News - November 2006





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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

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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

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Storm Clouds

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.

Very, very!

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 nor water.

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 things get!

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 about time.

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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