- February 2005





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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


Billion dollar birthday party

Saturday 26th February 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
I am writing this letter on a grey, overcast and very sticky and humid Marondera day. According to the state television, all roads are leading to Marondera today because President Mugabe's 81st birthday party is being held in the town. An enormous white tent has been erected on the local football field and all week the town has been filling up with government dignitaries, entertainers, scores of police, security officials, youth brigade members and men in dark glasses and big hats. As I write this letter the birthday celebrations are underway and being broadcast live on television. Many thousands of people are in the tent: children in school uniform holding little flags, ministers and government dignitaries wearing red sashes and the usual large number of people who find it appropriate to wear clothes with President Mugabe's face printed on the fabric. Lines of teenage girls, in youth brigade uniforms and with shaven heads started the day off with displays of karate kicks and punches and were later followed by speaker after speaker who came forward to praise the President and condemn anyone and everyone who is seen as an enemy. As a Marondera resident I couldn't help but smile as I watched all the VIP's and even local Marondera government officials, drinking bottled water. I guess they must have heard that our water has been very off for the last couple of weeks, often being distinctly discoloured and almost every day smelling and tasting foul.

When the party had been going on for four hours and after all the speeches had been made, the birthday cake emerged. Slices were cut and handed out to members of the family and then the television commentator made the most amazing statement. She said: "As you can see, Robert junior is actually eating the cake now whilst I am still hungry but it looks very delicious." The words of the commentator would undoubtedly have been echoed by many of the thousands of people in the tent. There had been no sign of any refreshments being available for the spectators or children during the long hot morning and by this time it was obviously very hot as scores of people were fanning themselves with their little Zimbabwean flags

According to the government media, donations to the value of one billion dollars were raised for the Marondera birthday party. I needed a dictionary to check how many zeros there are in a billion dollars and then my twelve year old son to show me how to use the calculator in my computer as a normal calculator cannot accommodate all those zeroes. We worked out that the money spent on the Presidential birthday party could have bought 285 thousand loaves of bread which would have been enough to give 6 slices of bread to every man, woman and child in Marondera. Oh well I guess we'll just have to dream of delicious birthday cake.
Until next week, love cathy

Three percent pass rate

Saturday 19th February 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
With less than six weeks to go before parliamentary elections, the situation is heating up dramatically in Zimbabwe. In an early Valentine's Day walk last Saturday, 500 WOZA women carried roses and spread the message "Choose the power of love rather than the love of power". They were obviously seen as a threat because 40 of the women were arrested by police in Bulawayo.

Three days later and with just six weeks to go before elections, the MDC were holding a training session for their 120 parliamentary candidates at the Sheraton Hotel in Harare. The police said the meeting was illegal under POSA and proceeded to apprehend the MDC's election director Ian Makone and warn everyone else to leave immediately or they would also be arrested.

On Thursday 200 NCA protestors took to the streets in Harare distributing flyers and carrying placards calling for free and fair elections. This demonstration was also broken up by police, this time in riot gear, and the day ended with seven people in clinics being treated for assault and fourteen others being arrested.

On Friday a three man delegation from South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, came on a fact finding mission to Zimbabwe. Like COSATU a couple of weeks ago, the DA didn't get very far and were denied entry and turned back at Harare Airport.

You would think that with so much going on the Zimbabwean television would have been full of news stories about these happenings. But day after day our news bulletins were not about women being arrested for carrying flowers, or men assaulted and arrested for calling for free elections, our news bulletins were about computers. Night after night President Mugabe has been headline news, handing out computers to remote rural schools. At one such school the President revealed the shocking examination figures which illustrate better than anything else the diabolical state of Zimbabwe's education system. Speaking at a school in Shurugwi he said: "In Silobela they had a 3% pass rate. Here there was a pass rate of 8%. In other areas it is 6%."

This week the South African Foreign Minister said she was satisfied that Zimbabwe was taking steps to ensure free and fair elections. For those of us that are living here and seeing computers if we support Zanu PF or arrests and prison cells if we don't, the Ministers words are insulting and nauseating. I don't know why, but because she is a woman, I had hoped for more from Mrs Dlamini Zuma. I wonder if she would be brave enough to face arrest for carrying a rose, to be assaulted for asking for a free election or even to send her child to a school here where the pass rate is just 3%. Mrs Dlamini Zuma could have given hope and inspiration had she been brave enough to just highlight even one of the things that happened this week in Zimbabwe. What shame on her. Until next week,
with love, cathy

Everyone stays silent

Saturday 12th February 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
Over the last few months there has been much talk about Zimbabwe's food security. Despite a number of local, regional and international organisations saying that Zimbabwe would run out of maize meal before the next harvest, our government insists that there is more than enough. For the past two weeks the food situation in Marondera has been getting worse and worse with piles on shelves getting smaller until this week they ran out altogether. In all of the town's four major supermarkets there is no maize meal at all this weekend, just great long empty shelves. Sugar has also suddenly disappeared and the shelves are instead filled with rice that few people can afford to buy. I knew something must be happening as I got to one big supermarket this weekend because suddenly people started running and shouting all around me. There was no maize meal but a delivery of sugar had just come in and people were grabbing bags as fast as they could. There were no orderly queues or limits per customer and people were taking as much as they could carry. I saw at least a dozen men literally filling entire shopping trolleys with sugar and this is undoubtedly bound for the now familiar black market that springs up at every Zimbabwean election.

The fact that there is no maize meal in our shops makes no sense at all as there are huge mountains of grain bags easily visible from the road at the local grain marketing depot in the town. When I asked shop keepers where the maize meal was they all just shrugged their shoulders and said "no deliveries." This crazy situation where there are mountains of food in storage and yet none to buy is typical of the stark contrasts here. Abandoning my search for maize meal I spent half an hour just looking at the crazy kaleidoscope of my home town.

At 9.30 in the morning a barefoot man in ragged trousers was digging in a dustbin outside the post office and parked in front of him was one of the many new cars that are suddenly all over our town six weeks before an election. This one was a dark blue Mercedes with no number plates and plastic still on the seats and wing mirrors. In the supermarket there was no maize meal or sugar and a woman wearing broken plastic sandals stood with a baby on her back counting filthy one hundred dollar notes trying to see if she had enough for a three and half thousand dollar loaf of bread. Next to her was a big display of Valentines gifts. I looked at the prices and shook my head in wonder; cards that ranged from nineteen to seventy thousand dollars; a three inch high white teddy sitting in a red straw filled basket for a hundred thousand dollars; a 5 litre box of South African wine for two hundred thousand dollars. Outside another shop two policemen, in uniform, loading 4 dozen beers and three tins of floor polish into a police landrover watched by a little scruffy beggar boy who was given nothing when he proffered his hand to them.

Driving out of town the filling stations have blackboards which say "Petrol Yes, Diesel No" and everyone notices that the town is filled with vehicles sporting white government number plates. They are parked and double parked outside the hotel and the banks. For some unknown reason the owners don't find it necessary to park in parking bays, lock their doors or even close their windows but everyone stays quiet because an election is coming.
Until next week, with love, cathy

Little exercise book brigade

Saturday 5th February 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
An elaborate, painstaking and unofficial census is underway in Zimbabwe. For the past two weeks they have been going house to house and door to door with their little school exercise books. They do not show any identification but say they belong to Zanu PF and have come to find out how many people live in each house, how many adults and how many children and how many of those are registered voters. All the numbers are carefully written down in their little exercise books. They tell you which constituency you are in and want to know if you have checked your name on the voters roll. They say that on election day they will be watching houses, counting people and checking numbers against their little exercise books and if they don't see you going to vote they say: "you will see what is going to happen to you."

At first, when it happened to me, I just got angry with myself for having been intimidated by a couple of sour looking women. Stupidly I just thought how worried the government must be about voter apathy in the March 31st elections. But then, as the days passed and other people told me about their encounters with the little exercise book brigade, I felt less stupid on the one hand and much more worried on the other. One woman friend told me that when the exercise book brigade found her she was outside hanging washing on the line. They fired off their questions, wrote their numbers down in the little book and then saw her teenage son. "How old is he?" they demanded? Has he registered?" When it was heard that her 18 year old son had not registered to vote, my friend was told that her son must go and register and get an official stamp from the Registry officials to prove he had been there. They said they would be back to check on the official stamp and two days later they did exactly that.

When a man from a rural village told me how he had been visited by the exercise book brigade, he said he had also answered their questions. "Why oppose it" he said, "it is not worth it. They are counting us now, know where our polling stations are and say they will know how we have voted when the votes are counted." It was those words which sunk in and made me realise what was really going on here. The new electoral rules state that voting will be in one day and that ballot boxes will not be moved to counting centres but emptied and counted at each polling station. The exercise book brigade may not know how one individual person votes but will certainly be able to tell how his village and the other two in that constituency voted when the results are announced. My friend from the rural village told me that the fear is already phenomenal.

This week the MDC said that they would be participating in the March 31st elections but that they would be doing so under protest. It might sound stupid to outsiders, but in Zimbabwe it takes courage to actually go and vote and then great bravery to elect an MP not because you are scared of him, but because you want good schools, clean water and a safe neighbourhood. It remains to be seen if we, the voters, have the courage to go and vote and then the bravery to choose peace and prosperity and not fear. With less than 50 days to go until the elections and not an international observer in sight, nothing is instilling confidence right now.
Until next week, with love, cathy.

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