clothes and head scarves adorned with the President's face and that gave the
game away. They were here on a brief stop over but were on their way to Harare
for what had been advertised as the "Million Man March" - a show of support of
President Mugabe's candidature in the 2008 elections.
As I passed the loaded trucks, for a brief moment I tried to catch someone's
eye to see if I could spot political fervour, a dedicated zealot, even a
believer in the cause but it wasn't there. I saw weary images, lean faces,
pronounced cheek bones - tired people, the same as the rest of us. Like
everyone else they are also surviving with the bare minimum of food and money;
their children are malnourished and many are no longer in school ; their
hospitals and clinics have few staff and even fewer drugs and they are
scratching out a living in hard, primitive conditions. So why then, after seven
years of chronic decline would anyone willingly support a party which cannot
even ensure basic food in the shops. Undoubtedly those big trucks would be empty
if the ruling party had not taken such pains to ensure that as we went into the
next election they had complete control over the supply, price and availability
of food, seed, fertilizer, fuel, water, electricity and now even of bank notes.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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