News - November 2007





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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


NEW - from the diaspora - click here

Own goals

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 Government.

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 cathy.

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 wonderous heritage.

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 unobtainable.

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 million dollars.

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 cathy.

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