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Saturday 24th November 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
When I saw people running down the pavement I knew that some precious basic
commodity must have arrived and that this rush was the start of the queue. I
stepped out of the way so as not to get knocked down and carried on walking. I
was amazed to see people pushing and jostling to get a place in line to buy the
State controlled daily newspaper. This sudden enthusiasm for a dose of the
latest propaganda has apparently got nothing to do with the government
pronouncements but is related to the chronic national shortage of toilet paper.
Not only does the newspaper double as toilet paper, it is also cheaper with one
day's edition of propaganda costing less than a roll of loo paper.
I count myself very lucky that a neighbour hands me down two second hand
independent newspapers every week - not because I want toilet paper but because
these newspapers are now almost impossible to obtain - even more so than the
State controlled ones. When the independent papers arrive in the town on a
Friday morning you've got about half an hour to get to the roadside vendors
before all their copies are sold out and then its another long week to wait for
the next taste of the truth. To exacerbate this crazy situation, the
government's price controllers recently ordered the Zimbabwe Independent to cut
their price from 600 to 150 thousand dollars . This undoubtedly pushes the paper
rapidly to the edge of bankruptcy, even less copies are printed and this means
that the 10 or more people reading one carefully handed down newspaper are
without information - and the last one without toilet paper!
All is not lost however because we still have Short Wave Radio Africa and night
after night more and more Zimbabweans are sitting in the dark of the power cuts,
using wind up radios and juggling between the two SW Radio Africa channels -
depending on which is being jammed that night. Here at least people speak
freely, not subject to State controls or even the self censorship we have all
made a part of our existence in order to survive.
Its ridiculous to think that we have to listen to a radio station broadcasting
from London to hear news of events in our country but we do. The reports might
be grim, the news depressing and the stories heartbreaking but at least they are
an accurate reflection of everyday life in Zimbabwe.
It doesn't matter what kind of a spin the Zimbabwean authorities put on their
TV and newspaper reports, they are so far from the glaringly obvious situation
on the ground that no one at all believes them anymore. One outstanding example
this week came when the President was shown on TV news addressing a gathering
near Victoria Falls. He told the audience that he knew people were not getting
enough bread but that they should be patient, not lose faith and trust the
What shortage of bread? Surely that should be "what bread?" It might be
selling on the black market for 700 thousand dollars a loaf but most everyone I
know hasn't been able to buy bread for over three months. Zimbabwe's government
has mastered the art of own goals and forcing us to look outside for real news
of events inside is surely a classic.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love
Stumble and fall
Saturday 17th November 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Inflation in Zimbabwe doesn't go up by fractions, units or even hundreds
anymore, instead it increases by multiple thousands of percentage points from
one month to the next. The latest official figures have just been announced and
in October 2007 the inflation rate was 14,840% - a staggering increase, almost
doubling from eight thousand percent in September. If you sit down and try and
work out a standard family budget with basic food needs, unavoidable service
bills, transport costs and essential medical needs, and then factor in almost
fifteen thousand percent inflation, you will get a glimpse of our life here. In
a word, its a nightmare.
Every day people are being forced to juggle with priorities - what can they do
without for another day, which bill can again be shuffled to the bottom of the
pile and which packet of carefully saved food can be left in the cupboard for
one more day. Wages need to go up by the week at the very least, by the day
would be more realistic. Some employers are giving monthly increases, bonuses or
allowances to their employees but many others are not - they have moved into
self survival mode and find it useful to quote government regulations and do
nothing as their workers struggle, stumble and fall. Now more than ever before
life has been reduced to a primitive battle for existence and there is easily
visible evidence of hunger, poor diet, and plain exhaustion. It is common to
talk to people who are halving essential medications to make them last longer
and very common to see people selling household items to raise money to get
through one more month.
Those people that can are working harder, doing two jobs and trying to 'make a
plan' that will get them through this. Some relief at least comes with nature
and our ability to be less dependent on the rules, regulations and controls of
The State The rainy season has now set in and everywhere green has replaced
brown, mud has replaced dust and swarms of flies, gnats and mosquitoes have
emerged. Our neighbourhoods are suddenly filled with men, women and children
bent over and cultivating a few square metres of roadside. This year most people
have resorted to planting seed saved from last year's crop - they know it will
give greatly reduced yields but have no option. The usual piles of green and
pink treated maize seed have not appeared in our shops this year and last week
the shocking figures came out in a report by a Lands and Agriculture Committee.
Of the fifty thousand tonnes of seed maize needed around the country this
season, there is a deficit of 21 thousand tonnes - almost half. The government
have proclaimed that this is to be: "The Mother Of All Seasons" - a phrase
absurdly simplistic and totally unrealistic of the facts on the ground, not
least of which include huge deficits of seed, fertilizer and fuel and an
inflation rate of almost fifteen thousand percent. It's going to take much more
than slogans and propaganda to get food growing this year. As impossible as it
is to believe and to accept, it seems inevitable that still harder times lie
ahead for Zimbabwe.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
For D.J., Amber and Gomo
Saturday 10th November 2007
Tragedy came to my home area this week and I write this letter for a family
represented by three generations who have worked to save an endangered species
for Zimbabwe. More specifically I write this letter for D.J., Amber, and Gomo
who were shot and killed one night this week.
These three Black Rhino were saved from rampant poaching that was ravaging
Zimbabwe in the mid 1980's. Seven young Black Rhino calves, three males and four
females were sent to Imire Game Park where they were hand reared. Standing chest
high they were bottle fed on a carefully worked out milk formula from five litre
plastic bottles fitted with calf teats. You have to see this to really
appreciate it, the pushing and shoving, the loud schlurping noises and contented
glugging, the vast streams of silver dribble and the look of contentment and
pure delight in the eyes of the young animals.
These seven Black Rhino were part of a grand scheme by farmers and Government
to save a species. Private Game Parks and Conservancies, at entirely their own
risk and expense, would rear the animals, allow them to breed and then return
the offspring to National Parks so that all Zimbabweans could share in this
Over 20 years those seven Black Rhino thrived at Imire. This was a superb
achievement - for man and animal. The Rhino had to be guarded from poachers, day
and night; they had to be fed on massive amounts of purchased supplementary feed
and they had to be contented enough to breed and for the females to carry their
calves for the full 450 day gestation. Vets and experts came in when needed and
de-horned the Rhinos, removing the matted hair-like structure which was the lure
to the poachers and the very cause of their persecution. Over two decades the
Travers' family returned more than half a dozen Black Rhino reared on Imire to
the Department of National Parks and gave a great gift back to our country.
Four poachers came to Imire at around 9.30 in the evening this week. D.J. was
shot and killed. Her calf, just a few weeks old, survived. Amber, heavily
pregnant, was shot and killed. Her unborn calf, almost at full term, did not
survive. Gomo, a male, was shot and killed. The horn stump from one rhino,
perhaps one handful, was taken by the poachers.
D.J.'s calf will be hand reared on Imire with two other young rhino. Already
that precious milk formula has been sought and the ingredients searched for in
this time of madness when our shops are empty and almost all goods are
I do not know the details of the crime, the slaughter and the perpetrators but
I feel a great sadness inside me. It is many years since I had first hand
encounters with elephants and rhino but they are memories ingrained in my heart:
the feel of their skin, the look in their eyes, the sounds they make and the
smell of them and knowing that their lives and their future depended on us. We
must not give up.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Tin of beans
4th November 2007
Dear Family and friends,
I am writing this letter by candlelight and with battery power and do not know
how long either will last. It has been a very harrowing week with electricity
cuts of 16 hours every day in my home town and apparently in many other areas of
the country too. The week has culminated in a marathon where we've had just 35
minutes of electricity in the past 38 hours.
Basic survival really has been uppermost in our minds and our activities this
week and there is an air of exhaustion and a feeling of exasperation in the
streets. Food in fridges and freezers has gone bad; precious dairy produce is
ruined; geysers have gone cold, clothes are un-ironed and nutrition has been
pushed to the limits. All our ingenious recipes for home made bread, vegetables
stews and bulked up soups and porridge have either gone unmade or been tainted
with smoke and debris from our outside cooking fires.
There seems no limit to the hardship and struggle of life in Zimbabwe. Just as
we get through one crisis another great trial is waiting to test us and see if
this one will be the straw the breaks the camels back. We've survived 4 months
of shops without food and there is very little improvement to report. There is
still no bread, flour, rice, pasta, biscuits, beans, cereals. oil, margarine,
sugar or salt. This week strangely enough there were baked beans in one local
supermarket but they were 1.2 million dollars a tin - five hundred times more
than the cost of a four bedroomed house on an acre of land in 2001.
The latest product to disappear from sight is toilet paper and most daily
toiletries are close behind. Going into a string of pharmacies this week I
struggled to find a tube of locally made and well known antiseptic cream.
Eventually I found some but it had been 'repackaged' - spoonfuls had been
scooped into little plastic pill bottles and each was selling for almost half a
I guess you have to see life on the streets of Zimbabwe to really get the feel
for the struggle of everything, and for the irony and simplicity of it too. In a
local bank I gave up counting when I got to 78 - that was the number of people
queuing to withdraw money. A few blocks away four little poppets stood on the
pavement with their newly checked out library books carefully wrapped in old
plastic shopping bags. They gleefully showed each other their books: Doctor
Seuss, Enid Blyton, The Wind in The Willows, The Hardy Boys. A man walked past
carrying two bottles of milk and a small pink plastic cup. He was selling the
milk by the cupful to people passing by - health and hygiene not a factor.
Further along outside a big but empty supermarket was a smart, silver, double-
cab Isuzu truck. Two brand new bicycles still wrapped in plastic lay in the back
of the truck. Clothes from the dry cleaner, on a coat hanger and wrapped in
plastic hung inside the car. The owner appeared in a smart dark suit and people
looked, looked again and then looked away. Everyone knew who he was, this man who
has made himself rich and famous by wearing a grass hat and invading commercial
farms - chasing farmers and their workers out of their homes and off their land.
You have to wonder, if he ever wonders if his activities on those farms had
anything to do with the state of the country now, or if he too blames the world,
the west and sanctions.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love
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