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Saturday 27th February 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the commencement of farm invasions in Zimbabwe. For me it started with a mob of men who came to the farm gate. Wearing blue overalls and carrying bricks and sticks they whistled and shouted that this was HONDO (war) and that they were taking the farm. The events that followed are history and the seizure of that farm and theft of home, business and assets have been repeated thousands of times across the country in this last decade.
There are thought to have been a million people directly affected by Zimbabwe's land seizures, including farm owners and their employees and extended families. None of these one million people have yet been compensated for what was taken from them or for injuries and abuses inflicted upon them in the process of the seizures. It wasn't only those million that paid the price. It is widely believed that a further four million Zimbabweans had to leave home in the last 10 years. There is not a family in the country who does not have relations living in political or financial exile in this massive place called 'diaspora' which encompasses most corners of the world where abused, dispossessed, and disenfranchised Zimbabweans now live.
Tragically, 10 years later farm invasions are still going on and the inclusive government does nothing to stop them - unable or unwilling to stop the lawless monster unleashed a decade ago. Zimbabwe now imports almost it's food including the most basic of staple goods such as wheat, maize, cooking oil and sugar.
Farms, once the show-piece of Zimbabwe and the life blood of the economy are now no-go areas. Why? What is it that the beneficiaries of the seized farms have got to hide? What are they ashamed of? What have they being doing these 10 years that leaves our shelves barren of Zimbabwean food?
Perhaps one person who knows is Gertrude Hambira, Secretary General of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz). Mrs Hambira was in hiding again this week days after she'd been called to a meeting and interrogated about a documentary and report published by GAPWUZ recently. The report called 'House of Justice," exposes evidence of human rights violations against farm workers in the decade of land seizures and details the involvement of senior government officials.
This week I had the privilege of going for a walk in the bush - a rare treat these days after everything that has gone on here. Tall, thick vegetation, lush grass heavy with raindrops and drooping with seeds. Everywhere you look there is another delight to see and for me it was like meeting old friends: exquisite mushrooms of every description from thin stalks with delicate ivory heads to bright orange spikes erupting from a bare sandy patch; red toadstools, brown balls, little white beads glimmering in the grass and huge brown and orange bracket fungus clinging to trees.
There is so much to do out there in the Zimbabwean bush, so much to preserve, conserve, protect and so much for our children to learn - if only the politics and greed of a few could be stopped.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
Sunday 21th February 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
We have been plunged back into a dramatic, gruelling electricity crisis for the last ten days which has left most areas receiving electricity for 5 hours a day. When electricity is restored it is only in the middle of the night between 11.30 pm and 4 am. Normal functioning has become almost impossible and no electricity means no water can be pumped and many days communication also collapses as mobile phones are unable to pick up a signal. In private homes water supply has dwindled to 2 or less hours a day, geysers are cold, fridges and deep freezers have defrosted and their contents gone bad.
I paid a visit to the main ZESA (electricity supplier) offices and asked the lady at the enquiries desk how many more days or weeks of this we might be facing. "I don't know," she replied. Is the problem at Hwange or Kariba, I asked. "I don't know," she replied. Is it maintenance or faults, I asked but again she said: "I don't know." I left shaking my head and muttering, exasperated that such a bored and uninterested person was keeping her job with this attitude in a country where 9 out of 10 people are unemployed.
Unemployment is huge in Zimbabwe. Everywhere you go there are groups of young men standing around doing nothing. Youngsters that have been to school and are strong, willing and able but just can't find jobs. Young women are in equally dire straits: they come out of senior school and are keen, fresh and eager to work but there are no jobs. University graduates, new degrees in hand, are no better off, unable to find places to put their new skills and talents to work.
When you talk to employers about the unemployment problem you see the other side of the coin but its just as gloomy. Business is very slow as most people are on survival budgets and nothing is left at the end of the month after food, utilities, rent and transport have been paid for. Businesses can't afford to update equipment and machines and there is nothing left to put aside for expansion or improvement. For most small companies, all the income that is generated is keeping ten or twenty employees paid and settling bills and nothing is left over.
One businesswoman explained that when we changed to trading in US dollars a year ago, most companies started with literally zero capital; everything they had was in Zimbabwe dollars and this was rendered useless overnight. Coming after 10 years of hyperinflation, repeated devaluations and government imposed price controls, it is nothing short of miraculous that any local businesses survived at all.
A year into our so called unity government, things are just as difficult for employers. Imagine trying to run a business without electricity: computers, tools, engines, machines that cannot be used. Workers stand around idle, unable to work and yet you still have to pay them. Employees can be sent home until the electricity comes back on, but that could be any time as power cuts are erratic and unexpected and schedules non existent or not adhered to. Many businesses have had no option but to buy generators but every litre of diesel used eats away at income and profits dwindle. Then there are the never ending calls for increases in wages and threats of strikes and when employers try and retrench some staff to save others, they are hit with massive "packages" which leave their companies in debt and close to bankruptcy.
Then there's the minefield of things that you only find out by mistake. One small businessman told me how he'd been investigating the status of his bank account this week. The amount he had left in the bank had dwindled to a negative balance and when he queried where his money had gone he was shown the list of fees, charges and commissions the bank had taken. Then the businessman noticed a regular amount being deducted that didn't fall into any of the other categories. He queried it and was directed to the bank accountant. "Ah, she said, that's funeral insurance. If you die we'll pay towards your funeral." Funeral insurance that the man hadn't asked for, hadn't been consulted about but that the bank was just deducting! Can you believe it?
This is the reality of running a business in Zimbabwe and until politics stops interfering, there's not much light at the end of the tunnel.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Park the bus
Saturday 23rd February 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
We all wondered what would happen when there were no more farms left to grab and this week we got the answer. It's not diamonds as we thought, those are undoubtedly destined only for the very deep, velvet lined pockets of the really big wigs. It's the companies and businesses that are next.
After a year of appeals, conferences and seminars to try and attract investors back to Zimbabwe, everything was wasted in a single stroke this week. A new regulation has just been gazetted requiring that all local and foreign owned companies must hand over at least 51 per cent ownership to "indigenous" Zimbabweans. Multiple thousands of companies are going to be affected and economists predict that many local industries will be forced into bankruptcy.
An article in the UK Daily Telegraph quotes an expert who explains the implications in simple language that anyone can understand:
"Daniel Ndlela, Zimbabwe's most eminent regional economist said: "There will be no foreign investment into Zimbabwe. Why would anyone come into Zimbabwe with $100 and be left with $49? ... those who might have invested in Zimbabwe will now never come."
This new regulation does not just affect foreign companies but also those belonging to Zimbabweans whose skin happens to not be black. It affects men and women who were born here, went to school and university here, built homes and businesses here and have lived in Zimbabwe all their lives - people who know no other country but Zimbabwe.
Standing chatting to a young "indigenous" Zimbabwean one evening this week he said to me:
"It shames me to say that nowadays if you are white you are always in the wrong. Even if you are in the right, if you are white, you are wrong."
"Like it was for blacks before 1980?" I suggested.
He laughed and said :"I don't know, I wasn't even born then!"
We slapped hands in that Zimbabwean way of sharing a good laugh and changed the topic.
We've just heard that Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is talking about elections in April next year. "Park and proceed" is what the PM is saying. Everyone knows that the endless stalling and so called negotiations between Zanu PF and the MDC are never going to be resolved. As MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said this week: " We don't want to keep Zimbabweans in suspense and anxiety. We are holding everyone to ransom."
They are indeed because all we want to do is get on with our lives, change, improve, prosper and stop going backwards. So lets park that rusty old bus and proceed. What a good idea. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
So what's changed?
Saturday 6th February 2010
Dear Family and Friends,
Laughter, back slapping and prolonged hand shakes were the order of the day when I met a friend this week. His 13 year old daughter had passed her junior school exams and got enough points to be accepted into senior school. Dad's face was creased with smiles as he told me what subjects had been passed and how delighted he was that his little girl was on the way now, nearly a young woman. This momentous occasion, a time of considerable pride and achievement is particularly commendable after 10 years of economic collapse which left most schools virtually closed and without teachers, books or equipment. My congratulations to a proud Dad were short lived as now he, and hundreds of thousands of others like him, face the nightmare of getting their children through senior school and up to their O Levels.
Barely a fortnight into the new term at senior school, my friend's daughter was sent home. The shame and embarrassment were evident by the dusty tear stains on her face. Her father had only managed to pay half of the school fees and so the girl was told to go away until she could pay the full amount due - US$60. She knew her Dad didn't have any more money for school fees, he'd already spent another US$ 40 buying the required 18 exercise books, a new school dress, socks and satchel; luckily her old shoes were the right colour and still fitted. And so, for want of US$ 30, a 13 year old girl was turned away from school this week.
Even if my friend manages to get his daughter back into school, her education is far from secure as Zimbabwe's long suffering teachers have finally said enough is enough and are threatening to strike. Earning just US$ 160 a month, our teachers can't even afford to educate their own children, let alone teach others. Their monthly salary doesn't even cover the utilities bills charged by the same government they work for. With domestic household electricity averaging US 80 a month and water and municipal bills being another US 80 a month, there is nothing left from a teacher's pay to buy food, pay for transport, medical needs or even buy a teenage girl a pair of socks for school. The teachers say they want salaries increased to at least US $ 630 a month - which is what they could earn if they were teaching in countries in the region. Our government say they don't have the money and so a crisis is imminent.
Teachers, like everyone else, are saying the government should be using the Chiadzwa diamond money to fund the country's expenses and rebuild Zimbabwe. Diamonds which are estimated to be worth £125 million (US 205 million) every month. Human Rights groups say that when hundreds of soldiers were sent in to the Chiadzwa diamond fields to evict small scale miners in November 2008, between 200 and 400 people were shot by the soldiers.
Think of this: More people were killed by the army than are affected by sanctions. You have to say it again to understand the enormity of it: 200 - 400 diamond diggers were killed by soldiers in Chiadzwa in November; compared to only 203 powerful and already privileged Zanu PF individuals on a targeted sanctions list. 203 people holding a country of 10 million to ransom. So what's changed?
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy
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