News - May 2006





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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


Smoke Signals

Saturday 27th May 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
They say that there is no smoke without fire and if that is true then there is a big bonfire burning somewhere very close to home this week. It has been a very confusing few days in Zimbabwe with a number of different media reports about diplomatic manoeuverings that are going on to help us. First we heard that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was putting together a plan to rescue Zimbabwe from its political and economic crisis. Then, insinuating that something was already well underway by Kofi Annan, South African President Thabo Mbeki said "We are all awaiting the outcome of his intervention"

Then came reports on South African television that Kofi Annan was going to visit Zimbabwe and that international aid would be given in exchange for President Mugabe's retirement. Those reports on SABC TV even went as far as to say that President Mugabe would be given immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses. As the days passed the reports seemed to become more speculative than factual and the atmosphere got smokier. Things got confusing when Zimbabwe's state owned TV announced that both Zanu PF and the MDC would accept Kofi Annan as a mediator. Whew, I must have missed something, where did the question of mediation come from all of a sudden? A few days later the mediation theme popped up again but this time it wasn't Kofi Annan's name being fronted but that of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa.

Just as things had started getting interesting someone must have poured a bucket of water on the fire. The smoke got thicker than ever and from all sides came denials, back tracking and classic claims of "I Am Not The One."

Ibrahim Gambari, the UN under secretary-general for political affairs said : "I think it is premature to talk about any package, and certainly even more premature to talk about that package including the possible departure of President Mugabe." Zimbabwe then said that the invitation extended to Kofi Annan to visit the country was no longer valid or applicable. Full stop. End of manoeuverings? Who knows, as they say there's no smoke without fire.

In the midst of a confusing week, and to make everything seem even more delusional, there was another earthquake. Most of us can't ever remember earthquakes in Zimbabwe or at least not for the last thirty years but now all of a sudden we've had two series of quakes and aftershocks in the past three months. At around midnight on Sunday two earthquakes measuring 3.9 and 4.0 on the Richter scale shook eastern parts of Zimbabwe. This time the epicentre of the quakes was much closer to home and near the Nyamudzi River in Wedza. Some people are saying that all these earthquakes are a sign that God is coming. Others are saying that they are a sign from God. So from the country of smoke signals and shaking beds and mysterious signs,
until next week, love cathy

Rubber Stamp

Saturday 20 May 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Shortly after Christmas a woman gave me a little parcel she had brought from a friend in Australia. In the parcel was a hand knitted jersey and matching wooly hat. There was nothing at all fancy about the garments, they were just simple and practical and had been made with love and care by someone who wanted to help a child in Zimbabwe. Made using little scraps of left over wool, the jersey and hat were bright and colourful and consisted of a series of yellow, blue, green and brown stripes. The message which came to me with the parcel was that I should please find and then give the jersey and hat to a child in need. That wasn't hard at all and I didn't have to look far. In mid January I gave the jersey and hat to a three year old boy. His mother, unemployed and living in basic and very primitive conditions, was thrilled - these would be perfect for her son this winter, she told me as she clapped in gratitude with cupped hands.

This week, just four months later, the woman buried her three year old son on a cold and windy morning. The events of the past fortnight have been utterly desperate, any mother's worst nightmare. Stomach cramps, vomiting and then difficulty in breathing and at last the child was admitted to hospital. Being admitted to hospital was a marathon which required a rubber stamp in an exercise book and eight hundred thousand dollars before anyone would even look at her son. This is a very far cry (more like a desperate scream) from our government's promise of Free Health For All by the year 2000. Four days later wearing the bright striped jersey which came from a stranger in Australia, the little boy passed away in hospital. For his mother the nightmare was just beginning. The hospital would not release her son's body until four million dollars was paid. The cheapest coffin was three million dollars, a grave site in a local cemetery was seven million dollars. Now, overcome with grief, swamped with debt and engulfed in the despair of it all, the little boy's Mum is struggling to find the will to go on.

The statistics say that we have the lowest life expectancy in the world: 34 years for women and 37 years for men - and how do you measure what life expectancy is for our children? With our monstrous inflation children are dying here. Day after day children are not getting enough to eat and what little food they have is mostly just maize meal porridge. Mothers cannot afford the simplest foods to make their children strong - they cannot afford milk, eggs, meat or even peanut butter.

People are dying here in Zimbabwe but it seems none of our leaders are able to see or deal with the real priorities anymore. This week the government is talking about building new complexes at borders and airports. As I write both factions of the divided MDC, who both still insist on calling themselves the MDC, and who both announced they would not take part in elections, are taking part in by-elections in Harare. I wonder if any of our leaders, from any party, care about a little three year old boy who died this week. A little boy wearing a bright striped jersey made with love by a woman who cares in Australia.
Until next week, with love, cathy.

Food or freedom

Saturday 13th May 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
Life has become so difficult in Zimbabwe that the daily struggle for survival is all consuming in these early weeks of winter. Every day now the electricity goes off, sometimes it's just for an hour, but mostly the cuts last for three to four hours in the evening and sometimes in the early morning too. On one grinding day this week the power went off for two long stretches leaving homes, institutions and businesses sitting on their hands for ten hours, barely able to function. People have taken to cooking their evening meal in the middle of the day, doing their ironing in the middle of the night and getting up long before sunrise to boil the kettle, have a bath and cook breakfast before the power goes off at 6am. Even worse though, is the fact that when the power comes back on, we all heave a sigh of grateful relief when we should be phoning, emailing and writing letters of complaint to the electricity authority. Zimbabwe has huge coal mines at Hwange, massive hydro electricity from Lake Kariba and the potential for more solar power than we could use and yet our homes, schools and businesses are in the dark this winter. Our silent acceptance of the situation is almost as bad as the power cuts themselves.

In a supermarket this week I watched half a dozen people standing staring sullenly at a closed door and wondered what was happening. A few more people joined them until maybe 20 men and women stood together in a group. No one talked or moved, they all just stood, staring intently at a closed door. After a while a woman wearing a white dust coat emerged pushing a shopping trolley which contained 10 bags of maize meal. There was a scramble, almost a scrum, and the first ten people to get to the trolley each grabbed a 10 kilogram bag and headed for the check out counters. That was a pretty shocking sight, seeing the scramble, the grabbing and the desperation for staple food, but it wasn't as shocking as the woman in the white coat who stood back and laughed at the people who were struggling to get to the food. I watched for a while longer. The woman in the white coat pushed her trolley back behind the door, more people gathered and waited and then the whole thing happened all over again. This time the woman in the white coat had been joined by two male employees.They were obviously not there to help either their colleague or the customers as they too just stood back and laughed. When I got to the check out counter the teller was also laughing at the food scrambling which had almost bought the whole supermarket to a standstill. I asked the teller why on earth they didn't just put out all the bags of maize meal on the shelf or at least get people to queue. For sure someone was going to get hurt but the teller just shrugged and his boredom with the situation and lack of empathy was palpable. It is almost impossible to understand why people don't complain when things like this are happening but it seems survival is the only thing that matters now. Food is more important than freedom, than fairness, than principles and even more important than dignity.

And while people begin scrambling for food before winter has really even taken hold, and when food from summer cropping should be plentiful, (but isn't) the protests in Zimbabwe are increasing. In the last fortnight 185 WOZA activists, including 73 children, were arrested for protesting about unaffordable education. 19 students from Bindura university were arrested for protesting over tuition fees and 48 NCA activists were arrested for protesting over the dire need for constitutional changes. The week ended with the news that inflation has reached 4 digits and now stands at 1042%. I cannot take that figure in and do not know how we will survive and so I stand outside in the winter sun, the sky is gorgeous and blue and the grass yellow and golden - this at least does not change.
Until next week, love cathy

No way, no choice

Saturday 1st May 2006

Dear Family and Friends,
I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to hear that it's all off - again - and the denials have begun, regarding who is allowed to grow food in our hungry country. Zimbabwe made international news a fortnight ago with the announcement that the government were asking white commercial farmers to return to the land and get some food growing. Minister of State Security, Didymus Mutasa said that he had held meetings with the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) and that they (the CFU) now understood how to work with government. Mutasa was quoted as saying: "we asked them to submit applications for land and these will be treated favourably. They are Zimbabweans like everyone else."

The Vice President of the CFU, Mr Gifford, then agreed that they had indeed been talking to Minister Mutasa about the future of agriculture in Zimbabwe. Gifford said: "In fact, we have just submitted to the government 200 applications for land from our members."

Hardly were the words out of Gifford's mouth when Minister Mutasa was quoted in the media again but by now there was clearly some difficulty with the numbers. Mutasa said: "Some farmers have applied and their papers are being considered like any application, but we do not have a number like 200 applications."

In the same week that all this was happening 20 farmers in the Midlands were being given 48 hours to vacate their farms. At this point Justice for Agriculture (JAG), whose name explains their function, were asked what they thought the CFU was doing. JAG were damning in their condemnation of the CFU and said: "the leadership (of CFU) is still on their farms and have politically been left alone. Some individuals in the CFU have expanded their operations on the back of this crisis acting as agents for the government. They have chosen to go this lucrative route at the demise of their members."

And now, barely a fortnight later, it seems it's all off, and Minister Mutasa is being quoted on South African television. Mutasa said "No white farmer is being invited back." The Minister said he had not spoken to any foreign journalists and that all their claims about farmers being asked back were wrong.

In the two weeks that this has been going on a lot of people have asked me if I would go back to farming on the back of this information. It' a simple and obvious answer - No, not a chance. The reason is just as simple and obvious - nothing whatsoever has changed. Until property title is restored, until compensation is given, until law and order is restored, until accountability is enforced - nothing whatever has changed. At this point in time the chances of an arbitrary man walking past a farm and deciding he wants it, and the crops, implements and infrastructure - and then taking it all and having his theft supported by police and government - are as a strong as ever. No way, no chance. Not sour grapes, just plain and honest common sense.
Until next week, love cathy

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