News - November 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


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


Harvest of Hunger

Saturday 26th November 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
There is a massive, massive crisis underway in Zimbabwe. As I write this letter on Saturday the 26th November 2005, history will remember this date as the one on which elections for a Senate that we didn't want and couldn't afford were being held. Ordinary people, however, will remember this as the time when MDC leaders were tearing their party apart and Zanu PF were squabbling for the last few scraps on the political bone. This is the November when both the MDC and Zanu PF seem to have lost track of the most important struggle in Zimbabwe: the one for food, food and more food. The rains have begun, the soils are wet, the temperatures high and yet only weeds are growing as each precious day ticks past. All around us peasant farmers in the communal areas and new farmers on seized commercial land, have still not been given seeds to plant. It is ludicrous that five years into Zimbabwe's land take-overs, these new farmers are still unable to plough the land they were allocated or even buy their own seed. In a country where inflation is over 400% and great convoys of trucks stream endlessly over our borders bringing in food in from other countries, Zimbabwe it seems is not even going to try and save herself this year.

The question that every Zimbabwean asks their neighbour in November is how much rain they've had and how their crop is doing. It doesn't matter if the "crop" is a few lines of maize plants in the back garden, seven acres in the rural village or a hundred acres on a farm. This year, the answer to the question is - "what crop." When you ask new farmers or rural villagers how their crop is coming on, they say they haven't planted yet and are still waiting for the government to come and give them seed. If you comment that it's a month into the growing season and virtually too late to plant, they sigh and shrug their shoulders and say there is "nothing to do." So far, in Marondera, we've had six inches of rain and have the makings of a perfect season. "It's looking good for farmers," I said to one man this week but he just shook his head, laughed sadly and said "But these farmers they are playing, just playing!"

To make this desperate crisis even worse, there continue to be seizures of the few productive farms still operating. Every day we hear of another farmer being evicted by some arbitrary bloke who arrives with "a letter from the governmment." As it has for five years, these evictions happen just after the farmer has planted the crop, when the fields are covered with newly germinated seed. It is plain, outright theft of another man's labour, seed and fertilizer and yet no one does anything because, "it is political". This week the former president of the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries Kumbirai Katsande said: "As we sit right here I do not hear any senior government official condemning the farm invasions which are taking place across the country...It's criminal when we do not do what we are supposed to do."

Times are very hard for ordinary Zimbabweans in November 2005 but as the days pass and crops do not get planted, it does not bear thinking what things will be like this time next year. A harvest of hunger in 2006 seems inevitable and yet all our combined leaders talk about is the Senate.
Until next week, love cathy.

I have One Bar !

Saturday 19th November 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
I was at a small local function this week when a father stepped forward and addressed the gathering about the dire needs of an institutional home for mentally handicapped people. He told of how the institution had always been massively subsidised by farmers and businessmen. Farmers who would just arrive with sacks of vegetables, potatoes, meat and fruit. Businesses which gave bedding, furniture or cash donations to help with plumbing, maintenance and upkeep. In the last six years as the majority of farmers have been forced off their properties and as more and more businesses have closed in our shrinking economy, it has become almost impossible for specialist institutions to keep going.

At the end of his short appeal for help, there was clapping and encouragement from the audience and the man returned to his seat. As he did so the electricity went off in yet another power cut but before the candles had even been found, people were coming forward in the dark. One after another they passed over handfulls of cash and others gave bottles of brandy and vodka to be used as prizes in a raffle. Someone suggested the bottles be auctioned and amid cheering and applause an auctioneer was nominated and the bottles of spirit came under the hammer. There was nothing at all special about these bottles, they were the cheapest locally made spirits with unknown brand names which sell for around a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.The bidding for the first bottle began at a hundred thousand and with much laughter, taunting and insults it rose to two, three, six, eight hundred thousand dollars. "One Bar" shouted the auctioneer, "I have one bar" which is the latest Zimbabwean slang for one million dollars.This became two bars, and then three bars. At last the bidding was done and the sale made.The hammer went down in the candle light, the applause was defeaning and a desperately struggling home for mentally handicapped people was given a small reprieve.

Not long after the impromptu auction, talk turned to the ludicrous situation these days where the banks are short of big denomination notes. In a country with galloping inflation, presently at 411 percent, none of us ever seem to have enough money. A businessman told how he'd been short of 30 million in cash to pay his small work force. The bank said that at such short notice they could only provide it in one thousand dollar notes. Can you imagine drawing 30 million dollars in one thousand dollar notes? Later that night with a large sheet of paper, a calculator and kitchen scale I worked out what this entailed. Thirty thousand bank notes, three thousand paper clips and 30 elastic bands make up thirty million dollars. This large pile of paper weighs a staggering 45 kilograms and when the businessman got to the bank to collect his money, they had to loan him a tin trunk and two security guards to carry it. And what can you buy for thirty million dollars in Zimbabwe this week: twelve hundred loaves of bread or 90 frozen chickens or a drum and a half of petrol on the black market. It has all become very much like living in the land of Alice in Wonderland but the people are still the friendliest, kindest and most generous people in the world.
Until next week, love cathy

Crumpled poppies

Saturday 12th November 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
Wearing a little red paper poppy on my shirt this second week of November has been something I've done ever since I can remember. I was disappointed this Friday to see just a dozen or so scrappy paper poppies lying in the bottom of the cardboard box two days before Armistice Sunday. At first I thought that this international day of remembrance must have become the latest casualty in Zimbabwe's determination to cut itself off from the rest of the world. I was wrong. The reason there are no poppies this year is because 20 000 little red paper flowers sent from the UK have been impounded by Zimbabwe's department of customs. Apparently even scraps of red paper used for charitable purposes and to remember the end of World War One, are not exempt from our government's desperate attempts to raise money. Customs want 53 million dollars to release the poppies and so, those of us lucky enough to find them, are wearing crumpled poppies left over from last year and I wear my tatty one with outrage but also with pride.

It has been altogether a very shocking week in Zimbabwe and trying to keep track of the events has been very difficult due to almost no coverage by state media. ZBC TV, whose motto is "When it happens we will be there, " have obviously been in other places this week but even so, bit by bit, one way or another, the real news does eventually get out. This week the MDC Mayor of Chitungwiza was detained by police. Six University of Zimbabwe student leaders were arrested for trying to embark on a demonstration about deplorable conditions on campus. Tuesday's country wide demonstrations by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the National Constitutional Assembly left all their combined leaders arrested and between 120 and 200 others who had been brave enough to take to the streets with them.

Also this week came the shocking news that airfares have been increased by 1600% and for anyone planning on visiting their families in South Africa this Christmas, a return ticket will cost 34 million dollars. Each return ticket to the UK now costs 140 million dollars and this is crushing news for hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean families which are split up across continents. With an average teacher taking home less than 10 million dollars a month, there is no hope at all that even professionals will be able to be united with their families this year.

I will end this week with the good and the bad news. The good news is that the rains have started and in Marondera we have had 104 mm (4 inches) in five days. The bad news is that what little wheat there is this year is sitting out there in the fields getting wet. The wheat is not being harvested because of chronic diesel shortages that have persisted since the March elections. I came across these shocking figures this week which say it all for Zimbabwe's so called agricultural revolution in the last five years. In 2001 Zimbabwe produced 360 000 tons of wheat; in 2002 we produced 280 000 tons; in 2003 the figure dropped to 150 000 tons and in 2004 a paltry 80 000 tons was grown . And this years figure ......its not in yet because its still sitting out there in the rain. And this one simple little agricultural blunder joins the others to explain why we are hungry, tired, broke and away from our families.
Until next week, love cathy.

Fat, buttery flying ants

Saturday 5th November 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
These days, with all of the dreadful hardships that we have to cope with in order to survive in Zimbabwe, it is very difficult to be positive. I wish I could write and say that we were about to have free and fair elections or that banned newspapers, radio and TV stations had been allowed to re-open or even that the MDC had stopped tearing itself apart and had resolved its internal problems. I can't say any of those things so I look more to the day to day situation for something positive to focus on. I wish that I could say that at last fuel was available or that prices had stopped going up or even that we had regular, clean and safe water coming out of our taps. I can't say any of those things at the moment either but I can tell you that Zimbabwe in November is a spectacular country. Young men and women are graduating from our senior schools and their poise, enthusiasm, determination and love of Zimbabwe is exemplary. Listening to and watching these future leaders of our country makes me know, without a doubt, that there will be change in our land and it will be a change for the better. Whilst all around us is gloom and doom, Zimbabwe in November is a very beautiful place and when there is little else to hold onto, the seasonal changes also give strength and hope for better times.

Every day, as the rainy season draws closer, the sky gets darker and heavier and the temperatures take you to melting point. The trees are glorious in these last hot days before the rain: Msasas coming into pod, Acacias covered in new leaf, Jacarandas bathed in hot purple flowers and Flamboyant trees, almost too beautiful for words, draped in spectacular red flowers. In our towns many of the streets and avenues are lined with Bauhinia trees, alternately pink and white flowering and now covered in long curling pods. The Bougainvillea's planted on the outskirts of many of our towns years ago, are also in full flower at the moment, covered in great cascading streams of gold, white and purple blooms. The birds at this time of year are a delight too; paradise flycatchers showing off their long orange breeding tails, nightjars calling for mates and trailing exquisite white breeding pennants and orange-eyed glossy starlings patrolling sunburnt, termite infested lawns. Some evenings as the flying ants stream out of dry dusty holes in the ground, it is just breathtaking watching birds arrive from all directions, swooping and swerving, gorging on the fat, buttery insects. The European migrants have started arriving too with swifts and swallows regularly visible. It does not bear thinking what will happen if bird flu arrives here where experts are few and far between, travel nearly impossible due to fuel shortages and where people are so hungry they will be hard pushed not to eat dead birds if they find them.

And this week in Marondera there is a feeling of blessed relief. Because the MDC in Marondera did not nominate candidates for the approaching Senate elections, we will not have voting here and are spectating from the sidelines. For a rare change we are not being harassed and intimated and forced to attend rallies and meetings. We are not being visited by large chested women wearing clothes decorated with the President's face. Women who bang on our gates, write our names down in their little exercise books and scare us into giving donations for ruling party rallies. Our streets are quiet these evenings, we greet neighbours and strangers happily and the talk is of growing food and of rain. This time, thankfully, our town is spared from election madness, spared from the indignity of trying so hard, risking so much and then having to watch the manipulation afterwards. There is much to be thankful for this November.
Until next week, with love, cathy

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