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Saturday 23rd February 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Headline news on the propaganda mill one day this week was that three trillion Zimbabwe dollars had been raised for President Mugabe's 84th birthday party. I thought about what you could do with that much money but before I could work it out I had to check in a dictionary just exactly how much a trillion was.
My sources say that a billion is a thousand million and a trillion is a million million. This means that for the President's birthday celebration being held in Beitbridge, there is a pile of money which on paper is a 3 followed by 12 zeroes. Even in Zimbabwe's collapsed state, 3 trillion dollars is a huge amount of money. It didn't take long before my kitchen table was littered with bits of scrap paper covered with handwritten sums. Why didn't I just use a calculator you might ask? That's simple, there are too many digits and so this sum had to be done by hand.
The calculations took some time to perform and the results were shocking. For three trillion dollars I could buy three million kilograms of maize meal at the present Grain Marketing Board price of a million dollars a kg. This, of course, is assuming that the GMB had any maize meal for sale, which they say they haven't. Allowing half a kg of maize meal per person, 6 million Zimbabweans, half the population of the country, could have had one decent meal with the President's birthday party money. A friend who is far more mathematically minded than me, and had more patience with all those lines of zeroes, worked the figures out a different way. 85 trucks, each holding 35 tonnes of maize, could have been filled with the three trillion dollars of birthday party money.
Moving away from the dollars, I went in search of ingredients usually found at a birthday party. Three major supermarket chains which have outlets all over the country were visited. The cake came first on my list but there was no flour, sugar, margarine, baking powder, milk or eggs in any of the supermarkets.
Puddings and sweet treats were next on my list but there was no jelly, instant pudding, custard, biscuits or tarts to buy. Sandwiches, I thought, they are good for parties but there was no bread or rolls, no spread, cheese, cold meats or sandwich fillings to buy. What about a hot meal I thought but there was no maize meal, rice, pasta or potatoes and so that idea was also a non starter.
The shopping list and the search for ingredients was a pointless exercise but at least it was easier than trying to understand the latest official inflation figures. In January 2008 inflation was one hundred thousand, five hundred and eighty percent - it is the stuff of hellish nightmares and the reason why we parents can't sleep at night.
Trying to understand three trillion dollars was utterly absurd for an ordinary mum in a collapsed country. Hardest of all though was knowing that half the population of the country could have gone to bed tonight on a full stomach if the birthday party had been sacrificed for the suffering, hungry people of a country whose 84 year old ruler has been in power for almost 28 years.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
We are Ready
Saturday 16th February 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Now is not the time to give up! This is the rallying call in Zimbabwe and its
getting louder by the day as elections draw ever closer.
This week I met a friend who had been transferred to a town nearly 400km away.
We had not seen each other since August last year and those times, just six
months ago, seem like they were from another era. It is hard to believe that
back in August inflation had just topped one thousand percent and that now its
sixty six thousand percent. Its a percentage so high that none of us can
comprehend what it really means. When I last saw my friend in August, a litre
of milk was thirty thousand dollars; six months later its five million dollars!
My friend isn't surviving on his salary anymore. He can't afford for his wife
and child to live with him and he survives only thanks to the subsidies given
him by his parents who have a plot in the rural areas. My friend's entire
monthly salary is sufficient to buy him a two litre bottle of cooking oil and
one loaf of bread. It costs more than his entire monthly salary to travel the
400km back to the town he once lived in, to see his friends and relations.
As is the norm in Zimbabwe today we talked about plans for survival. The usual
question that was uppermost in the conversation was: Wouldn't it be better to
leave the country? Go somewhere that has food in the shops, water in the taps,
regular electricity and where even a menial job earns enough for you to pay
your rent and buy a months supply of basic foodstuffs. Despite all the
hardships, we agreed that now was not the time to be making decisions and that
we must wait till after the elections. Everyone is just trying to hold on until
after the elections.
Hope for real change is now less than six weeks away. It is undoubtedly going
to be a gruelling six weeks. Since the Africa Cup of Nations football games
ended, so too did the supply of electricity and many residential areas are back
to fifteen hour a day power cuts. With these come water cuts and with 66
thousand percent inflation come prices that change at least once a day and
businesses that are closed more than they are open.
There is a feeling of real anticipation in the air of Zimbabwe and whether it
is a protest vote or a ballot for a new democratic order, we stand ready to
rebuild our battered land. Despite all the negatives attached to every aspect of
the coming elections, we are ready.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love
Saturday 9th February 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
It's been a long and dramatic week in politics in Zimbabwe. Things are changing very fast and some of the news I relate here may well be out of date or have altered completely by the time you read this letter.
The first major development took place last weekend when the two factions of the opposition MDC met to decide if they were going to reunite and stand as one party in the coming elections. Despite everything that has happened to the MDC and their supporters in the last 8 years including murder, rape, torture, abduction and arson, the two factions were not able to agree to stand together to fight Mr Mugabe and Zanu PF. As I write it is still not clear if both factions will be fielding a Presidential candidate or how many individuals they be putting forward for parliament, senate, rural and local council seats. I suppose the inability of the two factions to unite has not come as a surprise to most Zimbabweans but, regardless of the detail or the inevitable finger pointing, it is a sad event for Zimbabwe. So many people, so many sacrifices, such pain - what a shame that in the end, at this most crucial time, the desperate sate of the country could not come first.
The news of the MDC division had hardly got around when it was completely overtaken by the dramatic news of a serious challenge within the ruling Zanu PF party. A Presidential challenge no less! Simba Makoni, the ex Minister of Finance, long time Zanu PF member and presently sitting on the Politburo, addressed a news conference on Tuesday. Saying that he had consulted widely and across the board, Mr Makoni said he was accepting the call of the people and offering himself as a candidate for President of Zimbabwe. His short speech was realistic and down to earth. Simba Makoni said: " Let me confirm that I share the agony and anguish of all citizens over the extreme hardships that we all have endured for nearly 10 years now. I also share the widely held view that these hardships are a result of failure of national leadership and that change at that level is a pre-requisite for change at other levels of national endeavour."
Almost as one Zimbabwe drew breath.
Naturally the rumours and speculation that have followed this historic announcement have almost overwhelmed us. Is Simba Makoni expelled from Zanu PF?
Is he standing as an Independent. Has he got a political party waiting in the wings?
Is he a threat to Mr Mugabe?
Will other senior Zanu PF members now come out in the open and support Mr Makoni?
Is this the end of Zanu PF as we know it?
Is this going to split the Zanu PF vote? Will it have an impact on the MDC vote?
The most pressing question on everyone's lips has been : is Simba Makoni genuine? As each day has passed and the attacks on Simba Makoni by the State propaganda have increased to greater heights, they have perhaps even answered the question with their own vitriol. In one classic editorial in The Herald came the predictable and groaningly familiar blaming of the West - so insulting to the intelligence of Zimbabweans. The editorial said: "one does not have to be a seer to see that Simba has just subscribed to megaphone politics by giving a black face to the voices from the White House and Whitehall."
In the middle of all of the upheaval came the announcement that the date for nominating candidates had been moved back another week and so, again we wait and we watch. Certainly whoever Simba Makoni represents and whatever positions the two branches of the MDC take, the events of this past week may well have broken the apathy that is suffocating Zimbabwean voters. I join the call of others and urge Zimbabweans, wherever you are and if you are still on the voters roll to please come home and vote on the 29th March.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
A Daunting Task
Saturday 2nd February 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
What is happening in Kenya is making us very nervous here in Zimbabwe. A disputed election result; over 800 people killed; 250 thousand displaced and a stable and prosperous country spiralling into chaos in just a single month. As the violence and killing has gone on day after day, it soon become obvious that this wasn't just about a questionable election result, but about a number of past disputes and old grievances that had never been resolved. Its also about poverty, unemployment and inequality - all factors that are predominant in Zimbabwe's chronic situation.
Everyone is asking if what's happened in Kenya could be us in two months time and as fast as we shake our heads and say, no, that won't happen here - its hard to find reasons why not.
For eight years we've been a country in deep turmoil. Opposition MP David Coltart wrote recently that of the 39 parliamentary election challenges brought after the June 2000 elections, not one had been concluded by the courts at the end of that term in 2005. He went on to say that the 2002 legal challenge to Robert Mugabe's election as President was also nowhere close to being concluded
- and this term ends in just two months time in March 2008.
The election challenges are just the beginning. To this day the perpetrators of hundreds of cases of rape, murder, abduction, arson and torture - all committed in the name of political violence since 2000 - have yet to be brought to justice for their crimes.
Aside from the court challenges, political violence and oppressive legislation, it is the day to day things that have bought most people to the end of their tether. Everyone has had enough of living like this: no food in the shops; negligible production from all those thousands of farms grabbed by the State; electricity and water cuts that go on for days at a time, or worse; not being able to get drugs when we are sick; not being able to afford to send children to school; not even being able to get our own money out of the bank. In urban areas we are fed up with municipalities who take our money but do nothing about sewers overflowing onto the streets, dustbins not collected for many months, drains and roadside vegetation not cleared, long grass not cut and roads so littered with potholes and gullies as to be almost unusable.
There are plenty of reasons why one more disputed election may just be one too many here. This mayhem began in February 2000 when Zanu PF lost a referendum.
They have had eight years of chances just as the people have had eight years of suffering and decline. Within the next week candidates for the elections have to be announced and in them the hope for the future lies and the prevention of another Kenya. A daunting task indeed.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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