Saturday 31st March 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
On the same day that President Mugabe clapped his hands, declared that he'd had
an "excellent meeting" and stepped into a gleaming limousine, at least a hundred
people clamoured outside a bakery in Marondera town. They were desperately
waiting for the chance to buy a loaf of bread. There is now no bread at all in
the town. Around the corner at the town's biggest wholesaler, at least fifteen
men pushed huge flat trolleys loaded high with all the flour that was left in
It was only 9 in the morning and the electricity had already been off for three
hours so it took a while for the news to trickle in that SADC leaders meeting in
Tanzania had appointed South African president Mbeki to "lead the process of
dialogue" between political parties in Zimbabwe. The words are a flat and hollow
echo of past meetings of these Big Men who lead the subcontinent. They hold no
glimmer of hope, compassion or even empathy for another gathering crowd of
sixty, then a hundred people waiting at the gates of the Grain Marketing Board
in my home town on the same day. The people are dwarfed by four massive 30
tonne trucks - 22 wheelers - also waiting to try and buy maize.
Later in the morning I hear the statement that the Big Men have made: "The
extraordinary summit appeals for the lifting of all forms of sanctions against
Zimbabwe." There is still no electricity in the town, its been off for four
hours now and I wander around a supermarket with a scrap of paper and I shake my
head in amazement at what I find: bubble bath from Bulgaria; disposable razors
from Poland; Band Aid plasters from Sweden; deodorant from France; welding
holders from Germany; hair styling hot combs from England (still with the price
sticker in British pounds attached to the box!) Sanctions, I ask myself? Where?
I leave the supermarket and have to wash my hands from a bottle of water I keep
for emergencies as there is, again, no water in the town.
At nine pm that evening, when local ZBC news has finished, the electricity
comes back on at the end of the second power cut of the day. We've had ten hours
without electricity that day and haven't even had the chance to get the
propaganda bulletins. News comes though, one way or another: President Mugabe
has been chosen by Zanu PF as their candidate for the 2008 elections. He will be
84 years old by then and will have been in power for 28 years.
I will be taking a short break for the next three weeks but wish all
Zimbabweans, wherever you are in the world, a happy Easter and Independence. A
letter from the outside, looking in, will be written by my Mum, a Zimbabwean in
the Diaspora, and posted on the African Tears website for the next three weeks.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Who gets to count?
Saturday 24th March 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
An air of quiet anger has settled over Zimbabwe in the past week as people
have come to terms with the reality of what happened to opposition and civic
society leaders at the hands of police. Those beatings followed by the refusal
to allow two victims to leave the country for specialist medical treatment and
then the assault with iron bars of an opposition spokesman just increased the
anger and disgust. Ordinary people are bitter, they say they shop in the same
stores as the police, they live in the same neighbourhoods and streets as the
police and find it incomprehensible that the upholders of law and order could
have done such things. For the last seven years police have largely turned a
bind eye to war veterans and government supporters inflicting bodily harm. They
excused their inaction by saying: "it is political." That was one thing but this
now is a different matter altogether. There is a distinct feeling of tension in
the streets but also an air of expectation. People are waiting for something to
happen knowing that things are very close to coming to a head.
Yesterday Roman Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube, clutching a brown bible, spoke
passionately about what has to happen next in Zimbabwe. "We must be ready to
stand, even in front of blazing guns," he said, ''I am ready to stand in front."
The Archbishop described himself and the people of Zimbabwe as cowards and said:
'if we gather a crowd of 20,000, the government will not use its guns.'' No one
in their right minds would describe Archbishop Ncube as a coward - for seven
years he has not been silenced and has stood as a bright light in the darkness -
for believers and non believers, for mothers and children, for the beaten and
brutalized and for the poor, desperate and hungry people who are dying out of
sight of the cameras and world headlines.
Even as we Zimbabweans wait for the unknown, we pray that whatever happens it
will lead to an election and not to bullets, bombs and bodies. We have begun
asking the questions that so desperately need answering. How do we go to a truly
free and fair election? What happens to the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans
who have been stripped of their right to vote because, not them, but their
parents were born outside of Zimbabwe? What happens to the three or four million
Zimbabweans in political or economic exile in a score of countries around the
world - how do they exercise their right to vote? With 80% of the population
unemployed and hungry, how do we stop vote buying, with sugar, cooking oil,
maize meal or just dirty bank notes? What happens to the utterly shambolic state
of the voters roll, to the government control over every aspect of elections?
What about the hundreds of thousands of people who do not have identity
documents or passports because the Registrar General stopped work some months
ago saying there was no money? What about the estimated 300 000 people displaced
during farm seizures and the 700 000 people internally displaced after Operation
Murambatsvina - most are no longer in their home and voting constituencies? How
do we stop the intimidation, threats and violence that invariably shadows the
campaign rallies. And, even if all these issues could be satisfactorily resolved
- who gets to count the votes, I mean to really, honestly, truthfully count the
There are only eleven months until the scheduled March 2008 Presidential
elections. Zimbabweans at home and abroad should already be working night and
day for the path that will lead us to a truly free and fair election. Out here,
in the dusty villages, the Zanu PF meetings at which attendance is compulsory,
have already started. Propaganda and rhetoric aside, the clock is ticking.
next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Make him cry
Saturday 17th March 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
This week the country came to a virtual standstill when we learned that a large
number of the top leaders of civic society and opposition groups had been
arrested. Everyone, everywhere was talking about it and the world began watching
us again. It was then with shock and outrage that we saw the first grisly
pictures of men and women covered in blood, bruises and wounds getting off a
huge open Police lorry outside the Harare courts two days later. Now the details
have begun to emerge and the statements are being made by the victims of how
they were brutally assaulted whilst in Police custody. The quotes from those
that were involved tell this story better than any letter or newspaper report.
An MDC youth activist, Gift Tandare was shot and killed by the police. A friend
went to visit his family and said: "We arrived at their humble little home to
find mourners grieving for this senseless and brutal loss. It was heart
wrenching and humbling to share their grief."
Hours later two men were shot by Police at the Tandare home where they had gone
to pay their respects. The same friend wrote again: "When I arrived at the
hospital Dickson was in theatre having an emergency operation and the doctors
thought they would have to amputate his foot. Their crime is that they were
mourning the senseless killing of their friend."
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights described the condition of Grace Kwinjeh when
she came out of Police custody saying: "she was brutally assaulted at Machipisa
and lost part of her ear after being assaulted with a metal rod."
When Lovemore Madhuku came out of Police custody the Lawyers said: "He has a
broken arm in a cast, bandages over his head and a swollen face from assaults
suffered at Machipisa."
A husband recounted what had happened to his wife, Sekai, while she was in
police custody: "A woman repeatedly jumped on her with booted feet - fracturing
or breaking three of her ribs. Her clothes were covered in blood - both her own
and that of others suffering the same brutality." Sekai also had a broken arm,
broken leg and cracked knee.
One of Morgan Tsvangirai's bodyguards described what he saw of the assault on
the leader of the opposition: "They were beating him and he collapsed. They were
going for his head. He didn't scream or shout, he was silent as they beat him,
and it made them so angry, they were shouting, - 'we must make him cry'."
Throughout the week criticism, condemnation and concern has poured in from
around the world. Voices everywhere are raised in outrage and here in Zimbabwe
there is a feeling of extreme tension. These are very dark days indeed.
next week, with love, cathy
We Salute You
Saturday 10th March 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
If you are a follower of events in Zimbabwe you will know that the pressure is
increasing at a dramatic rate. Almost every day we hear or read of
demonstrations, protests and marches. It takes a considerable amount of courage
to take part in these events which are met with a range of repressive responses
including arrests, beatings in custody, water cannons, baton sticks, tear gas
and riot police. There are perhaps none more familiar with this than the WOZA
women who regularly go out and protest on our streets. These women know, almost
without a doubt, that their protests will be stopped. They know they will be
arrested and they know they stand a good chance of being beaten - and yet still
they do it.
The women of WOZA draw attention to the every day things in life that ordinary
mothers, families and households are battling with - the price of food, the cost
of schooling, the desperate state of health care, the lowest life expectancy in
the world. These women really are the bravest of the brave and this week Jenni
Williams, the founder of WOZA received the highest international recognition -
for her bravery, her vision and her leadership.
Jenni was one of 10 women from around the world chosen to be given the Women of
Courage award by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Jenni has been arrested
over two dozen times herself, she has been physically abused, followed, taunted,
separated from her family and yet still she leads the way, determined that the
people in power in Zimbabwe hear the calls of the ordinary women. Being
interviewed on the day of the award presentation Jenni Williams said: "The award
is a great honour, but the real award will be a free and independent Zimbabwe."
We salute you Jenni Williams, and all the women of WOZA.
In the same week as WOZA gained international recognition, inflation in
Zimbabwe rose by a hundred and thirty six percent since in a month and now
stands - albeit momentarily - at 1729,9% . A few quick sums on the calculator
show that inflation is rising by four and half percent every day. Also this week
came the tragic news of 35 people killed when a commuter omnibus hit a train in
Harare. This tragedy is littered with the evidence of a country falling apart: a
grossly overoladed bus; tall, uncut grass alongside the railway line; no rail
crossing warning lights, no rail crossing booms The news coverage on ZBC
Television was crude, callous and utterly insensitive to the families and
friends of the victims. Not everything has to be seen to be believed. I close
with a picture of March for people away from home: cosmos in flower everywhere -
purple, mauve, pink, white and every shade in between, it is a magnificent
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
A Hundred Days
Dear Family and Friends,
On the roadsides between towns and cities the grass is nearly two metres
tall and it is ripe: green at the base, yellow and golden above. As you
travel along the roads the swaying and flowing of the grass is a calming,
peaceful, almost mesmerising sight. The kilometres pass and the view
doesn't change and it suddenly strikes you that something is wrong. This
shouldn't be the view of Zimbabwe's farms in March and you wonder where
everyone and everything is. For scores of kilometres passing prime roadside
farms there are no workers in the fields, no great stands of ripening
maize, no smoke coming from the flues of tobacco barns, no sign of life or
production at all. There are no cattle or sheep getting fat on the grass -
tons of free food for animals is standing on the roadsides and in the once
fenced fields and paddocks just going to waste. When you ask Zimbabweans
how often they eat meat, many will say once a fortnight, or once a week if
they can afford it. Meat has become a luxury and yet there are no animals
to eat the grass - how utterly absurd.
This week no sooner had President Mugabe left the country on an official
visit to Namibia then the gloves came off back at home. The Governor of the
Reserve bank went walkabout - not to banks and financial institutions, as
is surely his mandate, but to farms - and with the ZBC TV cameras in tow.
This was not the usual government type tour where the armchairs have been
dragged out under the tent and there is microphone, flowers and a vast
number of men in suits and women in fancy dresses and larney headgear. The
Governor didn't have a flower in his buttonhole the way the politicians
usually do but he was wearing a track suit and strode out to see the crops
on a couple of farms. The entourage seemed to be mostly soldiers and
cameramen and they often had to run to keep up.
After six years of ludicrous statements by the previous Minister of
Agriculture when promises of a bountiful harvest were the annual litany,
the Reserve Bank Governor broke ranks dramatically. "There are some people
who have become professional land occupiers," he said, "vandalizing
equipment and moving from one farm to another." Dr Gono said that the crop
of maize presently in the ground would be likely to only produce 600 000
tonnes of maize. This is a dire and diabolical admission that should cause
widespread alarm and consternation. Assuming a population of 12 million
people in Zimbabwe, allowing half a kg of maize per person per day, there
is only enough maize in the ground for 100 days. Dr Gono admitted that
Zimbabwe was already importing maize and said: "For us to import food in a
country that has had a land reform programme is a shame." Precious foreign
currency needed to buy medicines and chemicals, spare parts and fuel was
going to have to be diverted to buy food in a land blessed with sun,
fertile soil and summer rainfall.
While Dr Gono was trekking around farmland, President Mugabe was speaking
in Namibia. He was presenting a different face of Zimbabwe and at a big
public function he said: "I can safely declare that the land and
resettlement plan of our government was completed successfully."
Confusion reigns because as one leader talks of a success, another talks of
shame, food imports and land vandals. A hundred days, the Reserve Bank
Governor said, food for twelve million people for just three and a half
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy
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