A leopard doesn't change its spots
Saturday 26th March 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
As I write this letter on Easter Saturday morning, there are just five days
left before our elections. The atmosphere in Marondera in this pre election
week has been peculiar to say the least. I suppose the adjectives that most
accurately describe the feeling are tension, suspicion, distrust and expectation.
The town is absolutely full to bursting with people, many of whom are strangers.
The electioneering and rhetoric has moved into top gear and everywhere you
look in Marondera there are posters, T shirts, wrap around skirts, head scarves
and hats all advertising the ruling party. There are still a couple of dozen
MDC posters in the town but mostly they are high up and out of reach. No one
in the town can believe that there still haven't been any reports of violence
and we are all going through the motions of our normal business but with eyes
in the back of our heads just waiting for something to happen. Reading through
some of the letters I wrote at the time of elections in 2000 and 2002, it is
almost impossible to believe what we as a town and Zimbabwe as a country have
lived through as the ruling Zanu PF party have fought to stay in power.
My descriptions of the last two elections told of war veterans breaking down
doors, burning huts and force marching villagers to rallies and all night re-education
sessions. They told of arson, of petrol bombs being thrown through windows,
of women being raped and men being beaten with electric cables, sticks and
batons. The things that were done to the people of Zimbabwe in the last two
elections were so widespread that there was hardly a suburb or even a street
where there was not a victim, a relation or an eye witness. We saw the blood,
broken bones, burns and bruises with our own eyes; we heard the screams, groans
and cries with our own ears. From February 2000 to March 2005 we have waited
for the perpetrators of those deeds to be apprehended, tried and convicted
for their crimes but we have waited in vain. There has been no accountability
and so now we watch, we listen, we keep our mouths shut and we wait. The old
saying that a leopard does not change its spots is very much in our minds just
a few days before elections.
It does not matter how polite Zane PF are in this election campaign, how bright
and white their T shirts are or how they crow incessantly on the radio that
Zimbabwe is now a mature democracy, the fact of the matter is we are tired
and abosultely fed up of living like this. When we vote on Thursday it will
be for food, clean water, affordable schools for our children, hospitals which
have drugs and leaders who will respect us and our universal rights of speech,
movement and association. I have a picture in my head of a man on a horse trailing
a yellow banner in the middle of this weeks revolution in Kyrgyzstan. That
image from the other side of the world in a country whose name I cannot even
pronounce, gives me hope.
With love, cathy
Of Wolves and Sheepskin coats
Saturday 12th March 2005
Dear Family and Friends
As I write this letter there are just 12 days left before parliamentary elections.
This week the weather in Marondera suddenly turned from hot and dry to distinctly
cooler and windy and everyone says this is an omen, a sign that things are
about to change People whisper almost fanatically about watching out for the "ides
of March" until you begin to think either they've gone mad or they know something
you don't. The atmosphere in the town is quiet but tense and everyone seems
to be waiting for something to happen. I suppose the most accurate description
of people's feelings this week is suspicious. Nothing is ever as is seems in
Zimbabwe and we are all looking for wolves in sheep's clothing, keeping our
mouths firmly shut and just watching. The talk in the suburbs is that there
are at least four dozen young men openly walking around in public places at
night wearing opposition T shirts - and nothing is happening to them. This
is something we just haven't seen in the last 5 years because wearing an MDC
shirt has been almost guaranteed to cause a beating so now that it is happening
openly, everyone thinks its a trap. Maybe it is, who knows anymore!
We are all very suspicious of the sudden change in the ZBC radio programmes
too. After five years of hateful racist rhetoric and unashamed attacks on the
MDC, this week the announcers suddenly changed their tune. Blatantly coinciding
with the jamming of independent broadcasts from Short Wave Radio Africa and
the arrival of election observers, our radio news bulletins have suddenly started
reporting on both Zanu PF and MDC speeches. The incessant Zanu PF propaganda
suddenly changed into messages about the environment, music by people other
than members of Zanu PF and little talks on Zimbabwe's tourist destinations.
No one is fooled by this sudden change of direction though, like everything
else we all know its just another wolf in sheep's clothing, designed to make
outsiders think that everything is OK but ignoring the fact that its not the
outsiders that do the voting, but the sheep.
A friend phoned me excitedly this week to say she'd heard that foreign election
observers had started arriving in the country. I just laughed because even
this has turned into what seems like wolves into sheepskin coats . The head
of the South African government observer team arrived in the country and immediately
pronounced that the environment for elections looked free and fair and this
was before they'd been anywhere or met anyone so their presence certainly doesn't
inspire confidence. By all accounts it seems that there are going to be at
least 8200 polling stations in the elections and unless I've got my maths very
wrong, there will only be one non Zimbabwean election observer for every 10-15
polling stations. Whether wolves or sheep, everyone's going to need eyes in
the backs of their heads for the next couple of weeks and in between it all
you have to find things to laugh about including the positioning of election
posters. This week even the garbage truck is sporting pictures of the Zanu
PF candidate for Marondera, the man who had a lead of just 63 votes in the
last parliamentary elections.
Until next week, with love, cathy
Worried about food
Saturday 12 March 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
This week two little things happened which paint the most vivid picture of
life in Zimbabwe at the moment. Three weeks before elections and after having
tolerated foul and filthy water in Marondera for at least two years, the local
authorities switched off the supply altogether to clean the reservoirs. Some
people in the business areas knew that the town was about to go dry for at
least a day but most in the residential areas didn't and were totally unprepared.
When we still didn't have water after 24 hours, people were getting desperate
and there was quite a crowd filling up buckets from a seasonal stream that
runs in the vlei near my house. A group of women who had just walked a kilometre
to get drinking water from a friend's borehole and had then carried the heavy
bottles all the way back, stopped to chat on the road. They asked me if I had
any water and I said no but that I thought it would be back soon as the higher
parts of town had water and it would take time for all the pipes to fill. "May
I give you one of my bottles" one of the women graciously offered. THIS is
the real Zimbabwe I thought, these few words gave me hope.
Also this week I had the chance to spend half an hour with a friend who has
no access to email or anything other than state propaganda. She is a single
Mum of three, can't afford newspapers, doesn't have her own phone or transport
and survives on a government stipulated minumum wage of less than three thousand
dollars a day which isn't even enough to buy a single loaf of bread. My friend
asked me if I thought we would have any chance at all of being able to vote
and it didn't take me long to realise that she had no idea of how the coming
election was going to work because there has been almost no voter education.
Everyone knows that voting has been cut down to one day but thinks that instead
of queuing for half a day, like we did last time, this time we'll queue all
day and not get to the front in time. She didn't know that there are going
to be an increased number of polling stations or that there will apparently
be 3 lines to queue in according to our surnames.
My friend knew that we would be having see through ballot boxes this time but
didn't know why. She didn't understand that ballot boxes would not be moved
to counting centres but that votes would be tallied where they were cast. My
friend was not at all convinced that this was a good idea. She thought it might
stop box stuffing but it would increase retribution afterwards. People are
scared, rumours and rife and threats and innuendos are widespread. For the
past three weeks there wasn't any sugar or maize meal on the shelves and now
suddenly there is and that is what ordinary people are worried about - food.
It's as simple as that. Everyone is borrowing money to buy food because the
rumours are that as soon as the elections are over the prices will soar.
As Zimbabwe staggers towards elections I would like to thank all the people
outside the country who are doing so much to help raise awareness of our situation
at this crucial time. I would also like to thank everyone who has helped me
to help other people who are in desperate need. Phase One of the Christopher
Campaign to help people with HIV and Aids in Marondera has now come to an end
and I would like to thank everyone who responded to my appeal, spread the word,
sent parcels and donated so generously to the project. Thanks to all of you,
the lives of many hundreds of people have been improved and dignity has been
restored. In these very difficult and uncertain times, I am no longer able
to give the Christopher Campaign the attention that it needs and have stepped
back but The Rotary Club will embark upon the next stage as a community project.
Until next week, with love, cathy.
Everyone is sket
Saturday 5th March 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
"Everyone here is sket, coz last time they chaya'd us all." This little sentence
said to me by a local shop worker, says it all for the atmosphere in Marondera
just 26 days before parliamentary elections. Everyone in the town is scared because
we are all waiting for the beatings, stonings and burnings that have characterized
every single election here in the last five years. Our town is full to bursting
with strangers, luxury cars, vehicles with no number plates and people with pockets
full of money. There are burly youths swaggering four abreast on the main roads,
men in dark glasses sitting in the sun just watching and every day literally
hundreds of people queuing outside the passport offices. The atmosphere in the
town is extremely tense. Most days I have to go past the house which was petrol
bombed in the last elections; the house that I watched burn for hours through
the night but which the fire brigade said they could not come and attend to.
Every week I see friends, both black and white, men and women, who have been
beaten and tortured in the last five years, lost their homes, possessions and
jobs and had to literally run for their lives. None of us have seen justice done,
yet, and the memories are still fresh.
Memories in Marondera are still very real, not only of burnings, beatings and
even human branding carved into men's backs at the last election, but of a
litany of abuse and decay that has become every day life. Less than a year
ago our schools were closed down and the head teachers arrested. As I write
our government hospitals and clinics do not even have phenobarb to control
epilepsy, patients have to take their own food and outpatients queue outside
in the open, sitting on the ground, for up to four hours before they are seen.
Many of our suburban roads are now almost unusable; the edges steeply eroded,
wide gullies ripped across the centres and literally scores of pot holes. In
a 2 kilometre stretch of road leading to my home only two street lights still
work, none of the storm drains have been cleared for over a year and grass
is growing in the middle of tarred roads. I don't know anyone in the town who
doesn't boil their drinking water, more often than not it has a brown or green
colour, almost always it has specks floating in it and always it smells bad.
So, having to tolerate all these things every day, we are all smiling at the
mad flurry of activity in the last few days, and we are all, equally, not being
This week, suddenly, our town is being cleaned up. Just 26 days before elections,
local officials have appeared out of the woodwork. Suburban roads which have
not had pot holes filled or edges repaired for the entire rainy season, are
being graded. Across the road from the main Marondera hospital this week all
the fruit and vegetable vendors' home-made shacks have been pulled down and
replaced with treated timber structures. In 2000 I used to stop there and buy
a banana for four dollars. Now, the bananas are one thousand dollars each and
on the lamp post there, next to the women who sell bananas, is an election
poster. On every fourth or fifth street light, regardless of the fact that
the bulbs and tubes dont work anymore, posters of the Zanu PF candidate have
been erected. The pictures are very familiar to me, they show the same face
that "war veterans" put up on the trees on our farm in 2000 when they set up
their headquarters and "re-education camp" in our cattle paddocks.
It is five years later, everything else has changed, but that face on the election
poster is still the same. There are no opposition posters on trees or lamp
posts in Marondera yet. There are no people wearing opposition hats or T shirts
and the reason is because " here everyone is sket because last time we all
Until next week, with love, cathy.