News - March 2007





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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


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 the warehouse.

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? Against whom?

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 votes?

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.
Until 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.
Until 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 sight.
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 months.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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