News - June 2010





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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


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Highly vulnerable

Saturday 26th June 2010

Dear Family and Friends,
When the constitutional outreach teams arrived in my home town which is a provincial headquarter for the programme, there was a strange and tense atmosphere on the streets. Its a feeling we haven't encountered for a couple of years since the last elections and already there are numerous reports of interference, threats, assaults and intimidation.

Within two days of the start of the outreach we began hearing news of disruptions from Karoi, Chinoyi, Bindura, Mutare and Chivi. Reports told of youths chanting slogans and promising violence, uniformed soldiers marching through suburbs chanting Zanu PF slogans and of violence and house burnings. From Marondera we heard of armed men in a white double cab vehicle abducting an MDC activist in broad daylight outside the Marondera Hotel.

Despite such traumatic events taking place, and despite everyone knowing and whispering about them, life goes on in its usual and strangely dysfunctional Zimbabwean manner. On one side of the road two dozen Constitutional / COPAC vehicles were parked outside a government building. Smart cars they were, double cabs and 4x4's and a world away from what was happening across the street. It was government pension pay day and I counted 140 people queuing to try and draw their pensions. Not so easy when there is no electricity which means no computers and no access to account holders records. As if they were naughty children in the school yard, a young security guard strutted up and down the car park, waving a baton stick and bellowing rudely at people to get in line. Its embarrassing to watch such humiliation but no one does anything for fear of losing their chance to draw their own pension money.

A block away there was a similar queue of about a hundred people crowded around the doors of a building society trying to withdraw their own money, also hampered by no electricity. A bus crowded with school children went past, kids hanging out of the windows blowing on raucous plastic trumpets known as vuvuzelas causing a few stares and a momentary distraction. And outside a supermarket a street kid approached with a little square of cardboard in his hand on which was written the price of the medicine he had been prescribed for a chest infection.

'Highly vulnerable' is the phrase that we were hearing three days into the two month long constitutional outreach programme. Highly vulnerable is a phrase equally applicable to everyday life here.

Already it is clear that our desire to create a constitution that will guide the whole nation for generations to come is not going to be easy. The people must be brave, an MDC organizing secretary said this week as he urged people to get involved in the outreach consultations. Easy to say but not so easy to do, especially when none of the perpetrators of 10 years of political violence have yet been held to account for their crimes and continue to walk free amongst us. Crimes that include rape and murder, torture and arson, theft and looting. Hardly inspires confidence in the present government but certainly instils determination in bringing an end to the old order
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.


Saturday 19th June 2010

Dear Family and Friends,
Its taken eleven years, cost thousands of lives, driven a third of our population out of the country and left a destroyed economy, but we have finally got back to where we were in 1999.

The outreach programme to consult the people about what they want in a new constitution is about to begin. Once again, eleven years later, the voiceless have a voice.

What a time it's been, these eleven years, since last we aired our views about the principles we want to guide our lives. Its a time we will never forget and yet a time we would rather not remember.

For those of us who have managed to stay in the country during the eleven years since we last tried to rewrite our constitution, there is a distinct feeling of exhaustion in the air. There is hope too, but it is tempered with scepticism and fears of interference. The question on most people's lips is: will our wishes be respected this time round or will they be tampered with, at the last minute, by the highest of the high, the way they were in 1999.

For a third of our population (at least four million people) who have been forced to try and survive outside the country for the last decade, one of the burning issues is undoubtedly going to be that of dual citizenship. Four million people who have lived as strangers in strange lands, worked all hours of the day and night doing menial jobs that no one else would do and sent every penny that they have earned back to Zimbabwe in order to keep their extended families alive. If and when these four million people come home, they will not want to give up their foreign passports and so they will be classed as aliens when they come home. They will no longer be allowed to vote and will have that ugly word 'Alien' typed onto their Zimbabwean ID cards. A word which is defined as meaning unfriendly, unacceptable, unfamiliar, repugnant.

Multiple hundreds of thousands of people inside Zimbabwe have already had the Alien badge hung around their necks this last few years. People who were born, raised and educated here; people who have lived, worked and paid taxes here all their lives; people who have homes and businesses here; people who have invested here - all are known as aliens if their parents were not born in Zimbabwe and if they are not prepared to forfeit the birthright of their parents. The prohibition of dual citizenship in Zimbabwe affects people of all skin colours and races, regardless of where their parents originally came from including countries right next door like Zambia, Malawi or South Africa or further afield from Europe, Asia or America.

Undoubtedly citizenship will be a talking point in the constitutional outreach. Citizen, after all, means: "a member of a state, either native or naturalized," it does not mean a member of a political party.

I end this week on a note of congratulations to Ben Freeth awarded an MBE “For services to the farming community in Zimbabwe”. Thank you Ben, for giving a voice to so many and for so many sacrifices.
Until next week, thanks for reading. love Cathy

Lost in smoke

Saturday 12th June 2010

Dear Family and Friends,
While the eyes of the world are on South Africa as it hosts the 2010 World Cup Football games, we are sitting here next door shivering in the dark and the cold. For the past four months we've been experiencing 16 hour a day power cuts, only having electricity in the middle of the night. All our protestations have been met with assurances that these cuts were to enable vital maintenance which in turn would allow for uninterrupted power during the World Cup Football Games. That has turned out to be a myth.

In my home area first we missed the excitement prior to the concert at the Soweto stadium, then we missed the official opening of the World Cup games, then, to top it all off, we missed the first match between South Africa and Mexico. When the electricity did finally come on, after everything was over, we were more concerned about the essentials of life than about football. Essentials like a hot meal - the first for days, washing and ironing, charging telephones and batteries and catching up on the news.

With the world's cameras just a few hundred kilomteres away over the border, and the great spectacle of extravagance being unfolded in South Africa, its hard to believe the dark ages events taking place in Zimbabwe. Behind the football smokescreen an MDC MP was arrested and spent days in police custody for giving out donated vitamins, dietary supplements and common aspirin tablets. This comes shortly before the long awaited and very overdue constitutional outreach programme begins, a programme in which this MP has been heavily involved.

Also lost in the football smoke is Farai Maguwa, a researcher into human rights violations at the Marange diamond fields who was arrested, denied bail and has remained in custody for the second week. This comes days before Zimbabwe again tries to get Kimberley Process approval to sell diamonds.

We wonder if any of the international camera crews might cross the border and report on the new wave of farm seizures in many parts of the country. In the past week 16 commercial farmers who had court orders protecting them have come under renewed eviction attempts. This is happening at a time when the Commercial Farmers Union have said that Zimbabwe is set to record its lowest ever wheat output of about 10 000 tonnes. To put this into context, Zimbabwe used to produce between 250 and 300 thousand tonnes of wheat prior to land invasions. Zimbabwe will will need to import up to 400 thousand tonnes of wheat in the coming year in order to meet national requirements. Finally, the last puff in the smoke cloud obscuring Zimbabwe from international attention, comes the news that our leaders are again to call for mediation to settle outstanding issues in their power sharing agreement. Still no governors, no deputy minister of agriculture, no resolution on unilateral appointments of Reserve Bank Governor and Attorney General. Most people agree that this is all now a waste of time and that we should proceed with a new constitution and elections and stop all this stalling.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Stuttering and excuses

Sunday 6th June 2010

Dear Family and Friends,
When Finance Minister Tendai Biti suspended use of the Zimbabwe dollar in February 2009, the country breathed a huge sigh of relief. Within a fortnight hyper inflation, which was then in the billions of percentage points, dropped to almost zero. A couple of weeks later the black market, which had turned bums and thugs into multi billionaires, also disappeared. Currency dealers who had brazenly parked their fancy cars outside empty banks and conducted massive deals from the trunks of their vehicles, also disappeared. Suddenly Zimbabwe had joined the real world and Minister Biti announced that we were now a multi-currency economy and trade would be allowed in US Dollars, British Pounds, Botswana Pula and South African Rand.

Dealing in real money for the past 15 months has given us all a sense of security again and although the cost of living is still far above people's wages, we've felt a permanence having Dollars, Pounds, Pula and Rand in our pockets.

Permanence disappeared in an instant this week when by chance someone mentioned the withdrawal from circulation of the 200 South African Rand note at the end of May. I thought it was a joke at first, a rumour or scare mongering and the obvious way to find out for sure was to phone the bank.

Having been a customer of this international bank for 35 years and of my local branch for 20 years I was sure they'd be able to help. This wasn't those silly Zim dollars with masses of zeroes we were talking about after all, this was "real money."
"No," the man at the bank said, "the 200 Rand notes are no longer acceptable."
When I said I hadn't heard that the notes were being withdrawn he said that the Reserve Bank had made the announcement in February.
"Our Reserve Bank?" I asked.
"No, the South African Reserve Bank?" he replied.
"But we're not in South Africa! And you haven't let your customers know!" I exclaimed but this conversation was going nowhere fast.

Then the stuttering began and the excuses followed in rapid succession:
"We, we, we, flighted a notice in the press for 2 weeks," bank man said.
When I asked which newspaper he said: "The Herald of course."
"Why of course?" I asked. "Who reads the Herald? What about in the Independent Press?"
He said no, they'd only advertised in the Herald.

There was no answer to my query as to why the bank couldn't have written, phoned or emailed their customers to warn them that their "real money" was about to become worthless. Needless to say the bank refused to take my 200 Rand notes and their only advice was that I should travel to South Africa and try and change them there myself.

Is that what I'll I have to do when a British pound denomination note is withdrawn, or a US dollar one, travel to those countries? And what about all the people deep in Zimbabwe's remote rural areas with a few 200 Rand notes tucked away in a safe place for an emergency? Its obscene to think that their precious money, sent home by loved ones slaving away in South Africa, has become good for starting the fire.

This, along with daily power cuts lasting from 5 am till 10 pm and no water for 4 days - even for the schools and hospitals, has made for a very trying week in Zimbabwe. Relief didn't even come with the warm up football match between Zim and Brazil because there was no electricity to watch it.

This might all sound very funny to the outsider, but its real life in Zimbabwe!
Until next week, thanks for reading, love Cathy

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