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Dear Family and Friends,
In the bush the other day I sat watching two long-legged riverside birds on a small rocky island in a dam. For a long time they seemed unperturbed by my scrutiny but when they both turned and ran into a patch of tangled shrubs in a hurry, I knew something was up. From nowhere a shiny grey reptilian head appeared over the top of the rock. Its camouflage was excellent, skin colour blending exactly with the rock, spots on his head looking exactly like blotches of lichen on the granite. The mingled, reflected glare from rocks and water made it hard to identify at first but when a long black forked tongue flicked out to scent the air, I knew it was a leguaan (Monitor Lizard.) From the size of his head he was obviously a fair size but that remained a mystery. There was no time even for a quick photograph because suddenly the leguaan completely disappeared into a crack between the rocks and was invisible again. This is exactly how life is in Zimbabwe nine months after the last controversial election: haze and reflections, clever camouflage and big scary things hiding in plain sight.
Sensational headlines in the last couple of weeks have left an already suspicious, sceptical Zimbabwe wondering what’s really going on. After weeks of dramatic media exposures of CEO’s in government organisations and parastatals earning huge salaries ranging from 40 to 230 thousand US dollars a month, the Cabinet finally waded in. The Finance Minister announced that with immediate effect the highest wage in all state enterprises, parastatals and local authorities was to be six thousand US dollars a month. Included in this total amount are the ‘allowances’ that people have been getting which are unbelievably disproportional to their actual pay. One example cited was of a Town Clerk earning two thousand dollars a month but getting an additional seventeen thousand dollars in benefits and allowances every month. In a country where 80% of people are unemployed, where university graduates sell airtime on the roadside, where qualified teachers earn less than five hundred dollars a month and where all state enterprises are collapsing, these amounts are truly shocking. The excessive greed of a few at a time when so many are suffering is nauseating.
As disgusted as we are by the gargantuan salaries that have been exposed so far, everyone knows it’s the tiny tip of a massive iceberg. We also know that by slashing someone’s salary from say forty thousand a month to six thousand is going to generate another huge set of problems: law suits, even more corruption and asset siphoning and perhaps even a renewed brain drain from our teetering country. Asked why it had taken five years for the government to do something about these huge salaries, the Minister of Finance said: ‘There was too much quarrelling in the inclusive government and we could not focus our energy on anything.’
So far no one’s publicly questioning the salaries, allowances and ‘benefits’ of senior government members or how they managed to amass such vast visible wealth while Zimbabwe was collapsing. One clue came in dramatic front page headlines: ‘Don’t blame sanctions, says Mugabe.’ The President said : ‘I will ensure that we don’t go back to the time of saying sanctions are the reason we are failing to pay civil servants. We have the resources, the gold sector for example, they are very easy to get money from.’ With statements like these Zimbabweans are again left reading between the lines, looking at the crack in the rock, wondering what’s really in there, hiding in plain sight.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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