Blinded by the Light
Saturday 27th January 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
A large black snake showed up in my garden this week. I believe it was an
Egyptian Cobra and it seemed to come from nowhere and without any warning. It's
that time of year when animal encounters increase. It is wet, hot and humid and
there is thick, tall bush everywhere you look - including on un-mown roadsides
and uncleared drains in the residential suburbs of the towns. I watched in
horror as the snake approached my chickens. It raised its head, began to spread
a hood and I could not believe that the chickens just stood there, completely
still, seemingly paralyzed. The hens did not move a muscle or make a sound as
death literally stared them in the face. I didn't wait any longer and soon the
missiles began to fly. At last, perhaps buoyed by the noisy support, the hens
woke up from their stupor. Feathers were ruffled, necks craned and a great
clucking and alarmed babbling started up, and carried on for a considerable
time. Many missiles later the snake retreated down a hole in the corner of the
garden and now I know it's there but can't do anything except wait for the next
encounter. The garden is tended, the grass is short and on the surface
everything looks serene and peaceful, but I know its just an illusion and that
at any time all hell will break loose again.
We have become a country full of illusions and this rainy season the
tricks,mirrors and juggling acts are very battered indeed. In many small towns
we seem to be moving perilously close to a ticking time bomb.This week on state
sponsored TV came a headline report of Kwekwe town being "on the edge of
collapse" as miners are digging right under the railway lines. From Bindura came
news that the municipal department responsible for housing has been closed until
further notice. It seems that the receipts for money being paid to the
department differed hugely between the top and duplicate copies and a huge fraud
has been playing out to the detriment of the town.
In Marondera when the dustbins had not been collected for three weeks recently,
the local Health Inspector was contacted. He was sympathetic to the obvious
effects of uncollected garbage at this time of year - the smell, flies,
mosquitoes rats and health hazard but said there was nothing he could do. The
fuel intended for the refuse removal trucks had been reallocated to the army for
land tillage. The large government hospital, and in fact most of Marondera town,
continues to have major water shortages. Public toilets at the hospital
outpatients unit are closed but desperate patients continue to use them as they
wait for five or more hours just to see a nurse as the doctors are still on
strike. The toilet floors are apparently thick with maggots and horrors you
would expect in a sewer, not a major provincial government hospital.
And so the appearance of things being under control in Zimbabwe is just a shaky
illusion. Someone told me this week that there is bright light at the end of the
tunnel. Its from an express train coming straight at us and we are standing
right in its path, blinded by the light, unable to move.
Until next week, thanks
for reading, love cathy.
Not Reality TV
Saturday 20 January 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
This week the world watched how bad behaviour on a reality TV programme in
the UK became international headlines. Diplomatically described as "alleged
racist bullying" by women celebrities on a Big Brother TV series, the story ran
as top world news for four days. People held protests and burnt banners in
India, the British Prime Minister had to answer questions in the House of
Commons and viewers of the TV programme increased from 1,7 to almost 6 million
people in four days.
In Zimbabwe, while this was happening, reality was also on display; not on TV
with histrionics, not with make up and nail varnish, but just the grim, grinding
reality of everyday events that the world seems to have turned its back on.
Long before dawn I received a phone call with the news that an elderly man had
died. For the family the pain and grief of the loss was almost immediately
swamped with the horrific reality attached to dying in Zimbabwe in January 2007.
Doctors have been on strike for over a month and hospital mortuaries are
overflowing. The body of the deceased had to be moved, immediately. Petrol has
increased in price from 2900 zim dollars a litre on Monday to 3400 dollars a
litre by Friday. It was going to cost a whole month's pension for the new widow
to have her late husbands body moved the few kilometres to the funeral home.
None of the man's family are left in Zimbabwe. The request was made for a
cremation so that the ashes could be later given to the family. Cremations are
undertaken in Harare but there is no gas in the country for the ovens.It may be
three weeks, at the very least, before a cremation could be done. For each
single day that the body was kept at the funeral home the widow would be charged
half of her entire monthly pension.
A wood fuelled cremation could be done but only in Mutare, a town 180
kilometres away. The funeral home wanted 700 000 dollars to transport the body -
the same as two and half years of the woman's pension. The quoted cost for the
cremation, including the transport, was the same as five years of the widow's
A simple burial in a local cemetery in the least expensive coffin now costs 400
000 dollars. This is the same as six months salary for one of the doctors
presently on strike.
Young and old, professionals and workers - we are all alike in this horrible
reality of Zimbabwe - we cannot afford to live or to die here.
This is reality in Zimbabwe. Not reality TV, not a game show, just grim,
sickening reality. We are a country that needs and deserves the world's
attention. Is anyone watching?
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Does the punishment fit the crime?
Saturday 13th January 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
I write this letter to remember the lives of seven young men and in the hope
that Zimbabwe never forgets what eight years of political upheaval and economic
collapse have led us to - and why.
It began on Christmas Eve when three men aged 23, 30 and 37 died of hunger and
exhaustion in Inyathi. The men were arrested after being caught digging for
precious minerals. The men were then forced by Police to fill up trenches for
six days. Thulani, Matthew and Gift are reported to have died of hunger and
exhaustion at the end of six days of extreme labour. A Police spokesman refused
to comment on these deaths but said: "We make them fill up the trenches because
they are the ones responsible for the mess."
Four days later three men died in Filabusi. Aged 28, 33 and 37 these men died
underground when they tried to evade Police and a disused mine shaft collapsed
on them. Reports say that Police had thrown tear gas into the mine shaft to try
and flush Daniel, Matron and Sipho out into the open. Denying responsibility for
the tragedy, a Police spokesman said: " our police officers were not responsible
for causing the deaths. The panners died while dangerously trying to evade
On the 11th of January another unarmed young man died in Shuruguwi. He was shot
while running away from Police. In a shocking, crude and insensitive report on
State controlled ZBC television on Friday night, the media tried to explain why
police left their victim untended after the shooting. Eliot, shot in the thigh,
bled to death at the Mutereki River while Police apparently went looking for a
vehicle. To add insult to a most offensive report, the word deceased was
mis-spelled on the screen. No respect, even in death.
These seven men are the ones we know about. They have become caught up in a
massive Police operation called
Operation Chikorokoza Chapera (No Illegal panning) Local press reports say that
22 554 illegal miners and dealers have been arrested since November. Apparently
7000 diamonds, 80 emeralds and 3.5 kgs of gold have been seized by police in
these last two months.
These numbers are absolutely staggering but they must not stand alone.
Unemployment is well over 70% and inflation is the highest in the world at
1281%. For eight years almost nothing has been done about gold panning and small
scale mining by the authorities and now the situation has got totally out of
control. So out of control that young men who are sons, brothers, fathers and
husbands are dying. Does the punishment fit the crime?
First they came for the farmers.
Then they came for the opposition.
Then they came for the judges.
Then they came for the journalists.
Then they came for the poor and the vendors.
Now they have come for the miners.
The deaths of seven young men are recognized, as is their struggle for
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy
Saturday 6th January 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Sitting in a glass on my desk are five Flame Lilies. The water they are
standing in was milky and murky and had a brown sediment when it came out of
the tap this week. The flowers are exquisite with frilled, scarlet petals edged
in yellow and spear shaped leaves tipped with thin curling tendrils. Flame
Lilies are synonymous with Christmas and New Year in Zimbabwe and this year they
are almost the only thing bringing colour and cheer to our deteriorating
This New Year most Zimbabweans are not saying Happy New Year they are instead
shaking their heads and asking : how much longer, is there any hope? Just a week
into 2007 and everyone is reeling at the massive price increases of everything.
Despite all the government pronouncements and promises of an "economic
turnaround," Father Christmas did not deliver this elusive gift. Before
Christmas a loaf of bread was 295 dollars, now it is 850 dollars - the bakers
say its still not enough to cover their costs and more rises are imminent.. (Add
three zeroes to get the real price!) Petrol, which continues to be mostly non
existent, has apparently increased from 2200 to 3000 dollars a litre and
transport costs are said to have gone up by 60%. Since the government announced
new price controls and began arresting businessmen before Christmas, almost all
basic essentials have disappeared from the shelves. It is now virtually
impossible to find sugar, flour, milk, margarine, cooking oil or maize meal in
supermarkets. In one large wholesaler this week there were three great long
aisles just filled from floor to ceiling with salt. Fine salt, coarse salt, bulk
salt - you name it, there it was, just salt. All the oil, flour, sugar and maize
meal normally stacked there, had completely disappeared - turned to salt.
I stood next to a young teenage girl looking at the school writing exercise
books piled on one shelf. When children go back to school in a few days time
they have to provide their own writing books. Most senior school children need
15 exercise books and they are now just over 1000 dollars each. The girl next to
me picked up a pack of ten books, turned it over, looked at me, shook her head
and said 'eeeish' - and put the books back on the shelf. 'I don't have enough'
she whispered and walked away.
It is tragic to see bright young teenagers struggling to stay in school like
this. They know that if they can't, it won't be long before they are forced into
vegetable vending, begging and prostitution because there are very few jobs for
qualified people and no jobs for school drop outs.
School fees for this girl were three thousand dollars last term in a rural
government school. This term her fees are fifteen thousand dollars. That cost is
the tip of the iceberg. Her exercise books will cost another fifteen thousand
dollars and the plain soft black tennis shoes she can get away with wearing are
fourteen thousand dollars.
This first week of 2007 it is hard to see how the systems can hold together for
very much longer. Water is close to collapse, electricity workers are striking
for 1000% pay rises and junior doctors have been striking for over a fortnight.
I close with a quote from a letter from a friend which is appropriate for us all
at the start of the EIGHTH year of Zimbabwe's decline: "Will we be able to look
our children in the eye one day in the future and say truthfully 'we did our
best' for Zimbabwe?" I hope so.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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