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Sleeping Like a Hare Millions Billions Trillions    
   
African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle

Debt and Diamonds
February 10, 2012, 3:02 pm

It’s one of those nightmare scenarios that wakes you up in a cold sweat: the banks have run out of money. Up until the moment you presented your cash cheque over the counter or inserted your card into the machine, all was well. Then comes the crunch, the bank has no money!

As I write those words I am immediately transported back to the bank in my ‘hometown’ in Zimbabwe. That’s where I was when the last cash crisis hit the banks. The currency was Zim dollars in those days – just 8 years ago – but now it’s $ US and those precious dollars are in short supply. I’m no economist but like most people I can grasp the hard reality of cash in my pocket. $577 is the calculated minimum monthly income for a family of five and inflation is 5.7%. Those are the facts but however high your salary or healthy your bank balance, the truth is: you need cash to survive. The news that some banks in Harare have run out of $ US must have sent cold shivers down the spines of many Zimbabweans. We have seen hundreds of desperate customers queuing outside banks in Harare before. But the world has changed since the last cash crisis in Zimbabwe. The western world – even the mighty US - has slid into economic recession. Only China and the Far East have remained relatively immune to the economic collapse but is China likely to bail out their old friend Mugabe? It seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, our near-neighbour, Mozambique has prospered over the years but their success does not mean they can afford to ignore unpaid debts and this week they threatened to cut off Zimbabwe’s power if their debts are not paid. In my old ‘hometown’ the power situation is already desperate with daily power cuts for hours at a time. Without electricity there is no power to operate water pumps and the danger of water-borne diseases only adds to the general misery. It is calculated that it would take $ 1.4 billion to replace Harare’s antique water system No student grants have been released for this academic year and we learned this week that the government needs $62 million to pay students’ loans and grants. Nurses have just rejected a 22.5% pay rise thus adding to the growing number of desperately dissatisfied workers and increasing the possibility of industrial action and civil unrest.

Against this background, diamond wealth will surely rescue the country from economic collapse? The Marange diamond fields are among the biggest in the world and diamond auctions are a fairly regular occurrence; this week it was 1.5 million carats of the precious stones up for auction with each carat worth $ 40 – cheap at the price apparently! Zimbabweans are entitled to ask where all that diamond revenue is going?  And if it isn’t going into government coffers then whose pockets is it lining? This Friday comes the news that civil servants’ pay day has been postponed for five days because of the shortage of cash. Foreign-owned banks in Zimbabwe have been urged to bring in $200 million from their off-shore accounts in an attempt to supply the needs of desperate citizens. Those bank queues will surely re-appear as Zimbabweans scramble to get their hands on the elusive $ US. Yet, this is a country sitting on one of the world’s biggest diamond fields; clearly something is very wrong. Zimbabwe should perhaps take a lesson from their near-neighbour, Botswana. Their diamond industry is jointly owned by De Beers and the Botswana government and 80% of the profits go direct into government coffers for the benefit of all Batswana.    

Just a couple of weeks ago Robert Mugabe was at the AU  bragging about Africa’s fabulous mineral wealth; what he didn’t tell his fellow African leaders was how his own country is using its diamond wealth: how many schools and hospitals it has built or how many families it has lifted out of poverty. Until the diamond wealth benefits the whole population and not just the   ‘fat cats’- of both parties - diamonds will continue to be the source of greed and dishonesty.     

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.


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Listen to what politicians SAY but watch what they DO is the message.
February 3, 2012, 1:17 pm

It was a week of memorable quotations but too little action in the context of the Zimbabwe crisis.

“They behave like human beings and are very good tricksters.” At first glance, I thought the manager of the Churundu border post was talking about politicians but it was baboons he was describing. They are wreaking havoc at the Zambia border:  stealing grain from the trucks carrying maize from Zambia into Zimbabwe, breaking into cars, stealing whatever takes their fancy and attacking any human who tries to prevent their criminal activity. Just like a human criminal gang – Chipangano in Mbare perhaps? - the baboons appear unstoppable as they launch their daily attacks. ‘Shoot the lot of them’ some might say but it could be argued that the baboons are only doing what comes naturally: baboons need food, humans have food! In baboon and human logic, that makes sense; survival is the name of the game, in animal and human affairs.

Surviving the typhoid outbreak that has hit Harare is an altogether more serious issue. On latest figures, the number of cases being treated daily has risen to between 30 and 50. The total number of typhoid cases stands at 800. It is common knowledge that typhoid and cholera are water-borne diseases. The government of national unity has deservedly been criticised for its lack of urgency in dealing with this serious issue but the comment of ill-informed Zanu PF hardliners almost turned this near tragedy into a farce. “It’s all the fault of the British, it’s the result of biological warfare,” they said. The Minister of Health and Child Welfare soon put a stop to that nonsense; nothing to do with biological warfare, he asserted, we should acknowledge our own responsibility: “We owe it to ourselves and there is need to remedy the situation.” Moves to do just that have begun with water rationing in the affluent suburbs where people can afford to buy water while the high density areas will have non-stop water in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease; no use telling people to practise personal hygiene if the taps are dry.

It was the great writer, Wole Soyinka who once again gave voice to what many people think. Soyinka was talking about ageing dictators who cling to power and he cited Robert Mugabe and Abdul Wade, both octogenarians and asked, “What is wrong with them? Why do they think the world will stop turning after they have left office?” Soyinka ended his address with a warning, “In the end those who refuse to bow to popular will…will confront the same nature of violence as we witnessed in the Arab world.” These ageing dictators cannot say they haven’t been warned; but listening to wise counsel is not the way of dictators.

Robert Mugabe this week described the AU as “a toothless bulldog” One has to wonder why he rushes to attend AU Meetings if he has so little regard for the organisation? But as always with Mugabe, there is more to his actions and words than meets the eye. He launched into one of his now familiar attacks on the west and in particular the Nato bombing which resulted in the killing of the long-serving Arab leader, Muamar Gaddafi in October 2011. “Who will be next?” Mugabe asked. He then  remarked that Europe has exhausted its natural resources while Africa has plenty. It was at first sight a puzzling observation until one remembers that Mugabe went to the AU to try to get them to endorse 2012 elections in Zimbabwe. He failed. Amidst signs that a new generation of African leaders are increasingly disenchanted with ageing dictators, was Mugabe perhaps warning the AU not to interfere in Zimbabwe’s affairs? Civil Society was there in force, however, to remind the AU that, as guarantor of the GPA and the coalition government, it was their duty to ensure that “Zimbabwe gets full support to deliver credible, democratic elections that meet the AU’s own requirements,” as the Co-ordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition put it.

Listen to what politicians SAY but watch what they DO is the message.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.


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Little has changed
January 28, 2012, 12:28 am

In March it will be eight years since I left Zimbabwe. As each year passes I am struck by how little changes in the country for ordinary Zimbabweans. This week, for example, it was reported that residents of Chimanimani were being refused food relief unless they signed up for membership of Zanu PF. Nothing new there! That is just what was happening when I lived in Mashonaland East. I remember seeing people lining up for food relief only to be told they would get no such relief unless they produced Zanu PF membership cards.

Eight years later, Zanu PF are still behaving as if they are the sole rulers of the country. In the early days of the GNU it seemed as if the former ruling party might be willing to share power but it soon became clear that they had no such intention. If we hadn’t all been so blinded by optimism, we would have seen that Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe never intended to share power. Mugabe’s speech at the signing of the Global Political Agreement in 2008 made that very clear. He made no reference to the brighter future that we all hoped would result from a Government of National Unity, instead, Robert Mugabe looked back to the glories of his past and the Liberation Struggle. It was different in 1980. At Independence Prime Minister Mugabe made a deeply moving speech. “If you were my enemy yesterday,” he said, “today we are bound by the same patriotic duty and destiny.” After the long and bitter struggle of the Liberation War, Mugabe was reaching out to the white community in a gesture of reconciliation – but as later developments showed - it was little more than a gesture. Twenty two years later in 2008 at the signing of the GPA, Mugabe’s Independence speech was quoted not by Mugabe himself but by Morgan Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai too was reaching out, not to the whites but to Zanu PF and Robert Mugabe who had beaten and imprisoned him and then tried him for treason but with whom he was now to share power.

Now in 2012, that power-sharing is a reality, of sorts. We have a Government of National Unity, ministerial posts are supposedly ‘shared’ between the two main parties but out in the rural areas, such as the one where I used to live, Zanu PF continues in the same old way. For them nothing has changed. Membership of the MDC is still regarded as unacceptable by the police and by the majority of local traditional chiefs; not surprising when you realise that under Zanu PF the chiefs have more power and more money than they have ever had. And, since the chiefs owe their loyalty to Zanu PF, it is not surprising that they will discriminate against the MDC whenever they can. It is the chiefs   who draw up the lists of people in their areas who need food aid. No wonder then that food relief is not given to anyone who does not belong to Zanu PF. Not only will you not get food if you belong to the MDC, the chances are you won’t get justice either. The police and the courts – with a few notable exceptions – are Zanu PF supporters and their actions and judgements reflect that loyalty.

Neither can the MDC escape criticism for the present deadlock in Zimbabwe. As Raymond Majongwe of the PTUZ, remarked this week the MDC are part of the government but they have control of nothing. Zanu PF’s turncoat loyalist, Jonathan Moyo, has just announced that elections will be held on the old constitution despite the fact that the GPA stipulated that a new constitution must be in place before elections can be held. What that tells us is that legal agreements, assurances and fine speeches count for nothing when they come from Zanu PF; we can only hope the electorate have not forgotten that.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, PH.


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"The police will never say no to Zanu PF instructions"
January 21, 2012, 3:42 am

In the last Letter from the disapora for 2011 I quoted the Minister of Local Government, Ignatious Chombo. He told a meeting of local chiefs and headmen, “Zanu PF controls the police and tells them who to arrest and who to keep because they (the police) will never say no to their instructions.”

And in this new year of 2012, nothing has changed. The police continue to behave in a totally partisan way and have even been accused of actively trying to destroy the MDC.  Chombo’s words about the police have particular relevance in 2012 because Chief Commissioner Chihuri’s term expires this year, as does the head of the army’s, Constantine Chiwenga. Together, the police and the army have ensured that Robert Mugabe remains in power and it is Mugabe as president who decides on their fate. Mugabe is on his annual leave until the end of January; all decisions must wait for his return, including a request by the UN to monitor the way food relief is handled after reports that Zanu PF is failing to distribute food relief fairly to MDC supporters.

The inquest into Solomon Mujuru’s death has dominated the headlines for the past couple of weeks and once again the roles of the police and the army have come under scrutiny. Both organizations have been led by men who have publicly declared unswerving loyalty to Robert Mugabe and they have been rewarded for their efforts by remaining in post. The police have conducted their own report into the General’s death but that report has never been made public. The late Commander in Chief and Liberation War hero was known as the Kingmaker, and rumour has it that he and Robert Mugabe did not get on well. Mujuru was known to be a very outspoken man, not afraid to tell Mugabe the truth to his face. Mujuru’s death in a spectacular fire at his farmhouse in Beatrice gave rise to huge public speculation that he had been murdered and there were strong political overtones to the case; Mujuru’s death would benefit a contender hoping to succeed Mugabe. Mujuru’s widow, Joice, the Vice President of Zimbabwe, claims that the police were negligent in their investigations into her husband’s death. On Thursday, the inquest was adjourned to allow her, finally, to read the police report into Mujuru’s death. Better late than never, perhaps, but one can’t help wondering what it is in the report that needs to be kept hidden from the general public. The behaviour of the three officers guarding Solomon Mujuru’s home came under sharp scrutiny at the inquest and on Thursday we learned that Mujuru had declared his intention to fire the three men who, among many other failings, did not even know the precise location of the general’s bedroom.  

Mugabe will return from his annual leave to face quite a few problems, not least of which is the renewal of police Commissioner Chihuri’s contract. The two MDCs have found common ground in their opposition to his reappointment. That’s not likely to bother Mugabe, but at least it shows the MDC factions can unite when the issue is serious enough. The question of when to hold the elections is another decision that only Mugabe can make. Zanu PF hardliners, including Mugabe himself, are apparently keen to have elections this year. The GPA decrees that no elections should be held until there is a new constitution in place. Zanu PF, however, is more concerned about whether their only candidate will be able to stand the rigours of an election campaign. Mugabe has not been well and he will be 89 in February; should he win, a five year term would take him to 94. If Mugabe confirms the reappointment of Chihuri as Police Chief, he will once again have one of his main allies in place to ensure victory.  

We had all hoped for something better in 2012 but, as I said, very little has changed in Zimbabwe.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle, PH.


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Dirty politics
December 3, 2011, 12:05 am

This will be my last letter for 2011. I am going into hospital next week for an operation and it’s unlikely I’ll be functioning properly again until the New Year.

This weekly Letter from the diaspora is intended to show how affairs in Zimbabwe look to someone who knows the country well but is no longer a resident. Cathy Buckle’s Letter, on the other hand, comes from inside and reflects the daily realities of life in Zimbabwe: the water and power shortages, the vagaries of the economic situation and the effects of politics on ordinary people’s lives. Cathy has the dubious pleasure of hearing and seeing for herself the ZBC/ZTV coverage of events- in and outside Zimbabwe - while people in the diaspora can only guess what ‘Idiot News’ is saying. What Cathy can do that people in the diaspora can’t, is see the beauty of nature in Zimbabwe: the birds, plants, trees and wide African skies – and she does that beautifully. It is my hope that the two Letters, taken together, give a rounded and accurate picture of life in Zimbabwe, particularly now as the country goes into the 3rd year of a GNU.

There was general agreement that the GNU had at least succeeded in stabilising the economy. Looking back to the economic madness of 2008, a year before the formation of the GNU, the Zim.dollar had become the laughing stock of the world. Now, in 2011, Tendai Biti has presented a budget which has earned him praise as ‘the best finance minister since Independence’. His budget was hailed as a genuine people’s budget. It was a shock to hear that MPs from both sides of the house chose to hold up the budget until they were given their allowances. Friday brought the news that the MPs’ action was successful and they will be paid the arrears in their allowances.

This week the stories about Morgan Tsvangirai’s personal life reached fever pitch and politics played its sordid part even there. This time it was the dirtiest brand of Zanu PF politics as practised by the state controlled media which delights in spreading scurrilous rumours about Mugabe’s opponents. Today, Tsvangirai issued a detailed statement clarifying the whole matter - and not before time. The story, had it been allowed to run, was deeply damaging to Tsvangirai’s reputation. That, of course, was the intention of the Zanu PF rumour mongers; politics at its very dirtiest!  Another example of dirty politics this week was the issuing of bags of maize – to Zanu PF supporters only - bearing pictures of Robert Mugabe. Whether this was intended to show that the 10kg bag of maize was the personal gift of Robert Mugabe is not clear but it must certainly have seemed like that to the recipients.

 It was Ignatious Chombo, the Minister of Local Government, who revealed the depths to which Zanu PF politics will sink, so desperate are they to retain power. Chombo was addressing a meeting of village headmen about a boundary dispute but, despite the fact that all three political parties had earlier united to call for peace, Chombo turned his address into a violent political rant. He told the assembled headmen that they had to support Robert Mugabe in the next election; if they supported Tsvangirai they would face dire consequences. No Zanu PF member would ever spend time in a cell for defending their territory, he said! And it was then that Chombo told the chiefs and headmen something which we have all known for a very long time – but it was no less shocking for that: “Zanu PF controls the police,” he said, “and tells them who to arrest and keep because they (the police) never say no to their instructions.” To hear a cabinet minister making such an admission is profoundly shocking. Chombo has been castigated for inciting public violence but what he said to that group of traditional leaders goes much further than that because it undermines the very foundations of the democratic state which Zimbabwe claims to be.

Not a good omen for democratic politics in Zimbabwe in 2012.

With very best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to all Zimbabweans, at home and in the diaspora.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.


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