News - July 2006





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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


Safari Parliament

Saturday 29th July 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Parliament re-opened on Tuesday this week but all attempts to watch the full event on state run TV were in vain. There was a power cut just a few minutes after the special repeat broadcast began and the night went dark and quiet - again. Those few brief minutes however had been more than enough to raise eyebrows. A number of "cultural reforms" have been undertaken by Zimbabwe's parliament which now resembles a safari lodge. A stuffed leopard and two antelope heads hang on the walls and a leopard skin adorns the ceremonial chair used by Mr Mugabe. Two enormous elephant tusks now frame the Presidential chair and it was between these two great teeth that Mr Mugabe stood to address the House. Near him sat Mrs Mugabe on a high backed green leather chair which had been carefully placed on a striking zebra skin. Hardly had these images registered and before the speech began, the electricity went off.

The images of our leaders sitting amongst elephants and kudu, zebra and leopard are particularly ironic now as the country plunges back in time and people ravage the environment in order to survive. Our lavishly decorated safari parliament is about as far away from the reality of life in Zimbabwe as you can possibly imagine.

Every morning the sound in urban and rural Zimbabwe is that of wood chopping. All day every day you see lines of women walking with bundles of great long tree branches balanced on their heads and men with hand carts and wheel barrows piled high with newly chopped indigenous wood. All day, every day and in every direction you see smoke. Some is from urban householders cooking outside on open fires. More is from incessant uncontrolled fires streaming across the horizon, consuming everything in their path. Seeing the massive amount of wood collecting and looking at horizons permanently smudged with smoke, you cannot help but wonder how Zimbabwe's wildlife can possibly survive this unrelenting attack on the environment. Grass for grazers is reduced to ash, leaves for browsers is burnt out and trees for shade, shelter and habitat are felled. Undoubtedly the abundance and variety of birds, reptiles, mammals and insects is under severe threat as the assault on our envirnoment continues unchecked.

The reality of life in Zimbabwe has been shocking in the last week. In my home area the electricity was cut for over 29 working hours during the week. The price of a loaf of bread shot up from one to two hundred thousand dollars overnight. The foreign currency rate soared on the black market with one British Pound selling for one million Zimbabwe dollars.

Appreciating cultural reforms of elephant tusks and leopard skins is a world away from bread we can't afford, bills we can't pay and hours and hours on end when we cannot work or conduct our business as the electricity is off. Reality in Zimbabwe draws ever further away.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

Killapsed Dollar

Saturday 22nd July 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe's banks are apparently in trouble and bankers and chartered accountants met recently to talk about what do with all those pesky zeroes that are causing the problem and clogging up their works. It seems that standard computer software is designed to cope with figures in millions and even billions but starts getting confused when having to deal with fifteen digit figures. It's the trillions that are apparently the problem and these are now part of regular transactions. So a proposal is being made to have three digits dropped from our currency. Instead of a thousand dollars being a thousand dollars, it will be just one dollar and will be called a Kilo Dollar. Perhaps calling it a Killapsed Dollar would be more to the point.

This is the latest example of just how utterly ludicrous our economic situation has become in Zimbabwe - inflation of over a thousand percent, bank transactions in trillions, town budgets in something called quadrillions and simple dollars that aren't really dollars anymore.

To ordinary people who don't really understand the logistics of a collapsed currency, this news comes as just another head shaking confusion in our chaotic lives. Most of us have hardly come to terms with the logistics of doing ordinary things like paying bills. If we are paying in cash we find ourselves walking around with carrier bags, duffle bags, plastic sacks and even suitcases literally filled with notes. Its a huge relief to get to where you are going without being mugged because its just not that easy to hide a sack of money. Although these days I suppose even muggers must have to think in terms of wheelbarrows at the very least. The next mission is to get the timing right so that you pay bills when the electricity is on otherwise the money counting machines aren't working, the computers that write receipts aren't working and you spend hours waiting in queues, your arms getting longer and longer, weighed down by heavy bags of money.

Paying bills by cheque has its own set of problems too and we have had to master the art of using smaller and smaller handwriting. Most standard personal cheques have a five inch (13 centimetre) line on which to write the amount in words that the cheque is for. Nowadays its not unusual to get bills for multiple millions of dollars. This month for example medical aid companies have increased their rates by a whopping eighty five percent. This makes a very small family contribution to a standard private medical scheme require over twenty five million dollars. I find myself having to do practice runs before I even open the cheque book - just to make sure I can squash up the words enough so that they all fit into those five inches. You try and write in five inches (13cms) all these words: Twenty five million eight hundred and ninety two thousand five hundred and fifteen dollars and fifty five cents. It's not possible or feasible really and so we all just round everything up, no one says thank you, no one offers change - its just the way life has become here now.

Everything in Zimbabwe, even writing a cheque, has become an exercise in extremes - miniscule handwriting for massive amounts of money to pay small fractions of huge monthly expenses. So, from the land where we already have trillions and quadrillions but perhaps will soon have both dollars and kilo dollars, thank you for reading. Until next week, apologies for unanswered emails - there are simply not enough hours in the day when the electricity is on!
With love, cathy.

The Colour of Home

Saturday 15th July 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
It is estimated that well over three million Zimbabweans have left the country for political and economic reasons in the last six years. This represents almost a quarter of our population. For the people who have stayed in Zimbabwe, either by choice or because they have no choice, it is hard to understand what it must be like to live in exile. From here, we wish we were somewhere with single, double or even triple figure inflation. We dream of being able to afford the most basic things again -everyday things once taken for granted and now just permanently off the shopping list because they are simply too expensive. We long for an end to fear and oppression and ache for the time when we will again be able to afford to travel to the beautiful places in our own country. We long to be able to speak freely again, to stop whispering and looking over our shoulders wondering who is listening, who is a spy, who we can trust. Mostly though, we long for our families and friends who have gone, we miss the community life, the gatherings and the laughter.

And for the people who have left, the aches and longings of being strangers in strange lands are probably even harder. The longings are for familiarity, for friends and family left behind, for the climate and countryside, and for the laughter in the wind of the country that will always be home. Recently someone living in exile said how much they missed the colours of Zimbabwe and it made me realise how we take the richness and beauty of Zimbabwe for granted.

Winter is almost over now although we are still waking to blankets of frost sprinkled on the ground in the early mornings. The days are mostly clear, bright and sunny and the skies are a brilliant blue. The grass is golden and yellow in the fields and in the vleis and stream beds the red hot pokers have almost finished flowering. In the bush the lucky bean trees are just opening their clusters of red flowers and in our towns the poinsettias are covered in scarlet. In the highveld the Msasa trees have begun shedding their load and the ground is covered with hard, curly, deep brown pods, their shiny dark brown seeds lying in the sand waiting for the rain when they can start the cycle all over again. And to end our days are the sunsets which are filled with spectacular colour: pink and then lilac, and at last orange and polished copper.

These are the true and permanent colours of Zimbabwe, refreshed and replaced every day. They are the colours of home and frankly, for many of us, it is the simple things like this that somedays prevent total and utter despair at the horrific situation we are living in. The other colours that are temporarily Zimbabwean - brown, purple and green - they are just imposters. They are the colours of our bank notes which aren't really bank notes and which have expiry dates. They are the colours of inflation, oppression and despair and hard as it is to believe, we know they will be gone - we pray it will be soon.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

Not on my watch

Saturday 8th July 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
It has been a very sad week for Zimbabwe. After two months of hints, whispers and promises, yet another opportunity to help Zimbabwe has come to nothing. They were all there at the AU meeting in the Gambia, all Africa's Big Men. They were joined by the leaders of Iran and Venezuela and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan was there too. Between them all, however, none was able to step forward with empathy, compassion and courage to speak out and stand up for ordinary men, women and children of Zimbabwe.

Just a few months from the end of his term of office, and despite having agreed to be a mediator for Zimbabwe, Kofi Anan went back on his word at the last moment. A few weeks ago South African President Thabo Mbeki also backed away from standing up for his next door neighbours. Mbeki, christened by America as the Point Man on Zimbabwe, and after years of exceedingly Quiet Diplomacy, said he was looking forward to Kofi Anan taking the lead in assisting Zimbabwe. Now, tragically, it is all over before it even began.

UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, speaking from Gambia, neatly passed the buck on to ex Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. He said: "I told him (Mugabe) I was committed to helping Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe and would support the work of the mediator." Kofi Anan had the chance to show real and heroic leadership as his term of office comes to an end but he chose otherwise. Anan concluded by saying: "We both agreed that he (Mkapa) should be given the time and space to do his work." It is beyond belief that Anan could talk about time and space six years into Zimbabwe's crisis. It was Anan's own office that said 700 000 homes were destroyed and two and half million people lost their livelihoods just a year ago in the Zimbabwe government's Operation Murambatsvina.

There is no time left in Zimbabwe - that is plain for everyone to see. Eight out of every ten people here are unemployed; we have the lowest life expectancy and the highest inflation rate in the world. Four hundred and eighty people die in Zimbabwe every single day from AIDS. This figure is the bare minimum and to my knowledge is now at least a year out of date. It does not include needless deaths from inadequate food, shelter or medical care.

There is no space left in Zimbabwe either - emotions are at breaking point, frustration and anger is uppermost and democracy is being taught with sticks, stones, machetes and fists. This week we heard with shock that five members of the Mutambara led faction of the MDC had been brutally attacked by a mob. Four people were hurt, worst of all 61 year old MP Trudy Stevenson who was left with a deep gash to the back of her head, broken arm bones and a fractured cheek bone.

What hope is there for Zimbabwe when the Big Men keep stepping back and saying Not On My Watch.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Kick start

Saturday 1st July 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
There has been much talk in the state owned media this week about the fact that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state and will not be dictated to or colonized by anyone, from anywhere, ever again. 99% of news readers on ZBC radio and TV are unable to pronounce the words sovereign and sovereignty and no one corrects them and so now a whole generation of young Zimbabweans are talking about protecting our sov-er-wren-ity. Adhering to the meaning of the term, however, seems as elusive as the pronunciation because every day now we hear about the involvement of other countries in the basic nitty gritty's of our day to day affairs. We have a rash of cheap Chinese products ranging from clothes to luggage and tools all over the country already and have Chinese aeroplanes and minibuses moving us around. Last week there was talk of Chinese interest in our thermal power stations and this week we hear of pending "joint ventures" with the Chinese in regard to Tel One (our telephones) NRZ ( our railways) and Hwange (our coal mines). It's not clear yet what benefits the Chinese will gain from all these joint ventures but so far we hear of pay back involving cobalt and other minerals still buried in our sovereign soil.

Trying to come to grips with it all - the podium banging, the selling of our essence and the mortgaging of our soul -is overwhelming and exhausting - as is our daily life. It is a daily life in Zimbabwe that is so ridiculous that a nervous breakdown seems precariously close almost all the time. It is a daily life dominated by rubber bands - to hold stacks of money together in one, two, five or ten million dollar bundles. A daily life swamped with electricity power cuts - two, four or five hours at a time - sometimes twice a day. A daily life suffocated by a rash of new rules and regulations, bills and prices.

This week we received our second telephone account for this month. The second bill arrived just ten days after the first one and printed on the top, surrounded by a line of stars, was the legend: "Tarrifs have been increased per unit to $18 895.50 W.E.F. {with effect from} 14/06/06. You will receive 2 bills for June 06." There are no apologies offered - this a government owned company and there are no other fixed line telephone companies in the country so it is simply a case of pay up or get cut off. For the second time in a month the queue snaked out of the door as all the receipts were being written out painfully and laboriously by hand as there was yet another power cut.

Emerging from the freezing cold queue after paying my second phone bill, the sight of what should have been a bustling town on a busy Friday morning at month end was surreal. Almost the entire town had stopped. Sitting on roadsides and pavements, lying on grassy patches, leaning against walls - the whole town was just waiting ever so patiently for the power to come back on. The electricity had been off since 6.30am and finally at 11 am it came back on. Everywhere people started running - to get back into queues for photocopiers, for passport processing, for cash machines, for computers. Life had suddenly been kick started again....and so we stagger on....again.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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