NEW - Innocent victims- click here
Saturday 26th September 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
I was about 8th in a queue in a supermarket this week and kept looking to the front of the line impatiently to see why things were moving so slowly. I was waiting to buy airtime for a mobile phone and suddenly the reality of what I was doing struck home. I'd recently heard from someone who wanted "the real scoop" about daily life in Zimbabwe and in fact here it was, right in this queue.
Less than a year ago I wrote about this very same supermarket which sometimes used to open at 9 or 10 in the morning, some days it didn't open at all because it had nothing to sell. Less than a year ago huge supermarkets had only cabbages, condoms or bundles of firewood for sale. Now the shelves are brimming with goods again and if we have money there is food to buy.
This time last year if there was a queue in, or outside a supermarket, you were literally taking your life in your hands if you joined it. Queues for bread, sugar or maize meal were controlled by riot police. People were waiting outside supermarkets all night for the chance to get a single loaf of bread or little plastic packet of sugar. At opening time thousands of people would surge forward, some were injured and others even died in the stampedes.
This time last year we were still dealing in Zimbabwe dollars - worthless paper in denominations of billions and trillions which had expiry dates. We were queuing outside banks for days at a time to be allowed to withdraw miniscule amounts of our own money. Amounts that weren't enough to even buy a bar of soap or a cup of tea. This dreadful time is also now a thing of the past and the banks are deserted places
because most people don't have enough money to save and don't trust the banks who so recently treated their customers and their life savings with such casual contempt.
The reality of life in Zimbabwe this October 2009 is that the basics are back: food, fuel and bank notes. Yes the food is all imported and the bank notes are American but they have given such relief to an existence that had become almost unbearable. Everyone, without exception, knows that the bank crisis, the currency crisis and the food crisis were bought on by bad politics and bad governance and we also know who fixed their mess and what courage and determination it took.
And now, as we are just a fortnight away from the rainy season, it is time for the next battle of the basics to be fought and won. Now its time for Zimbabwe to start growing its own food again. Bad politics and bad governance forced us to import our every need and now its time for the brave and determined people who gave us back money food and fuel, to give us back functional farming and our own food on tables. We've wasted eight good rainy seasons and its time to turn the corner.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
A hidden agenda?
Saturday 19th September 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
A barking dog, a bang at the gate and all sanity and equilibrium is gone as a young man hands over a piece of paper saying he's come to disconnect the electricity. The printing on the disconnection notice is so faint it is almost illegible. Even with glasses it cannot be read and it takes a magnifying glass to expose the absurdity.
The notice was issued on the 11th of September but is only being delivered five days later on the 16th of the month.
"Where have you been for five days?" I ask.
He shrugs and says nothing. The date is not the only thing wrong with the notice from ZESA, the electricity company. Something called an 'extra deposit' has been crossed out by hand. The re-connection fee has been changed, by hand and the total amount owing has been crossed out and re-written, by hand.
I hand over my last statement from ZESA to the youngster at the gate and politely tell him there must be a mistake.
"Look, Zesa issued me with a credit balance last month, there's no way I owe them 757 US dollars (473 British pounds) for one month's residential consumption."
The youngster who is not in uniform or marked clothing and has no identification of employment, shrugs his shoulders boredly and tells me to go and see the accounts office in town.
The nightmare begins.
In an hour I see 5 different ZESA employees in their offices and not a single one even has manners enough to say good morning. This simple absence is shocking in a country where courtesy and greetings are
everything. It is disgraceful in a public company and at a time when the country is trying to attract investors and restore confidence after a decade of collapse.
My requests for explanation as to how a credit balance on my account one month could lead to such a huge debit on the next, were met with hostility and aggression. I am passed from one rude and bored employee to another until finally a man who does not greet me or look at me, takes my account and taps numbers incessantly into a computer. After some time I ask him what it is that he is doing and he says he is spreading the debt out over the last six months and working out a payment plan.
"What debt?" I ask. "Where has this huge debt come from?"
By now I am not the only angry customer in the office, there are half a dozen other desperate people also trying to get explanations for massive electricity bills. Voices are raised.
ZESA have been under-charging since February, we are told. The rates have gone up and been backdated 7 months. When we ask for proof, Zesa tell us the new rates have been approved by the Minister of Energy, Mr Mudzuri. When we ask for written notice of the new rates and for the Ministers approval of the back-dating, we are told to come back another day. For now the growing crowd of angry customers all have to pay 10 US dollars to be reconnected and have to agree to a debt re-payment plan. Its a ridiculous plan because the monthly repayment is already more than most people's entire monthly income.
As hard as we fight our way out of the deep hole the previous government pushed us into, so the parastals and utilities suppliers fight just as hard to destroy us again. Many people are saying there's a hidden agenda here, perhaps there is ?
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy
Arranged marriage of inconvenience
Saturday 5th September 2009
Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe is breathtakingly beautiful this spring. Everyone is talking about the spectacular colours of the new leaves on the trees. Perhaps its because we are all just so utterly worn out after a decade of decay and horror or maybe we are finally allowing ourselves to see beauty again and begin feeling hopeful about the times ahead. One friend who is back in the country for a month after having spent 3 years in exile in the Diaspora, said that just sitting under the Msasa trees was enough to decide her.
'I'm coming home,' she said.
The wide blue sky and warm sun, the open spaces and rugged beauty and the calls of hoopoes, sparrowhawks and bulbuls is enough to weaken the hardest of Zimbabwean hearts.
Coming home will not be easy. The flush of saved money doesn't go far in these times when every American dollar that we have buys food and pays bills with nothing left over for the other essentials necessary for life and health. It will not be easy learning to negotiate the flood tide of officials in every government department and building who want, need, demand, a bribe in order to do their job. For many who come home it will be a bitter pill seeing the evil still walking free amongst us: the men (and women) who beat, burnt, raped and murdered us and our families, friends and relations this last decade. Perhaps hardest of all for people coming home from democratic countries will be accepting that lawlessness still exists depending on your political affiliations and that mayhem and thuggery continues in farming areas where "land" is still used as a smokescreen for theft, looting, arson and murder.
Events of this week are likely to put paid to thoughts and plans of coming home for many Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Hardly had the fire died down and the ash settled from the suspicious fires which destroyed the farms and homes of Ben Freeth and Mike Campbell when yet more dire news came. These two farmers who have endured so much and fought so hard for their legal rights - and who have won their cases in Zimbabwean and SADC courts are now bereft. The farmers and their farm workers and all of their families have lost everything - homes, jobs and futures. Listening to Ben Freeth talking on an independent radio programme this week, the tears filled my eyes.
"I told my workers I'll be back. I promised them we'd rebuild," Freeth said.
They are words that many thousands of commercial farmers have said to their faithful and loyal employees as they've been evicted, dispossessed and lost everything this last decade. Promises that farmers have been unable to keep as Zanu PF have changed laws, amended the constitution and disregarded rulings made by their own courts. This week legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa
hammered in the last nail. Zimbabwe, he said, will no longer appear in front of the regional SADC courts, will not recognise their rulings or respond to any actions or suits instituted by the SADC tribunal.
As beautiful as Zimbabwe is this spring we are still a long way from being free of the clique who cling to power and fill their pockets. But, as every day passes, we are closer to the day when this arranged marriage of inconvenience can be over and we can hold free, fair and democratic elections and start again. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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