Diesel for destruction
Saturday 25th June 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
There has been a nation wide shortage of petrol and diesel in the country ever
since the March elections which has now got so bad that it has bought almost
everything to a complete standstill. Petrol stations are either completely dry
and deserted or they are places where rumours of deliveries are rife and
unmoving queues of driverless vehicles snake away into the distance. There may
not be fuel for the everyday things like commuter buses and delivery trucks but
there is still diesel for destruction. Countrywide the bulldozers continue to
growl and roar as they push down walls, flatten homes and reduce lives to
rubble in the fourth week of the government's Operation Restore Order.
One day this week I met a man who is in his early eighties and was desperate
for just 10 litres of petrol so that he could get his wife to a specialist for
medical treatment. The man has worked all his life in Zimbabwe and had prepared
well for his old age. He hadn't banked on hyper inflation and economic collapse
though and now his entire monthly pension isn't enough to buy even one litre of
petrol. The man sat, counting filthy hundred dollar notes into piles, trying to
work out just how much money he had and how many notes he would need. It was
almost irrelevant that there was no petrol to buy because the fact was that 10
litres of petrol represented a years worth of pension cheques.
Later that same day I met another elderly man who stood waiting for me near my
car and greeted me politely as I arrived. "Can you help me, please. I have
nothing to sell and am just an old man." Once a farm worker until the government
seized all the farms, the man had then got a job working in a garden in the
town. Four months ago the government increased the minimum wage for garden
workers by one thousand percent and this elderly man lost his job. He has become
just another helpless, hopeless victim in Zimbabwe. I did not ask the man where
he was living or if his home had been reduced to a pile of rubble as everywhere
there are police, many police, watching and waiting to "restore order". I
pressed a note into his hand and felt ashamed that an old man who has lost
everything, has been reduced to this.
While the western world watches, condemns, appeals and urges intervention, the
African Union say they will not criticise events in Zimbabwe. An AU
representative speaking on BBC radio said the organisation had other far more
important things to worry about than Zimbabwe. What shame on these leaders of
Africa who will not even appeal for mercy for women and children, old men and
the sick and dying. Will the AU also refuse the west's cancellation of debt?
Will the AU refuse to accept western money raised by Bob Geldof and the worlds
pop stars? What shame on Africa.
With love, cathy.
A battered kettle
Saturday 18th June 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
I am in deep shock at the situation in Marondera as the government's "Operation
Restore Order" to cleanse the town has gone into its third week. Everywhere you
look you see only desperation, fear and shock on people's faces. Everyone is
saying the same thing : "But why are they doing this to us, what are we going to
do, where can we go, we are going to die." On a short drive around Marondera
town the aftermath is there for all who care to see. There are mounds of rubble
on street corners, stacks of timber, tin and asbestos piled on road sides,
dismantled pre-fabricated houses leaning against trees and people staring in
shock at what was there one day and gone the next.
In a piece of grassy waste land near a big supermarket I saw a woman sitting
surrounded by her life's possessions on Friday morning. A battered kettle, a
plastic basin and a small pile of clothes tied up in a blanket. In the town you
can see many people still desperately looking for somewhere to stay after their
homes have been demolished. Young women carrying suitcases with babies strapped
on their backs, calling to others for advice - "where can we go", "do you know
of anywhere". On one street corner I saw a man sitting on top of a pile of
rubble and next to him in the dust and filth were a battered cardboard suitcase,
a rolled up grass sleeping mat and a small wardrobe. Another man passed me on
the main road pushing a supermarket trolley which was crammed with his life's
possessions - pots and pans, a tin bucket, a thin foam mattress and a
threadbare grey blanket.
At the bus stop on the outskirts of Marondera town, at least a hundred people
wait, surging out into the road as every vehicle approaches, desperate for a
lift. After three months of chronic fuel shortages lifts are few and far between
and most people travel only when they have to.
This week on state owned television there was film footage of this "cleansing"
operation starting on farms. Peasant farmers, surrounded by their furniture,
clothes and harvested crops, being evicted from the farms that the government
seized from white commercial farmers. This week there was also the news that one
of just a few commercial farmers left in Marondera was forced off his land. He
had to leave behind the export crop of flowers and the fields of newly
germinated winter wheat.
It is ironic that while hundreds of thousands of people continue to be forced
into poverty in Zimbabwe, pop stars and politicians are planning to "make
poverty history" in Africa and world leaders talk about forgiving us our debt.
There seems no sense to this whatsoever. Please keep the utterly desperate
plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Zimbabweans in your minds and
With love, cathy
Burning out everyone
Saturday 11th June 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
On a clear and bright winter day this week, President Mugabe and his wife Grace
emerged from a spotless and sparkling open topped black Rolls Royce outside
Parliament buildings in Harare. Crowded at the fencing nearby were scores of
women who ululated fanatically whenever they caught a glimpse of the President.
They were all wearing skirts, dresses or head scarves which have President
Mugabe's face printed on the fabric and so wherever we looked the President's
face looked back. In his speech to mark the opening of Parliament, the President
defended the countrywide destruction of squatter camps, informal housing and
street vending stalls and markets. The President said this was a "vigorous clean
up campaign to restore order" in urban areas. Half an hour later the President
and his wife left in their convertible Rolls preceded and proceeded by shiny
limousines containing men wearing dark glasses, ear pieces and black suits, and
trucks filled with soldiers in yellow berets. The large chested women in their
portrait decorated clothes left and that was the end of that view of Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, in the same week, same country and same town, a very different
picture was being seen. I quote from the report by opposition MP Trudy
Stevenson: "This afternoon police set fire to furniture and other belongings of
those Hatcliffe Extension residents who had not yet managed to leave - despite
the fact that there were not enough police lorries to ferry all the people away
to Caledonia Farm by the time they started burning. My suspicion is that they
simply got tired, and decided to finish quickly by burning out everyone
remaining - babies, sick, elderly, crippled, etc. included. As I write, I have
no idea how many people have lost everything they possessed, nor do I know what
has happened to those people. It was reported that they were told by the police
that they had taken too long to leave, and now they would have to go in the
lorries simply in the clothes they were wearing, nothing else - no food, no
clothes, no furniture."
In another report, the chairman of the Harare Residents Association writes:
"If you take a drive to the north tonight you will see on the side of the roads
out towards Domboshawa, as many as 10 000 people just camping in the open."
For three weeks now we have been surrounded by horror in Zimbabwe. Ordinary
people have become helpless pawns, at the mercy of state officials who bundle
them into lorries and take them away. It is happening in towns all over the
country. Since the closure of Short Wave Radio Africa 11 days ago, there has
been no way for ordinary people to tell the world of the hell that is overtaking
them. Night after night we despairingly search along the short wave frequencies
hoping to hear what was our only voice but it is gone. We can find only
religious channels or Chinese ones but our Zimbabwean voices are lost and we
despair. If you are an exiled Zimbabwean or simply someone who cares please help
give us back our voice. Until next week, the website is www.swradioafrica.com.
With love, cathy
So few are left
Saturday 4th June 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
For the last five years the Zimbabwe government have insisted that there
not been a breakdown of law and order in the country. As the critics
anarchy, a partisan police force and widespread lawlessness, the government
repeatedly disputed the claims saying they were all lies, damned racist,
colonialist lies. It is ironic that now, as Zimbabwe's horizons are obscured
the smoke from a thousand fires, the police and government say they are
restoring order" to Zimbabwe. Hello, did I miss something here?
All everyone can think about and talk about is the massive destruction,
smoke that fills our skies and the multitudes of people who have been
There continue to be TV pictures of bulldozers knocking down brick houses.
are heart breaking, eye witness reports of families sitting in the filth,
and rubble of what used to be their homes. All week there have been people
desperately trying to save what they can of their lives. People carrying
boards, sheets of tin, bundles of plastic - the things that were their
Everywhere people are desperately looking for somewhere to sleep, somewhere
of the cold to shelter, somewhere to store their belongings. The police
them to go back where they came from, to go back to the rural areas.
ironic that these are the same rural areas that the government said were
overcrowded five years ago that the congestion was used to explain the
of 95% of the country's commercial farms.
I remember writing a letter like this about two years ago when I described
newly evicted commercial farmers driving around in lorries filled with
furniture, desperately looking for somewhere to stay. Then it was self
white commercial farmers whose lives, homes and jobs were being destroyed,
it is self employed black family traders.
First they came for the farmers
Then they came for the judges
Then they came for the opposition
Then they came for the media
Then they came for the traders
So few are left.
Until next week, with love, cathy.
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