News - October 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


Heart sore with shame

Saturday 29th October 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
A friend of mine recently had occasion to visit a commercial farm that had been seized by the government for re-distribution. Just five years ago every acre of the farm had been involved in intensive agricultural production. Eggs, tobacco, beef, maize and mutton had come off this land every year. Over 50 men had been employed on this farm less than five years ago and these men, with their wives, children and extended families had lived and thrived on this property. And now, my friend who visited this farm recently, said that what he had seen was so painful that it made his "heart sore with shame." My heart is also sore to have to relate this story as I too knew this farm, this piece of land, the owners and many of the farm workers and their families who had made such a good life and living on this land.

The boundary fences surrounding the property are mostly non existent, the wire stolen, the poles long since taken for firewood. The chicken houses have been stripped, wire mesh gone, tin roofing sheets removed and all that remains is the concrete floors - cracked, chipped and with grass crawling through in tough runners. The farm house, my friend says, is "finished". The ceilings have gone. There is no longer electricity in the house; electrical wires and their conduits have literally been dug out of the walls, along with the wall plug sockets, light fittings and connections. Windows are just holes in walls as window frames and burglar bars have gone, chiseled out of the walls. There is no longer water in the house; the bathroom and kitchen geysers have gone, the stainless steel kitchen sinks have been removed and in the bathroom the taps have been taken.

Outside, on the land, there is little activity. Aside from a few little scratches where rape and tomatoes are being tended near the dam, there is not much else going on. Big fields are unploughed, seed does not wait stacked in the sheds, fertilizer and chemicals are not piled in workshops. In less than two weeks Zimbabwe's rainy season will begin and tragically what my friend saw is not an isolated incident. The Governor of the Reserve Bank is repeatedly pleading for massive increases in production on seized farms. Vice President Joseph Msika keeps on threatening to remove farmers who are not using the land they were given but hints that this is a delicate process. Barely a month ago Vice President Joyce Mujuru said :"If you are not farming properly, this is sabotage at its highest level .... We want farmers who work the land for maximum production, not incompetents and idlers who just sit and do nothing."

Zimbabwe's main growing season is right now. Little is happening. In the supermarket this week piles of seed maize sits on the shelves. People cannot afford to buy it and have no no fuel to transport it. People talk of how new farmers are becoming multi billionaires this October - they queue for their government fuel allocation which they buy at 30 000 a litre and then sell for 100 000 a litre on the black market. You certainly can't make that much money farming so why even bother.
Until next week, love cathy.

Betrayed and bereft

Saturday 22nd October

Dear Family and Friends,
For six months we have not had a drop of rain in Zimbabwe and now, as we wait for the first thunderstorm, the atmosphere is exceedingly strained. Daytime temperatures are way up in the thirties Centigrade and the skies are mostly clear and still. During the day we battle with flies which seem to be everywhere and at night the mosquitoes whine and wheedle incessantly. The mozzies, as we call them, are very bad already, even before the rains have started, and they are going mostly unchecked as even a simple tin of insecticide is now over quarter a million of dollars and a luxury that few people can afford.

In Marondera this week we've gone two days without water, one day without electricity and every day without petrol and yet, amazingly enough, we muddle through one day after another. I have found it almost unbearable to watch and follow Zimbabwe's politics this week as it seems the opposition have lost their way, forgotten their reason for being and become intent on squabbling over the chance to get a seat in a Senate which they themselves said was not wanted and an unacceptable financial burden on a population stretched way beyond the limits. Night after night state owned television have announced with growing glee that that "the rift in the MDC is widening" and have shown opposition party officials issuing opposing statements and publicly contradicting each other. For six years we have seen almost no coverage of the opposition party on national television but this week the film footage has been incessant as the ruling party have gloated, crowed and chortled at what Mr Mugabe calls "that irrelevant party."

I pray that by the time you read this letter, the MDC will have come to their senses. I cannot believe that any one of them has forgotten the rapes, arson, torture, beating, brutality and murder that have littered our lives for the past five and a half years. I cannot believe that any of them are happy and contented that their families are spread out all over the world, in political and financial exile. I cannot believe that any one of them will be able to look at themselves in the mirror and feel good about earning a living as a Senator. It will be a living that ordinary people are dying, literally, to give them. I cannot believe that any of the MDC leaders, even one of them, think that these elections will be different - clean, unrigged, free, fair and transparent. Multiple hundreds of thousands of people are already disenfranchised, either through forced removal from their homes and constituencies through one government policy or another or by having been declared aliens in the country of their birth.
On Friday Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede announced on ZBC TV that people displaced by Operation Murambatsvina would not be eligible to vote unless they had re-registered in their new constituencies. This announcement was followed shortly afterwards by an advert advising that voter registration would close just 48 hours later on Sunday.

And so, while it is agonising to watch the MDC tear themselves apart, ordinary people are left feeling betrayed and bereft and asking why we have all endured so much, suffered so much and lost so much. Certainly not to become part of the gravy train. We are waiting for the rain in Zimbabwe, and for democracy and an end to oppression, unemployment, hunger and soaring inflation.
Until next week, love cathy

Nothing to grind, mill or refine

Saturday 15th October 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
I am writing this letter from a very tense Zimbabwe where the situation is changing rapidly. Here are just a few things that have happened in the last couple of weeks.

The inflation rate jumped 94 percent in a month, going from 265 percent in August to 359.8% in September 2005.

In the last sixteen days the price of a standard loaf of white bread in Marondera has almost tripled in price from eight to twenty thousand dollars.

The four pack of toilet paper that I wrote about last week, the one that cost fifty two thousand dollars - this week that same pack costs ninety one thousand dollars.

In a country where at least 2 million people face hunger this Christmas and where the government has to import 37 000 tons of maize a week, productive farms continue to be invaded. In the last few days 2 farmers were evicted in Manicaland, another was shot in the shoulder and the CFU said 25 other farmers had been ordered to be off their properties by the end of the month. The Governor of the Reserve Bank said that these invasions were fuelling inflation and just had to stop. He said all productive farms should be regarded as sacred but again his words fell on deaf ears as they are not backed up with political intent or action.

Zimbabwe's only tyre manufacturer, Dunlop announced that they have been forced to stop production and sent over 800 workers home as they have no foreign currency for critical imports.

National Foods, the country's biggest miller has said that the closure of its mills in Harare and Bulawayo is now in sight as they have nothing to grind, mill or refine - no wheat and no maize.

At the top of my son's mid term circular from school this weekend is a statement which reads: "We have received a Directive from the Acting Permanent Secretary of Education to close school on the 24th November." This is 8 days before the official end of the school term and the second time in six months that the government have closed schools early so that they can hold elections.

In between all these things life sort of staggers on. Every day we wait for, and usually get, water cuts and electricity cuts. Every night we get no explanations or answers to any of the fuel, food or economic calamities but just more self congratulatory propaganda on state television. In this atmosphere the MDC finally announced they would not take part in the Senate elections. Ordinary Zimbabweans who have lost everything, who are hungry, unemployed and walking around in transparently thin second, third and fourth hand clothes, hope that this time the MDC will stick to their decision and remember who it is they represent.
Until next week, love cathy.

Tick, tock

Saturday 8th October 2000

Dear Family and Friends,
I went grocery shopping at the biggest wholesale supermarket in Marondera on Friday. In a town with a population of probably nearly a million people, there are only two wholesalers and this one used to be jam packed, wall to wall with people. Just a couple of months ago you would wait, sometimes for half an hour, just to reach the front of the queue to pay for your groceries. All that has changed in the last couple of weeks as Zimbabwe's inflation has soared and it has now become almost impossible for businesses to replace their goods as the prices are going up so rapidly.

I spent the first ten or fifteen minutes just walking around the wholesaler looking first at the prices and then at what wasn't available. Aside from potatoes there were no vegetables at all to buy; none, not even the common and easy to grow things like carrots, tomatoes, cabbages or beans. Aside from seven small punnets of strawberries there was no fruit at all to be bought - not a banana or even one single orange. There was no bread of any type or any other bread products like rolls or buns. There was no milk, cheese, eggs, margarine or yoghurt. There was no sugar, maize meal or flour. Whew, basic shopping for the family has become a nightmare.

Eventually, after walking around and picking things up and putting them back, I did eventually buy a weeks worth of groceries and it was frightening. A four pack of one ply local toilet paper had increased in price from thirty seven to fifty two thousand dollars in just six days. My groceries, with no dairy produce, vegetables, meat, alcohol or confectionery, cost the same as a four bedroomed, two bathroomed house on an acre of land with a swimming pool had cost just four years ago. How utterly absurd that this is the situation on the ground in a small Zimbabwean farming town, where the day time temperatures are in the high twenties celsius and the farms are right there, on our front and back doorsteps. How ridiculous too that in these circumstances Zimbabwe has this week been hosting a UN conference on food safety and security in Africa. One day during the week I switched on local television to see if I could find some coverage of the food safety conference. Mr Mugabe's speech to the delegates was being replayed, the one where he defended his governments seizure of all white owned commercial farms over the past five years. " Land, land, land" he said, "means food, food, food to the people." That speech was followed by a couple of minutes of film footage showing elaborately dressed women delegates with amazing head gear, acres of yellow flowing tablecloths, and people sipping delicately from their bottles of pure spring water. It did not show desperate ordinary people in Zimbabwe trying to bring food safety into their own homes as they scour the supermarkets for anything they can afford to buy.

So, while Mr Mugabe is adamant that land, land, land means food, food, food, ordinary people like me are saying tick tock, tick tock, how much longer can this situation hold. It feels like a time bomb which is ticking down, faster and faster. Please remember the ordinary people of Zimbabwe in your thoughts and prayers.
Until next week, love cathy

Pantries and pockets are empty

Saturday 1st October 2005

Dear Family and Friends,
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of friends, I have just returned from a fortnight in Mocambique and it was a long overdue and extremely welcome break from the daily grind of Zimbabwe. I can't say that I missed home while I was away or that two weeks was long enough but oh, how wonderful it was to be able to be normal. After five and half years of Zimbabwe's turmoil, I had forgotten what it felt like to be even marginally in control of the everyday events of normal life in a normal country. I had forgotten how it felt to drive into a gas station and fill up with petrol. I had forgotten what piles of sugar sitting on a supermarket shelf looked like. I had forgotten how marvelous it was to find the price of goods unchanged from one day to the next, and, even better, from one week to the next.

Mocambique's prolific markets and roadside vendors reminded me of home, or rather of how home was, before our government did their dire deeds with bulldozers a few months ago. In the Mocambique markets you could negotiate and bargain for almost anything you can think of from a goat to a pineapple, a freshly caught octopus to a carved wooden turtle, or, if you were so inclined a five piece lounge suite, double bed or even a generator could be bought on the side of road. I realised how much this variety, diversity and bargaining had also been the face of Zimbabwe and how much its absence has changed our country into the sanitized and totally government controlled environment that it now is. The bulldozers of our government not only deprived people of the ability to earn a living but they also silenced the market chatter, stifled the laughter, suffocated expression and sterilized our streets, towns and lives.

On the journey to and from the border I realised how internally isolated we have become in Zimbabwe. With almost no fuel available for the past five months most Zimbabweans don't or can't afford to travel inside our own country anymore. We don't have any way of knowing what's really happening outside of our own towns and have become totally reliant on the propaganda we are force fed by state radio and television. For months we have been told that food shortages are because of crippling drought in Zimbabwe and yet I was very surprised to see from the road how many rivers still had running water in them and how many dams were not dry. This is not the picture of drought that we Africans know so well. This unharvested water is shocking in a hungry country. It should be used to bring production to the miles and miles of deserted, untended farms that you see along the roads. The farms that the government changed the constitution to grab. Less than a month away from the main maize planting season, I was very shocked to see almost no prepared lands, no ploughed fields and no tractors tilling the farms for 250 kilometres along the main road to the border. It is chillingly quiet out there on the farms and yet summer is here and the rains are about to begin.

In the two weeks that I have been away almost every single thing in my shopping basket has almost doubled in price and perhaps the most chilling thing that I have seen since I have been home is how few people are buying seed maize - it is simply too expensive. Everyone is saying that this year is going to be the worst and they are right because our pantries and pockets are empty and hunger already has one foot in the door. Zimbabwe may not be much in the world news these days but please don't forget us.
Until next week, love cathy.

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