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The names are felled
Saturday 25th October 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Every day ends in Zimbabwe with the most magnificent golden sunset at this time of the year. As the sun drops over the horizon we are bathed in orange, copper and caramel and are then so spoilt to witness a magnificent vista of stars light up our night skies. Some evenings the wattled plovers call in alarm as someone walks near their nests, other evenings the bats swoop over the garden catching insects but every night I think of a friend who has now left who told me that no matter how bad things got, I should keep looking up!
Looking for a telephone number in my address book the other day I got distracted by the names of people who needed to be erased as they aren't in the country anymore. In the last eight years all of my immediate and extended family members have gone; my lawyer, doctor, optician and chiropractor have emigrated; the vet I took my animals to has left so has the electrician, plumber and car mechanic. Nurses and teachers that I knew are gone, so has a physiotherapist, radiographer and three pharmacists. The farms where I bought meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables have all been taken over and none of them produce anything for sale at all anymore - they have been reduced to dusty weed lands housing a few desperately poor subsistence farmers and their families. The two huge agricultural companies where I bought tools, seed, fertilizer and equipment are all but empty. The stock feed companies where I bought cattle and chicken food, flour, salt and maize meal for many years now have nothing at all to sell, not even a bag of dog food. The polythene factory has closed down, two transport companies have gone, a butchery, abbatoir, florist, sports shop and school outfitters have closed down. The nursery where I used to buy tree seedlings has collapsed and the flower nursery has gone too and then of course come the friends and neighbours who have left. Page after page in my address book the names are felled and each one is crossed out with a heavy heart. How far Zimbabwe has fallen and all because a handful of people are so determined to stay in power.
For the last eight years those of us who have managed to stay in Zimbabwe have been deeply traumatized witnessing the break down of communities and the collapse of our country. Most days we don't know how, when or if, it will ever end and if we can ever be "normal" again. At the same time, the millions who have left the country are just as traumatized by everything they've left behind: families, friends, pets, homes, memories and simply that feeling deep in your soul that you are at home. I can't wait for the day when I can write to the millions of Zimbabweans scattered all over the world and say: come home, we are ready to rebuild. Sadly that time has not come yet, we hope it will be soon.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Cabbages and condoms
19th October 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
This week the word being used to describe the government of national unity is 'deadlocked' and it couldn't be more apt. We are locked in a death grip and things are falling apart at a dramatic pace.
For the benefit of people not in Zimbabwe, let me put a face to deadlock. This morning I went shopping and this is what I saw. In one locally owned supermarket which has branches all over the country they are selling goods in Zimbabwe dollars. On their shelves they had: light bulbs, cayenne pepper and soya mince, a few vegetables which were distinctly past their best and a few packets of meat which didn't look too safe. More than half of the supermarket is completely empty and closed off with strings of white plastic tape.
In another local supermarket which has branches all over the country they are also operating in Zimbabwe dollars. Half of the shop is empty and barricaded off. Spread out on a couple of shelves were the few goods they had for sale: tea leaves, condoms, cabbages and onions. Against one wall stood some crates of fizzy drinks and in a rack a handful of unaffordable imported magazines gave colour to this most dismal scene.
For Zimbabweans who have no access to foreign currency, these two supermarkets offer the full extent of food available to buy in our deadlocked country. The vast majority of Zimbabweans do not have foreign currency or if they do it is one single, precious note hidden away in a safe place - not anywhere near enough to buy food with every week.
The third supermarket I visited has just started selling goods in US dollars and there, if you have foreign bank notes, you can buy sugar, cooking oil, biscuits, cereals, tea, coffee, pasta, tinned goods and a few toiletries. On the wall near the check out tills is a poster announcing what the equivalent of 1 US dollar is in South African Rand, British Pounds and Botswana Pula - no mention of the dead Zimbabwe dollar.
Food shopping is the tip of the nightmare, then there are the bills. This week I was advised that an account I have with an internet service has been terminated for non payment of 1.4 million Zimbabwe dollars. Paying the bill is almost impossible as Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono has banned inter account and electronic transfers and limited cash withdrawals to 50 thousand dollars a day. If I am to pay my bill of 1.4 million dollars in cash I must queue for 2 -
3 hours a day for 28 days by which time the bill will have gone up at a rate I cannot calculate as inflation stands at 231 million percent. The internet provider have said I can pay the bill with a cheque, but because of inflation the cheque should be for 6.5 BILLION dollars.
When Mr Gono banned electronic transfers and inter account transfers he closed business down in one quick and deadly blow. The rich and connected have got dramatically richer as they and their dealers have poured out onto our streets to buy up all those preciously saved single notes at obscenely low rates. People have had no choice but to sell because they cannot get their own money out of the banks - thanks to Mr Gono's punitive policies and crippling limits.
When Mr Gono licensed some shops to sell in foreign currency his policy wiped out Zimbabwe's own supermarkets in one quick and deadly blow - gone is the great propaganda line of Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans. This is what deadlock looks like seven months after we voted for a change in government.
Until next week, thanks for reading and thanks to my email service provider for helping me tell this story for so long, love cathy.
We need seed
Saturday 11th October 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
The October clouds are gathering over Zimbabwe and
darkening skies tease us with promises of rain every afternoon. Its a brutally hard time of year. Searing heat,
scorched ground and a desperate shortage of water makes it almost impossible to keep anything going. And yet, as the clouds get darker, heavier and lower the time of renewal is almost upon us and the signs of the new season are all around us.
Bright yellow weaver birds with deep black face masks are busy weaving strips of grass into intricate nests which they hang upside down from and try and attract mates. A strand out of place, one disdainful glance or dismissive peck at the nest from a female and the male pulls the whole thing apart and starts all over again. The Paradise flycatchers are back too, flitting around showing off their magnificent, foot long, burnt orange tails and building shallow little cups for nests with grass, roots and bits of spiderweb.
It seems absurd to be writing about the weather and birds
when we've got no food, fuel or government and inflation's hit 231 MILLION percent, but its these routines of nature that help take our minds off the insanity of life in Zimbabwe. It's the time of year when there should be a frenzy of activity in preparation for the rains and food growing. Seed and fertilizer should be stacked up in sheds waiting to go out to the lands. Tractors should be ploughing and the lands readied but without the inputs it's not happening. In my home town a large, shiny, 4 wheel drive, red tractor, still with plastic on its fenders, roars around on the main tar roads carrying passengers on errands
I had three questions in mind when I phoned around the main agricultural suppliers in my farming home town this week: Have you got seed maize; how much is it; can I pay in Zimbabwe dollars? I knew I was being optimistic because just a week ago it was reported that there was only enough seed in the country to plant 360 thousand hectares of land. Zimbabwe apparently has to plant at least one million hectares in order to feed itself.
My phone calls were a waste of time. There is no seed maize to buy, not in Zim Dollars or American dollars and we are just a couple of weeks away from the main planting season. I asked one main farming supplier when they were expecting a delivery of seed maize and he laughed and said he didn't think any of their seed orders were going to come at all.
This is such a critical time in Zimbabwe when almost half the population needs food aid and yet, even in their hunger, people are still desperate to try and help themselves. "We need seed!" is the cry everywhere you go. Our old and our new leaders are still too busy arguing about power to hear our calls. Another month has been wasted when these Big Men could, should have stood together; seed and fertilizer could have been bought, fields ploughed and every able bodied man and woman readied to bring life and food security back to Zimbabwe. Many people are saying that neither Zanu PF nor the MDC deserve to be in power if they cannot even help us to help ourselves at this most
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
Saturday 4th October 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
In the three weeks since a power sharing deal was signed between the winners and losers of Zimbabwe's election, nothing has happened except arguments. So many of us had such high hopes but these are fading fast. There is no sign of leadership, either from the old or the new, and all we hear is bickering and whining about wanting more mediation when all we really need is action. No one knows who is in charge, or who is going to be in charge of what and while this vacuum continues we have virtually turned into a gangster state.
The shortage of bank notes has reached critical lengths. People are queuing outside banks from as early as 2 am in the morning in order to draw out their daily limit which is not even enough to buy a single packet of soup. No shops or businesses are accepting cheques anymore. Electronic transfers - known as RTGS's - have been stopped by the Reserve bank in the last few days and so with no cash, no cheques and no transfers, we are grinding to a halt. For all the people who simply cannot fight their way to the front of bank queues, which are literally thousands strong , there is real hunger, suffering and despair. For others, there are vast fortunes being made in a frenzy of illegal deals.
In a parking bay in the centre of a busy town and with literally thousands of people milling around, a black market currency deal was being done in broad daylight on the bonnet of a car. Thick wads of Zimbabwe dollars were being counted out in exchange for a few US dollars. No attempt was being made to disguise what was going on or conceal the illegal transaction and in fact no one seemed to even care. This is a common sight and just one of many deals going on in plain view of Police in uniform who mill around, stand in bank queues, lean against walls and trees but do nothing to stop the lawbreakers.
This week I've met pensioners, hungry because they can't pay for what little food there is by cheque and can't get cash out of the bank. I've met middle aged men desperate because they can't get enough money out the bank to buy food for their families. I've met people from rural areas who say that despite the propaganda being peddled every day in the State media, no food, seed or fertilizer has arrived in their villages yet. I've met nurses who say that despite news reports they still have no drugs for their patients. I've met shop owners whose businesses are collapsing as their employees are in queues at the banks, and so are their customers. I've met parents in total despair as their children are still not in school a month into the term because teachers are on strike.
The walls are falling down around us very fast now and still we baby-cry about mediators. Shame on us.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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