Saturday 25th November 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
The prolonged effects of trying to survive the highest inflation in the world
are grinding us down. When you ask people how they are, I mean how they really
are, they say they are tired, they can't sleep, the worries just go round and
round and there is no relief in sight.
Almost every day the propaganda machine here cranks out the usual rant and rave
about how private companies and businesses are putting their prices up. The
state media say that these people are "sabotaging the economy" and "fuelling
inflation" and they keenly name names of who has been arrested or fined that
day. No sensible or even rational explanations are given as to how a businessman
can stay afloat when he is ordered by the state to sell goods for a lower price
than he paid for them. Blind adherence to government stipulated prices is
dictated and common sense does not seem to enter into it. The state media says
nothing, however, about the price rises and complete lack of ethics and fair
trading in government organizations and companies. It seems they are exempt from
obeying their own rules
You don't ever post a letter here now without first checking how much postage
rates are. They change - every month! Last month it cost 60 dollars to post a
local letter, this month that same stamp costs 100 dollars and no one arrests
the Postmaster! (And please remember that you have to add three zeroes onto
every price in order to get the real costs - before the convenient removal of
digits a couple of months ago ) Postage rates now go up so often that it is very
rare to buy a local stamp which actually has a price printed on it. Local stamps
these days just bear the words: 'Standard Postage.' It is not clear what
standard is at hand, so we just take it to mean 'inflation standard.'
Parents all around are already beginning to panic about how they are going to
afford government school fees in January. One friend I spoke to said his
daughters fees at a government school were two and half thousand dollars this
term and were increasing to 15 thousand for the January term - an increase of
six hundred percent.
Then we come to water. In my home town on the same day that the water bills
were hand delivered there was a national news report on the colour and quality
of the water in the area. Actually, to say the bill is "hand delivered" is a bit
silly because in reality the flimsy bit of paper, not stapled closed or even
folded in half, is just thrown through the gate onto muddy ground! The news
report said, yes - it was true that raw sewerage was flowing into the dam which
supplies the town with water and yes, it was true the pump was also broken.
Appropriate film footage of foul brown slush pouring into our only source of
drinking water and a man kicking the broken pump, illustrated the report. For
this disgusting service there are no apologies or medical assistance, refunds
have not been given and the costs for deteriorating service continues to go up
and not down.
Then comes the mess that is called electricity. It is now not unusual to see
factories working at night. They do so, not because they are working double
shifts to keep up with demand, but because at night there is less chance of
machines shutting down in the incessant power cuts. This week a notice appeared
in the state run Herald newspaper advising people to conserve electricity
promising that if they did: "the streets will be safer with better lighting." Oh
Right, you say, what street lights! In a four kilometre journey in a built up
residential area, passing one church, one hospital, one nursery school, one
junior school and scores of private homes, just six street lights are working.
It has been like this for over a year. Knowing that less than five percent of
our street lights presently work, does not offer much of an incentive to save
power. I am sure the fifty or so families near me who had no electricity for
three days this weeks, feel likewise!
There is good news from Zimbabwe this week. It is raining, our vegetable
gardens are growing and so are the sounds of protest. For the next fifteen days
people are being called on to bang pots and make noise for a few minutes at
exactly 8 pm every night. This week there were five minute noise protests during
the lunch hour in Harare and Bulawayo and prayer protest gatherings too. Storm
clouds are gathering.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Saturday 11th November 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
This week has been an exercise in such absurdity that you wonder how anything
at all has functioned - and how we have survived it.
Monday began with an electricity cut at 7.30 am which lasted for 7 hours. The
power came back on but not for long and we ended the day after 11 hours of no
power. I met a man on Monday with agonising toothache. He went to have it
extracted but the dentist couldn't help - his surgery had neither electricity
Tuesday we again spent most of the business day in silence, going another 10
hours without electricity, and the water pressure dwindled to a fast drip. There
were no street collections of garbage due to no fuel and a friend phoned and
said butchers were complaining their meat was smelling and going off in the
heat. The story resurfaced about the wrong fertilizer that had been imported by
the government from South Africa. 70 000 tonnes had come in but was found to be
too high in some elements and was unsuitable for use on most soils. Apparently
high sulphur levels could reduce yields or even destroy crops if used on the
wrong soil types. The real bone shaker was yet to come though as the press
reported that, oops, the fertilizer had already been delivered to the GMB for
giving out to farmers. Double oops, as the GMB said they'd already started
distributing it across the country.
Wednesday, could things get worse? Yes. There was no water at all, not even a
slow drip but there was electricity so hey, we shouldn't be too capitalistic
and ask for both services - even though we pay for them!
Thursday the water came back on but now it smells of sewage, is the colour of
urine, has a thick yellow sediment and oily bubbles on top. Headline news was of
a lavish ceremony with Mr Mugabe giving out 99 year farm leases to 120 new
farmers. Some of the beneficiaries include a high court judge and a chief
correspondent on ZBC TV. The caption below the picture on ZBC TV was: "99 year
farm leases very constitutional." Then followed an interview with some expert or
other who said the 99 year leases were "very very legal." It is not clear if the
120 leases were for farms where compensation has been paid to farmers for
infrastructure and stolen crops, or to farm workers for loss of livelihood, or
to any of the men, women and children who were subjected to all manner of human
rights abuses ranging from theft to arson, rape, looting, torture and even
murder. It's not funny, very funny or even very very funny, but somehow we
carry on and so we limped into Friday.
Friday word hit my home tome that 20 000 new mobile telephone lines were
available for sale. No one knew if it was the government owned phone company or
the private one doing the selling so there was pandemonium. At the post office
there were riot police trying to get people to calm down and get in a queue -
and all this for the chance to legally buy a telephone line. How crazy can
It's been a very difficult week for ordinary people in Zimbabwe and it gets
harder and harder to hold things together and keep pretending to be normal. I
end on a note of hope which I saw at Speech Day at my son's school. Even in such
appallingly hard times our schools take such care and pride to turn out fine,
well mannered, caring and clever young men and women. All credit to these
schools and their dedicated staff who could have fled to easier and greener
pastures but haven't because they have hope and vision. Zimbabwe owes them and
other professionals a great debt.
Until next time, love cathy.
Now we'll get the seed
Saturday 4th November 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
The first week of November 2006 has been the hottest that many people can
remember. As I make notes for this letter it is 35 degrees Celsius at midday in
Marondera - normally a cooler part of the country. The forecast is for
temperatures to top 38*C in Kwekwe today and 43*C in Kariba. When it is hot like
this it is hard to pay attention to anything but some things do manage to cause
a slight stir of interest. Headline business news in the South African media
one day this week was: "Zimbabwe is holding back the whole continent and is an
island of decline." A sentence like that is cause for great embarrassment to us
but it also brings slight relief. It means that our fanatically diplomatic
neighbours are finally starting to be publicly outspoken about us - it really is
Also causing a stir of air in the scorching heat this week has been the launch
of a vision document by a group of Church leaders. Called "The Zimbabwe We
Want", the Church leaders say that the nation is "sliding into a sense of
national despair and loss of hope." They say that principles of peace, justice,
forgiveness and honesty have degenerated and that even some Church leaders have
"become accomplices in some of the evils that have brought our nation to this."
The document apparently calls for a new constitution, for the repeal of
repressive media and security laws (POSA and AIPPA) and for an independent land
commission to bring sense and productivity back to agriculture in Zimbabwe.
The voices of local church leaders, along with the voices of our neighbours,
raised the temperature a little more although I don't think either said anything
about last weekend's rural council elections.
At the beginning of the week I met a man with a bright purple stain on his
little finger. "I've been to vote" he said, his voice filled with pride but his
face creased with despair. I asked him how it had been out there at the rural
polling stations in the dusty villages. The man shook his head slowly, exhaled
loudly. "At least now we will get the seed," he said. He told me that two weeks
before the elections donors had come with seed maize to the village. The seed
had not been given out though, the village heads were waiting till 'after the
elections.' Similar findings were made by the ZESN, an electoral monitoring
body, who said : "residents were told that if the election outcome was not
favourable to ZANU-PF the price [of the state-subsidised maize] would be
increased." Official figures of voter turnout had not been released by the end
of the week but in the Kadoma mayoral elections, held concurrently with rural
district elections, the voter turnout was diabolical - just 9% (NINE PERCENT!)
of registered voters had bothered.
Also, completely un-noticed by the state media in the sweltering heat this week
was a protest held by members of the National Constitutional Assembly in Harare.
250 people were rounded up and arrested by baton wielding police. There were
many reports of people being beaten up. Chairman Lovemore Madhuku and two
others were still being held days later.
It is hard to see light in such dark news from Zimbabwe but small things give
relief - the voices of a million crickets that fill the night air; the calling
of the cicadas clinging to Msasa trees during the hot days and the glimpses of a
gorgeous plum coloured starling in the new canopies shading our gardens. Such
beauty in such harshness. Because of this, and for this, we still have hope.
Until next week, love cathy.
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