News - October 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

Dignity and Freedom

Sunday 28th October 2007

Dear Family and Friends,
The first real rain of the new season fell this week and it came with a bang. In the distance the rolling rumble of thunder got louder as the storm drew closer. The sky grew darker, the clouds dropped lower and then the birds went quiet - a sure sign that it was about to start. The noise soon built to tremendous levels and the flashes of lightning were instantly followed by cracks of explosive, roaring thunder - the storm was directly overhead. A strange orange, yellow cloud formed in the sky - a warning of ice for sure. Two shirtless men who had been toiling for most of the day down in the riverbed ran up to the road and raced for cover, using their buckets as umbrellas. The pair have become a feature of the neighbourhood this summer. They collect water from a pool they have dug in the almost dry riverbed that runs through a nearby vlei. The water is murky and the buckets are edged with mud but there is a continuous demand from urban neighbourhoods where water is usually only available for a couple of hours a day, and somedays not at all. The men fill buckets, decant them into twenty litre containers, load them onto a hand cart and then sell them in the neighbourhoods to those most desperate.

Moments after the water gatherers had taken cover the rain began, coming in thin slanting sheets at first but then overtaken by a rush of hail stones. The pea sized white balls skipped off the roof and lay on the ground giving a temporary white landscape which soon melted. When the hail slowed the torrents of rain moved in - big drops pelting down, bringing relief to the land and giving hope that always comes with a new season. Two inches (50ml) of rain fell in the first hour, accompanied by brilliant streaks of white fork lightning coursing through the sky, so close as to make your hair stand on end.

When it was over, seemingly from nowhere, came the summer regulars: Sausage flies, Dragon flies, Chongololos, Flying ants and the big black biting ants that give off a foul smell which we called Matabele Ants when we were kids. From unknown places a myriad crickets, cicadas and frogs have emerged to sing and screech and fill the air with the sound of Africa. The hard, baked ground has come back to life instantly and there is a new, soft spring underfoot. Almost overnight a flush of green has risen in the bush, on the roadsides and across our gardens. The barren, burnt landscape, ravaged by a devastating season of bush fires, can breathe again - you can almost feel the relief. The wild flowers that stood so starkly in the sand and ash have also taken on a new fullness and more mellow colour and are a picture: dwarf red Combretums, Yellow Heads, blue Thunbergia, exquisite orange Pimpernels and the Protea bushes are covered in creamy white flowers.

Zimbabwe came back to life again this week, you can see it and feel it and smell it. And now in our newly washed land we look to our leaders and politicians to finally put an end to this time of pain and suffering and turmoil. We are not a greedy, selfish and demanding nation, we want only food in the fields, products in the shops and space to walk, talk and act with dignity and freedom. We want our families that are living such hard and lonely lives in the diaspora to come home; we want to start rebuilding our communities and neighbourhoods and to have joy in our lives again. It is not too much to ask. Perhaps this new season can be the start, the change we all so desperately want.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Operation Sunset

Saturday 20th October 2007

Dear Family and Friends,
It's been just over a year since three zeroes were removed from our currency. That move in August 2006 was called Operation Sunrise and turned a million into a thousand dollars and a thousand into a single dollar. Thirteen new notes were introduced. They weren't bank notes, still had expiry dates on them and were called Bearer Cheques. Now, just fourteen months later ten of those notes are as good as useless, two are useful for change but actually buy nothing and one new, bigger denomination note has been introduced.

Zimbabwe stumbled distressingly through the money change a year ago. Great armies of youths were disgorged onto our streets and they stood at roadblocks demanding to see how much money we had on us. Cars, buses, suitcases and handbags were searched and anyone found with more money than stipulated by the Reserve Bank, had their money seized. On a lower level, people with a million dollars in their bank or savings accounts, discovered that overnight the zeroes had been removed and a million became a thousand. Those lost zeroes are coming home to roost now as many investment centres are announcing new minimum balances of a million dollars - anything less and the accounts are being made dormant. Pensioners and others on fixed and minimum incomes are losing their precious savings again.

Fourteen months down the line since the zero slashing and Zimbabwe is back in that same ridiculous place again. The queues in the banks are huge, the piles of money we have to carry around have reached satchel size proportions, our regular bills are in millions and calculations run into billions very rapidly. We've stopped using paper clips to hold notes together and are back in rubber band land again. The prices of the few things still available to buy are so large they we're all back to peering at price stickers and counting the zeroes again. The money counting machines which temporarily went into the storerooms are back out on the counter tops and whirring their way through endless piles of almost worthless money.

Earlier in the week the official inflation rate was announced to be 7892%. With virtually no food to buy in the shops, it's impossible to try and understand just exactly how the food part of the inflation calculation is made. However it's done, is a world away from what's happening on the ground. When you've gone without a basic household product for three months or more, you grab it when you see it and just hope you've got enough money to pay for it. This week it was margarine. The last time this was openly on sale it had been 100 thousand dollars On Monday a friend said she'd seen margarine but it was 400 thousand dollars for a 500g pack. By Tuesday it was gone. On Wednesday it was back, same brand, same size but the price had gone up to 620 thousand dollars. By Friday there were only four or five packets left on the shelf and the price had gone up again, this time to 720 thousand dollars.

It's virtually impossible to live like this and everywhere, everyone longs for change. For most of us the politics, the secret talks, the quiet diplomacy and the rumours about succession have left the suffering of the ordinary people completely out of the equation.We are waiting, just waiting, for Operation Sunset.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.


Saturday 13th October 2007

Dear Family and Friends,
I don't know what the colour of sadness is, but this October 2007 I think it must be purple. The streets in our suburbs, towns and cities are lined with Jacaranda trees and they are in full blossom, carpeting the roadsides with soft purple flowers. The Bougainvilleas are covered in flowers too - mauve, lilac and bright purple. It's hard to believe that with such tropical brilliance all around us this hot October, there is such sadness too. For three months or more everyone's been talking about the fact that there's no food in the shops because the government ordered prices to be cut to below production costs. Most of us have been so busy trying to find enough food to survive and support our families that we haven't really been looking at how other businesses are coping with absurdly low controlled prices. Well, to put it simply, they're not.

I took a walk around my home town this week and was shocked at what I found. Two big clothes department stores have closed down in the last month. These weren't little family shops but big outlets stocking clothes, shoes and accessories for men, women and children. Their huge glass display windows stretching for more than half a block along the pavement are completely empty. Peering in, you can see nothing except vast expanses of grey concrete floor. Carpets have been removed, naked wires hang from ceilings, light fittings have gone, clothes racks are cleared, shelving has been taken off the walls and the employees are all gone. Where are they now, I wondered and how are they surviving. A great sadness welled up inside me; home is dying a slow and tortuous death.

I wandered into a bookshop which is all but empty and into two clothes shops which have almost nothing left to sell. All tell the same story: they cannot sell goods for less than they have paid for them. Shop owners look gaunt, exhausted and desperate, they say they cannot sleep at night and that their stomachs are in tight knots: they are watching their work and investments of a life time just ebb away. I went into another shop which has been in the town since the 1960's. Their doors are still open but its as good as pointless. Three smartly dressed salesmen wearing name tags stood against the wall talking to each other. There are perhaps fifty items left to sell in this branch of a shop which has outlets all over the country. The teller sat counting wads of dirty almost useless money - bank notes which have expiry dates on them and which we've been warned may be changed at any time in the next few days or weeks. I asked the teller if the shop was closing down. 'No,' he replied, 'if we do then they (the government) will just take us over.' I asked him how they could stay open and he just shook his head sadly. 'We are broken,' he said; 'we are just waiting for whenever the last day comes.' I didn't know what to say but then the man looked around to see if anyone was listening before he said : 'It's political you know.'

That little phrase slammed me back in time instantly to the day when the war veterans were shouting at me through the farm gate. Threatening to shoot me, armed with a pistol, one had bragged that he could "drop me at ten, twenty, even forty meters." This is my farm he had screamed at me, my house, my fields, my cattle and then later, when the Police finally came, they said they could do nothing because :"it was political."

I stared at the teller with his empty shop and filthy money and his eyes were filled with despair. 'Where will I go,' he said; 'what will I do?' I had no answers and could just say: I am so sorry, so very sorry. As I left and the trees dripped their purple flowers at my feet the tears were in my eyes. We are a nation traumatized, regardless of our age or sex, the colour of our skin or our profession and yes, it is all political.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Fruit Flies

Saturday 6th October 2007

Dear Family and Friends,
There are fruit flies in my fridge! Stupidly I keep putting things there to keep them cool in Zimbabwe's searing October heat but at last the reality is sinking in. After the second week of having electricity for just five of every twenty four hours, fridges and deep freezes have finally given up. In my area the electricity has only been on for 25 of the last 120 hours and then only in the middle of the night. Now we have no choice but to live from hand to mouth. Planning and preparation have gone out the window and short term thinking has taken over - just like our government.

Sitting in the dark one evening this week listening to the first gentle rain of the season washing the dust off the roof, I knew that this sound of life and renewal wasn't going to help Zimbabwe this year. We have yet again arrived at the main growing season without any clarity over who can farm and who can't and with no guarantees for black or white, old or new farmers. Electricity for pumping water, running cold rooms or drying crops is neither regular nor guaranteed. Fuel for ploughing, cultivating and transporting crops is not freely available or guaranteed. Vital inputs of fertilizers and chemicals are scarce or unavailable. Stockfeed for all types of livestock is virtually unobtainable and even securing enough food for farm workers is nearly impossible.

The few remaining farmers on the land who hold Title Deeds to their properties continue to face each day with apprehension and insecurity. Court orders are ignored or disobeyed and people with political clout still have the ability to evict at will and seize at leisure. For the people who don't hold Title to the farms they are on, the insecurity is just as great. Just as politics put them there, so too politics can take them away. These farmers must surely be wondering if the March elections are finally going to make them answerable for their actions and hold them accountable for what they have done.

The insecurity and uncertainty of everything is all encompassing and none are spared - from farmers to businessmen and miners to civil servants. We don't say things like the government "can't do that," "won't get away with that," or "it's against the law" anymore. After 7 years of first hand experience, we all know that they can and will take private property, change laws to suit themselves, turn a blind eye as assets are stripped, infrastructure falls apart and human rights are disregarded. But, as absurd as it sounds, there is hope because our memories are long and elections draw ever closer.
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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