News - January 2008





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A new year message

Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror


Human Rights Group under attack

Another farmer attacked

Zim Independant
The Standard
Human Rights Forum
ZW News
Eddie Cross letters The Zimbabwe Situation


Chinhoyi Arrests

Moral negligence

Who will be answerable for hungry people?

Under cover of darkness

A night of terror

Daily News
Zim Independant
The Standard
Financial Gazette
Human Rights Forum
ZW News


NEW - from the diaspora - click here

Schools will not open

Sunday 11th January 2009

Dear Family and Friends,
The simple every day routine of children going to school has kept most families sane in this last traumatic decade in Zimbabwe. When war veterans and mobs were swarming onto farms and evicting everyone, as long as the children were able to keep going to school, parents found a way to cope.

I remember one occasion during that terrible time when one of my son's junior school teachers told me what a difficult time they were having in the classroom. The child of a farmer who had been violently evicted from his home was in the same classroom as the child of the war veteran who had done the evicting. Both children were traumatized, bullying and insults were being traded in the playground and both children needed counselling. On another occasion when the school was forcibly closed and taken over by security personnel, children were traumatized when they returned and found a bullet on the cloakroom floor.

Zimbabwe's teachers, despite having to work under unbearable conditions and often under attack themselves, have quietly steered our children through these most traumatic years.
Chased away from their jobs by militant government youths, the teachers waited until things calmed down and then came back to work. Accused of being opposition supporters they were intimidated and harassed and yet still they came back to the classrooms. The head of the teachers union has been arrested repeatedly, been beaten in custody and yet still he speaks out. School administrators and head teachers have been arrested and held in police cells for raising school fees but when they were released they just went back to work and carried on.

When we parents were crying, bleeding and homeless we would arrive at the school gates and hand our children over to compassionate, gentle, caring, professional staff who somehow managed to make everything alright.

There are hundreds of stories about what's been happening in Zimbabwe's schools these last nine years - to describe it is an education system under attack is a gross understatement. Teachers earning enough in a whole month to buy just one banana. Six children sharing one text book. Parents having to provide food for both their own children and the teachers. Schools which have no stationery, no chalk, no equipment, no water, no food.

According to the UN Children's Fund, school attendance in Zimbabwe dropped from 85% in 2007 to just 20% by the end of 2008. Now, at the worst possible time and with the country at its lowest ebb, the government have announced that schools will not open on the 12th of January as they should, but two weeks later - culling yet more precious days from our children's education. All these apparently little things are having a dramatic impact on our lives in Zimbabwe. Our children and our country will pay a heavy price in the years to come.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

To the Diaspora - Message

Saturday 26th January 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
Only once in the last seven days has there been electricity, water and telephone services at the same time and that was for less than two hours one afternoon. In the past week electricity has been off for 18 hours a day, every day, and water cuts last for days at a time. This is now the norm of life as everything is approaching, or has already reached, a state of complete collapse. All attempts at normal day to day functioning are virtually impossible.

This week I had a first hand encounter with the precarious state of Zimbabwe's health delivery system and it made me very aware of why we have the lowest life expectancy in the world. My body had been aching for two days and I was racked with fever: dripping with sweat one minute and shaking with uncontrollable cold the next. I knew I needed help and was fortunate to be able to see a doctor - this is a luxury most Zimbabweans rarely have. The first sign of abnormality came after the blood test when the doctor apologised for not providing a plaster - something so simple but now unobtainable. It was an insignificant inconvenience. Far worse lay ahead. There are four pharmacies in the town and none had the common drug that had been prescribed to treat malaria. An alternative drug was proposed but none of the chemists had this one either. Malaria: so common, so deadly, no drugs for treatment - this was chilling.

My next stop was the hospital, by now I was weak and disorientated and had only got this far thanks to the help of a friend with a car - another rare luxury unavailable to most. Only four patients occupied beds: few can afford the hundreds of millions of dollars needed per night. The hospital also didn't have the prescribed malaria drug, or the alternative that I needed. Finally a course of injections was made available but only if I could pay cash upfront for the vials so the hospital could immediately try and replace them. How many others before me had been down this road and not been so lucky?

Over the next five days I visited the hospital every morning for another precious injection. For three days and nights the hospital had no running water at all. When the doctor did his rounds, nurses trickled water from a jug over his hands after he had examined each patient. A local farmer had helped and provided a bowser of water but this was being carried in, by the bucket load, to flush toilets, clean human waste, wash dishes and equipment and sponge down patients. The hospital, like the rest of the town, was only getting electricity in the middle of the night; water was being boiled outside on open wood fires. A generator was dealing with emergencies, the cost of running it phenomenal.

Every day I felt so privileged to be receiving treatment from nurses working under such appalling conditions. They have left home without a hot meal or cup of tea in the morning. They will return home to carry water from wells, cook outside on open fires and prepare for another day of much the same. And yet always they were polite, professional, helpful and gentle. On my last day I asked the nurse when she would have time off - I seemed to have seen her there every day. She told me they were short staffed because so many nurses had gone.
"Gone to the Diaspora," she said. "To Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Botswana - anywhere." I asked the nurse what made her stay and she said it was very hard to go. As hard as it to stay.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Giant Water Bugs

Saturday 19th January 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
We are having a bountiful rainy season this year; the type that we haven't seen for many years. Its the kind of rainy season that I remember from when I was a teenager where I got wet on the way to school in the morning, again at lunchtime or on the way to sports in the afternoon, and yet again on the way home at dusk.
This is the rainy season that Zimbabwe so desperately needs to fill the rivers dams and lakes and replenish the ground water to revive springs, wells and boreholes. Its the kind of rainy season which reminds us that life in Africa is tough and dramatic - its hot, humid, tropical and conditions can change in a very short space of time: a rising river, flooded bridge or tar that simply subsides into the sand.

The rains have bought great infestations of insects and sand fleas; there are more slugs and snails than seem physically possible and then there are the insects with the unimposing title of Giant Water Bugs which really are the stuff of nightmares. These fearsome brown creatures are four inches long, have large shiny eyes, give off an absolutely foul smell if you touch or squash them and have a frightening pair of grasping front legs. Apparently the water bugs attack tadpoles and small fish and inflict a painful wound if you hold them - not that anyone would want to do that - surely!

This abundant rainy season is making the grass grow faster than you can cut it and making the weeds grow even faster still. The sedges are thick, shiny and lush; the khaki bush tall and distinctly aromatic; the black jacks prolific and covered with a myriad black seeds reaching out to stick on anything that comes too near. There are snakes in the thick undergrowth this season too, prolific even in suburban gardens: green, black and brown ones and others that are distinctly identifiable: Egyptian cobras, burrowing adders and grass snakes.

This is the kind of rainy season where it seems the news from the farmers should be good. In fact every night on the State propaganda come the jingles and video clips bragging that this is: "The Mother Of All Seasons." The news starting to come from small farmers in the rural areas is not good though. They didn't have enough seed in the first place and negligible amounts of fertilizer. One rural farmer I met spoke of the part of his crop on high ground being OK but desperately in need of fertilizer to feed the developing maize cobs. He said there was no fertilizer to be found - even if he had the money to buy it. He said that the maize lower down the slope was a complete write off. It was knee high and yellow and inundated with water. Water which bubbled up from underground, which poured down as rain and which rushed down the fields as run off , not even slowed by contours which are no longer built or maintained and no longer exist. When I asked the man what the outlook for his whole crop was, he said i t was bleak. He doubted it would produce enough food for his family for even three months. He asked me if I thought international donors would be coming soon to help the people in rural areas with food; he said many people were already in need. He said that by March there would be a few cobs of green maize to eat straight from the field but by the winter months (June and July) for sure people would be starving. Is this the reason why Zanu PF are adamant that elections be held in March?
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Dear Family and Friends,
CORRECTION: Further to my letter entitled: "56 Days," stating the 9th of March to be Zimbabwe's election date, my source is now unable to confirm that this is in fact the exact date. I therefore apologise unreservedly.
Love cathy.

56 Days

Saturday 12th January 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
This week electoral authorities in Zimbabwe again stated that combined Presidential, Parliamentary and council elections will not be deferred and are to be held on the 9th March 2008. It is hard to believe that Zimbabwe will be ready for an election in just 56 days time. The logistics of an election are enormous under normal circumstances but mammoth in a country which has all but collapsed.

There is no fuel at filling stations, no food in the shops, extremely limited supplies of bank notes, electricity only in the middle of the night and water off or dirty most of the time. Telephone communications are in a shocking state with new cell phone lines only available on the black market. Roads are falling apart, postal deliveries increasingly erratic and in some areas - including mine - house deliveries have not been made for three months. In rural areas there are reports of roads and bridges washed away due to heavy rains and flooding - and so the list goes on and on. Every aspect of an election from the campaigning to the advertising, voting, monitoring and counting is swamped with problems - not the least of which is that so far there is only one candidate and one party to vote for.

Looking for sanity, even inspiration, in such bizarre times, I turned to a book of poetry sent to me by an ex Zimbabwean. Every day of the year has a poem and that prescribed for the 9th of March is by an unknown author.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn's rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.

We are a country dying but not dead - we still have hope. Surely this poem for the 9th of March holds some prophetic meaning.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

The Great Food Trek

Saturday 5th January 2008

Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe has limped into another year with almost all aspects of normal life completely gone. Every day has become incredibly tough with an ever growing demand for an increasingly dwindling supply of food, bank notes, electricity and water. Many thousands of Zimbabweans have used the Christmas and school holidays to pour out of the country in search of mental relief and in order to procure precious essential supplies. How absurd it is that a so called land revolution has left us scouring shops across our borders in all four directions to get basic supplies that Zimbabwe not only produced but exported just a decade ago. This great food trek must surely be cause for monumental shame and embarrassment to the party that have ruled the country for the last 27 years. For the past seven years they have found one scapegoat after another to blame our hunger and poverty on, but the facts out there on the roads leading to the border towns cannot not be spun - no matter how clever the propaganda.

Gone are the days when you could take a break at a lay-by on a road journey. Now all these stopping places within 150 kilometres of border posts are fully occupied, some of them on an apparently permanent basis by Zimbabwe's mobile population. Draped over the remains of fences and hanging on shrubs are tattered grey blankets. Shirtless men sit around in groups tending fires in the lay-by's. Some are cooking pots of maize porridge, others are just keeping the fires burning - ready to warm the people who will be coming, waiting, and then moving on to cross the border under cover of darkness. In some lay-by's women and children are already waiting, their bags piled and ready for the transport that will come in the dark to carry them to the border. At other lay-by's the people traders are so established that they have erected small structures within sight of the road - sticks and plastic providing primitive shelter and protection from the weather.

With stopping at lay-by's not advised and stopping at garages and shops pointless as there is neither fuel nor food and refreshments to buy, the journey into and out of Zimbabwe is long and gruelling. The roads are fast falling into a state of collapse as a result of the incessant stream of trucks and transporters pounding the tarmac as they haul food and fuel into our once rich country. In many places along the main roads the edges have become seriously cut away and eroded making pulling over or stopping very dangerous. Road markings are rare, signs and warnings of hazards are non existent and all in all it is a shocking advertisement to tourists and visitors to the country. For at least two hundred kilometres on the road approaching the border post into South Africa, the highway is strewn with enormous potholes, some are many centimetres deep and two metres wide. There are many places on the road where these holes are unavoidable and everywhere you see people stopped, repairing punctures, changing wheels or waiting for help.

To exacerbate the situation is a season of very heavy rains and although it is good to see rivers filling and flowing, the impact of so much water on a crumbling infrastructure is devastating. Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink - a well known saying which is more appropriate today in many parts of Zimbabwe than ever before. We've not had a drop of water in my home town for the past three days and so we are collecting rain water in buckets for drinking, washing, cleaning and cooking. It is a grim way to begin 2008 and we hope and pray that this is the last year we ever to have endure such deprivation because of politics.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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