Out of sight is not out of mind
Saturday 28th May 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
This week I find myself as a stranger in my home town. Familiar faces have
gone, familiar stopping places have been demolished. Men and women who would
nod, wave and smile as I passed, have disappeared and I feel an overwhelming
sadness at what has happened to them and to their struggle to make a decent
living in these most desperate of times.
Around the corner from my home a woman used to sit on a concrete block with her
vegetables laid out for sale on a piece of cardboard in front of her:
butternuts, tomatoes and onions. She has gone, chased away by Police. At the
end of the road a young woman, sometimes with her little boy in his bright red
jersey, sat on the ground under a tree with a few things to sell to passers by.
She had pushed four sticks into the ground and fashioned a little table to hold
her products: popcorn, matches and vegetables. Often her little boy would smile
and wave when I passed by, but they have gone, chased away by the Police.
Outside the junior school four women waited every day to sell their wares to
parents and children when the last bell of the day rang. They sold frozen
drinks, toffees, peppermints and bubble gum balls. They have gone, chased away
by Police. Opposite the hospital eight or ten women, many with children at their
feet or babies on their backs, stood selling fruits and vegetables to nursing
staff, patients and visitors. Their stalls were substantial and made of treated
gum poles with thick plastic sheeting overhead to protect them and their produce
from the weather. Here you could buy bananas and apples, avocado pears,
cucumbers, cabbages, tomatoes and almost any fruit or vegetable in season. They
have gone, chased away by Police. On the main road through Marondera town there
were at least a dozen places where young men stood with pockets of oranges,
potatoes and butternuts for sale and on upturned crates they had jars of golden
nectar which they were adamant was honey but we all knew was syrup. They too
have gone, chased away by Police. Near the main petrol station a group of men
used to weave baskets, stools and wicker chairs which they sold on the roadside
along with hand woven rugs and mats. For years those men have been there, their
fingers twisting and pulling the canes into intricate designs with such skill
that it was a delight to watch them work and an insult to bargain with them over
their prices when you knew how much work had gone into the finished product.
These men too have gone, chased away by Police. Outside the main Post Office the
woman with her battered enamel basin crowded with bananas and twisted cones of
newspaper filled with ground nuts or nyimo beans has gone, chased away by the
Police. In this case out of sight to the authorities is not out of mind to us,
the ordinary people.
What I am describing is the tip of the iceberg. In towns and cities across the
country the Police are embarking on what they call a clean up campaign. It is
not only street vendors who are having their stalls demolished and goods
confiscated but also people who the police say have built illegal houses in
illegal areas. On Thursday night I watched in shock as the main TV news carried
film footage of a crowd of riot police standing watching a bulldozer demolishing
"illegal houses" . The camera focused on three young children, one with a school
satchel on her back, watching the brick house being torn down; the walls were
plastered and painted blue and I cried inside knowing exactly how it felt to
have the place you call home stolen from you.
It is winter here in Zimbabwe. Last night the temperature in Marondera dropped
to just seven degrees Centigrade. In Harare last night over 500 families spent
their second night out in the open as their homes had been demolished by Police.
I have seen such cruelty and such a lack of compassion and humanity this week
that I cannot imagine which way now for Zimbabwe. No one can understand what
this is about or why it is happening now.
There are already so few voices speaking out for the desperate ordinary people
in Zimbabwe that it is with overwhelming sadness that we heard this week that
Short Wave Radio Africa is about to stop broadcasting as they have run out of
money. Through SW Radio Africa ordinary people could tell of their own struggle
to survive and for those of us who have listened faithfully every night, I do
not know how, now, we will find the courage to go on without our voice of hope.
We feel more alone now than ever before.
Until next week, with love, cathy.
Looting of the land
Saturday 21st May 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
This week the Reserve Bank Governor devalued our dollar by a paltry third of
its value, adjusted the projected inflation figures upwards and told us just
exactly how bad things have got in the country. For two and half hours the
Reserve Bank governor's presentation was broadcast live on national television.
The following day a question and answer breakfast meeting was also broadcast
live on national television. Gideon Gono described utter chaos while his
audience of Ministers, bankers and businessmen laughed in the right places,
sipped at their fruit juice or pure bottled water and feasted on a huge
breakfast. The Governor spoke about resettled farms where people who are
supposed to be farmers are cutting down productive orchards to sell the
firewood, selling timber plantations to foreigners for US dollars and chopping
out mature coffee plantations in order to plant a few maize pips. He spoke of
farmers stripping assets, destroying infrastructure and making immovable
property moveable in order to sell it. He said that farmers were selling
anything and everything that is left on the farms they were given. He spoke of
massive environmental degradation and a rape of the land so widespread that
there would soon be nothing left for Zimbabwean children to inherit.
Reserve Bank governor Gono talked about people leaving the country by air with
suitcases literally bulging with US dollars. He said others were crossing the
border by road with foreign currency stuffed in false fuel tanks under their
cars and of unauthorized private aircraft coming in to collect smuggled gold.
Almost every sentence contained words like corruption, indsicipline, hoarding
and abuse. He spoke about greed that knows no bounds but I fear his words and
impassioned pleas to save the environment and natural resources will again fall
on deaf ears because frankly no one gives a damn anymore.
Many of us have been crying out about environmental destruction for the last
five years but we have been silenced, called colonialists, racists, imperialists
and sell outs. The facts, however, are there for all to see - Zimbabwe's natural
resources are being looted and the environment is being completely destroyed and
the pace quickens with each and every day. The people who have the power to stop
it, the Ministers, politicians and government officials continue to do
absolutely nothing. They do nothing about streambank cultivation, ploughing,
planting and well digging on delicate wetlands. They do nothing about fish
netting, bird snaring and animal hunting and poaching. They do nothing about
widespread felling of decades old indigenous trees. The rape of the environment
has become so widespread that it is now a huge treat to see anything whatsoever
in our world famous African bush - even a guinea fowl is a huge treat. We can
only assume that the silence and inaction of our authorities means that they do
not want or expect their children to spend their lives in Zimbabwe. If they did,
surely, they would do something.
I close with the news that all my letters prior to 2005 have now been removed
from the African Tears website and the site has been spruced up . As always I
thank my webmaster for his time, support of my writing and tireless dedication
to the Zimbabwe that we all love so much.
Until next week, with love, cathy.
Don't follow me, I'm lost!
Saturday 14th May 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
Some weeks it is hard to know what to write that best describes the events,
atmosphere and topic of conversation in Zimbabwe. This week I thought that
the subject matter for my letter would be obvious and easy. On Tuesday 62 men
who had allegedly been involved in plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea, were
due to be released from Chikurubi prison in Harare. They had come to the end
of their one year prison sentence and were to be released and then immediately
deported to South Africa. Tuesday came and went without the release of the
62 men and the rather vague explanation offered was that the dates has been
incorrectly calculated and the release date was actually only on Wednesday.
The alleged mercenaries were not released on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Trying to follow the story on state owned radio and TV news broadcasts was
almost impossible. On one of those days an announcement was made that the 62
men had now completed their prison term and were to be released into the custody
of Immigration officials. On the next day, when nothing had happened I determined
to watch the main evening Television news to get an update. It was three or
four minutes after 8pm when I switched on what is usually an hour long event
but it seemed that there was no main evening news that night in Zimbabwe. There
was no news at all just a football game. There was no printed crawl line at
the bottom of the screen with summarised news highlights, there was just no
news at all. I must admit that I had already listened to the news on Short
Wave Radio Africa and knew that there was actually quite a lot of news that
day including people being arrested in Mabvuku for trying to protest about
having no water.
By Friday evening the 62 men had still not been released from Chikurubi. A
litany of reasons had been proffered including "logistical problems", "security
concerns", an immigration official who was "out of town" and finally the statement
that the timing of the release and method of transportation that would be used
for the deportation, was "classified information."
Hey Ho ! This is clearly one story I am not going to tell but all week an image
has stayed imprinted in my mind and it has given me cause to smile. One evening
the Zimbabwean lawyer involved in defending the 62 mercenaries was shown on
a South African television news program. Behind him there was a poster on the
wall which read "Don't follow me I'm lost!" How very appropriate.
Until next week, with love, cathy
Faces and spaces
Saturday 7th May 2005
Dear Family and Friends,
The moon was still up and a handful of stars shone in the sky when I left home
before dawn on Friday morning. It didn't take me long to get to the petrol
queue and I coasted into place behind an old Peugeot. There were more cars
coming in behind me and all were saving precious fuel, switching off their
engines and rolling down into the queue. I had bought a book but it was still
too dark to read so I locked my car and walked along the line to see how many
cars were in front of me and tried to work out how long it might be before
I got to the front. There were 22 vehicles ahead of me and in almost all of
them the drivers were huddled under jackets and blankets, asleep. The petrol
station whose big sign boasts "24 hour" service, was actually closed. It would
only open at 6 am and even then it wouldn't really be open because they had
no fuel to sell anyway.
We were all queuing on the back of a rumour that had persisted for over 24
hours that a petrol delivery was imminent. The tanker hadn't arrived yet but
still the people waited. The latest rumour was that the tanker driver had a
puncture and was delayed in Harare but that had been many many hours earlier
but, in true Zimbabwean fashion, we were ever hopeful and so we waited.
Just after dawn broke I saw a man walking along the fence line of the petrol
station. He was thin and barefoot and his clothes were very dirty but he was
intent and kept bending down and carefully picking weeds. He wasn't pulling
out the weeds, which I know as Blackjacks, but breaking off the younger leaves
at the tops of the plants and collecting them carefully in a bunch. The cooked
leaves of young Blackjacks are edible and in amongst the plastic bags, crisp
packets , cigarette ends and street litter, the man was obviously collecting
food. Soon he had a large bundle of leaves in his hands and left.
As the light of day increased, the queue at the petrol station became a jungle.
Young men with dreadlocks and backwards baseball caps came in cars with blaring
radios. First they cruised the line, looking at faces and spaces, and then
they stopped wherever they decided they were going to jump the queue, pointing
their cars at the place they intended to squeeze in. Petrol pump attendants,
waiting to have something to do, find themselves as the most sought after and
popular people and it doesn't take much looking to see money changing hands
and notes being tucked into pockets. A momentary diversion from the boredom
and the waiting came with four women of the night who strut and swagger alongside
the queue in skin tight jeans and high heels. The contrast between the man
picking Blackjacks and the women with crimson and bright blue highlights in
their hair, is stark and surreal.
As the day got hotter and the sun higher, still the tanker didn't come and
people started giving up. I gave up after three hours. A fruitless line for
a few litters of petrol seemed a far cry from the incessant crowing on the
propaganda TV and radio all week about our newly acquired Chinese aeroplanes.
If the propaganda is to be believed these two new aeroplanes are going to "turnaround" the
economy, "revive tourism" and flood the country with foreign currency. I can't
help wondering if these Chinese planes also need fuel to operate as frankly
the irony of new planes and no fuel is just too staggering.
Until next week, love cathy
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