News - May 2005





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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


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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