Blog latest 10 post 167 <![CDATA[The many faces of Zimbabwe]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

What a strange, tangled web Zimbabwe weaves this August. On a political level is the meteoric rise of the President’s wife who, in a single month, has gone from having no political standing at all to being nominated to take over as the head of Zanu PF Women’s League and on the Zanu PF Central Committee by year end. Sixty-seater buses overtake you perilously on the highways at vast speed,  their sides and backs plastered with Mrs Mugabe’s face.

On an everyday level we’ve got wealth beyond imagining in upmarket suburbs of Harare where car parks bulge with top of the range vehicles. You suck in your breath and almost feel ashamed to park your twenty year old car between the Mercedes and the Prada, Pajero or black Hummer with its tinted windows. Meanwhile in other urban areas, out of sight and out of mind, there are people living in dark prefabricated wooden cabins and plastic shacks, where garbage rots in mounds along the roadsides and sewage flows on eroded, pot holed roads.

In a single week a patchwork of images provide the face of Zimbabwe. In an urban area a woman in a tight leopard print mini skirt and  even tighter black top,  wearing thin stemmed high heels, carries a 10 kilogram bag of maize meal on her head; on her back, wrapped in a striped towel, is a baby.

On a dusty detour approaching the capital city a ten tonne truck piled with skulls, cattle skulls, is  exposed for all to see, many still with scraps of flesh and smears of blood on them. Along the road a man walks, carrying a plastic bag with a live chicken in it, its head sticking out the top.

Under a tree on the highway stand three policemen, one counting a thick wad of bank notes, keenly watched by the other two.

In a communal land, children play on the rusty metal left behind from yet another car wreck. Goats dawdle across the road; blue frayed string, the remnants of their tethers, dragging behind them. Grass is grazed down to the dust and maize leaves and stalks (mashanga) piled high on wooden stands, rationed out to livestock until the rain returns. Newly fired bricks unloaded from home made kilns are stacked up ready for building; piles of newly cut thatching grass are stacked and waiting to go on roofs before the rains.  Neat orderly homesteads, swept clean, plates upside down, drying in the sun on crooked home-made wooden stands.

Passing commercial farms seized over a decade ago, the grass is tall and ungrazed; roads overgrown; fences gone; big herds of dairy and beef cattle long gone. An occasional mud walled, grass thatched hut and an acre or two of maize stubble but not a man or beast to be seen.

Lastly there is the encounter at the Harare international airport. ‘The systems are down’ you are finally told in passing after standing, queuing for two hours to get to the check in counter. With at least thirty people still behind you and departure time just five minutes away you know there isn’t a hope of getting to your destination in time, let alone catching connecting flights

Marrying all the images is impossible  and for me the sight of two young Egret birds standing in a pile of roadside litter pecking at a dumped disposable nappy says it all. The poor are paying the price of Zimbabwe’s nouveau riche in so many ways.  Details of my two books which describe how Zimbabwe got to this state are at the foot of this letter.  Until next time, thanks for reading and not forgetting about Zimbabwe, love cathy.

 

For information on my new book: “MILLIONS, BILLIONS, TRILLIONS,” or its predecessor: “CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS,”  my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,”  “African Tears,” “Beyond Tears” and “IMIRE,” or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact cbuckle@zol.co.zw

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166 <![CDATA[Snap, crackle and pop]]>  

Dear Family and Friends

As the full moon pulled what we hope is the last cold front through Zimbabwe this week, it added to the chilly air of unease in the country.  The front page newspaper photograph of a victim of political violence with a swollen face and dressings covering a head wound sent goose bumps down our spines. ‘Violence flares up in Zanu PF’ was the headline with the word ‘bludgeoned’ below the man’s picture.  It’s a grim image we’ve seen countless times in the last fifteen years but the difference is that this time the violence isn’t between opposing political parties but amongst members of the ruling party who are scrambling for positions ahead of their annual conference in December.

It’s a story best told in quotes :

Addressing 3,000 delegates at Zanu PF’s National Youth League Conference, Mr Mugabe said individuals had been involved in what he described as clandestine organisations. “The activities going on in the party just now, filthy, dirty! They are destroying the party and people pretend they think we don't know what's happening.” There were reports of midnight meetings and vote buying and Mr Mugabe described those involved as ‘just rubbish, dirty rubbish,’ questioning if those concerned were ‘political prostitutes.’

Hot on the heels of the Youth Conference was Zanu PF’s Women’s League Conference but all week in the run up to the event the press reports had been chilling. The party’s Secretary for Women’s Affairs, Mrs Muchinguri, held a press conference and said there were reports of members being “kidnapped or sequestered against their will and without the knowledge of their families who do not know the whereabouts of their loved ones." A few days earlier we’d read of a police report being made against a Minister of State in the President's Office for allegedly abducting and holding members of the Women’s League hostage to force them to vote for her.

We had hardly taken in the news of kidnappings in three provinces when they were denied, not by the women in the party but by Zanu PF’s National Chairman, Simon Khaya Moyo. “Media reports that a number of kidnappings associated with the conference have taken place… have been proven false and alarmist…I appeal to the leadership of the Women’s League to refrain from making such unfounded statements.”

And while all this was going on all eyes were turning to Victoria Falls where a SADC Heads of State Summit is about to begin. Ninety year old Mr Mugabe is taking over as the Chairman of SADC and he appealed to Zimbabweans to smile at the delegates. “We know that our people are going through a very difficult period and that there are no jobs, however, we are asking you to smile and show the region that we are a hospitable people… let us all smile and for just a moment forget our problems.”

‘Going through a difficult period’ is an understatement in a country where this week Zimbabwe’s UN Association Youth President said that 65% youngsters here are suffering from mental problems due to drug and substance abuse and unemployment.

So Zimbabweans might smile for the SADC delegates but we  assume most would have read the same reports as the rest of us about  the vote buying, kidnappings, midnight meetings and infighting in Zanu PF. This August the only change to our fourteen year old ‘situation’ comes with the arrival of spring and the Musasa pods which are falling thick and fast giving a whole new meaning to ‘snap crackle and pop.’  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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165 <![CDATA[Golden grass, glittering rock pools and sacrifice]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Travel East of my home town on a Monday and it’s beer day. Travel West on a Tuesday and it’s their beer day. Hard to believe that this one simple event, using such primitive methods still goes on in this modern world. A rusty, battered ox cart loaded high with blue plastic crates each filled with brown plastic beer bottles emerges from the long grass alongside the highway. It’s usually a couple of young men who are doing the chore:  unload the empty beer crates on the side of the road, let the oxen graze under the tree and then sit and wait for the brewery truck to arrive. The young men should be at work but there aren’t any jobs and so this is their lot in life. When the truck comes the crates are swopped, empties changed for full, a handful of dirty US dollars, the oxen whipped into action and off they go  with their load of beer: back into the long grass. 

 It’s glorious out there on the country highways at the moment: the grass is golden, the sun warm and the lucky bean tress ablaze with red flowers. Overhead eagles soar, glide, circle and swoop in the deep valleys and across the wide open plains. Savannah the geography teachers called it; to us it’s just  the magnificent African bush full of delights, secrets and surprises. As you cross over rivers there’s almost always someone to see: washing clothes in the pools, collecting water in bright plastic containers or kids stripped off and lathering up for a bath or having a splash about if it’s warm. The wet rocks glitter in the sun, our jewels in the bush. Further along the road two little poppets walk to school;  small pink satchels on their backs they try and hitch a lift from every car that passes – regardless which direction it’s going in. A woman appears out of the long grass, a twenty litre yellow plastic container of water on her head,  a little lad at her side carrying a one litre orange juice bottle filled with cloudy brown water. 

Seeing things like this in 2014 makes you feel like you’re stuck in a time warp: the rest of the world has moved on but we’ve stood still. Or some of Zimbabwe has because while men carry beer on ox carts, and women carry water on their heads, the corruption, scandals, political squabbles  and national looting carries on at an obscene rate. This week it’s the ex Minister of Mines (now Minister of Transport) on the front pages quoted as saying he was too rich for bribes, denying he’d demanded a 10 million US dollar bribe to approve a diamond mining business. You have to wonder if he ever notices the soapy kids in the rock pools, the ox cart full of beer or two little girls walking miles to school in the middle of nowhere.

It is with great sadness this week that I say a final goodbye to Gerry Jackson and the team at SW Radio Africa who two weeks ago stopped their radio broadcasts to Zimbabwe. The silence they have left is a crushing blow. For me Gerry’s honeyed tones take me back to doing stock take in my little farm store in 1997. With goose bumps I listened to Gerry Jackson’s historic broadcast on Radio Three when for many of us this crisis all began. War veterans demanded and received huge $50,000 payouts; the President sent our troops to war in the DR Congo and we exploded into food riots. In between music tracks from Canned Heat and Jethro Tull Gerry warned listeners to stay away from parts of Harare where cars were being stoned and people beaten. She was fired for that broadcast, for telling  Zimbabwe what was really happening.  This letter is for Gerry and her team. They’ve carried on telling us what’s been going on all these years whether we’ve been in towns or villages, on ox carts in the golden grass or splashing in rock pools. We thank them for their sacrifice. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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164 <![CDATA[Millions, billions, trillions]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

All week a spotted eagle owl has been hooting early in the afternoon in my garden, hours before the stunning  caramel sunsets so typical of winter in Zimbabwe. The strangeness of the day time calling of the owl comes in the same week as the sad news of the latest casualty to Zimbabwe’s long struggle to a new order.

Since February 2000 nothing has been normal or predictable about Zimbabwe but one thing has been constant and that is the shortwave radio broadcast at 7pm every night from London. For the last thirteen years, since the 19th December 2001, SW Radio Africa has been our nightly companion. Through bouts of deliberate jamming and interference; often by candle, torch or firelight and with solar powered, battery or wind up radios, we have followed them as they have told our story for us, been our voice to the world.  

Many of us who have followed SW Radio Africa listened with tears in our eyes to their first broadcast thirteen years ago. By that time we had been a country in deep crisis for  22 months: farms were being violently grabbed every day; people were on the run everywhere; torture, terror, burning and looting were daily occurrences; political violence was widespread and anyone involved or supporting opposition politics was in danger and under attack. In the week before the first SW Radio Africa broadcast four men were brutally murdered in political violence; their names, and their sacrifice for Zimbabwe, have not been forgotten: Trymore Midzi (Bindura), Titus Nheya (Karoi), Milton Chambati (Magunge)  and Laban Chiweta (Bindura).

At the end of their first broadcast on the 19th December 2001 SW Radio  Africa closed with a message, sung by and for Zimbabweans: ‘hold on just a little bit longer.’ We are still trying to hold on but it was with great sadness this week to hear SW Radio Africa make the announcement we so dreaded. Station Manager Gerry Jackson said that their short wave radio broadcasts would end on Friday the 18th of July. Gerry thanked Zimbabweans for being such loyal supporters, for sharing their stories and  bringing SW Radio Africa into their homes for thirteen years.  Zimbabwe will never forget SW Radio Africa or any of their staff whose voices  have retold our horror stories, lived with us through our anguish and cried with us at each inhumanity.  

I have been proud to have had my letters from Zimbabwe read on SW Radio Africa for the last thirteen years; it has been a humbling experience. My second book containing an edited collection of those letters is now in print. ‘Millions, billions, trillions’ tells the story of Zimbabwe from 2005 to February 2009. It was a time of madness that most of us would rather forget but it is a part of us and of our history. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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163 <![CDATA[Bone tired and supping with whites]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

A huddle of men in hats and dark jackets engaged in animated conversation in the wind and dust outside a run down local government office sent eyebrows up this week. They were all clutching bits of paper and there was much gesticulating and arm waving: it all told a lot about the latest saga in Zimbabwe’s fourteenth year into land wars. The men were outside the offices of the District Administrator which, since land invasions began in 2000, is one of the places people have gone if they wanted to get a piece seized farm land. It’s also one of the places on the convoluted bureaucratic ladder  where desperate Title Deed holders of farm land have gone to try and plead their case to save their homes, businesses and livelihoods from seizure without contest or compensation. Mostly, those of us in the latter category, tried and failed.

The latest shocking development that’s sent people into huddles is the news that all A1 Offer Letters given out for plots of land on seized farms have been cancelled. This apparently involves the withdrawal of over 220,000  permits which affects an unknown number of people but must be close to a million people if not more, assuming that each plot is occupied by a single, small family unit.

Amazingly in a country so bone tired and worn out about land grabs and ownership fights, the latest development didn’t even make front page news. As long as there’s food in the supermarkets most people don’t care that it’s all imported or what skin colour the people that grew that food in another country have. They don’t even care that people on Zimbabwe’s once rich and bountiful farm land are out there in the dust squabbling over bits of paper when they should be growing food. Most people have got far more worrying things on their minds like how long their jobs are going to be safe or their companies will stay open; how they’ll  afford their kids school fees or pay their rent  as our economy shrinks smaller and smaller with each passing day.     

Sadly what did make front page news this week were the shocking words: “Don’t sup with whites: Mugabe.” Mr Mugabe said that people who had been given seized farms were leasing them out to white Zimbabweans and accused his own officials of being involved. “Some of my ministers are being mentioned here. They are refusing to remove white farmers from their constituencies… we are told that Chiefs are also involved in land deals,” Mr Mugabe said.   “What annoys us... is where our own indigenous farmers sub-lease to the very same white farmers we took our heritage from yesterday,” he added. A whole new batch of A1 Permits are going to be issued, no doubt  weeding out some forgeries, some corruption and some double dipping but undoubtedly opening the way for another wave of corruption, pocket filling and renewed land invasions on the few original commercial farms still operating.

And so it goes on and on and on, year after yea,r leaving a swathe of insecurity in its wake: evicted commercial farmers with Title Deeds but not compensated; A1 plot holders not legal anymore and A2 growers doing what Mr Mugabe described as “those who still believe that the land they acquired was to afford them places to visit over the weekend for braais (barbecues) and picnic parties or for prestige, then surely these will, sooner rather than later, lose the farms allocated to them.”

Our poor Zimbabwe. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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162 <![CDATA[Dipping Day: then and now]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Every week in summer and every fortnight in winter we used to round up the cattle and herd them over the road to a neighbouring farm. This was dipping day: hot, dusty, dirty work as over a hundred breeding cows and their calves, along with two temperamental bulls, forced their way into the fenced dip paddock. Pushing, shoving and head butting was the order of the day accompanied by cows bellowing for their calves when they got separated in the melee. One by one the beasts were herded along the ever narrowing race lined with strong poles; soon they had no choice but to be in single file and could only go forwards. As they stepped onto the cement and then into the foot bath a couple of metres from the dip, you knew that they knew: one last, futile attempt to turn back, wide eyes and then splash. A short swim to the other side and they clambered out.  Standing in the sun on the sloped concrete drying slab, the fear was gone for the cattle as they dripped dry, the excess chemical-laden water running down the cement drains and back into the dip tank. It was all over in less than two hours: hair skimmed off the top of the dip tank, manure shoveled up, concrete hosed down, gates closed and home in time for tea. In exchange for the use of his facility, along with lots of advice and laughs, our neighbouring farmer charged a box of dipping chemicals a month.

I didn’t realise how we took that well organized, routine operation for granted until I heard this week how it is now for the people who seized our farm and our neighbour’s farm fourteen years ago. When they need to dip their cattle now it involves a six kilometre walk to the nearest functional facility. At the end of the long walk there and back, they question if there’s enough chemical in the dip because the ticks are still alive and clinging to the necks of the cattle, in their ears and under their tails.

How sad it was to learn that the dip on my neighbours farm that saw hundreds of animals treated every week has now been completely destroyed. The fence around the dip paddock has gone; the poles along the race have gone; the concrete foot bath has been smashed out of the ground; the sloped, concrete drying slab no longer exists: broken up, dug out and carried away in jagged squares. The dip tank itself is still there but unusable: dry, cracked and silted up with sand. Broken water pipes and pump, no money to replace looted fencing, no interest in erecting new poles, no agreement by livestock owners on both sides of the road, or in the neighbouring village, to contribute money to lay new concrete and renovate the dip on the seized farm to benefit all.  

This sad little picture of before and after comes at a time when little snippets of information are revealed about what’s really been going on during Zimbabwe’s land seizures. Recently the he Minister of Lands whet our appetite for the truth with news that even 10 year old children had been allocated plots on seized farms . The Minister said people acquired farms on behalf of their children, lying about their dates of birth to do so. He said farms and plots fraudulently acquired would be taken back by the government.  Apparently a full land audit of acquired farms is set to take place next year at a staggering cost of 35 million US dollars.  

What many of us wouldn’t do to be a fly on that wall as those farms are visited and the real truths uncovered. How eager the nation is to know who got what, how they’ve treated the farms they were given and what they’ve been doing out there all these years that’s left us importing 80% of our food.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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161 <![CDATA[Running on the roof]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Early every winter a little tree squirrel arrives on my roof and goes into a frenzy of activity. He snacks voraciously on seeds put out for birds, attracting considerable feathered abuse in the process; he collects pieces of lichen, leaves and grass to make his winter nest and then he parades on the roof which seems to be his prime position for attracting a partner. He looks stunning in the early mornings as his fur shimmers golden as it catches the first rays of the sun. Once he’s warmed up, the squirrel is off on a frenzied, confusing circuit: strutting on the roof, flicking his tail seductively; bounding onto trees and running along the tops of walls. Up and down, round and round the little squirrel goes until you get dizzy watching him. 

The confusion and dizziness that results from watching the antics of our fast dwindling suburban wildlife sums up the way of most things about life in Zimbabwe. It’s now nearly a year since the 2013 elections which left a nonagenarian and his party in charge again but we still have no clear path forward and seem to be going round in backward spirals. Companies continue to close, employees continue to be laid off while services and prices creep ever upwards making the lives of ordinary people more and more difficult. As tired as we are of living in the never ending decline, so our long time friends and supporters have grown tired of hearing about them.

“Struggle fatigue,” is the term Zimbabwean economist and writer Vince Musewe uses to describe the feeling in civil society after fourteen years of striving for change. Vince writes: “Unfortunately most adult Zimbabweans who have lived through terror and loss have run out of energy and motivation to fight.”

Confusion, resignation and weary head shaking are the most common responses to events in Zimbabwe. The front page of a leading daily newspaper this week carried a shocking photograph of an estimated one hundred Zanu PF youths (men in their 20’s) heading to an Apostolic shrine on the outskirts of Harare. “Zanu PF Youths burn Vapostori shrine,” read the headlines. Running with the pack of ‘youths’ was a policeman in uniform, smiling broadly. This mob of civilians, on the warpath and accompanied by a policeman, came as the result of incidents which had started with Apostolic sect members attacking police and journalists and later being arrested. Then came allegations that the arrested sect members had been tortured and denied food in custody. How or why Zanu PF ‘youths’ then got involved isn’t clear but Zimbabwe’s Lawyers for Human Rights immediately issued a press statement cautioning against what they describe as ‘mob justice.’       

We saw this ‘mob justice’ in the years of farm takeovers and again throughout the years of opposition rallies and elections. They are as chilling now as they were then and the perpetrators get away with it now, just as they did then. The difference now is that the voices of condemnation, both at home and abroad have grown very quiet. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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160 <![CDATA[Rushing red rivers]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Driving towards Zimbabwe from a neighbouring country recently it was hard not to be overwhelmed by two dramatically different sights that seem to tell the story of the subcontinent so well.  Through every town and village you see such poverty and people living in such primitive conditions that it’s hard to believe these are places in the 21st century. People bathing in rivers, washing clothes in rock pools, carrying enormous burdens of food or wood on their heads, crushing rocks to sell stones, living in mud walled houses roofed with grass, reeds or plastic. And everywhere people are making a living on the side of the road, selling everything from live animals to meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, cheap clothes, furniture, machines and all manner of electrical goods.

On the other side of the coin is the dramatic beauty that surrounds this gruelling poverty. Brilliant blue skies, towering kopjes, vast open plains, rushing red rivers, giant trees and a treasure trove of spectacular birds whose colours are so bright and gaudy that you wouldn’t believe they were real unless you saw them with your own eyes.  

When you get to the border to come back into Zimbabwe, reality returns. How long will it take before someone is holding their hand out for a bribe you wonder? It doesn’t take long at all. Barely have you closed the car door when a crush of men are offering to get you to the front of the queue and ‘rush’ you through immigration and customs formalities. They don’t take no for an answer lightly; persistence is definitely their middle name. With all the formalities completed there comes the dreaded boom at the exit gate where an apparent official who is not wearing a uniform or carrying any identity makes a bee line for you. After ten minutes of absurd demands, un-provable requirements and un-documented regulations,  he finally gets fed up and says: “Oh just give me something and you can proceed.”  Corruption has sadly become the most dominant feature in Zimbabwean life: everything has got a price and everyone wants their cut.  That this should happen at our border posts, the shop window into our country, makes us hang our heads in shame.  

After a time away from Zimbabwe it is always great to be home but oh so disappointing that nothing seems to change. There was news of a brutal attack on a Guruve farm where father and daughter, Malcolm and Catherine Francis, were left beaten and unconscious and both subsequently died. Then the tragic news of ten fatalities in yet another accident involving a minibus.  And then, a little light in a gloomy tunnel, the news that constitutional lawyer, Justice Alfred Mavedzenge, has filed a High Court application seeking to compel the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to make the voters’ roll public. For all  of us in Zimbabwean it is still  unbelievable that we went into the July 2013 elections without ever having seen the voters roll and even more unbelievable that it has still not be seen ten months later.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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159 <![CDATA[Rebels who dared to criticise]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Dramatic developments are underway in Zimbabwe. Every day the headlines are screaming, the editorials scathing and the criticism fierce as we watch fifteen years unravel in front of our eyes.  We saw this coming,  it seemed inevitable but still it is cause for bitter disappointment.  

In February 2009 when our  dollar had been devalued for the third time in thirty months during which time twenty five zeroes had been removed from the currency, Zimbabwe was at its darkest hour. One ‘new’ dollar in February 2009 was equivalent to ten septillion old dollars.  Most of us did not know how we had survived ten years of economic mayhem, not to mention disease, hunger and an epidemic of political violence. By the time we were talking in quadrillions and septillions we had only one hope and that lay with the ten year old opposition MDC party. They had by then already split into two factions and all was not rosy in the party but we knew they were the only people that could pull us out of the hell we were stuck in.

What happened after that is history: a so called Unity Government took over but it was riddled with fighting and inequity which provided a convenient smoke screen for a mammoth orgy of looting which is only now being uncovered.  While ordinary people were struggling to recover from a decade of penury and mayhem, officials in state enterprises were awarding themselves salaries ranging from 30 or 40 thousand dollars a month to over 230 thousand dollars a month.  We still don’t know what’s really been happening with our country’s gold and diamonds or many of our other assets and resources; those dark secrets are yet to be unlocked.

Four and a half years later, in July 2013, the MDC agreed to an election littered with flaws and in which they didn’t even have a copy of the voters roll.  Deep down everyone knew it was dead wrong but were swept up in a tidal wave of excitement, believing that the promised future was really possible. None of us expected the extent of the loss that would follow, and as dramatic as it sounds, we’ve been a country in a state of paralyzed shock since August 2013.

In the last week Tendai Biti, the MDC’s Secretary General, who served as the Minister of Finance during the unity government held a meeting and threw his cards on the table, openly calling for new leadership in the MDC. ‘Dear leader Morgan Tsvangirai has failed as a leader, is now clearly unsuitable,’ he said. Credited with stopping the economic haemorrhage of our economy in February 2009 and smashing inflation from an estimated 200 plus billion percent down to five percent, Mr Biti has now been labelled a ‘rebel’ and been expelled from the MDC along with eight other MP’s and others who attended the meeting. What happens to the MDC now, or to the expelled ‘rebels’ who dared to criticise, to call for new leadership, remains to be seen.

As much as we don’t want to go back to the dark days of  2000 – 2009, ordinary Zimbabweans know only one thing: we don’t want more dictators; we need true leaders who will work tirelessly and selflessly for all  of us, regardless of our tribe, our skin colour, our connections or our financial means.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 

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158 <![CDATA[The rare sound of satisfaction]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

This is not my usual letter about events in Zimbabwe because frankly we’re all sick to death of reading, writing and talking about the excesses of our leaders; the corruption and political infighting. We’re sickened at every obscene new government- linked salary scandal while ordinary companies just can’t cope and are closing down at an alarming rate. We’re chilled at the huge number of people being made redundant every month while the politicians argue amongst themselves at the country’s expense but for this moment in our lives, we’re just taking a Time Out.

It’s Easter and our 34rd anniversary of Independence this weekend. There’s a thick, wet mist almost up to the front door in my home town as I write this letter. We’ve had a  trio of seasons in the last week, swinging  from autumn to summer and back to winter until we’re totally confused.  Blankets, jerseys and trousers one day; sandals and short sleeves the next.  As each new wave of cold, wet mist sweeps in and hangs around longer every morning we know that winter draws ever closer. Outside in our gardens the birds already know. There’s an end of season frenzy underway: mums stuffing seeds into the yellow gaped mouths of young fledglings; mannikins re-lining abandoned nests with soft pampas-grass fluff; sunbirds gorging on nectar from newly flowering Aloes;  ground birds wrestling insects out of rapidly hardening ground. The winter birds are suddenly running on our lawns too: thrushes, hoopoes and drongos all overseen by the ever patient, watchful gaze of woodland kingfishers.

It’s not just in our gardens that there’s a frenzy of activity this Easter and Independence weekend.  It’s harvesting time and everywhere you look there’s movement and rustling in the little maize fields that everyone plants to survive the uncertainties of Zimbabwe.  Some people are picking from stooks they made a couple of weeks ago while others are harvesting  straight from the fields.  This is the rare sound of satisfaction in Zimbabwe: the snap of the cob from the dry stalk; the thud of the corn onto the pile on the ground,  and latter the chattering, tired voices as people call out to each other as they trudge home at dusk carrying heavy sacks.  At each appearance of blue sky the maize cobs are tipped out and laid in the sun to dry: on verandas, driveways and on people’s roofs.     

It’s the time of year when newly dug sweet potatoes  and just harvested ground nuts (which most of us less young Zims still call monkey nuts) are being offered for sale by roadside vendors. It’s the time of year when people lucky enough to have jobs, get to go home and spend a few days with their families. Asking a man if he was going to his kumusha for Easter he grinned and said he was but that  there won’t be much resting time. He plans to spend every minute out in the fields harvesting  two acres of maize planted five months ago.

‘What about Independence Day?’ I asked. ‘No time for that,’ he replied ‘I’ll be too busy but I’ve paid what they told me.’ This year one US dollar and a large enamel  cup of ground maize is the price  every rural family in my area has to pay for  Independence gatherings.  And they pay.

To all Zimbabweans and our friends, wherever you are in the world,  Happy Independence, Happy Easter, good harvests and safe journeys. Thanks for reading. Until next time, love cathy.

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157 <![CDATA[Big hats, tractors and football players]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Eight months after Zimbabwe’s elections a weary resignation has  settled over the country. Internal fighting and jostling for positions has become the order of the day in the opposition party, while accusations, finger pointing and faction fighting in the ruling party makes daily headlines.  All this has left people who sacrificed so much and struggled for so long feeling betrayed and bewildered, wondering which way Zimbabwe is headed.  

Most companies from hardware and clothing stores to butcheries and bookshops are saying that sales have never been so low or business so quiet. There’s just hardly any money around as we slip backwards to the way things were before the unity government in 2009. Already the government’s desire to control our lives is increasing insecurity in our shaky economy. The Minister of Agriculture has just announced that all import and export licences of  fruit and vegetables have been cancelled.  In a confusing, convoluted statement Minister Joseph Made said: “All import permits have been cancelled. This is pending the return of the old permits to the ministry so that new ones can be issued.” We still haven’t got our heads around that, nor do we know when or if new licences will be issued, who to and  for what products. In a country whose fourteen year old land reform programme has left us importing one million US dollars worth of fruit and veg every month from South Africa, we’re all very worried about what we’ll find in the supermarkets when we go shopping in the coming weeks. 

Despite its timing, the agriculture ministers statement wasn’t an April Fools joke, nor was the appointment of the new head of the Zimbabwe Football Association. Unbelievably Mr Cuthbert Dube was re-elected to head ZIFA for the next four years despite the association having incurred a six million US dollar debt during his last term at the helm.  Dube’s re-election to head ZIFA is even more puzzling considering he’s been making headlines for months due to  his massive salary of 230,000 US dollars a month while engaged in his day job as the head of Premier Medical Aid Society.

But wait, it gets even weirder. Shortly after his re-election as the head of ZIFA, the BBC reported on Mr Dube’s revolutionary plan to turn around the fortunes of ZIFA. Dube said he had asked the government to give ZIFA several farms around the country so that they could rear livestock and grow crops to in order to stop having to rely on sponsors. Dube said: “Maybe some people will ask if I’m alright in my head, but we are going to diversify into farming in a very big way. “ It seems ZIFA also don’t understood that farmers are farmers, football players are football players and politicians are politicians. Giving a man a big hat and tractor doesn’t make him a farmer just as giving him a ball doesn’t make him a national football player

After a crazy week came the other news  we hoped was an April Fools joke but wasn’t and it came from SW Radio Africa. They’ve been forced to reduce the length of their nightly short wave radio  broadcasts to Zimbabwe by half and cut all their weekend radio broadcasts. For so long  SW Radio Africa have been our voice; they’ve listened to our  struggles, heard our views and kept us up to date on news and developments. Now their coffers are shrinking and although their programming continues on the internet, the vast majority of Zimbabweans don’t have access to that technology. For the people in Zimbabwe who sit around battery powered, wind up radios in urban and rural areas, there’s a hole in our lives. We hope it will be temporary.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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156 <![CDATA[The crack in the rock]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

In the bush the other day I sat watching two long-legged riverside birds on a small rocky island in a dam. For a long time they seemed unperturbed by my scrutiny but when they both turned and ran into a patch of tangled shrubs in a hurry, I knew something was up. From nowhere a shiny grey reptilian head appeared over the top of the rock. Its camouflage was excellent, skin colour blending exactly with the rock, spots on his head looking exactly like blotches of lichen on the granite. The mingled, reflected glare from  rocks and water made it hard to identify at first but when a long black forked tongue flicked out to scent the air, I knew it was a leguaan (Monitor Lizard.) From the size of his head he was obviously a fair size but that remained a mystery. There was no time even for a quick photograph because suddenly the leguaan completely disappeared into a crack between the rocks  and was invisible again. This is exactly how life is in Zimbabwe nine months after the last controversial election: haze and reflections, clever camouflage and big scary things hiding in plain sight.

Sensational headlines in the last couple of weeks have left an already suspicious, sceptical Zimbabwe wondering what’s really going on. After weeks of dramatic media exposures of CEO’s in government organisations and parastatals earning huge salaries ranging from 40 to 230 thousand US dollars a month, the Cabinet finally waded in. The Finance Minister announced that with immediate effect the highest wage in all state enterprises, parastatals and local authorities was to be six thousand US dollars a month. Included in this total amount are the  ‘allowances’ that people have been getting which are unbelievably disproportional to their actual pay. One example cited was of a Town Clerk earning two thousand dollars a month but getting an additional seventeen thousand dollars in benefits and allowances every month. In a country where 80% of people are unemployed,  where university graduates sell airtime on the roadside, where qualified teachers earn less than five hundred dollars a month and where all state enterprises are collapsing, these amounts are truly shocking. The excessive greed of a few at a time when so many are suffering is nauseating.

As disgusted as we are by the gargantuan salaries that have been exposed so far, everyone knows it’s the tiny tip of a massive iceberg. We also know that by slashing someone’s salary from say forty thousand a month to six thousand is going to generate another huge set of problems: law suits, even more corruption and asset siphoning and perhaps even a renewed brain drain from our teetering country. Asked why it had taken five years for the government to  do something about these huge salaries, the Minister of Finance said: ‘There was too much quarrelling in the inclusive government and we could not focus our energy on anything.’

So far no one’s publicly questioning the salaries, allowances and ‘benefits’ of senior government members or how they managed to amass such vast visible wealth while Zimbabwe was collapsing. One clue came in dramatic front page headlines: ‘Don’t blame sanctions, says Mugabe.’ The President said : ‘I will ensure that we don’t go back to the time of saying sanctions are the reason we are failing to pay civil servants. We have the resources, the gold sector for example, they are very easy to get money from.’ With statements like these Zimbabweans are again left reading between the lines, looking at the crack in the rock, wondering what’s really in there, hiding in plain sight.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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155 <![CDATA[For the youngsters who died underground.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe is still getting over the opulence of two multi million dollar  events that left most people open mouthed in disbelief in a country which is on the very edge of bankruptcy again. First we had the lavish 90th birthday party of President Mugabe which was held in white tents at the football stadium in Marondera and apparently cost over a million dollars. The  birthday was attended by thousands of people who either sat outside on the ground in the dust or in a series of tents whose occupants wore neck bands declaring them to be either VIP’s or VVIP’s depending on their status.  As the luxury cars streamed out of the town on one of only three small sections of potholed road that had been repaired for the function, the town staggered back to normal. The very next day the electricity was off and then the water ran out but no one said anything; this was exactly as we had expected, exactly as it has been on countless other VIP occasions.

Then, just a few days later, came the million dollar wedding of Mr Mugabe’s 24 year old daughter to a 38 year old pilot.  We heard of yet more VIP’s and VVIP’s, of billionaire guests, heads of state and lavish gifts.  At the end of it all ordinary people were left  wondering how this quiet, shy young 24 year old Zimbabwean woman was going to cope in her new life in the times ahead.  

For a couple of weeks we’d had something else to think about but the reality of Zimbabwe wasn’t long in returning. Speaking in Parliament, the  Minister of Finance made the shocking revelation that the country’s central bank has almost no gold reserves. Mr Chinamasa said the only reserves the bank had were ‘gold coins which were valued at US$501,390 as at the end of January 2014.’  It defies belief that in a country with prolific gold and diamond mines, our central bank reserves are only apparently sufficient to purchase 1,400 tonnes of maize.

Where’s all the money going is what everyone wants to know? And just when we thought we were starting to get answers after recent revelations about the obscene salaries being paid to officials in parastatals, parliament stepped in to try and silence what’s now being called Salarygate. The Speaker of the House of Assembly has just announced new rules to stop MP’s from making ‘unsubstantiated’ statements. The new Rules came a few days after an MDC MP claimed the Commissioner of the tax authority was earning US$310,000 a  month and questioned why the Clerk of Parliament was getting benefits far superior to anyone else in Parliament.

But perhaps nothing tells the story of life in Zimbabwe more accurately than the terrible tragedy of 22 young Zimbabweans who died in a disused South African mine last week. They weren’t attending lavish Presidential  birthday parties or weddings but like at least three million others, they’d gone across the border to try and make a living  for themselves. Apparently the youngsters  didn’t have papers to be in South Africa and were evading police by hiding in a disused mine shaft in Roodeport. The youngsters died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation while police waited above ground. One media correspondent who was there described how the police were: ‘laughing and commenting that the illegal miners were too scared to walk out as they faced imminent arrest.’ Our hearts go out to the family and friends of these young Zimbabweans who died underground. They are the products of a country where a few multi millionaires live among twelve million struggling people who strive only for a decent life.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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154 <![CDATA[Utterly shameful]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

For a few months I’ve been slowing down on the frequency of  my fourteen year marathon of Letters from Zimbabwe. There are many critics but also much despair about the backward slide of our beloved country. I can only tell the story of life in Zimbabwe from my perspective and my snapshot this week is of the good, the absurd , the annoying and the utterly shameful.

The good helps to maintain sanity and on an early morning trip to Harare a long crested eagle sits on a telephone pole just as the sun breaks over the horizon. The feathers on the eagles head provide a majestic silhouette in the golden dawn while a swirl of mist hugs the ground, curling along the twists and turns of an unseen river. The ripening summer grass is heavy with gold, purple and white seed heads, gently swaying and bowing in the dawn breeze. I pass a man riding a bicycle with a broken bicycle tied onto his carrier rack while above him many thousands of red footed kestrels sit side by side on the electricity cables, waiting for the day when it’s time to leave on their winter migration to Asia.

In the capital city bureaucracy consumes every task, testing the patience of a saint. Not being able to make a simple payment to the tax authorities despite their lines of tellers and cashiers because the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority don’t accept money. All payments have to be made into one specific bank and the deposit slips then taken back to the tax authorities to be stamped. Is this because they don’t trust their staff you wonder? It gets worse though because when you find that one specific bank that accepts tax payments, it takes half an hour to make a simple cash deposit. That’s because all deposits have to be double checked and  the deposit slip counter signed by the Accountant. Is that because they don’t trust their staff you wonder, as you trudge back to the tax offices again?

Then comes the downright annoying as born, raised and permanently resident Zimbabweans have to queue at Immigration offices for an annual ‘resident’ stamp in their passports. This is because we are classified as ‘Aliens’ if our ancestors weren’t born here, despite our new constitution which stipulates that every born Zimbabwean is automatically a citizen.  

And then, after enduring all this, there comes the utterly shameful.  A group of 3,000 people who are predominantly white Zimbabweans, have formed a lobby  group called Zimbabweans Against Sanctions. They are calling for the lifting of all targeted sanctions against Zanu PF individuals by the EU and US. There are only two individuals left on the EU targeted sanctions list, namely President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace,  along with one company, the Zimbabwe Defence Industries. 

The white lobby group say they approve of the compulsory 51% indigenous shareholding of all companies and  they blame targeted sanctions for the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. Their Chairman, Matthew Smith, says targeted sanctions  should be lifted because: ‘the truth about Zimbabwe needs to be heard … and needs to be told from our perspective, especially as white Zimbabweans on whose behalf these damaging sanctions were supposedly imposed.’

It’s ironic that a predominantly white lobby group thinks sanctions were imposed because six thousand white people had their farms seized and not because twelve million Zimbabweans lost everything in our country’s decade long collapse. Denying that their motive is to protect their own businesses from being seized by Zanu PF, Matthew Smith said he was making this call now because: ‘the time just feels right.’

What a shame for Zimbabwe that the time didn’t feel right for these white people to speak out when half a million or more farm workers and their families were rendered homeless and destitute in land invasions; when at least  850,000 people were left bereft and desperate after government bulldozers destroyed their homes and livelihoods in Operation Murambatsvina; when at least 4,000 people died from cholera in 2008; or when countless hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans were the victims of political violence in the 2002, 2005 and 2008 elections. 

It’s also ironic  that retired Zimbabwean cricketer Heath Streak is one of the lobby group’s prominent members despite the black armband ‘death of democracy’ protests and subsequent exile from Zimbabwe of his colleagues, and our country’s most famous cricketers, Henry Olonga and Andy Flower. 

Where were the voices of these 3,000 white Zimbabweans when millions of Zimbabweans, black, white and brown, were going to bed hungry, crawling under razor wire  border fences, running from violence, hiding from persecutors, being beaten, burnt, raped and tortured.

This Zimbabwean is ashamed. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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153 <![CDATA[Birthday town and beatings from behind]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

President Mugabe turns 90 on the 21st February and his public birthday celebration is being held in Marondera. For a few weeks we’ve been waiting for the usual frenzy of face lifting that comes before a VIP arrives in town but it’s going to take more than spit and polish and a bucket of whitewash to sort things out.

 

 Three weeks before the 90th anniversary we turned on our taps in birthday town and thick, stinking, black water came out.  You couldn’t call it water at all, it looked and smelt like sewerage. There must be some terrible problem, we thought, a burst sewage pipe must have contaminated the mains and it surely wouldn’t last more than a few hours.  Three days later black filth still poured out of the taps but a call to the municipality was as good as useless. They wouldn’t answer any questions, wouldn’t even acknowledge that the towns water was black and unusable and insisted all questions be directed to the Engineer. The conversation with the Engineer turned out to be as unbelievable as the filth coming out the taps.

Q: We’ve had black water for three days, can you tell me what’s going on?

A: We are aware of the problem. We are carrying out de-sludging.

Q: De- sludging? But the sludge is now in our water pipes, toilets, geysers and taps.

No comment.

Q : Can’t you let the sludge out at the base of the reservoir?

A: We can’t.

Q: You mean there’s no outlet for the sludge except into the whole town’s water pipes?

A: There is no other outlet.

Q: But why didn’t we get any warning this was going to happen? People are going to get sick.

A: You shouldn’t use it, it’s not for consumption.

Q: Then why did you let it into the pipes?

No comment.

A week before the big birthday party most people thought it still wasn’t fit for or consumption and everywhere people’s arms were dragging on the ground from carrying buckets.

 

While all this was going on we had a third of our annual rainfall in a week. 200 mm (10 inches) of rain left the town even more pot-holed than before and some roads completely impassable. Small holes which could have been easily patched weeks ago are now deep, spreading ditches. Some residential roads like mine which haven’t seen any maintenance at all since 2007 are almost unusable after seven years of neglect. Storm drains are completely blocked with sand, tar has been eaten away by erosion and steep drop offs are criss-crossed with gullies. Add to this no street lights in most residential areas for ten years,  two metre high grass on road verges, dumped litter  and car wrecks decorating every suburb and you have to wonder how to hide all this from the VIP birthday party about to take place here.    

 

A week before the birthday a little strip of paper, thinner and shorter than a ruler, did the rounds in town. It was an invitation from the town’s MP to attend a meeting but it wasn’t to discuss the diabolical state of the town, roads or water. Eyebrows went up when people saw that the venue was the local Zanu PF Headquarters and at the bottom of the slip were the words: ‘Agenda: 21st February Movement.’ (President Mugabe’s birthday celebrations)

 

In the same week before the big birthday party, unarmed women singing and carrying roses were beaten outside Parliament in Harare. Riot police moved in from behind and started beating the women who were leaving flowers and a message to parliament to respect and activate the country’s new constitution. A WOZA leader said “ they were beating us from behind because they couldn’t even face us.’

 

Our thoughts are with hundreds of thousands of people affected by flooding , snow storms and volcanic ash in many countries around the world and to thousands affected by flooding in the area of Zimbabwe’s Tokwe Mukorsi dam in  Masvingo. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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152 <![CDATA[Monster pay packets]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s a time of excesses in Zimbabwe: big storms, big reptiles and monstrously big pay packets that have left us wide eyed and open mouthed in disbelief and disgust.

When the fourth black mamba in a few weeks slithered through the undergrowth of my garden the other day, it didn’t take long to work out why there are so many snakes this year. Its been a season of big storms which have often been so intense that everyone’s saying they’ve never seen such violent weather. Torrential rain and fierce wind at the start of the week deposited 75mm (three inches) of rain in an hour and another 25mm overnight leaving everything in my neighbourhood sodden and saturated.  After a couple of weeks of very heavy storms, everything is waterlogged, flushing out rodents, reptiles and burrowing creatures. Exacerbating the snake problem is the ever increasing lack of habitat as the annual, uncontrolled urban land grab spreads further and further.  It’s apparently diplomatically correct to call this ‘self apportioned plots’ or ‘peri-urban agriculture’ but in reality it’s just a free for all slash and burn. Widespread tree cutting and cultivation of open spaces, green belts and wetlands is now having a direct impact on urban areas. Streams are filling with silt and drying up, wetlands are disappearing and with nowhere else to go, mambas, cobras and pythons are moving in.  

So with one eye on where the slithery things are, attention turns to the snakes in  the public sector and parastatals who have been awarding themselves massive salaries. While the MDC and Zanu PF were fully occupied fighting for power and positions in the 2009 – 2013  unity government, it seems an orgy of pocket filling has been going on right under their very noses.  

The first big scandal came before Christmas when we heard that the CEO of  ZBC was earning 40,000 US dollars a month. At a time when civil servants such as teachers are earning around 500 dollars a month, this forty thousand salary had everyone agog. When the scandal came to light the  ZBC CEO was suspended on full pay, and now he has no doubt got his feet up and is sitting watching telly all day without a care in the world, knowing that he’s getting paid every day for doing nothing.  Although we do wonder if he’s watching the boring propaganda on ZBC TV or if he’s tuned in to DSTV, the South African satellite TV.

Just when we’d stopped gossiping about the ZBC big earner, we realised that was chicken feed compared to the obscene pay packets of the senior management of the public sector medical aid society.  It turns out that Mr Dube, the CEO of Premier  Service Medical Aid Society (PSMAS), has been earning a basic monthly salary of US$230,000 while thirteen other members of their senior management had been getting $870,000 between them every month. This comes at a time when fee paying members of PSMAS are having to pay cash for X rays, scans, blood tests and other services because their medical aid cards are being rejected for amounts as little as $40. How do you turn away a pensioner who can’t pay for a simple blood test when the CEO’s salary is enough to pay 500 teachers a month?  

Hot on the heels of that scandal came press reports that  the eighteen man management team in charge of Harare’s municipal affairs  are taking home just under $500,000 a month. The Town Clerk who has now been suspended, presumably on full pay, was earning $37,000 a month while the council employees who are cleaning the streets, emptying dustbins and doing other unsavoury things like unblocking sewer pipes are earning around two hundred dollars a month.

Everyone is convinced these three monster pay packets are the tip of a giant iceberg and are hoping that the whistleblowers keep going, exposing these obscene excesses that are surely the stuff that revolutions are made of. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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151 <![CDATA[Paying to give away your own company?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s nothing quite like five days without electricity to remind us how hard our lives were during the first decade of the 21st century and to warn us how tenuous our grip on normality is. The prolonged power cut in my neighbourhood left a fridge full of mould and fruit flies, all the food on the compost heap and tempers frayed to breaking point.  Add a couple of days without water to this picture and then decide whether to laugh or cry when you read the message that comes in on the cell phone from the Ministry of Health. ‘Prevent diarrhoea this season,’ it says, ‘ wash your hands with soap or ash under safe running water before eating or preparing food and after visiting the toilet.’ Safe running water is a joke when you haven’t had any water for a couple of days; safe food is absurd after five days without electricity and a fridge alive with mould.   

As each month passes since the July 2013 elections it seems we could so easily slide back to the way things were a decade ago and every day the press reports back up our fears. A Ministry of Health whose hospitals owe US$36 million to suppliers and yet who’ve only been allocated US$23 million in this year’s budget. A Ministry of Education which needs US$73 million to help educate disadvantaged and vulnerable children but have only been allocated US$15 million for the program. 

Meanwhile the 51% compulsory indigenisation of privately owned businesses remains a looming threat and there is no relief or clarity offered by authorities. The uncertainty has left no one spending money, companies shrinking and more and more workers being laid off. Fear of being targeted in the indigenisation issue has left most affected people not prepared to speak out, and not even prepared to publicise the absurd amounts of money they’re being told to pay.  Some of these amounts include US$20 to submit the mandatory indigenisation forms and then US$500 for born and resident Zimbabweans or US$5,000 for ‘foreigners’ to get a ‘compliance certificate.’ It’s not clear what any of this money is for, where it goes to,  if it’s a fee for not being black or if it’s going to prevent you from giving up 51% of your own company. It seems beyond belief that people are being made to pay for the bureaucracy that will facilitate them losing  51% of their own companies because of the colour of their skin.  Some ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans seem to think that the mandatory handing over of a 51% shareholding of a private company is OK because they say the shares will be paid for. But does that make it right you ask; being forced to cede the majority shareholding of your own work? They have conveniently forgotten that farmers who bought their farms after Independence and then had them seized by the government, because of the colour of their skin, were promised compensation for fixed assets but fourteen years later 95% of us haven’t ever received a single dollar for the expropriation of our homes, businesses and life’s work.

Trying to make sense of it all I stood outside under a stormy night sky looking for answers. Clouds boiled overhead but every now and again the moon broke through. Almost full, it shed its  light on the branches of a big Musasa tree, exposing for a moment a little grey owl. Querulous and quavering were the best words I could find to describe its strange, haunting call. It sounded so far away and was almost inaudible over the voices of a million crickets but in fact the little owl was immediately overhead. I couldn’t resist a quick flash of the torch to see the little grey bird with its big round eyes staring down at me, its tail flicking in surprise, alarm or maybe just annoyance. Our lives and future in Zimbabwe feel very much like those adjectives: querulous and quavering. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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150 <![CDATA[Rear view mirror]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe’s Christmas present came in the form of rain. Day after day for the last three weeks the heavens have opened, giving us a wonderful, wet, soggy Christmas and New Year. Low purple clouds, towering thunderstorms and torrential downpours have soaked the land. Hailstorms in some areas, long gentle soaking rain in others with the end result being the glorious green of renewal and an extravaganza of beauty in the bush. Mushrooms of every shape, size and colour; black and white puff back shrikes; yellow and black weaver birds and bright red bishop birds; bright green and slate grey snakes; monstrous ants and fearsome rhino beetles; flying ants, sausage flies and dung beetles; moths the size of side plates and figs nearly as big as tennis balls filled with sweet, sticky, pink delight. And of course Christmas in Zimbabwe wouldn’t be the same without the gorgeous red flame lilies which keep beckoning you to come and admire, luring you ever deeper into the bush. 

It’s hard to turn our attention back to everyday life in Zimbabwe and 2014 has started with the usual crop of absurdities. First we heard that after learning of the end of their diplomatic missions, Zimbabwe’s MDC Ambassador to Germany, Hebson Makuvise, has applied for asylum there. Then Zimbabwe’s MDC Ambassador to Australia, Jacqueline Zwambili, applied for asylum in that country apparently fearing political persecution if she comes back home. Then, saddest of all, came the news that ex MDC Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife of just over a year has moved out and the couple are living apart, the marriage in trouble.

Aside from the personal problems of people in positions of authority and influence, Zimbabwe is rushing headlong into what looks like very troubled waters this new year. Already we are hearing that even more companies are on the verge of collapse and going into liquidation. There are reports of big companies retrenching workers including Zimplats, Unki, Bindura Nickel, Mimosa, Spar Supermarkets, Dairibord, Cairns Foods, Olivine Industries and PG Industries.

Despite these perilously loud alarm bells for Zimbabwe’s fragile economy, the government seem determined to continue with their indigenisation policy compelling all non indigenous Zimbabweans to give up a 51% controlling interest in their companies. Every day their statements and contradictions leave us more confused than ever but according to the CEO of the Indigenisation Board, Wilson Gwatiringa, people are apparently queuing up to ‘indigenise’ 51% of their companies. Two hundred indigenisation ‘compliance’ forms a day are being submitted, Mr Gwatringa said.

Just as farmers faithfully complied with the requirements to get government Certificates of No Interest for  their farms back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, only to have everything seized a decade or so later, now businesses are apparently rushing to get Indigenisation Compliance Certificates.  It’s like looking in a dusty rear view mirror and seeing the undoing of Zimbabwe happening all over again. Won’t we ever learn?

Until next time, thanks for reading this letter and supporting my books, love cathy.

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149 <![CDATA[Generations yet to be born]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas has arrived with a bombshell to Zimbabwe this year. A seven page photocopied form has flooded what’s left of privately owned, legally operating businesses. It’s called the ‘Notification of Extent of Indigenisation and Indigenisation Implementation Plan.’  All ‘foreign’ owned businesses have been instructed to outline their plans to hand over 51% of their companies to ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans. 

At first glance you assume that ‘foreign’ refers to non Zimbabweans but that assumption isn’t the case.  According to the Form, an ‘indigenous’ Zimbabwean is  defined as “any person  who, before the 18th  April 1980 was disadvantaged by unfair discrimination on the grounds of his or her race, and any descendant of such person and includes any company, association, syndicate or partnership of which indigenous Zimbabweans form the majority of the members or hold the controlling interest.”

This phrase, and those that follow, leave you with more questions than answers, no matter how many times you read them. It seems that by including the word ‘descendants’, the term ‘indigenous’ also refers to generations yet to be born, conceived or even dreamed of. Then there’s the question about just exactly who is indigenous. If you are a Zimbabwean born Indian, or mixed race or white Zimbabwean, can you be called indigenous? If you are a black Zimbabwean whose parents, grandparents or great grandparents were not born in Zimbabwe – are you indigenous? If your skin is not black but you have a Zimbabwean ID card, a residence permit or a work permit can you be called indigenous?  If you were born after 1980, regardless of your skin colour , are you therefore not regarded as indigenous? Or have we all been condemned because of the colour of our skins, regardless of our beliefs, values and actions both before and after 1980?

The most worrying question of all is: Are non black Zimbabweans, born and resident here, working, employing and paying taxes, to be punished for eternity for something that other non black people did?    

All companies have been told they must submit the Indigenisation Form by the 1st of January 2014. A list of over 50 categories of businesses are itemized on the Form and with each line your heart sinks. All the things that everyone has been doing to survive since farms were seized and the economy went into freefall, are on the indigenisation schedule.

The Indigenisation Form stipulates that every business must ‘cede a controlling interest of not less than  51%’ of its shareholdings to ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans with effect from the 1st of March 2010 or within five years from the commencement of business. According to the Permanent Secretary for Indigenisation, non compliance with the Indigenisation law will lead to arrest. Lawyers say they are waiting for people to come forward and challenge the legislation but they aren’t offering pro bono services and for companies struggling to stay open, lawyer’s fees aren’t in the budget, nor is the ability to swallow the outrage that you must give away a 51% controlling interest of your company because of the colour of your skin.  

While this ugly plan is unfolding in Zimbabwe, we tried to follow the events in South Africa but it wasn’t easy. ZBC   gave almost no coverage to the death of Nelson Mandela or the week of international memorials and tributes.  ZBC TV waited until the day after the Johannesburg memorial service and then screened just a few minutes of the service, not providing the audio of any of the speeches of world leaders. They didn’t give Zimbabweans the chance to hear US President Obama say words that we so wish were also true for Zimbabwe.  President Obama said that  because Nelson Mandela was not only a leader of a movement but also a skilled politician, South Africa now had a Constitution that was: “true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.”

This is my last letter of 2013 and I wish all Zimbabweans, and people who follow our trials and turmoil, a happy, peaceful and safe Christmas. Thank you for reading this letter and supporting my books for so long, without you I wouldn’t have had to courage to keep going. Until next time, love cathy.

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148 <![CDATA[If silence could talk]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The large banking and enquiries hall of the local government owned telephone company was all but deserted on the second last day of the month. One man, a security guard, leant against the wall staring out the window, a glazed, bored look on his face. ‘Are you open?’ I asked, surprised that there wasn’t anyone either manning the counters or waiting to pay their bills in the middle of the morning at month end. The guard nodded so I waited. Just the day before three bills had arrived in my post box and I had come to pay my dues. Before long a counter assistant appeared and I handed over the statements and money for three telephone and broadband bills that needed to be paid. Only one payment, for the broadband,  was accepted and I raised my eyebrows as the other two, and my bank notes, were handed back to me. On one account he had written : ‘Credit $ 277.55’  and on the other: ’Credit $ 241.27.’

This sudden credit to peoples bills is apparently going to cost the government owned telephone company 63 million US dollars and comes after President Mugabe’s pre-election, populist promise to bring relief to people who’ve been struggling to pay utility bills. As crazy as it may sound it didn’t feel good to not be paying my bills. I’d made the phone calls and used the telephone line and it’s only right I should pay for those services.  By not paying what I owed I almost felt as if I was somehow guilty and had joined this great Zimbabwean epidemic of not being accountable for my actions. ‘How will you survive?’ I asked the counter clerk. He didn’t say a word, just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. 

Meanwhile outside in the burning sunshine, it wasn’t just telephone bills that were abnormal in Zimbabwe this week. In Bulawayo when women members of WOZA marched to present a petition to a local minister at least 50 were beaten with police baton sticks while others were run out of town, chased by  policemen and leashed dogs while WOZA leaders were detained for three hours.  

In the same week as women were being beaten and chased by dogs and for the first time in over four years there’s also suddenly a new banking crisis. They are calling it a liquidity crunch which in reality mean there’s not enough physical bank notes to meet people’s needs.  Front page newspaper headlines described how hundreds of people queued for hours outside banks in Harare  to make withdrawals. The accompanying photograph said it all and the paper revealed that banks were limiting withdrawals to between $200 and $1,000 per person per day. Instantly we were taken back into time to the horrors of 2007 and 8 when there was no money left to get out of the banks and when more than a dozen zeroes were removed from our accounts overnight. We don’t talk about this nightmare much anymore but we haven’t forgotten. The banks are as tight lipped now as they were then and one anonymous bank official was quoted this week as saying the press shouldn’t write negative reports about the latest ‘liquidity crunch’ as it would cause a ‘boomerang effect.’ 

The boomerang effect is an apt description of life in Zimbabwe at the moment as we continue to bounce backwards to where we came from at an alarming speed. Just 120 days after it ended it’s as if the four year unity government and the small gains it made had never existed. If silence could talk it would be tears running down our cheeks.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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147 <![CDATA[One hundred thousand dollar dinner]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

After weeks of searing heat and endlessly bright blue skies, the rain finally arrived. In my home town for the past fortnight we’ve been recording temperatures of 32 degrees in the shade by ten in the morning and a staggering 47 degrees centigrade in direct sun. Everything about the weather this year has been strange with seasons running six weeks late and strange anomalies in nature such as Musasa trees which had virtually no pods - apparently a reflection of last year’s weather. The first real rain of the season came with a massive storm which drew ever closer and dropped purple clouds down so low you felt you could reach out and touch them. When the heavens opened a torrent descended: fifty millimetres (two inches) in the first hour and another forty millimetres overnight.

The next morning casualties and beneficiaries of the storm awaited discovery everywhere you looked.  A water-logged millipede (chongololo) being literally sucked dry by a swarm of a small, bright red beetles.  A butterfly wing in the wet sand; a hammerkop feasting on drowned beetles and sausage flies. An exposed owl whose roost had been washed out being mobbed by four crows coming at it from all directions. The aerial  fight was so fierce that you could hear the angry beak-clacking of the young eagle owl. A red winged lourie gorging on the remaining plums left clinging to the tree, the rest of the harvest lying windswept and waterlogged underfoot. A small chameleon heading determinedly across the soaked garden, obviously looking for a new safe place. The more the camera clicked, the angrier the chameleon got, hissing and displaying the bright orange insides of its mouth

It’s not just the first, fierce rain storm that’s aroused Zimbabwe’s attention this week. In an ever growing political storm there are incessant reports of infighting within Zanu PF as the succession race reaches fever pitch; we hear of death threats and plots, of rigging and fraud in their provincial party elections. Meanwhile Zanu PF’s ability to stabilize and expand the economy grow ever shakier. ZBC employees haven’t been paid for five months,  MP’s and Senators haven’t been paid since they took office in August and  the government owes a year’s worth of school fees for the thousands of disadvantaged children on their BEAM education  assistance programme. We are waiting to hear the result  of the National Railways of Zimbabwe’s request to retrench six thousand of their workers, representing a staggering 86% of their workforce.  Amidst this sorry situation comes news that Zanu PF are undertaking to raise three million US dollars , not to relieve distressed companies or assist retrenched employees, but to host their party’s annual congress. Their fund raising programme includes a dinner where tables range in price from US$100,000 to $20,000 with ‘general’ tables costing a measly US$2,000.

Trying to find balance and perspective in Zimbabwe since the July elections is a very difficult task. It’s incomprehensible that some Zimbabweans can afford one hundred thousand dollar dinners while  so many thousands of others are being laid off and don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Until next time, thanks for reading this letter and supporting my books, love cathy.

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146 <![CDATA[Thank you Iain Kay]]> My letter from Zimbabwe today is just this short message: Marondera's brave and long suffering fighter for democracy and change, Iain Kay, has been suspended from the MDC for five years.

Not only was Iain Marondera's MP in the Unity Government, he worked tirelessly on the Constitutional Commission.

Iain has been suspended from the MDC after comparing the MDC to a football team and saying that when the coach consistently fails to produce a win he should be changed. Iain Kay is a humble, quiet, gentle man.

Marondera thanks Iain and Kerry Kay their for years of personal sacrifice in the struggle to bring change to Zimbabwe.

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145 <![CDATA[Casting shadows on our streets]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Standing on the pavement  waiting for a friend outside a shop this week,  I noticed a tall barefoot woman holding the hand of a little boy who was maybe three or four years old. Both the woman and the child looked to be in a bad way: dirty, dishevelled and gaunt. It was a scorching day, the heat was beating down and in the shadow cast by the buildings another young woman sat on a cloth she had laid out on the pavement. Next to her she had a bucket  filled with plastic frozen tubes filled with coloured soft drink called Freezits. This is how hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are making their living: sitting on pavements selling things because there are no jobs anywhere for 80% of our population who are estimated to be unemployed. Three months after elections won by a party whose slogan was ‘indigenise, empower, develop, employ,’ more and more companies are in trouble. Between September and October alone, nine companies went into liquidation and twelve others were placed under judicial management. Industries are shrinking at an alarming rate and almost every day there are reports of retrenchments and redundancies with numbers of people losing their jobs running into the thousands.

The tall woman and her child stopped in front of the bucket of Freezits and the little boy stared longingly at the bright coloured frozen drinks.  ‘Five for a dollar ,’ said the pavement vendor but the mother had nothing except a look of despair in her eyes.  She caught my eye but said nothing. No words were needed because once a Mum, always a Mum. I remembered how much my son used to love the sweet, icy Freezits in summer and how many thousands I used to sell from our little farm store before land invasions. We used to call the frozen drinks cent-a-cools and before that penny cools and there can’t be many Zimbabweans who didn’t grow up sucking on icy, plastic bags.

I pulled a dollar out of my pocket. The child chose a green Freezit while his barefoot Mum took another four and dropped them into the empty plastic bag she was carrying. She looked at me, clapped her hands in thanks and said quietly: ‘Four children at home but no work. Can you give me a job?’  ‘Sorry,’ I said, shaking my head and watched as she reached down for her son’s hand and they walked on, the boy sucking on his tube of frozen sugary drink. I can hardly bear to think what will become of so many unemployed, hungry Mums and their children in the times ahead. After the horrors of hunger in  2006, 7 and 8, we thought we would never have to see such despair and desperation again but already it is casting shadows on our streets.

 Until the next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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144 <![CDATA[Weak at the knees]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s that gorgeous time of year in Zimbabwe when the first rains are beginning to fall  after six long, dry months and everything comes back to life almost overnight. The voices of a thousand frogs at night, the singing of a million cicadas in the day. Giant moths under the lights in the morning,  sausage flies buzzing round in circles on the floor, the first thin, ticklish, wriggling chongololos (millipedes) and an extravaganza of birds. It’s Starling time in Highveld gardens;  midnight blue glossy starlings,   deep purple plum- coloured starlings and gorgeous red- winged starlings which only reveal their crimson feathers in flight.  All of this beauty helps to distract us from news which is becoming increasingly concerning three months after the July elections.

Most Zimbabweans have put their heads down and gone back into self preservation mode. The voices of opposition seem to have largely gone quiet and their sea of red berets that decorated the country just three months ago have all but disappeared. We are starting to see headlines that we haven’t seen since 2007 such as the dramatic one word that covered the front page of a local daily newspaper. ‘HUNGER’ the Daily News screamed alongside a picture of children picking maize pips off a tar road, spilled by a passing truck. The UN says 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food aid in the coming months but already people are hungry and this week MP’s spoke of constituents in many areas down to one meal a day already. Meanwhile rural villagers who were promised a  quartet of crop inputs by government consisting of 10 kgs of seed maize, 50 kgs of lime, 50kgs of Compound D and 50kgs of Ammonium Nitrate are still waiting and it’s almost too late.

Then there’s the very distressing news that three months after the elections the Zanu PF majority government have gone back to their practice of spending more money than they’ve got. A report on financial performance from the Accountant General’s Department has revealed that in August  government expenditure amounted to $314.02 million against an income of only $306.68 million. News like that makes every Zimbabwean go weak at the knees in view of the hyperinflation, repeated devaluation and economic collapse we lived through just five years ago.

And then there’s the frightening news of continued shrinking of industry and manufacturing as more and more companies downsize or close altogether either because there’s not enough business to stay open or because of the oppressive indigenization law. Many Zimbabweans are still very confused about indigenization which isn’t making more jobs but is making more unemployment. Even more confusing  is that we thought indigenisation was supposed to empower indigenous black Zimbabweans who were previously disadvantaged but we see headlines that the Chinese are building a $ 25 million chrome smelter in Selous, and Angola is about to start exploring two diamond fields in Zimbabwe.  Who is it then, that  qualifies to be a  previously disadvantaged, indigenous Zimbabwean?

But there’s good news too and it comes from the town of Kwekwe. The newly elected Mayor, Matenda Madzoke, turned down the brand new US$68,000  4×4 Toyota D Tec  that had been ordered for him as the perk of his new position.  ‘I’m not going to be driving a brand new expensive vehicle on roads with potholes which are littered with heaps of uncollected refuse and call myself a mayor,’ he said. ‘I was put into office to ensure service delivery and that is going to be my first priority.’ Thank you Mayor Madzoke, you give us hope,  please encourage all your colleagues around the country follow suit.

I end with a message of condolence for the families of 24 Zimbabweans who were burnt to death when the truck they were travelling in to a funeral  hit a fuel tanker along the Tanganda – Chisumbanje road. Until next time, thanks for reading, for your wonderful anecdotes of why you love Zimbabwe and for your fantastic support of my new book, love cathy.

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143 <![CDATA[Sausages and handkerchiefs]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Being interviewed by a magazine recently I was asked what the main challenges were that I faced as a writer about Zimbabwean life and how I deal with those challenges. I replied that racism and intolerance were the two biggest issues I had to cope with. I explained that my birth certificate says I was born in Southern Rhodesia. My school and university certificates are from Rhodesia. My first ID was issued in Zimbabwe Rhodesia and my current ID and utility bills are from Zimbabwe. And it’s all the same place! I can't change what happened in the past, nor can I personally be blamed for it or deny it. BUT I can help to change the future and that's why I write about our country because I think Zimbabweans are ready to move on.

Writing this letter almost  every week for the last thirteen years I’ve had my share of hate mail: from people who hate whites and those who hate blacks; from people who have categorized, judged and stereotyped. But I’ve also had mountains of mail from people all over the world who have an overwhelming love for this little tea pot shaped country of ours. Regardless of our age, sex religion or skin colour, we’ve all got things that make us love this country so much that we just can’t give up on it, regardless of the politics.  

In between my letters about current affairs in Zimbabwe I would like to write about people’s memories and anecdotes about  their lives here and maybe in the process become more tolerant of people’s differences and the things we cannot change and more determined to contribute to the future.    

In the early 1960’s a family favourite was a picnic on the banks of one of the cold mountain rivers in the Nyanga mountains. Dad would carry a small gas bottle and a cold bag which contained drinks in glass bottles and a packet or two of sausages. Someone else carried a frying pan and a tin kettle and someone else carried the picnic basket. Arriving at the spot  the bottles of drinks were wedged in the sand in the cold water of the river, the sausages were thrown into the frying pan to sizzle and pop and later the tin kettle was filled with water straight from the river and boiled for tea.        

A friend wrote about his memories as a child in the 1980’s in Marondera. His Mum would send him to the shop with a list and the coins which she tied in a handkerchief and put in his pocket.  He would walk along the railway line, balancing on the tracks and when he got to the shop hand the handkerchief to the storekeeper. Sometimes he’d be lucky and be given a sweet or a gob stopper and sometimes he’d be tempted to stop and play a quick game of slug (table soccer) on the shop veranda.  On those occasions he invariably ended up staying far too long and having to face the wrath of his Mum when he got home hours later dusty, sticky and dishevelled.

Please send me your anecdote, whether you are black or white, male or female and whether you are from Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia or Zimbabwe because like it or not, we all come from the same little tea pot on the map of Africa. I’d love to hear from you and it would be great if you can put a rough year and place on your anecdote. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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142 <![CDATA[Licking our wounds]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s nothing quite as refreshing after a blisteringly hot October day in Zimbabwe as that hour after sunset when the night starts to reveal itself. You can almost hear the earth breathe a sigh of relief as the sun turns red and slips into the horizon. From red, to pink and then orange, at last the burning heat is extinguished for another day.  An early shower of rain a couple of weeks ago re-awakened the flying ants and now, as darkness falls, the ants emerge from the baked ground in their millions, taking to the air in a magical display of silent flight. And then it’s feasting time and you understand why the Robins and Bulbuls are still sitting up on the rooftops; they were waiting for the flying ants and you wonder how they knew. Swooping and swirling the birds gorge on flying ants, then the bats move in, a pair of nightjars and even an owl glides through the swarming, shining wings.

The crowded twilight sky and aerobatic manoeuvres are not that different from the frenzy going on during the day where the struggle for democracy has been replaced with the struggle for survival. As painful as the July election results were, nothing has changed. We still import almost all our food, unemployment is still  over 70% and finding a way to keep food on the table is still our top priority. On Zimbabwe’s highways there is a picture of Zimbabwe that tells our story better than any high powered analysis of the state of our country.

Major roadworks supervised by Chinese men, using Zimbabwean labourers, South African machines and funding from unknown sources, are being undertaken to upgrade some of our major highways. It’s an exercise that started a couple of years ago and looks like it’ll be going on for a good many years to come.  As a section of road is worked on, only one lane is left open and traffic from opposite directions takes turns to traverse the single lane.

There are of course the bully boys who force you off the road, ride in the ditches and verges, determined to get to the front of the queues of cars. These bully boys are made up of the two extremes of life in Zim : the battered, filled to bursting minibus kombis and the men with too much money driving fancy SUV’s, their windows up, air conditioning on, they are divorced from the real Zimbabwe, determined to always be at the front of any queue.

 Sometimes you have to wait for fifteen minutes at these roadworks until your lane is opened and this delay has opened a unique window of opportunity for countless unemployed Zimbabweans. Villagers have learnt that right there, stopped on the roads near their dusty impoverished lives, are scores of cars which can’t move for quarter of an hour and it’s a perfect market place  The selling frenzy begins as soon as you stop in the car queue. Men, women and kids armed with bowls, buckets, cold boxes and baskets are soon crowded at your windows. Apples, bananas, carrots, single cigarettes, biscuits, telephone air time, bottles of water, ground nuts , the list goes on and on.  You don’t even have to get out of your car as the goods are brought right to your window. The sellers run up and down the lines of cars with their wares, in the blistering heat; they are smiling, laughing and making a few dollars for a change. This is the amazing skill of Zimbabweans: an opportunity created by endless queues of cars forced to stop on the highway and suddenly hundreds of people are making a living from it.

There’s been much scorn and criticism of Zimbabweans in the last three months since the elections but for the moment we are licking our wounds, making a dollar wherever we can, waiting for the next opportunity that may change our fortunes, waiting for leadership. My new book, “CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS,” is hot off the press and now available for order from my website. It is dedicated to the people of Zimbabwe, so that we never forget and history never sanitizes what has happened to us.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. 19th October 2013.  Copyright © Cathy Buckle. www.cathybuckle.com

For information on my latest book: “CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS,” or my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,”  “African Tears,” “Beyond Tears” and “IMIRE,” or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact cbuckle@zol.co.zw

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141 <![CDATA[Broken promises]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

What a strange time it is in Zimbabwe this October. After a fortnight of blistering heat in September when even the purple Jacaranda flowers seemed to be melting, records for the time of year were broken. Chiredzi recorded 43 degrees, Masvingo 38 degrees and other centres were all over 30 degrees Celsius. Blankets were off, shorts were on and windows and doors were flung wide open. It was excessively hot for September, the heat adding to the general depression that continues to suffocate the country after the disputed election. Then overnight everything turned upside down: a thick mist descended, strong winds blew in and day time temperatures plunged back into the teens. In my home town we recorded 7 degrees Celsius in the morning, colder than many of this winter’s mornings. Then it started to rain and all those leaks in the roof that you hadn’t quite finished fixing or the gutters that hadn’t been emptied yet, sent us scurrying around with buckets and ladders, making monkeys of us all.

The Met dept urged people not to start planting, telling us this wasn’t the real rainy season but with over 2 million people already holding out their hands for food aid, rain is rain and everywhere you look people are bent over with hoes digging up roadsides, wetlands and any open spaces they can find.  We just don’t seem to be prepared for anything in Zimbabwe, not the weather, not the ability to grow our own food and not the political shockers.

Zanu PF took up their two third majority seats in Parliament and both the House of Assembly and the Senate opened for business. Mr Mugabe announced his new cabinet but there was nothing new about the people he appointed. Same names, same faces and so far it looks very much like the same direction.  There’s also nothing new in the way the only TV station in the country reports the news. ZBC continue to call all Zanu PF officials  Comrade while everyone else is relegated to being simply Mr or Mrs.

It wasn’t long before we got a taste of what’s in store for us under Zanu PF.  A Statutory Instrument was gazetted permitting the government’s security agencies to spy on our telephone calls, text messages and internet communications.  Instead of a court order being needed to scrutinize people’s private communications, as was previously the case, now it will just need a written request signed by a law enforcer of the rank of Assistant Commissioner to allow for prying eyes.  If they weren’t already, Big Brother are really watching us now.

On a day to day level the issue causing most concern is the lack of water and electricity. After months of relatively stable electricity supply, we’re back to regular, unscheduled, unexpected power cuts lasting up to 16 or more hours at a time. The authorities say the power  cuts are due to seasonal maintenance but its strangely coincidental that they’ve come on the back of Zanu PF’s election promise of writing off large amounts of outstanding debts on people’s electricity bills. Aside from the multiple thousands of US dollars owed by politicians, new farmers and government figures, all domestic consumers were promised a US$160 credit to their  electricity accounts. This was supposed to take effect from the first of October. Going to buy electricity for my prepaid meter on the third of October, I paid US$50 but was only given US$37 worth of electricity. ‘What about Zanu PF’s election promise of  US$ 160 credit?’  I asked. ‘We haven’t received that instruction from our superiors,’ I was told by the ZESA teller.

Broken promises already, but we aren’t surprised. It’s all very reminiscent of police not arresting trespassers and looters from private land saying it was ‘political’ or they hadn’t received instructions from their superiors.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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140 <![CDATA[By hook or by crook]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Arriving at Harare Airport after a time away, you can’t help but wonder what country you’ve landed in. Confusion starts some kilometres before you descend into Harare: the horizon becomes indistinct while buildings and familiar landmarks disappear into the choking smoke of a thousand fires.  It’s the time of year when everyone gets into a frenzy about planting a few maize seeds and every spare centimetre of land is set alight. Rural, farming or urban areas are all treated the same: every bush, shrub and blade of grass is incinerated; roadsides and railway sidings aren’t spared, nor are delicate wetlands or even the edges of cemeteries: everything is reduced to ash.

Coughing and with watering eyes you step into Harare International Airport where the sense of disorientation deepens. There are separate queues for returning residents, visitors, people with SADC passports or diplomatic passports. And then you notice that the signs are written in two languages: English and Chinese. Unbelievably the first thing visitors to Zimbabwe now see are signs that aren’t written in the two main local languages of Shona or Ndebele but in Chinese. How can this be? Since when has Zimbabwe’s second language become Chinese you wonder; have we been re-colonized?

Within a few days the culture shock of going from a first world to a third world country wears off. It’s not long before you know you’re home and it’s not long before you are forced to remember what happened. To remember the results of the election that sent the country into shock and mourning. To remember that after a thirteen year struggle for new governance in which thousands died of disease, poverty and violence and four million fled the country, Zanu PF have got back into power, by hook or by crook.

You know you’re home because the day before Parliament’s inaugurated there’s a sixteen hour electricity cut. The next day live TV coverage shows President Mugabe, now in power for 33 years, arriving at Parliament in a Rolls Royce under purple Jacaranda trees. The day after Parliament opens the electricity’s gone again, this time for ten hours. To really make you feel at home this is followed by two days without water and then comes the shocking news from  WOZA. Their press release reads that peaceful demonstrations on International Peace Day ‘left thirty women nursing wounds inflicted by police baton sticks.’ You can almost hear Zimbabwe groaning:  oh no, here we go again.

So many people who sacrificed  so much of the last thirteen years of their lives to bring change to Zimbabwe are left wondering: what now. They had thought, hoped and prayed that 2013 would see a complete transformation for Zimbabwe and that they might get their lives back.  As hoopoes and starlings run on my lawn and a red sun disappears into a smoke filled horizon every evening, I too wonder what’s next for our beloved country. Until the next time, thanks for reading this letter, and for supporting my books, love cathy.

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139 <![CDATA[We are so pained]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Disbelief and shock turned to stunned betrayal as Zimbabwe emerged from the elections and still, a week later, no one can believe what has happened. Despite the ‘landslide’ victory of Zanu PF and Mr Mugabe, we haven’t just experienced a week of wild cheering and celebrating, instead an ominous silence has descended on the country. No one knows what’s going to happen; if there are going to be protests or violence or if we’re just going to hurtle back in time to the dark days of no food or fuel, no electricity or water and where everyday life is an intolerable struggle. Almost overnight we have reverted to whispering, looking over our shoulders, making sure no one’s listening and being very careful what we say and even more careful what we commit to paper. Self censorship has returned to Zimbabwe with a vengeance.

Rumours are running wild: the return of the Zim dollar is the biggest fear and despite assurances to the contrary  by the head of the Reserve Bank, there’s a distinct lack of trust by ordinary people. This is, after all, the same Governor of the same Reserve Bank who oversaw hyperinflation and the collapse of the Zimbabwe dollar just four years ago who is now telling us to: “stop panicking.”

Alongside our disbelief and the rumours  about fuel, food and money, there is also confusion. At first the MDC said this was a fraudulent, illegitimate election and declared it ‘null and void.” Then they said that none of their candidates who had won in their constituencies or wards would take their seats in government.  Zimbabwe nodded silently; that made sense because you can hardly  declare an election illegitimate and null and void and then sit in parliament and engage in business as usual. Then, three days later came the dreaded back-track. According to the press, news came from “impeccable sources” within the MDC that winning candidates would take their seats in parliament after all , apparently in order to :”Guard the party’s zones of autonomy.”

Zanu PF say they are going to actively pursue their policies of indigenisation and empowerment while the MDC say they are guarding their party’s zones of autonomy. Whatever these grand words really mean,  they do nothing to comfort the father of a twenty year old girl who sent me a text message about his daughter while the election results were being announced.  The message simply said  “She has passed away.” The girl, barely a woman, had just been diagnosed with HIV/ AIDS but treatment came too late. She was born thirteen years after Mr Mugabe came to power and died as a young mother two decades later while Mr Mugabe was still in power. She had just come of age but had been too sick to vote for her first time. She leaves behind a baby just one year old. The political statements also do little to comfort the whispers of another young mother who asked why we had even bothered to vote when there was so much cheating and said: “we are so pained” by the outcome.

Which way now for Zimbabwe is what we all want to know; the legal challenges have begun and so again, we watch and wait, hope and pray. I am taking a break for a while so until next time, thanks for your support of Zimbabwe and for reading my letters for so many years, love cathy

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138 <![CDATA[We dared to hope]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Election day started at a very chilly 6 degrees centigrade in my home town with heavy, overcast skies and a biting wind. The grey, cold morning  of election day 2013 was such a contrast to the blue skies and sunshine of the days before, that you had to wonder if the oppressive weather wasn’t a warning for what lay ahead.

Right up to election day 2013 everything looked to be against Zimbabwe’s desperate need for change and yet we didn’t heed the warnings and hurtled headlong into it.  

Two chaotic voter registration exercises had left multiple thousands unable to get their names on the electoral roll.  There was no vote for the estimated 3 or 4 million Zimbabweans in the Diaspora. There was no vote for the thousands  of born and resident Zimbabweans who had taken up dual citizenship after being classed as ‘aliens’ by the Registrar General.  Stipulated media and security sector reforms had not been undertaken. And then there was the mayhem of the actual voters roll. But wait, what voters roll?  None of us could believe that we were actually going into an election when political parties hadn’t even got the voters roll, let alone had a chance to inspect or verify it. What utter insanity was this? As it turned out the MDC only managed to get a hard copy of the voters roll on election day and then only after a Judge had  intervened. The MDC have still  not been able to get an electronic copy of the roll.

Surely this was a recipe for disaster? For months people were warning that a free and fair election in Zimbabwe was impossible if we went to the polls with the same rigged voters roll that has kept the 89 year old President and his party in power for 33 years. They were right. It was impossible. SADC and the AU turned a blind eye to all the breaches and didn’t stop us from going to the cliff edge. The MDC saw the huge multitudes at their election rallies, called for a massive turnout on election day,  shut their eyes and urged us to the precipice; we trusted them and followed. 

‘What on earth’s going on?’ was the question so many people were asking on election day in my home town when they found out they were in the wrong queues and weren’t able to vote at their usual polling stations.  Married couples living in the same house, same Ward and same Constituency braced the freezing weather and went to the polling station they’ve voted at for the last twenty years. Their names weren’t there; one was sent to a different ward on the other side of town in an unknown area, the other to a polling station in a completely different constituency. Those that were patient and determined, queued again and found themselves looking at strange faces on ballots slips because they were no longer in the wards or even constituencies that they live in.    

As the day wore on more and more people had the same problem; either their names weren’t on the voters roll at all or they couldn’t find or get to the ‘right’ polling station. Calls for help to Councillors and MP’s to assist in finding the ‘right’ polling stations were useless because they didn’t have a voters roll to check on. When most polling stations were virtually deserted by 3pm in my home town, the writing was on the wall. With such a muddled mess of ‘wrong’ polling stations and ‘right’ polling stations, it was obvious people had given up and yet the reports continued to tell of a massive turn out. Who were all these masses? Confused? So are we.

At the time of writing the results are still coming in but it seems Zanu PF have taken 75% of the vote. The MDC have called the election null and void and said they won’t recognize the results. SADC observers described them as free and fair.  

Our hearts ache for our country. We had dared to hope. We were poised and ready to surge forward. We were waiting to call four million of our family and friends to come home.  2018 is a long, long way away. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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137 <![CDATA[All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

In four days time Zimbabwe goes to the polls to choose between 60 year old Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC and 89 year old Robert Mugabe of Zanu PF. Mr Tsvangirai has held office as the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe for the last four years. Mr Mugabe has held office as the President of the country for the last 33 years.

Zimbabwe will also be choosing parliamentary and local council candidates but tragically those choices have almost faded into insignificance as  the giant battle for the top job has engulfed everything else.

There are so many things that I could write about at such a dramatic time in our history but I have chosen only  one which for me tells the whole story of Zimbabwe in a few lines.  It was a small and seemingly insignificant incident which happened at a police road block yesterday. For some time I could see in my rear-view mirror a bright blue 70 seater bus closing the gap between us and bearing down fast. It was definitely going a great deal faster than the maximum 80 km/hour speed limit that was clearly displayed in red paint on its chassis. When the bus was so close behind me that I thought it would run me off the road, it swung out and overtook. I was doing 110 km/hour on the open road; it was doing at least 120.  Less than two minutes after the bus had overtaken me and while it was still clearly visible on the section of straight highway ahead, there was a police road block. The police waved the bus through but indicated that I should pull off the road. When the policeman had finished looking over my vehicle minutely, I asked why they hadn’t stopped the blue bus which was so obviously speeding and endangering the lives of the 70 passengers on board. I told the policeman how fast I was going when the full bus overtook me but that was ignored, as was the slip of paper I held out with the number plate of the bus written on it.  “Aah but that’s a government bus,” the policeman said, laughing.  The blue bus was a ZUPCO bus,  owned by the government and hurtling along filled, not with government officials but with ordinary men, women and children – all totally at the mercy of the driver.

The policeman’s comment  about not stopping the government bus said it all about Zimbabwe in 2013.  There is one rule for ‘them’ and another completely different rule for the rest of ‘us.’ As George Orwell so famously wrote:  “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Knowing just exactly who is more equal than who, we go to the polls in a few days. To all Zimbabweans, wherever you are in the country, please, please go and vote on Wednesday the 31st July. Your vote does count. Vote for the countless thousands of so called ‘Alien’ Zimbabweans who’ve been struck off the voters roll and haven’t been able to get back on. Vote for the 3 or 4 million Zimbabweans in the Diaspora who’ve been denied their right to vote. Vote for the thousands who died of cholera because their government could not give them clean water; for the thousands  who died of hunger and malnutrition because there was no food to buy. Vote for the estimated one million Zimbabweans whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed  by government bulldozers in their Operation Murambatsvina. Vote for the multiple thousands of Zimbabweans who have been murdered, tortured, maimed, raped and beaten in the name of political violence. Please, if you can, go and vote.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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136 <![CDATA[Time has almost run out]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

We are is in a dizzy spin of contrasts as we hurtle towards elections. In my home town it started with an MDC rally.  ‘We weren’t  forced, to go! We went because we wanted to,’ everyone was saying the day after the election rally. Thousands attended, they wanted to see Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his team in the flesh.  ‘There were so many people and such a huge noise from the cheering, whistling and singing, that we thought the stands in the stadium were going to collapse,’ people said.  Everyone was wearing bright red and everyone seemed to be smiling. The next day you could almost feel the town smiling; things felt better, brighter, hopeful.  The questions everywhere were the same: ‘Did you go? Are you registered to vote?’

A week later the Zanu PF rally came to town and the difference was dramatic. From before eight in the morning the trucks and buses started arriving for the ‘star’ rally. They were coming from the direction of Harare and were packed full of people, strangers to the town.  For the next five hours the trucks kept on coming and coming and they were all crammed full.  In most of the open trucks there seemed to be a couple of cheer leaders standing at the top of the trucks nearest to the cab and their job was to stir people up. You could see these young men  rousing the passengers, leading them into bouts of singing, chanting and sloganeering. When the cheer leaders went quiet so did the people squashed into the open trucks, exposed to the elements.  By lunchtime the entire town was deserted.   Almost all the shops were closed, the usual vegetable vendors and pavement sellers had disappeared. Offering someone a lift they quickly, unusually  said:  ‘no thanks, it’s not safe for blacks to be seen with whites today.’  The word on the street was that if you wanted to stay safe you had two choices: put that Zanu PF cap on and go to the rally or get out sight, lock your door and don’t be seen. 

A little before 5 pm it was all over and thousands of people poured out on the streets. Some were lucky and managed to get a place in the trucks returning to Harare. Most were not, the trucks they came in had already gone. People stood five and six deep along the highway trying to get lifts back to Haraare, a long, cold, dark 80 kilometres away.  The next day strangers were still trying to flag down lifts to  the capital city. That day the feeling in town was one of relief that it was over and sympathy for thousands of strangers who had sat on the ground for hours and hours, without water, food or even able to go to the toilet.

As town by town the rallies come and go and emotions swing wildly from elation and delight to cold, quiet fear, everyone breathes a sigh of relief when the politicians leave town. For a few more days until the elections we can pretend to be normal, pretend that everything’s going to be OK. We’ve given up pretending that it’s going to be a free and fair poll or that the voters roll isn’t cooked. No one’s got any confidence in the polling process after watching the mayhem and chaos of the early voting for security forces and election personnel which left less than 50% being able to cast a ballot. Prime Minister Tsvangirai hit the nail on the head when he said: "If ZEC cannot handle 87,000 [special] voters, how will it handle 6 million voters on July 31?"  It’s a question we all want the answer to, but time has almost run out. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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135 <![CDATA[How many diplomats to change a light bulb?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The ugliness that is elections in Zimbabwe has started. For the last four years we’ve had a “unity” government but all signs of unity have gone out the window as the real, ugly, power struggles begins again.

When Zanu PF launched their election manifesto it was covered live on the only television channel that is allowed to broadcast in Zimbabwe. The live coverage lasted  just short of five hours, and was an uninterrupted ZBC TV broadcast without even a line at the bottom of the screen explaining what was going on or when normal programming would resume. Two days later when the MDC launched their election manifesto there was no live TV coverage at all and just a short report lasting around  two minutes on the main evening news bulletin.

Then the shockwaves began, starting with some big, frightening figures. 60,000 police are voting early despite the statement by the Minister of Finance that there are only 39,000 police on the payroll – so who are the other 21,000?

Three to four million Zimbabweans living and working outside the country are not allowed to vote but staff at diplomatic missions are. In 2008,  five thousand  applications for postal voting came from foreign embassy staff at diplomatic missions around the world. Four years later the number has swollen to a massive 120,000. So who are the other 115,000? What’s that joke about how many diplomats it takes to change a light bulb?

Next came more revelations about voter registration. When the process came to an end recently there were reports that thousands of people hadn’t been able to get to the front of the lines. A couple of days later we heard that in Harare alone over 300,000 people had failed to register. Extrapolate that number around the country for an even more frightening figure.

Then came the list drawn up by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of individual  countries invited to observe the elections. These include: Algeria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Brazil, Jamaica, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Russia, Belarus and Serbia.  Commenting on the list,  a Crisis Coalition spokesperson wrote: “It’s not a birthday party where you invite your friends; it is a process where you bring in all those so you have a proper assessment of your processes…. there is an attempt to manage perceptions by courting favours and cherry picking.”

Meanwhile at street level, tearing up election posters has become the favourite sport of the day, except it always happens at night. MDC posters in Marondera town are being torn down and replaced with those of a  disgruntled candidate who lost in the primaries, decided to stand as  an independent but is advertising using the MDC colours on posters. And then overnight came thousands of anonymous A5 flyers strewn all over Marondera urban and residential areas showing a black man carrying a white man on his back across a river. ‘Until when?’ was the question it posed at the top, followed by the words: "The black person is my younger brother, I am the elder. He is the donkey and I am the rider." The ugly, racist  insinuation was met with contempt shown by the thousands of flyers left lying on the ground by midday the following morning. The money wasted on this sick little attempt to stir up race hate would be so much better spent on cleaning the town rather than adding more filth.  

Despite it all, there is a huge groundswell of hope pulling us forward and a never before seen determination to go and vote by everyone you meet. Until next time, thanks for reading. Love cathy

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134 <![CDATA[More voters than real people]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s that time of year when the grey Louries sit up in the trees and scold, repeatedly, telling you to go away. There’s no hiding from them and every time you step outside the message from above is the same: Go Away!  It’s a sentiment that was echoed in our constitutional court this week when  Zimbabwe as good as showed two fingers to SADC  and effectively told them to ‘go away’ as  it dismissed applications for a delay in the date of elections. A couple of days later when launching Zanu PF’s election manifesto in a five hour, live, uninterrupted ZBC TV broadcast, Mr Mugabe went further. Referring to SADC’s recommendations for elections in Zimbabwe, Mr Mugabe said : “If SADC decides to do stupid things we can move out and withdraw from SADC.”

 

And so the date is set whether we like it or not; whether the processes and reforms have been followed or not. On the 31st July 2013 we will go to the polls in what are ironically called ‘harmonized’ elections although there’s never anything even remotely harmonious about elections in Zimbabwe.  There’s been nothing harmonious about two voter registration processes which have been unable to get to the end of the queues and left countless people angry, frustrated and disappointed.

There’s also  nothing at all harmonious about the voters roll which the Registrar General said had  6,082,302 names on it as of the 30th June 2013. Allegations of voters roll irregularities are growing by the minute. The Daily News’ had front page headlines this week saying:  “Election rigging underway… hired Israeli Firm tampering with voters roll.”  

Even more chilling  was the report from Harare's Research and Advocacy Unit which has looked at discrepancies between the voters roll and last year’s population census. The RAU found that 63 constituencies out of 210 had more registered voters than the number of inhabitants counted in the 2012 census. RAU also found 2 million young adults not registered as voters, a figure which throws into serious question the number of voters the Registrar General says were on the roll last week.  It looks like once again we’re a country with far more voters than real people

That all of this happened in the same week as millions of Zimbabweans woke up to find that their satellite television channels from South Africa and Botswana had been scrambled seems impossibly coincidental. ‘ Scrambled’ was the angry buzzword everywhere but it soon left even more people following the infamous Baba Jukwa Facebook page. Baba Jukwa’s stunning revelations about  corruption and dirty deals in government circles have become the latest obsession in Zimbabwe and have attracted  50 thousand new followers in the last fortnight alone, resulting in  217,000 followers as I write, and rising every day.  

Comfort at the end of a bad week came from MDC Finance Minister Tendai Biti who  wrote on his Facebook page:  “The plan is to rush into an election that will be stolen and then invite us into the elite madness of another GNU. What crass madness, The people will not be betrayed. This economy is suffering. Zimbabweans are suffering. The crises cannot be prolonged. The people want to deliver their knock out blow. Zimbabweans want to be free. The next few days will decide our fate ,watch them closely. Every second is history .”

We are watching, every second. God save Zimbabwe. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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133 <![CDATA[Judgements are not to be evaded]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It has become almost impossible to keep up with the so called ‘election roadmap’ in Zimbabwe as every day the tangled web gets ever more complicated. Every day the deadlines, dates and rules change as complications pile on top of each other. At the time of writing we still don’t have an election date. We don’t know if the second round of voter registration will be extended after the barrage of criticisms about unacceptable delays which in some cases have even led to riot police having to be called. We don’t understand how parliament can close before it has aligned the Public Order and Security Act or the Electoral Act in accordance with prior agreements. We are now a country without a parliament and without an election date. Everyone’s concerned about how long we’ll be in this state of limbo and who’s running the country while we are?

At the time of writing we still don’t know what’s going to happen to the multiple thousands of Zimbabweans who took up citizenship of other countries after they’d been disenfranchised and classed as ‘aliens’ in the last decade. The new constitutional court has just ruled that anyone born in Zimbabwe is automatically a citizen and can also hold citizenship of another country. The Court ruled that dual citizens are entitled to have the ‘alien’ status on their ID’s changed to citizen status and can be re-admitted to the voters roll. But how can this be effected, we ask, when the ruling  has come just days before voter registration closes. There’s not enough time now for dual citizens, many of whom may be working outside of the country,  to get into the mayhem of registration office queues to change their ID’s and get back on the voters roll.

Meanwhile a little light came on across the border regarding Zimbabwe’s land seizures. The SADC Tribunal Watch said recent developments had taken place in the legal campaign “to ensure that Zimbabwe is unable to escape its international-law obligations” in relation to land seizures. The South African Constitutional Court dismissed an appeal by the Zimbabwe government against an earlier ruling authorizing the  attachment of Zimbabwe government property in  execution of awards by the SADC Tribunal.  The Chief Justice said :  “Lawful judgments are not to be evaded with impunity by any State or person in the global village.”

To hear the phrases: “international-law obligations,” and “judgements are not to be evaded,” brings tears to our eyes and restores faith and hope. For thirteen years there’s been no relief for the thousands of people who had their farms seized without compensation in Zanu PF’s land reform programme. Contrary to the usual parroted excuses for what went on,  most of us who had our farms seized weren’t colonialists who came and grabbed land in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, we bought our farms legally on the open market in Zimbabwe after Independence, paying taxes and levies to the same government who later evicted us to gain political mileage.

And so with at least one glimmer of sanity, we turn back to our own messy little tangled web looking for an end, or a beginning. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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132 <![CDATA[Jukwa, Nyoka and Kunyepa]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Eyebrows are up, suspicions are high and whispers are spreading about the car crash which led to the recent death of a senior politician in Zimbabwe. The ZANU PF MP for Guruve South, Edward Chindori-Chininga died on the 19th June 2013 when his car hit a tree. The death of the MP came just as Zanu PF began the process of candidate selection for their primary elections.  

Rather than suppressing people’s suspicions, the photos of the car and description of the crash location, together with the events of the past week, have opened the flood gates of doubt. MP Chindori-Chininga was the chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on mines and energy and had become known as ‘the whistleblower’ for tenaciously tracking and fearlessly exposing the involvement of Zanu PF officials in the Marange diamond mines.

Just a week ago Mr Chindori- Chininga presented a report to parliament in which he wrote of ‘diamond barons’ and disclosed how millions of dollars of diamond royalties had disappeared. According to Mr Chindori-Chininga’s report, one diamond company, Mbada, said it had paid $293 million in taxes over four years but the government said it had only received $82 million. Everyone got busy on their calculators trying to work out how many things could be fixed in our poor, broken down country with the missing 211 million US dollars – and that was just from one of the diamond companies in Marange, what about the rest?

The mysterious death of Mr Chindori Chininga received widespread coverage on internet Facebook pages. Revelations, names, accusations and phone numbers relating to the mysterious car crash were posted on the massively popular Baba Jukwa Facebook page caused a dramatic increase to 167 thousand followers, a jump of over six thousand people in just two days. The meteoric rise of Baba Jukwa is the talk of the country and everywhere people are logging in from homes and offices, laptops, desktops and cellphones to get the latest inside information about the wheeling, dealing and dirty deeds of people in positions of power and responsibility. One contributor describes Baba Jukwa as: “the national spirit of rebellion that has entered and found comfort in the hearts of all Zimbabweans.”

Joining the  Baba Jukwa ‘spirit of rebellion’ in recent weeks have been two satirical, snivelling, secret agents who you love to hate. They are CIO characters called Nyoka and Kunyepa (Snake and Liar) whose schemes, plots and grovelling phone calls feature on You Tube clips. The latest Nyoka and Kunyepa cartoon caused much mirth when it included Baba Jukwa, showing him taking notes at a cabinet meeting. That clip attracted over eight thousand views in the first three days of its release.

Strange as it may seem, the cartoon faces of Nyoka, Kunyepa and Baba Jukwa are becoming the identity of election 2013 and as NewsDay newspaper said in an editorial about Baba Jukwa this week: “It will be naïve to ignore what this Facebook character says as we go towards elections.”  Who knows, perhaps these three faces will even be on ballot slips in a few months time? Until next time, thanks for reading. Love cathy

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131 <![CDATA[Unravelling four years]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The old saying that a day is a long time in politics has never seemed to be true for Zimbabwe. Year after year we’ve dragged through crisis after crisis: longing, wishing, hoping that something would happen, praying that the events of a day would somehow change the dark situation that we’ve been trying to survive for such a long time.

This week the events of a day became a very long time in politics as they unravelled four years of  hard work, painstaking diplomacy and tireless efforts by so many. Four years of turning the other cheek and biting our tongues for the good of the future of Zimbabwe were rubbed out with one signature.

Using the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, President Mugabe proclaimed unilaterally that elections in Zimbabwe would be held on 31st July.  

It was ironic that on the same day as Mr Mugabe made his proclamation, the daily independent press had front page banner headlines quoting Constitutional Affairs Minister Matinenga telling parliament that elections were only legally possible by the 25th August.

Zimbabweans  were confused: two completely different stories on the same day. We hadn’t yet got our heads around the implications of a Supreme Court ruling that said elections had to be held by the  31st July. That ruling meant that stipulated time frames laid out for processes governing elections could not be adhered to. We didn’t understand how the Supreme Court could make such a ruling but the apparent contradiction became water under the bridge when President Mugabe rode the tidal wave of confusion, used his Presidential Powers and proclaimed a date.  Since 2010 Mr Mugabe’s been promising, threatening and insisting on elections and now it looks like he has put his foot down.

In an instant the unilateral proclamation by Mr Mugabe turned us upside down. The reaction was fast and furious. Lawyers said the President couldn’t make the election date proclamation without first consulting cabinet and said Mr Mugabe “quite obviously did not do so” and therefore the Proclamation was legally void. 

Prime Minister Tsvangirai immediately issued a statement saying the President’s actions were “a unilateral and flagrant breach” of both our new constitution and the GPA. The PM said Mr Mugabe’s proclamation would disenfranchise people; wouldn’t allow political parties time to inspect the voters roll; wouldn’t allow stipulated  campaigning time after nomination court sittings. The PM said that while the Constitution made the President the “chief  upholder and defender of the constitution,” in fact the opposite was happening; he said it was “regrettable that the chief defender and upholder has become the chief attacker and abuser of the Constitution.”

Prime Minister Tsvangirai made some powerful and poignant promises to a Zimbabwe that is tired and worn down by this never ending absurdity. “I will not accept a situation where Zimbabweans will yet again be railroaded and frog-marched to another illegitimate and violent election. The people of Zimbabwe are suffering. Businesses are shutting down, workers are under attack and the economy has frozen. A fraudulent and illegitimate election will deepen the crisis and will not reverse this malaise.”

“Mugabe triggers war,” was a headline article in the weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper and it sends chills down our spins to think that we could be flung back into the same situation we had in 2008.  PM Tsvangirai called on Zimbabweans to walk with him and stand by him in what he called  “this patriotic fight to defend the truth and the Constitution.” And so we hold our breath waiting to see if the PM can do it this time. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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130 <![CDATA[Look out of any window]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

For thirteen years Zimbabwe has been struggling for a free, fair and transparent election. Since February 2000 everything about elections has been about fear; about running, hiding, beating and brutality. Repeated electoral outcomes have been seriously questioned and now it’s almost that time again. As we approach another election most of us have a lump of cement in the pit of our stomachs and it grows heavier by the day.

An absurd situation overtook us in the last week which left the Supreme Court ruling that elections must be held by the 31st July. The only people happy with the ruling are Zanu PF. No one else is ready. Electoral reforms have not been undertaken and new legislation needed has not been presented to parliament. The new Constitution has only just been signed into law and by adhering to the Supreme Court ruling to hold election by July 31st, sections of the new constitution will have to be breached – before the ink on the new charter is even dry.

Dramatic newspaper headlines in recent days announced that a ‘grand coalition’ had been formed to oppose the holding of elections by the 31st of July. While the leadership and lawyers battle it out and again the region gets dragged into another round of  Zimbabwe’s arguments, everything in the country is shuddering to a standstill.

In recent days the shocking facts about the national winter wheat crop were revealed in the press. The last date for planting winter wheat is  around the 10th of May with the deadline being the 25th May. By the end of the first week of  June 2013 only two thousand hectares of land had been planted to winter wheat this season.  This is half the hectarage that was planted last year. Allowing a yield of three tonnes a hectare, Zimbabwe has only planted enough wheat to produce six thousand tonnes of grain this year. In a country that consumes 450,000 tonnes of wheat a year, we are set to produce enough wheat to last the country just one week.

So while the national leadership argues about elections, fights over dates and trips backwards and forwards to SADC and the AU, we again look out the window and ask just one question: where’s the food going to come from? Any number of land reform apologists can produce any number of books on the apparent success of Zanu PF’s land seizure policy but the fact of the matter is clear for all to see. Look out of any window, travel down any road, go into any supermarket: it’s not Zimbabwean food that we are eating because we just aren’t growing our own food anymore.   Until next time and  to so many people who have been reading this letter for so long, thank you. Love cathy

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129 <![CDATA[Of Kingfishers and caterpillars - do they remember?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s the calm before the storm in Zimbabwe, and we’re soaking it up, watching, waiting and bracing for what’s to come. It couldn’t be a nicer time to be watching!  In the cool, clear mornings the Woodland Kingfishers wake you up with their insistent, noisy chattering, going on for so long that there’s no chance of going back to sleep and plenty of time to get up and admire their exquisite blue wings and astonishing red bills.

As the days warm up and the political wannabees fight it out in their primary elections, we are basking under a glorious, wide blue sky. Power cuts of early winter leave us listening to what’s going on outside and this week it’s the soft plopping sound of caterpillars falling out of trees. Fearsome looking black caterpillars, 5 centimetres long, and covered with long grey hairs are falling out of the Musasa trees at a startling rate. Unlike most hairy caterpillars, the grey hairs on these caterpillars don’t shoot, sting or itch, they are soft and fine. Around here they call them Madora and the caterpillars feed on Musasa trees and are a sought after delicacy at this time of year. Squeezing the innards out, a quick rinse and then a few minutes in boiling salted water. When they’re cooked and dry, if you can get past the psychology of the business, it’s difficult not to like them: hard and crunchy with a spicy, peppery flavour.

Listening to Kingfishers and eating caterpillars while the politicians tear themselves apart makes you wonder if all these grown men and women fighting over power and diamonds can remember what it’s like to see, taste, hear and smell these little treasures of our amazing country anymore. Only thirteen million Zimbabweans in this vast 391 thousand square kilometre country; isn’t there room enough for us all  to share this treasure regardless of our skin colours and political persuasions?

For months everyone’s been saying that business is hardly ticking over, money’s not being spent, no one’s investing or expanding  and the country’s stuck in election paralysis mode. This week the direct result of our leaders’ behaviour was finally acknowledged by a member of government. Thanks to the perpetual arguing, threatening and uncertainty over elections, Finance Minister Tendai Biti said Zimbabwe’s economy had shrunk by 3% during the first quarter of this year. "The elephant in the living room evidently is the election and the sooner there is clarity on the dates from the politicians the better for the economy," he said   

As the sun sets over Zimbabwe this June, it’s almost always into a golden, coppery horizon accompanied by the whistling of a Heuglin Robin and the screams of distant Francolins. Reaching for our winter woollies we wait for another star- filled night sky and wonder how much longer this relative calm will last and how much longer before the dreaded elections. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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128 <![CDATA[Who's in charge of this asylum?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

After at least fifteen years of voting in elections with a highly flawed voters roll stuffed with dead people and countless missing names, Zimbabwe’s latest voter registration exercise shuddered to an end. The month long voter registration process had turned out to be an absolutely chaotic exercise which started with sensational news at the beginning of the process and finished with shocking news before the ink was dry at the end.

Just after the registration process began the MDC’s Douglas Mwonzora  told  the press that in some constituencies the voters roll had swollen by 10,000 names in 48 hours saying  it was impossible that 153 voters  were being registered every second. Mwonzora described how the co-minister of Home Affairs had checked the voters roll for her constituency on Monday and found 5,196 people registered but two days later when she checked again, the number had more than tripled and there were 17,068 names on the roll.

A short while later the Registrar General, who has been in that position for thirty three years and has surely got lots and lots of practice at this by now, announced that the names of one million dead people had been removed from the voters roll. Mudede said that as of the 1st May 2013 there were 5,677,881 registered voters on the roll. Instead of calming people’s fears about the accuracy of the voters role, the Registrar’s statement about a million dead voters having been removed, set the national eyebrows soaring towards the heavens. How many of those dead blokes voted in the constitutional referendum a couple of months ago we wondered? And is that why we all saw no queues at referendum polling stations while authorities described it as the biggest turnout in thirty years?  Who’s in charge of this asylum?

As the voter registration exercise continued, there were widespread reports of massive queues, of people being turned away, of rural village chiefs and headmen denying people proof of residence and of voters finding their names either not on the roll or mis-spelt and not matching the spelling of their names as shown on their ID’s thereby making them invalid come voting day.  

Ten days before the end of the voter registration process the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission said that since the start of the exercise 29,940 new voters had been registered on the national voters roll. It wasn’t clear if that included the super-fast ten thousand people who had been registered at the rate of 153 people per second in one constituency in the first two days of the exercise.

As the national voice of outrage reached fever pitch, and just a few days before the end of voter registration the Electoral Commission officials went walk-about. ZEC Chairperson, Judge Rita Makarau, spoke to church leaders and said: “We accept that there are gaps between what we are saying and what is happening on the ground.”

And then, one day after the closure of the voter registration exercise,  Deputy President Arthur Mutambara told Parliament that when Vice-President Joice Mujuru  went to check the voters roll last week, she was shocked to discover that only nine people from her home village in Mt Darwin were on the roll.

All this aside there’s still the massive problem of hundreds of thousands of born and resident Zimbabweans with the dreaded “Alien” status on their ID’s and countless others who’ve been forced to take out citizenship of other countries in order to survive the last thirteen years of mayhem in Zimbabwe.  All of them have been struck off the voters roll and we wonder how many even tried to renew their seized citizenship status. With such obvious mayhem and incompetence why would they?

As the dust settled over the whole mess and it was obvious that the April/May voter registration had been a complete waste of time, money and resources we heard the exercise was going to be repeated. Justice Makarau was quoted in the Herald saying: "We were drawing lessons in order to structure the next exercise." Justice Makarau said US$21 million was needed for the new voter registration exercise which would take place very soon , now that President Mugabe had signed the new Constitution.

No one said anything about just exactly who in Zimbabwe was left with any trust or confidence at all in the whole voter registration process, this one just ended or the one still to come. After the disgraceful debacle of the past month, the calls to allow people to vote with their ID cards only continues to grow ever louder. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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127 <![CDATA[Give me something]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

After a few days away, the item on the top of my shopping list was a can of Coke; not because I wanted to buy a tin but because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Flicking through the headlines of things that had happened in Zimbabwe in the last week, one article amongst the same old political squabbling, contradictions and finger pointing caught my eye. Apparently a new range of Coke tins had arrived in Zimbabwe and aside from being on the internationally recognized, red-coloured tins, they came with a new slogan. ‘Crazy for Good,’ is the name of the new Coke promotion aimed at encouraging people to do good deeds. Some of the tins apparently show a waving hand and say ‘share your smile today,’ while others say ‘high five everybody.’ The government controlled Herald newspaper decided that the Coke promotion was actually a covert regime change advert and that Coca-Cola were supporting the MDC whose colour is red and symbol is an open hand.

SW Radio Africa’s Violet Gonda  did what she does so well and invited Zanu PF and the MDC to have an on-air discussion about the Coke advert. The MDC said the accusation against Coca-Cola supporting their political party was paranoia, asking if chickens would be next to be blamed for promoting the MDC because their feet  could well look like the MDC’s open hand symbol too. The Zanu PF spokesman said his party were taking the Coke advert ‘very seriously,’ saying this was a case that was “likely to cause diplomatic problems” between Zimbabwe and South Africa where the tins had been imported from. (Along with over 80% of everything else we eat and drink in Zim.)

Suffice to say that there’s nothing quite like bad publicity to make people want to buy something and of course there wasn’t a tin of Crazy- Good Cokes to be found anywhere in my home town and so I turned my gaze to the voter registration debacle. There were an easy three or four hundred people crowded outside the diamond mesh fence that surrounds the local government offices trying to get in and register to vote. The word that best describes the scene is chaos. For some unknown reason the gate in the fence was locked at 9.00 in the morning, an hour after normal opening time. The frustrated buzz from the hundreds of people clamouring outside the fence increased to an angry roar whenever the guard on the gate unclipped the padlock to let the odd person in. It was obvious to everyone that money or political patronage was enabling entry and desperate Zimbabweans, so long disenfranchised for a host of obscure reasons, stood helplessly by, watching their right to vote slip away in front of their very eyes. 

Accounts of similar situations are coming in from towns and cities everywhere. A new voter in Chitungwiza who needed to get an  ID document  before she could register as a voter, arrived at the registry offices at 2am.  Eleven hours later, at 1pm, she was on the verge of giving up because she still hadn’t even got inside the building to start the process. “Only a few people have been selected to go inside,” she said, adding that the line wasn’t moving at all and new comers were continually being served first.

She was witnessing the same sickening process that every Zimbabwean has had first-hand experience of when it comes to anything connected with our Home Affairs offices. Staff are surly, aggressive and intimidating, serving you when and if they feel like it, or not bothering to serve you if they’re too busy chatting on their mobile phones or playing computer games. It’s the same for registering births and deaths, getting  ID’s, passports and any other official documentation where the unspoken rule is: if you don’t bribe you don’t move.

Seven words spoken by an official at a busy border post last week sum it up best: “Give me something and you can proceed.” We assume that ‘something’ doesn’t include a can of ‘Crazy Good’ Coke that dares to be red and show a waving hand. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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126 <![CDATA[We've lost our way.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

On the outskirts of Harare the traffic is backed up, nose to tail, for nearly twenty kilometres by six thirty in the morning. A country awash with cheap, second-hand Japanese cars clogging single lane highways and the smooth flow of traffic held up by police who repeatedly wave off every single passenger minibus. Money but not tickets change hands meanwhile a rash of traffic offences are happening in plain sight while the same police turn a blind eye. We wonder but say nothing.

In a busy residential suburb of Harare along the roadside where children walk and cycle to nearby schools and people go backwards and forwards to shops, medical facilities and work, a platoon of soldiers wearing full camouflage and carrying rifles can be heard long before they are seen.  Everyone stops and listens to the chanting and singing, wondering if something peaceful or frightening is approaching. As the soldiers come into view, rifles swinging,  people move well out of the way.  Why must they do this through a residential area and why must they carry guns? We wonder but say nothing. 

 

In the centre of Harare, sirens are wailing. Is it an ambulance or something more frightening you wonder but when all the cars start pulling over, double and triple parking on the roadsides, in the middle of intersections  and even pedestrians stop walking, you know it’s the Presidential cavalcade. Motorbike outriders race in at terrifying speed, jump off and run at you, pointing and gesticulating at any vehicles that haven’t quite got far enough off the road. Then the limousines come, the support cars, ambulance and then the open trucks filled with soldiers, guns pointing at you, each man sitting with one leg hanging over the side of the truck. Everyone stares as the car inscribed: ‘Zim 1’ passes by. Faces speak volumes but out loud we say nothing.

Just outside of the capital city in the ten or twenty metre verge between a major highway and the railway line that runs parallel to it, where you expect to see short grass and gravel, there is a crop of head-high maize. The plants are dry and brown, the cobs already reaped. Standing prominently in front of the maize is a metal signboard supported on two iron legs firmly anchored in the ground. In bright red paint, the sign proclaims in large letters: “Demonstration Plot ! Super Seed, Super Yield.” The name of a seed production company advertises its support of a few lines of illegally planted maize alongside a highway and railway  track.  Visibility is obscured and a deadly hazard awaits as vehicles  speed past  on the open highway and trains rattle by on the tracks; you hope and pray that a child or animal won’t run out of the maize in front of them;  if they do they will surely die.  How can this be allowed? We wonder but say nothing.

These are the images of our country as elections approach. The signs of slipped law and order, of intimidation, and of plain illegality are clear everywhere. They come in the same week that we heard the government is drafting legislation to allow it to seize 51% shareholdings of  companies owned by white Zimbabweans and foreigners without paying for what the are described as :

“enterprises that exploit their God-given natural resources .” And even to this, Zimbabwe says nothing. After so many years of turmoil, we seem to have lost our way.  Until next time, thanks for reading. Love cathy.

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125 <![CDATA[Texted, tweeted and twiddled their fingers]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

As we draw ever closer to elections in Zimbabwe and despite not yet knowing  when they’ll  take place, the rhetoric is already growing . Top of the list is the embarrassing incident  concerning the UN and the 132 million US dollars we apparently need to hold elections. After a joint request was made in writing for financial assistance from the UN by the MDC’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Zanu PF’s Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, a team of UN assessors headed in our direction but didn’t quite make it all the way into Zimbabwe.  Stranded across the border in South Africa for nearly a week it seemed that Zimbabwe had changed its mind – not about wanting money but about who they’d let the UN team meet with once they got into Zimbabwe. For days the embarrassing arguments went on while the world watched and the UN team undoubtedly texted, tweeted and twiddled their fingers over the border, not allowed in. Zimbabwe it seemed were perfecting their well practised art of scoring own goals.

Confirming that the UN team were stuck across the border, Finance Minister Biti said: “one section of government decided it was not in the best  interest of the UN to come to Zimbabwe.”  Meanwhile Foreign Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi held a meeting with diplomats in Harare and said the UN had shown hostility in previous fact-finding missions. "They wanted to be involved in our domestic political affairs,"  he said.

The arguments continued and just when we began to hope that this shamefully embarrassing situation had been resolved, Minister Biti said:  “We eventually panel-beat an agreement in our ugly handwritings to allow the mission to come. As far as we are concerned, the mission should come, and there is nothing that should stop it from coming.”  We had no idea what the terms ‘ugly handwriting’ or ‘panel beating’ really meant  but by then that the UN  assessors had been sitting in Joburg for four days, stuck in limbo. Later we learnt that the MDC and Zanu PF had apparently agreed to only allow the UN assessors to meet with some of the people on their original list of appointments when they got to Zimbabwe. 

It wasn’t that simple though. Believing we were back on track it came as a shock when Minister Chinamasa suddenly announced that the UN team weren’t going to be allowed in after all, and that was final.  "It was clear that the U.N. team wanted a broader mandate. They kept talking about the security sector and media reforms, all sorts of euphemisms ... and that we reject,” Chinamasa said. “We remain alert to any attempts to manipulate, infiltrate and interfere with our internal processes and we are happy we have parted ways with them. The U.N. avenue for sourcing resources for the election is now closed."

Wading through a week’s worth of shameful reports, our confusion grew over just how much we actually need for the 2013 general election. The original request for election funding to the UN was for 254 million US dollars but that dropped to 132 million dollars after we paid for our own constitutional referendum. Did the referendum really cost a whopping  122 million dollars we wondered or had we lost the plot somewhere along this murky road? And while we were mulling over that question, another puzzling statement came along. Finance Minister Biti said the 132 million they were now asking the UN for, was expected to be “rationalized” downwards to 100 million. Biti said:“…most of the equipment, the vehicles and the computers we acquired for the referendum are going to be used for the elections as well. I have absolutely no doubt that we will reduce this budget significantly…”

The mind boggles. Until next time, thanks for reading,  love cathy.

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124 <![CDATA[Happy birthday Zimbabwe: A-loot-a Continua.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe turns 33 on 18th April 2013. Because it’s a dangerous occupation taking photographs here, it’s safer to use words to describe what my home town looks like 33 years after independence from colonial rule.

 

Outside the large provincial government hospital half a dozen convicts from the local prison have been put to work doing the job that the ratepayers of the town pay the municipality to do, but which they don’t do. The convicts are wearing white shirts and shorts and are guarded by three, armed prison officials who lean against the grey durawall around the hospital and whose appearance, if it could talk, would scream: “bored !” The convicts are clearing grass and scraping litter into piles. Inside the large provincial government hospital outpatients haven’t been able to get the most basic drugs for their ailments for the last three months, sent away to commercial pharmacies to buy them, bring them back and then they’ll be treated.

In residential suburbs around the town, it’s inky-black at night, street lights haven’t worked for at least eight years. There’s a nasty, angry buzz of flies hovering around dustbins which haven’t been collected for three weeks. The dustbin truck did come two weeks ago but roared around the neighbourhood so fast at a few minutes before 6pm that most people didn’t manage to get their bins out onto the road in time. Strom drains haven’t been cleared for countless years, tar roads have sharp, steep drop offs at their eroded edges; dirt roads have become narrow tracks with deep gullies and rocky outcrops making many of them completely impassable. Everywhere you see people carrying buckets of water or piles of branches for firewood on their heads.

In the central business district every pavement is crowded with vendors. You can buy anything from bananas and belts to mobile phones and artificial hair pieces, there’s no need to actually go into a shop. Countless shops have been turned into flea markets; dark, crowded rooms with invisible partitions that separate young women all selling cheap Chinese shoes, clothes and underwear, their goods piled up to, and hanging down from, the ceiling. In parking bays around the town pick-up trucks with their tailgates down are loaded with sacks of potatoes, onions and butternuts, piled high with cabbages, mountains of carrots or bundles of leaf vegetables. These mobile shops are ready to race off at a moment’s notice should any official actually decide that they are causing a traffic hazard, blocking the road and trading illegally. Outside supermarkets young well dressed teenagers with plugs in their ears spend their school holidays selling car wax, windscreen wipers, phone chargers.

On the main highway that runs through the town, crowds of people wait for lifts,  standing on both sides of a sign that says “Stopping prohibited, no hitch hiking.” Amongst the crowds there are always police in uniform, hitch hiking like everyone else. Doing the rounds about town in recent weeks has been a sheet of paper with a ‘wish list’ from the police looking for assistance from residents. On the list is everything from fuel and tyres for their vehicles to paper, pens, paper clips and drawing pins.

This is the picture of our country which has become one giant, made-in- China, flea market where ordinary people desperately try and sell anything to make a few dollars. Meanwhile, swishing past the town on the highway leading to diamond fields and the border, fancy state-of-the-art vehicles with tinted windows carry impeccably dressed and accessorised occupants. How did they make so much money in a country where 8 out 10 people can’t get formal work? Was it from the farms they took, or the mines, or the 51% indigenization, or the government or the gold and diamonds? Happy Birthday 33 year old Zimbabwe and, as the activists say: “A-loot-a continua!” Until next time, love cathy

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123 <![CDATA[Bubbling black pot]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

When the mists are slow to lift out of the riverbeds in the mornings you know that winter is near in Zimbabwe. In the deep green foliage of the Musasa trees the young Sparrowhawk screams, urging you to stop and watch as it prepares to pounce, while down in the vleis and  along the streambanks the Red Hot Pokers are a mass of warm, fiery orange flowers; all are signs of the approaching cold.

This Easter with a couple of friends there was nothing nicer than sitting under a big shady tree near a stream, water spilling over rocks on one side and a three legged black pot bubbling gently on the other. We call it a potjie here, a strange Afrikaans word of Dutch origin pronounced poy-key that translates into long, slow cooked lunch the African way – meat, vegetables and gravy all in the same pot over a fire. Apparently the rule is not to stir the pot once you put the lid on, hard at first as your suppress your instincts, easier later as the surroundings soak into your senses. A fish eagle flies overhead, far away from the big wide dams and lakes where you most expect to see the huge eagles and hear their haunting cries. Conversation slows and then stops as a female Kudu walks quietly through the golden grass a little distance away. She sees us long before we see her and all too soon the kudu disappears, her colours perfectly camouflaged in the dappled sunlight and shadows that flickers between the trees.

That was one face of Zimbabwe this Easter but not very far away, in the straight line of a fish eagles’ flight, something very ugly had just been going on.  It took a couple of days after Easter before the attack on Wilson Anderson became common knowledge. According to the MDC provincial secretary in Zvimba who took the victim to hospital, Wilson was set upon  by eight Zanu PF youths who had been hiding in a maize field near his home. “They attacked him when he was about to enter his kitchen. They accused him of being a sell-out after they saw his picture in the Daily News at the burial of Christpower,” (the little boy who was burnt to death in Headlands a month ago) the MDC official said. Wilson Anderson had apparently gone to the funeral of Christpower to show support to the Maisiri family as he and his children had also been victims of politically motivated arson in the period around the 2002 elections. At first it seemed there was no attempt to deny or ‘sanitize’ what had happened to Wilson Anderson just before Easter and the Mashonaland West police spokesman Clemence Mabweazara  was quoted as saying: “I can confirm that there was political violence in Zvimba East.”

But then came the third face of Zimbabwe this Easter. Despite police confirmation of the political violence in Zvimba , the ZBC posted a story on their Facebook page contradicting the statement by the Mashonaland West police spokesman. The  ZBC wrote: “ In the Zvimba story, a local daily reported that Wilson Anderson was allegedly attacked by Zanu PF militia when in fact he was attacked after a misunderstanding with Moses Sande over a girlfriend when the two were drinking beer.”

From the land of contrasts and contradictions, truths, half truths and ‘sanitized’ news, until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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122 <![CDATA[Return the favour to Beatrice]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Large red hearts had been tied to some lamp posts along the main highway through my home town five days after the country voted in a referendum. Made of kaylite the red hearts with white lettering proclaimed: “VIVA ZANU PF,” and with those words we know for sure that open season has begun.     

Hardly had we finished voting in the no-contest, constitutional referendum last week when one of the bravest of the brave was arrested.  Going to the MDC communications office on behalf of her clients who were being arrested, human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was herself detained by police.  With  foreign journalists from many countries here to cover the referendum, it didn’t take long for Beatrice Mtetwa’s arrest to make international news and become common knowledge at home.

Surely this was a mistake, a mis-understanding people thought; this is the courageous, internationally acclaimed lawyer and defender of human rights who has fought in the courts for journalists, political victims, members of WOZA and other NGO’s.  An MDC press statement said that Beatrice Mtetwa had been arrested for: “daring to ask why her client had been arrested.” Later we heard that the human rights lawyer was to be charged with 'obstructing or defeating the course justice'.

The irony of the timing of Mtetwa’s arrest left everyone dumbfounded. Her lawyer said: “Her arrest is not just an attack on her profession but on the people of Zimbabwe who have just voted yes to a new constitution that enshrines fundamental human rights.”  On the same day that Mr Mugabe and his wife were meeting and being bowed to by the new Pope Francis in the Vatican, Beatrice Mtetwa was appearing in the dock at the Harare Magistrates Court.

At first one, then two, then three nights later Beatrice Mtetwa was still being held in custody. This despite an order issued a few hours after she’d been arrested in which High Court Judge Charles Hungwe ordered the police to release Mtetwa from custody. That order wasn’t adhered to and mid week an Harare Magistrate dismissed the application for bail by Mtetwa’s lawyers saying that if she was released she would interfere with police investigations and remanded her in custody until April 3rd.    

Yet more days ticked past with Beatrice Mtetwa still in custody. Each time we see glimpses of her, on the way  to and from court, standing in the back of a police truck, wearing socks but no shoes, she is still smiling, waving and holding her head up high and so our admiration grows.  At the time of writing Beatrice Mtetwa is still in custody; a fact the EU need to consider as they prepare to remove sanctions against ninety percent of the individuals in Zimbabwe who are on their list. The lifting of sanctions is apparently a “reward” for holding a free and  fair referendum – not such a great achievement considering that both political parties had called for a YES vote and most people who voted hadn’t even seen the document they were voting for.

When men come in the night, Beatrice Mtetewa says she’ll be there with her ‘headlights glaring’ and now it’s our turn to return the favour to Beatrice and all the people who still need her help. Until next time, happy Easter and thanks for reading, love cathy.

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121 <![CDATA[Voting denied]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

An hour after voting began in the constitutional referendum on the 16 the March 2013, I went to the nearest polling station . It was a cool and overcast morning and despite the central location in an urban area there were no cars outside the school and only three people in the queue ahead of me. As I waited my turn to go inside I thought back thirteen years to when I’d last voted in a constitutional referendum. That was in February 2000, before land invasions and economic meltdown, before farm takeovers and a decade of political violence and power struggles. Thirteen years ago there had been about a hundred people waiting to vote in the quiet rural area when the polling station nearest our farm opened.

What a very different picture it was all these years later. It seemed to be taking a long time to process just three people ahead of me and when my turn came to go in, it got a lot longer. My ID card, a small plastic rectangle about the size of a business card was checked by a woman at the door and I was shown to the first official desk. A young man looked at my ID card for a long time before he beckoned  to the first woman and whispered to her. She looked at my ID card again and whispered to someone else. I got out the photocopy of my birth certificate proving I was a born Zimbabwean  and a copy of my latest electricity bill proving I was locally resident. By now three electoral officials were studying my ID and other documents and whispering. Finally they decided I had to go to officials sitting at a long table at the far end of the school hall and show them my ID card.

First one official and then another studied my ID card closely. Again I took out my birth certificate and electricity bill but they weren’t happy. Then I pulled out my trump card, a full page advertisement from the newspaper dated one day before.  The advert had been placed by COPAC the Constitutional Select Committee. This was the very organization that had just spent four years drafting the constitution and COPAC  gave reasons in the advert why people from all different walks of life should vote YES  in the referendum including women, youths, elderly, disabled, workers, war veterans and members of the media. The last entry on their full page advert said: ‘Why Aliens should Vote YES’ and the answer beneath the question read: “they will now be eligible to vote.”

“If COPAC are calling on Aliens to vote YES, surely I should be allowed to vote?” I asked. The newspaper advert was studied closely, the date of the paper was checked and it’s fair to say that the two women officials,  were as confused as I was.

“Why does your ID say Alien?” one asked.

“Because my mother was not born in Zimbabwe I replied.”

At that point I could have simply walked out but I waited patiently while the officials entered my name and details onto a ‘voters denied register.’

Standing outside the polling station were two SADC election observers. They asked me if something was wrong. They were as bemused and confused as everyone else when I showed them my papers and said I hadn’t been allowed to vote. Here was a born, resident, tax- paying Zimbabwean classed as an Alien and not allowed to vote because her parents had been born in another country.

Nine days before the referendum  ZEC, (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) who were running the election today, had published a full page newspaper advert inviting emailed  queries from people about the election. I had emailed them querying my eligibility but they didn’t bother to reply which was why I had bothered to go through this whole rigmarole at the polling station today. ‘Maybe next time?” I said to the election officials as I left. She smiled and agreed. Until next time, thanks for reading love cathy.

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120 <![CDATA[Waiting for the owl to pounce]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Late season electrical storms have been lighting up our night skies for the past couple of weeks. Sometimes dazzling forks of brilliant white light trace through the darkness and at other times big white sheets of lightning turn night into day for a few seconds at a time. It was during one of these illuminating light shows that I saw the visitor outside my window one night this week. A large owl was standing as still as statue on the lawn. While the lightning flicked, flashed and streaked through the sky, the owl didn’t flinch, its eyes focussed on something it could see but I couldn’t. Ten minutes passed but the big bird didn’t move and as the sky went dark the owl merged into the blackness. I knew it was still there, watching, waiting, ready to pounce and it felt very much like the state of ominous suspension the country is in right now.

Sales are down, business is slow, money is hardly circulating  and with a sense of dread we prepare to head towards polling stations. It’s not the first ballot that scares us so much because both of the main political parties are calling for us to vote YES for the proposed constitution that is being put to  a national referendum. Most  of the people I’ve met in the last two weeks haven’t even seen the draft constitution, let alone had the time to page through it or had a chance to think about it, so it remains to be seen how many people will go and vote. 

The really big question though is not so much whether we say yes or no to what is undoubtedly a politically ‘negotiated’ document but  if our leaders will abide by it.  How can we forget when we voted NO to the last proposed constitution in 2000 and a few days later the President simply amended the old document. The  MDC Constitutional Affairs Minister came closest to the reality of the four year marathon to produce the latest charter a couple of weeks ago when he said: “A new constitution will not guarantee us a free and fair election. What is going to guarantee us a free and fair election is a culture of constitutionalism.”

The elections that are really worrying us and have us on the edge of our chairs are the combined parliamentary and presidential elections that will  happen sometime within the next three or four months. When police in riot gear broke up a constitutional campaign meeting in Highfield being held by the Prime Minister this week, the PM said: “It’s clear that the leopard has not changed colours.” His words followed those of the MDC Co- Home Affairs Minister Theresa Makone a couple of weeks ago who warned that we were being “catapulted into a rushed election.” Following recent events, Minister Makone said : “It is quite clear that the kind of violence we are going to see this time is probably going to be at an unprecedented scale.” 

And her most chilling words, the ones that leave us paralyzed, like the helpless victim waiting for the owl on the lawn at night: “this election is going to be bloodier than 2008. The makings of a horror election are there in front of us for all to see. “ Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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119 <![CDATA[In memory of a little boy]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

By the time you read this letter a twelve year old boy will have been buried in Headlands. His is one of the first names that will go on the 2013 Roll of Honour commemorating victims of political violence in another election year in Zimbabwe. Just two weeks after the date of our constitutional referendum was announced, a little boy died, burnt to death in the middle of the night.

Photographs of Christpower Simbarashe Maisiri are all over the internet: gruesome, horrific, haunting. But the image that will stay forever in our minds is the picture of a grinning cheeky- faced boy dressed in dungarees without a T shirt standing under a bright blue sky in front of a thatched house with a view of grassland and mountains behind him.  Christpower’s father, Shepherd is an MDC deputy organising secretary in the area and he and his family have been repeatedly targeted by political militia. Their story is a litany of horror which has included rape and repeated incidents of arson. Shepherd Maisiri told SW Radio Africa  that one day before the latest attack he had set out on MDC campaign business when he was approached by two people who said they were going to ‘finish him off.’ 24 hours later while Shepherd was away from home, men came in the night.

On the night of Saturday 23rd February Christpower was asleep in a thatched house with four of his siblings.  Witnesses said that they heard an explosion sometime after 11 pm, rushed outside and found the house the children were sleeping in was on fire. An older boy sleeping in another hut managed to smash the door open and rescued four children but when the roof collapsed he could not get to Christpower who burnt to death.

‘Murderers,” was the huge front page headline of the Daily News and then despite attempts to whitewash the horror, saying the fire was just arson and not politically motivated, it was the actions that followed that spoke much louder than the words. Shepherd Maisiri told SW Radio Africa that CIO men arrived at his burnt homestead in a car without number plates but he refused to discuss the matter with them saying it was a matter for police not state security agents. When he asked them why their vehicle had no number plates the men said they must have fallen off on the journey. “Even in my state of grieving I’m not that stupid or naïve to believe that,” Maisiri said. Meanwhile at the highest levels of government a cabinet meeting had left incensed MDC MP’s demanding accountability and naming names. Quoted in the Press a few days later MDC’s  Minister of Finance Tendai Biti said: “We told Didymus Mutasa (Zanu PF MP) that he is behind the murder of this boy. If he thought we were hiding under the cover of cabinet privilege, we are now saying it in public. Mutasa you killed this boy. If you think we are lying take us to court for defamation.”

The day before the funeral after senior MDC officials, including Prime Minister Tsvangirai, announced that they were going to travel to Headlands to attend the burial of Christpower, the MDC’s Manicaland spokesperson  said: “They (CIO and war vets) went around the villages last night telling people not to attend the burial and that there would be dire consequences for anyone seen going to a gathering to be addressed by Tsvangirai.”

This letter is in memory of a little boy, Christpower Maisiri ; how sorry we are; rest in peace. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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118 <![CDATA[Diamonds are our new dictator]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Already Zimbabwe has got that tired sort of ‘here we go again’ look on its face as the silliness of pre-election season starts again. Already the adjectives are littering the speech making; words like: peaceful, non violent, free, fair, transparent and credible but the everyday actions of authorities are contradicting the descriptive words. Confusion is lying heavy in the air like the dank, unexpected mist of mid- summer.

For watchers of the never ending situation in Zimbabwe, this latest round started at Christmas with Zimrights; first two employees were arrested and a few weeks later the director of Zimrights was arrested. The next unexpected and dramatic news came when we heard that the Chairman of ZEC (the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) had resigned. From then on the news reports have been growing increasingly disturbing as they changed from political bickering to an onslaught on human rights groupings. The headlines tell it best:

Police force their way into Peace Project offices in Hillside (11th February)

WOZA women beaten & detained after anti-constitution demo (13th February)

WOZA: 195 arrested, scores beaten (13th and 14th February)

Elderly Pastor and 3 others arrested from Church of Christ in Chegutu (15th February)

Police raid MDC MP home (17th February)

Reporter arrested while reporting death threat by ZANU PF official (19th February)

Crackdown on civic groups continues as police raid ZESN  offices (19th February) (Zimbabwe Election Support Network)

Police ban ‘radios’ in Zimbabwe (20th February)

Gunmen raid ZESN offices again and ZPP accused of espionage (21st February) (Zimbabwe Peace Project)

MP’s home raided by security agents as crackdown intensifies (21st February)

For people in Zimbabwe it has been  very, very hard to understand why, when all these things are happening, the EU went ahead and lifted their targeted sanctions against 21 people. It’s hard not to believe that diamonds are our new dictator. Cynicism perhaps best describes our response to the two news reports which offered the most likely explanation to the EU’s decision:

Belgium and UK clinch deal on Zimbabwe diamonds (15th February)

Violent Chegutu ‘war vet’ removed from sanctions list (19th February)

Until next time and as we get closer to elections, please keep watching, following, lobbying and praying for Zimbabwe. Thanks for reading, love cathy

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117 <![CDATA[Love and tear gas]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The day before Valentine’s Day in Zimbabwe love was in the air but so was tear gas. While flower sellers wrapped individual roses and street vendors peddled teddy bears, hearts and fluffy cushions adorned with red ribbons, hundreds of  women headed towards parliament building in Harare. Five hundred  WOZA members came from two different directions in two groups. They were unarmed and peaceful, distributing fliers against the draft constitution saying it had been written to suit the interests of the present politicians and not future generations. The WOZA protest  was their 11th annual Valentine’s Day  march and as in all previous years, the police were waiting for them when they got to their destination. Outside parliament  five canisters of tear gas were fired, WOZA members and bystanders ran  for cover and eight  women, including leaders Jenni Williams and Magadonga Mhlangu were arrested and beaten while they waited to be transported to a police station.  Twenty five WOZA members had to seek medical attention after their treatment at the hands of police. One woman had to have three teeth removed after having been struck on the face.

It wasn’t only tear gas that lay heavy in the humid air of central Harare the afternoon before Valentine’s day, the atmosphere was also full of irony. While women and children were running from teargas and others were being beaten by police, it was being announced that a date had been set for the referendum on the draft constitution. The 16th of March is to be Referendum Day we were told, but in typically Zimbabwean style, the adjective ‘tentative’ was tagged on to the date so we are not completely and absolutely sure of the exact date. It’s a characteristic of Zimbabwe’s politicians to keep people guessing about  some part of the overall picture when it comes to elections. The irony of tear gas and baton sticks  being used against peaceful protesters was dramatic when glancing at the very first page of the new draft constitution which was literally hot off the press. Thirteen lines down in Chapter One it states that Zimbabwe is founded on the principle of respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms. That principle leads you to explore clause 53 which allows freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. And then to clause 59 which gives every person the right to demonstrate and present petitions as long as it is done peacefully. 

On Valentine’s Day WOZA members again tried to  protest, this time in Bulawayo. They said they were demonstrating on a day of love to demand a response from police to their complaints of police brutality at a previous protest.  In a number of separate protest groups , eight hundred women converged on Police Headquarters. WOZA said that when the women arrived police swooped on them and began beating their members. Despite everyone then sitting down on the ground, a hundred and eighty women were arrested along with six men who were not WOZA members but just bystanders taking photographs. One of those men was later made to remove his trousers and shoes and was beaten under the soles of his feet. 

As we head to the polls in less than a month’s time a little ray of light illuminated our national dread of elections. Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinega said that voting in the Referendum would not be based on the existing flawed voters role but would be open to every Zimbabwean on production of their ID card only. It’s hard to believe that multiple thousands of people disenfranchised in recent years will be allowed to again have a say in the future of the country. Do we dare to hope?  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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116 <![CDATA[We'll take the money.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Almost exactly thirteen years after Zimbabwe was last faced with a proposed new constitution we are back in the same place again. Parliament has just approved a draft constitution that gobbled up a massive forty five million US dollars. Amazingly, despite four years of acrimonious arguments, intimidation, disputes and threats, there were apparently no dissenting voices from any MP’s in the House of Assembly when the draft was presented.  Right up to only three weeks ago there had been complete deadlock, meetings were ending in failure and the two main political parties were blaming each other for the stalemate. Then suddenly, in just one day, all  that disappeared and now both the MDC and Zanu PF say they are going to recommend a YES vote for the constitution when it goes to a national referendum.

Just as they did for the February 2000 constitutional referendum, the NCA (National Constitutional Assembly) have come out guns blazing and immediately issued a press statement giving 24 reasons why they were going to campaign for a  NO vote in the referendum expected in a few weeks time. 

Most ordinary Zimbabweans have not yet seen the draft constitution so they don’t know if the things they said at the outreach meetings have made it into the final draft or if they’ve been bargained away by the country’s political leaders. Others in a number of towns, mine included, had interrupted, shortened or cancelled constitutional outreach meetings back in 2010 when rowdy youths arrived in numbers and disrupted the gatherings making sure peoples voices were silenced or left them scared to air their views. That is now apparently not important. With just weeks before a referendum it is still not known if  the estimated three million Zimbabweans in the diaspora will be allowed to vote from outside the country or if the multiple thousands of born and permanently resident, tax-paying Zimbabweans who have been struck off the voters roll in recent years will be allowed to vote on the proposed constitution.

One day after it was announced that Parliament had unanimously approved the draft constitution, the media carried reports that the Zimbabwe government had asked the UNDP for two hundred and fifty million US dollars in order to hold the referendum and elections that will follow. The appeal to the UNDP comes before it is even known if any western countries will be allowed to observe Zimbabwe’s two trips to the polls in 2013.  Will this be another case of:  ‘we’ll take the money but you can’t watch how we spend it?’ Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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115 <![CDATA[Mellow yellow]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Yellow might be the colour of cowardice but as January came to an end, it would be more appropriate to describe yellow as the colour of foreboding in Zimbabwe. After a month of almost daily rain in which many places received  half of their annual rainfall in less than thirty days,  it was with considerable trepidation that the view from the window was contemplated when the heavens finally dried up.

In urban areas roadside maize planted illegally in any and every open space is a contradictory hotchpotch of disaster and bonanza. People who had built up contours around their little self apportioned plots and added compost, fertilizer and mulch are smiling all over their faces. Their maize is towering, the leaves dark, glossy green and cobs full and ripening.

‘Help yourself,’ a man said when I complimented him on his crop. One cob was selected and snapped off, not too big that it would be tough, not too small that the kernels wouldn’t be sufficiently formed. It took only a couple of minutes to cook, the leaves getting paler and thinner as they were peeled back to the centre. The mouth watered and fingers burned as the fine, soft yellow silks that lie between the lines of plump, juicy kernels were picked out; a few smears with the butter knife, salt, pepper: heaven.

Right next to this bounty are the little plots of people who planted and ignored: no compost or fertilizer, no cultivating and worst of all this year, no contours to save the soil. Incessant rains have left these squares heavily washed, any goodness long gone, the plants yellow and scrawny, some trying to promise a cob or two, but most failing and flailing in the breeze.

Then there’s the view from the country window, the roadside farms. Oh my word what a fearful foreboding this sight gives for our country in the coming months. Almost everything looks to be too late. People were still planting maize after Christmas and into early January, too late in the best of seasons. Then the heavens opened and the rains didn’t stop for three or more weeks. Instead of being head high and with their flowers waving in the wind, the maize plants are barely calf high, in some places ankle high, and almost everywhere it is pale, sickly yellow, you can almost hear it pleading for a few handfuls of fertilizer but it’s too late.

Away from the depressing little squares of yellow and trying not think where our broke government will find the money to import food needed to replace these failed crops, spirits lift at the glorious natural yellow everywhere else. In the wild open spaces that we collectively call ‘the bush,’ there’s an explosion of yellow in the carpets of wild flowers. In some places it’s a bright, dazzling yellow and in others it’s a  quiet, soothing, ‘mellow yellow,’ as hypnotic as the song of the sixties. And for those lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, there are exquisite pure yellow flame lilies trailing in the grass, climbing up the rocks, waiting to be discovered and admired, just breathtaking . Until next time, thanks for reading. Love cathy.

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114 <![CDATA[Crocodiles, mermaids, goblins and the constitution]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

When we heard the news that fifteen thousand crocodiles had escaped from a crocodile farm into the swirling waters of the flooded Limpopo River, it seemed hardly surprising after a fortnight of the strangest events occurring in Zimbabwe.  Our internationally famous boundary river, immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories,’ had changed from the “great grey-green greasy Limpopo River” into a swollen, raging flooded monster.  No one could believe the pictures of the flooded Limpopo, or the news that at one stage the border post actually had to close for a while until the water subsided. Was this the same river that thousands of Zimbabweans wade across chest deep, when they’re jumping the border into South Africa? Was this the same river that most of us can only ever remember as being a great wide river bed which always looks more sand bank than water? The fifteen thousand escaped crocodiles had come from a flooded farm on the South African side of the Limpopo and while seven thousand had been re-captured the rest were still at large. One croc had even been sighted on the rugby field of a school in Musina.

A few days before the Limpopo River flood a strange report had appeared in the government controlled Herald newspaper from their Beitbridge Bureau. The report spoke of a woman who had found a number of strange objects in a field. According to the Herald, and in their own unique wording, these objects included: “red pieces of clothes tied with a red string, a new razor blade, some padlocks, a pick stuck on a tree trunk, a new pot with a lid and several matchsticks.” Aaah, the joy of the Herald’s descriptive language we thought, and read on to discover that a local Ward Councillor had called for an urgent cleansing ceremony as people believed this was witchcraft.

The thought of crocs on the rugby field and razor blades and matchsticks in a field were almost as weird as the story of the talking bus that had been making news.  An abandoned minibus in Mount Hampden apparently drove itself to its current location, left no tracks on the ground and ‘talks’ to anyone that tries to remove parts from the vehicle. Locals say that when someone stole the wheels, they were mysteriously returned a few days later; they suspected the bus had spoken or maybe it was something to do with the large and mysterious snake that wasn’t really a snake  that someone said they saw slithering out of the vehicle.

As if all of this wasn’t peculiar enough, then came the tragedy in Chitungwiza. A massive explosion in a house in a high density area killed five people, including a seven month old baby, and blew the walls and roofs off at least four neighbouring homes. The explosion had taken place in the house of a traditional healer and theories as to the possible causes grew wilder by the day. A relation of the deceased healer said the family believed the healer had supernatural powers and a mermaid spirit. Reports told of people scattering salt on the road around the area to ward off evil spirits that may have been let loose in the blast. Then came the story that the healer had been sending lightening to strike a target in a process people apparently call ‘bluetooth.’ The theory was that the chosen target of the lightning was protected by a more powerful force and the ‘bluetooth had been returned to sender,’ hence the explosion. No story so strange could be complete without the goblins, yes goblins, also being blamed for the explosion although it wasn’t clear if this was a disgruntled customer returning a goblin, or a angry goblin who didn’t want to be returned. It took a few days before theories of juju, black magic and witchcraft were squashed by experts who said this was a bomb of some sort.

And while everyone was trying not to pay attention to stories about talking buses, mermaids, goblins and home- made return-to-sender lightning, something else very strange happened in Zimbabwe. Despite four years of arguing, stalling and accusations, it was suddenly announced that political leaders had agreed on the new draft constitution and that we could expect a referendum in March. The irony of two such dramatically different guiding life principles was not lost on us and so we look to the future while our feet seem firmly stuck in the past. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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113 <![CDATA[Tough luck]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe’s 78 year old Vice President John Nkomo died of cancer this week. He was the fourth Zimbabwean Vice President to die in office after Joshua Nkomo aged 82 in 1999, Simon Muzenda aged 80 in 2003 and Joseph Msika aged 85 who died in 2009.

It was ironic that in the same week that Vice President Nkomo died whilst occupying the second most powerful position in the country, our Prime Minister made headlines by saying that Zimbabweans would soon start receiving free treatment for cancer. Free treatment for cancer – our eyebrows went up, we are country that can’t even feed ourselves. A country which is looking to the UN to give free emergency food aid to 1.6 million Zimbabweans in the next few months.

Speaking at the funeral of University Professor Gordon Chavhunduka who died of throat cancer, Prime Minister Tsvangirai  said that there had been a cabinet decision taken to establish two centres for the early detection of cancer and people would be given free treatment.

Meanwhile closer to home a friend complained of a very stiff neck, shoulders and lower back. He had woken up in the morning with excruciating pain and found his lower lip bleeding and covered in raw wounds. A couple of days later, with the pain persisting, he went to the provincial government hospital. He is a known epileptic and entitled to receive free medication for epilepsy when he attends the outpatients clinic once a month. From 2005 to 2009 when the country was ravaged by multi-billion percent inflation, the government hospital could not supply the epilepsy drugs and he had to source them elsewhere and find the money to pay for them. Those were desperate times for everyone on all sorts of life sustaining medication, pharmacies everywhere were empty and everyone had to find friends or relations outside the country who could help. Prescriptions went across borders, drugs were collected by strangers in other countries, emergency packages travelled thousands of kilometres and were delivered by unknown legions of nameless volunteers who literally saved people’s lives.  

For a couple of years after Zimbabwe’s politicians were forced to share power, the situation got easier, supplies in hospitals improved and the drugs were dispensed for free every month but for the last nine months things have inexplicably changed. Quietly and without any outcry from anyone in our bloated, double-sized power sharing government, things have started slipping backwards. Every month the pharmacy at the government hospital say they don’t have the epilepsy drugs and lines of outpatients are turned away, told to go and buy the drugs themselves at private pharmacies and its tough luck if they can’t afford them. 

Nurses in the outpatients department gathered around my friend with the neck and back ache and bleeding mouth to see for themselves what happens when you don’t take the medication. They asked him if he had been buying and taking his tablets regularly. They said it looked like he had had an epileptic fit while he had been asleep, had bitten his lip and hurt his neck and back whilst shaking with spasms. Writing in his mandatory little exercise book they renewed the prescriptions for the two drugs he should take for his epilepsy and added an anti inflammatory for the neck and back pain. The outpatients pharmacy had no drugs in stock and there was no queue at the main hospital pharmacy but he went there anyway. A cursory glance at the names of the three common drugs that had been prescribed and the exercise book was handed back: sorry nothing here, go and buy them in town. Young or old, no exceptions, no one to turn to and just despair at a time when the government talks about giving free cancer treatment and yet can’t even supply basic life saving medicines. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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112 <![CDATA[Mushroom sombrero]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Greeting senior allies on the tarmac at Harare airport when he returned unexpectedly early from his annual Christmas holiday in the Far East, Mr Mugabe said that number thirteen was considered by everyone else to be unlucky but not for Zanu PF. 2013 was going to be their lucky year he said.

Thirteen years after life, stability, the economy and food security began to unravel in Zimbabwe, we are again a country in waiting.

We are a nation holding our breath this January 2013; watching, waiting, dreading and growing increasingly uneasy by the day. So much has to happen in the next few months starting with a long overdue draft constitution which has to be printed, published and released to the public. Then there has to be a referendum on the draft but no one yet knows which voters roll will be used for that vote. Will it be the present one which the electoral commission admitted in November contained the names of thousands of dead people along with numerous other discrepancies and at least two and a half thousand people aged between 101 and 110. So many Zimbabweans over a hundred years old is cause for much derision in a country where the average life expectancy is only 44 years.

The snail’s pace of the constitution and confusion of voter eligibility became even more muddled when a new-voter registration drive started at New Year. A few days later it stopped; then we were told there was no money for the voter registration exercise, and then that voter registration had been cancelled until funds were released.

While this went on big crowds gathered outside run down government offices. Not allowed to queue inside people have to stand in the mud, the rain and the puddles waiting, waiting, waiting to be allowed in or to be told what’s going on.

Then there’s the hugely contentious issue of whether the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans who have been struck off the voters roll in the last seven years will be allowed to vote after being classified as ‘aliens’ if their parents were not born in Zimbabwe. Or the estimated 3 million Zimbabweans living in exile in the Diaspora – will they be allowed to vote? The same questions apply to the elections which have to happen before the 29th October 2013. Who will be able to vote, will electoral laws have been changed, who will be allowed to observe and monitor the polls and will we have a repeat of

2008 when it took five weeks for the results to be announced and winners were forced to share power with losers? Our painfully long story about constitutions, referendums and elections has all become so murky that I turned my attention to the weird mushroom that’s been growing in my garden since early January prompting strange comparisons to our lucky/unlucky Zimbabwe of 2013.

It started when a thick stemmed, round topped, creamy white mushroom emerged into the light of day in a place where a fungus had never been seen before. With thick white flakes on its cap and peeling sections on its stem, it developed into the most unexpected creature in the following days As the mushroom grew taller the cap grew bigger and then flattened out with a hump in the middle until it looked more like a Mexican sombrero than a mushroom. The cap soon completely overshadowed the stem as it got still bigger and its thick white flakes disappeared to be replaced by dark brown giraffe-pattern blotches. When the mushroom stood 18 centimetres (7 “) high and its cap was bigger than a large dinner plate and measured 25 centimetres across (10 “), the mushroom began to expose its real self. The gills curled outwards exposing an 8 centimetre (3”) thick fleshy belly which pushed the edges of the cap up. Rain collected in the new lip, the blotches dissolved turning the rain puddle in the mushroom brown and new markings began to develop, looking like peeling sunburn. What had started out as a promisingly unusual, round flaky mushroom had turned first into a stylish sombrero and then a top heavy monster.

With its head too big to be supported by its stem, the mushroom is destined to melt into a gelatinous puddle of sludge but somehow I can’t bring myself to destroy it. It will have to do that all by itself. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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111 <![CDATA[Dubious miracles]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy New Year from a very wet and soggy Zimbabwe. Everyone said that our rainy season was six weeks late and now it’s making up for it with downpours of at least 25 mm (one inch) every day for the last ten days and  in between times producing the odd 75 ml (three inches) storms too. As a result we’re afloat. Monster potholes are everywhere; there are lakes across roads whose storm drains haven’t been cleared for years and mammoth piles of uncollected and dumped garbage float along the verges and grow larger by the day at food and vegetable markets. We’re also awash in flying ants’ wings and muddy footprints, roofs that leak and water stains on walls and ceilings.

Zimbabwe exploded into 2013 with an orgy of fireworks that  were available for sale from any street vendors for absurdly cheap prices. Everything from firecrackers to rockets were being hawked on the streets; all appeared to have come from China and if they had safety instructions, these were also in Chinese.

While seemingly every house in every road was letting off fireworks, thirty thousand people gathered at an evangelical church in Chitungwiza. They had come to hear Prophet Makandiwa’s New Year service and his predictions for Zimbabwe for 2013. And everyone liked what they heard! “As I was praying I saw a wind blowing and I saw gold coming to the surface. People are going to be picking up gold without any drilling,” Makandiwa said.

Meanwhile other  religious figures were accusing the new flood-tide of multi- millionaire evangelists of using ‘juju’ to perform questionable and dubious miracles to attract customers. One quoted an incident where a woman apparently purchased five hundred dollars worth of goods in a Mabvuku shop and after she had gone her bank notes in the till turned into Avocado leaves. And people apparently believe this!

So with uncontrolled Chinese fireworks, people looking for gold nuggets lining the streets and money that turns into leaves, we entered 2013. We’ve got very high hopes that 2013 will see an end to our absurd, thirteen year old ‘Zimbabwe Situation.’ We’re all so very tired of it: the politics, propaganda, intimidation, violence and fear. As high as our hopes are for freedom and democracy, early signs do not bode well.  Hardly had the new year begun then the jamming of SW Radio Africa broadcasts resumed. No sign of freedom of expression here then and with a loud groan, but ever hopeful, we ask ourselves: will this be the year when Zimbabwe finally finds freedom. To the sound of thunder and insects hitting the lights, thanks for reading and caring about Zimbabwe, until next time, love cathy.

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110 <![CDATA[Annual migration]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas in Zimbabwe is the time of soft sweet litchis, plums, mangoes and peaches. It’s the time to eat small, sweet purple grapes straight from the vines and to take turns with the birds for pawpaws and figs. It’s the time when its hazardous to sit, stand or put anything under avocado trees as the high up, unreachable fruits ripen and crash to the ground at the most unexpected times.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means towering purple rain clouds, sausage flies and flying ants. It means rhino beetles and chongololos, large spiders and even larger snakes. Christmas is that alluring time when flashes of red, crimson and scarlet tempt you into the ever thickening bush to discover wild and beautiful flame lilies. It’s the time of year for mahobohobo fruits: sweet, juicy and oh so more-ish and for mushrooms of all shapes and sizes – so tempting to pick but so lethal to eat.

Christmas in Zimbabwe is that first green maize cob scalding hot from the pot: soft, tender and sweet leaving butter running down your fingers and dripping onto your chin. For some it is chicken and rice, for others turkey and ham and  everywhere meat sizzles on braai fires.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means reunion. It’s the time of year when everyone’s on the move. Transport is a nightmare, lifts are like gold and everyone is weighed down with bus bags and bulging luggage. The roads are chaotic, buses and kombis overloaded and impromptu police road blocks appear every ten to fifteen kilometres. The queues outside the passport offices and the borders grow longer while the bribes get bigger to match people’s desperation. Instead of more people staffing home affairs and immigration offices there are less and the looks on people’s faces change from anger and despair to disgust and resignation.  Zimbabwe’s new tradition, thanks to a decade of political and economic mayhem, is the great, international,  annual migration to reunite with families scattered all over the globe. To the disapora and from the diaspora hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans try to get together and be normal families, just for a few weeks.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means school leavers. A couple of hundred thousand O and A level students pour out onto the roads, waiting for results, drinking too much, playing head banging music and all the while knowing that there is almost no chance they will find a job in a country where unemployment hovers around 90%.  Those that can will have no choice but to join the estimated three and a half million other Zimbabweans living and working outside the country. Those that can’t will set up roadside stalls under trees, wheel and deal,  sell airtime, become cross border traders and spend their days looking for ways to use the education their parents struggled so hard to get them.  

Christmas for MP’s in Zimbabwe this year is the car loans of US$30,000 that were given to each legislator which have been written off by the Treasury at a cost of US$9 million. And on the other hand, for the vast majority of us, Christmas 2012 is a time when the shops are full but the pockets empty as we juggle the bills, chase every dollar and wonder if, by this time next year, our country will have finally become the new Zimbabwe we so desperately need and want.

To all Zimbabweans and our friends, wherever you are in the world, happy holidays, joyous reunions and thanks for reading and supporting my writing and books for another year. Until I write again in January, keep watching Zimbabwe, love cathy

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109 <![CDATA[Hot African wind]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Everyone battened down the hatches when the met department issued a nationwide alert for heavy storms and flash flooding.  They warned people to expect strong, violent winds, hail and heavy rainfall in excess of 60 mm in 24 hours. Don’t cross flooded rivers or bridges, they said, cautioning people that uprooted trees and destruction of infrastructure was possible and anyone who thought their area was flooding should move to higher ground. It’s not often that we get these kinds of warnings from the Met Dept and so with anxious eyes cast upwards, we braced ourselves.

The weather got hotter and hotter, the sky bluer and bluer while everyone and everything wilted, retreating to the smallest of shade patches to wait for the promised heavy rain and flash floods. It all seemed very unlikely and was so hot that it was hard to concentrate on any of the absurdities that characterize Zimbabwe which is months away from a referendum and election. People in rural villages have begun receiving bags of seed maize donated by Zanu PF, but only if they produced Zanu PF membership cards. While they stood in line they were distressed to see village headmen opening the bags and splitting them in two so each family only got 5kgs of seed. Everyone wants to know where Zanu PF got the money to dish out millions of dollars worth of free seed and fertilizer which didn’t come from government  but so far mum’s the word.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any hotter, the Met dept’s predicted ‘strong violent winds’ arrived. We closed doors and windows and watched as the sky turned deep purple.  The birds in the garden went into a feeding frenzy; Weavers, Waxbills, Mannikins and Finches struggled for a look in as twenty, fifty and then a hundred red billed Quelea descended on a  hot African wind and devoured every seed in sight.

The electricity went off, a few spots of rain fell on the baked ground and night drew in. News came that rain had begun falling in Bulawayo and southern parts of the country and we hoped we would be next. By the light of solar lanterns  we followed the news that the main political parties are about to hold primary elections. Everyone’s jostling for positions and existing leaders are spouting the usual platitudes: no vote buying and no candidate imposition. But existing and aspiring candidates aren’t listening.  Photos of yet more bags of politicized seed maize appeared in the press; some with round stickers advertising Zanu PF on them others with photographs of  Zanu PF candidates blatantly displayed in large images on the front of seed maize bags.

Overnight the wind picked up again and finally, a little before dawn, a light drizzle  began to wet the ground. Temperatures plunged, jerseys come out of storage and outside the ground was littered with avocado pears knocked down by the strong winds. Almost as soon as the ripe avocados are split open and laid out, the birds dropped down to feast: Bulbuls, glossy Starlings, White eyes, a red headed Barbet and gorgeous plum coloured Starlings. 

Two days later less than 20 mm of rain had fallen but the electricity came back on and we started to catch up on the news again. Two people had died after being struck by lightning and two others received serious burns. The excommunicated Anglican bishop, Nolbert Kunonga with a gun on his hip threatened to shoot journalists who were taking photos of him and his staff being evicted by the Deputy Sherriff of the Court from Anglican Cathedral offices. Short Wave Radio Africa’s broadcasts were being jammed again and  Zimbabwe was apparently sending troops to the border with Mozambique after warnings of instability looming in Mozambique and news that an army is being trained in Gorongoza. With Zimbabwe’s Chiadzwa diamond fields being so close to the Mozambique border it doesn’t bear thinking what might happen, or maybe, like our week of promised flash floods, it will all just blow away in the deep purple sky on a hot African wind.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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108 <![CDATA[A long time coming]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Two unexpected but very welcome developments occurred this week, reviving flagging spirits and giving hope that maybe justice can return to Zimbabwe. The first came in the form of a ruling from our Supreme Court.  It had been a very long time coming but at last the excommunicated Anglican Bishop Nolbert Kunonga was told that he was not entitled to control and possess Anglican Church properties that he had been claiming and occupying since 2007. The Supreme Court Judges  found that Mr Kunonga had withdrawn from the Anglican church to form his own institution and therefore could not hold on to Anglican Church properties.

‘Pack and Go,’ were the headlines on one newspaper and they were words that many thousands of people, and not only Anglicans, had been waiting to hear for five years.  No one had ever really understood, let alone believed that Mr Kunonga had been allowed to first hold services in the Anglican churches and then take them over altogether. With shock we watched Anglicans holding their services under trees, in tents and in private homes because their churches had been taken over by Mr Kunonga. Then we watched in disbelief as Anglican priests and their families were evicted from church houses, and then in horror we saw Mr Kunonga and his followers take over Anglican orphanages and evict the children.

Justice was a long time coming and every day since the Supreme Court ruling all eyes have been on Anglican churches and properties. At the time of writing there is no sign that the Anglican Church in my home town is being vacated by Mr Kunonga’s people. For the past year this landmark church situated less than a block from the centre of the town has been turned into a school. In the church courtyard, sitting on low walls and under shaded veranda’s children have been receiving lessons. It’s a similar situation in many Anglican churches which Mr Kunonga took over and then rented out to other organisations. In the days following the Supreme Court ruling, horrors have started to be exposed. The Anglican Harare diocese secretary said that they had   found many of their  churches had been abused, some even turned into brothels. In one instance we heard there had been ‘widespread sexual abuse’ going on in an orphanage taken over by Mr Kunonga’s supporters.   The Anglicans say that as soon as their properties are vacated  they will be holding cleansing ceremonies across the diocese.

The second welcome development came from the Ivory Coast where the African Commission on Human and People's Rights were meeting.  ‘Human rights history made as African Commission declares Zimbabwean farmers’ case admissible,’ was the headline of the Afriforum press release. After African Heads of State suspended the SADC Tribunal in August 2011 all avenues had been closed for individuals, like Zimbabwean farmers, who had had failed to get justice from the courts in their own countries. Left with nowhere to go and no one who would listen to us, the African Commission picked up the baton. They ruled that the complaint lodged with it on behalf of Zimbabwean farmers Luke Tembani and Ben Freeth against 14 heads of state of SADC countries was admissible. Afriforum said: ‘Freeth and Tembani’s legal team now have 60 days to make further submissions on the merits of their complaint, after which the Commission will consider the complaint.’

History was made when justice finally came for Anglicans in Zimbabwe this week and at the same time a small flicker of hope was revived for farmers – maybe we too will also see justice one day; we have waited so long. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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107 <![CDATA[Diamonds or water?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Almost two months ago Bulawayo made international news when city authorities asked residents to engage in synchronized toilet flushing at 7.30 pm every third day. Jokes came from all directions but as most of us have endured years of water shortages in towns all over the country, there wasn’t much to laugh about. Precious water stored in buckets, plugs left in, toilets not flushed and ‘splash’ baths with a few jugs of water are all very familiar so we sent sympathetic messages to our friends in Bulawayo. Things came to a head after repeated meetings with council officials yielded nothing. Over 800 WOZA members sent delegations to local council officers to complain about prolonged water cuts but still they were fobbed off and so they embarked on three days of protests.

On the 12th of November seventy nine WOZA members and two babies were arrested and taken to Bulawayo Central police station for staging a peaceful protest at the City Council Tower block. Later that day they were released. The next day WOZA tried to protest again. At midday as protesters arrived at the government complex in Bulawayo, riot police arrived and arrested eleven WOZA members, taking them across the road and putting them under guard in the Drill Hall. Police then went to another central intersection where protesters were gathering and according to the WOZA press statement the ‘police officers disembarked to beat members who were marching towards the complex.’

Another eleven people were arrested and WOZA said police shouted obscenities at the women and called them prostitutes. One police officer who said he didn’t care if the protesters knew his name, told the women: 'this country was liberated by blood and only those who spilt blood can be the ones to talk.' This second group of eleven protesters were taken to Bulawayo Central police station but as they were disembarking the Chief Inspector arrived and told the riot police to take the women back to where they’d come from. That didn’t happen, instead the women were driven out of town and dumped at a cemetery on the Victoria Falls road.

On the third day WOZA tried again. This time 150 of their members managed to get to the steps of the Mayor’s office at City Hall.

There they were met, not by the Mayor but by senior police officers who blocked their progress and the WOZA protesters had to disperse.

The Mayor did not emerge to talk to people he was elected to serve.

Nothing further was heard about the policeman who publicly said that only people who had spilt blood had a right to talk.

Some of the demands made by WOZA were for an end to water cuts that last longer than 24 hours; for the provision of water purifying tablets and for an increase of the amount of water people are allowed to draw from bowsers. At present people queuing at council bowsers are only allowed 40 litres of water a day and WOZA said for an average family of five people, this is simply not enough. Can you imagine five people coping on just 40 litres of water a day – drinking, cooking, bathing, toilets, washing. It works out at eight litres per person and add a baby to the equation or someone who is sick or incontinent and life becomes an utter nightmare.

Meanwhile, at the same time as this was going on and further down the same road where women had been dumped at a cemetery by police, the who’s who of Zimbabwe’s diamond industry were meeting in Victoria Falls. The Zimbabwe Diamond Conference was being hosted by the government to ‘shed light’ on diamond mining in the country. For three days there was much pomp and ceremony: speeches, TV cameras, bottled water on the tables but more questions than answers about just exactly where all our diamond money is going. Mines Minister, Obert Mpofu complained to delegates about the diamond watchdog groups:

“How then are you expected to be transparent when there are hyenas chasing you?” he said. “They want to know what car you drive, which house you are living in and what plane you are flying.”

 The Minister’s gripes are a world away from the grinding struggle of ordinary mums in the heat and dust as they try to keep their families clean and healthy with only eight litres of water per person per day. Diamonds, houses, cars and aeroplanes on one hand and eight litres of clean water on the other; there’s something desperately wrong with Zimbabwe’s priorities. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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106 <![CDATA[Under the spreading arms of the Musasa tree]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

When I received the news of the death of an old family friend this week I felt  drawn to the cemetery. It had been a swelteringly hot week and even at six in the morning the thermometer was in the mid 20’s and heading upwards. After just a short walk my arms and face were clammy and I was brushing flies away. Despite the early hour, people were already working on roadside cultivation plots, uprooting the last of the reeds, bullrushes, red hot pokers and sedges that once grew in abundance here. Apparently the diplomatically correct term for this is ‘self apportioned, peri-urban agriculture,’ in reality it’s the illegal, uncontrolled eradication of precious wetlands that has gone unchecked for the last decade.

I deliberately turned my gaze away from the asbestos waste, oil filters, drink cans, broken glass and litter  that has been dumped in piles all along the roadside on the way to the cemetery. My feet should have been walking on tar but in many places this has been covered by sand and colonised by grass  because there have been no road repairs or storm drain clearing here since 2007.  I passed street lights we pay for every month in our utilities accounts but which haven’t worked since 2004. 

Arriving at the cemetery I forced myself not to look at the sweet potato beds that have been dug up and planted inside the cemetery boundary wire. I forced myself to walk around and not over the diamond mesh fence that lies rusting in the grass where it has been for over three years since it was pulled down but never put back by municipal  workers when they cut down the pine trees that lined the cemetery. 

Under the spreading arms of an old Musasa tree are the graves  of the family of Margaret Tredgold. I had hoped to be able to sit on the small bench near the graves but it has collapsed completely, so I just stood quietly for a few minutes, remembering. Margaret passed away last week, in England, on the 1st November, aged 102. Lady Margaret Tredgold lived most of her life in Zimbabwe and was  known to so many people for her botanical paintings, stamp designs, children’s books and her well loved and often consulted books on wild flowers and food plants of Zimbabwe. Margaret made the most exquisite ‘paper- cut’ cards, inked silhouette drawings, hand-made paper butterflies and illustrated letters that will always be treasured by those that received them. More than this, Margaret loved Zimbabwe and its people, especially the children. Weeding around the edges of the graves I noticed the new stem of a single flame lily. It  couldn’t have been more appropriate as it is two beautiful flame lilies, painted by Margaret that adorn the front cover of her book on wild flowers.

Walking home from the cemetery I didn’t see the squalor of half an hour before, this time I saw the first wild flowers of the new season at my feet. All are flowers that are so beautifully portrayed in Margaret’s books and paintings: creeping pink Stud thorns;  snowball Sedges; red dwarf Combretums, early blue Thunbergias and a single, bright orange  Lions eye. What a tribute to a lady who always saw the beauty in Zimbabwe and the gave it back in her words and art. The new summer wild flowers gave hope, the same  kind of hope described by Barack Obama in his victory speech this week: “Hope is the stubborn faith inside us that something better exists so long as we have the courage to keep reaching.” Fambai zvakanaka Margaret.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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105 <![CDATA[Snake in the grass]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Walking barefoot in a newly rain-drenched garden I came across a snake in the grass. It must have felt my footsteps and I stopped, kept my distance, watched and waited as it slipped back into a hole and disappeared underground. It left a strange, unsettling feeling knowing there was a snake, right there, under my  feet and its very similar to the way many people are feeling about life in Zimbabwe this November. For most of us its been a very difficult year. Money has been short; rents, fees and  utilities have consumed every spare dollar; businesses have struggled to keep going and jobs have been almost impossible to find.  And always, waiting like a snake in the grass, is the knowledge that at any moment we could spiral back into political violence and economic collapse. We are, after all, still using another country’s currency and are now just months away from an election.

Some very mixed messages are coming from Zimbabwe as we get closer to a constitutional referendum and election. On the surface of it some things are looking encouraging. The IMF have just announced they have eased restrictions on Zimbabwe. There is no money involved and no financial support to be given to Zimbabwe but IMF say their staff will provide advice, technical support and assist in monitoring economic programs. The IMF said they had made the decision because of "significant improvement in Zimbabwe's cooperation on economic policies."  For a country which has an external debt of 10,7 billion US dollars, this is the first step on a very long road but it is a step forwards.

Other encouraging news came when  KLM resumed direct flights between Zimbabwe and  Amsterdam after a thirteen year absence and then  LAM Mozambique announced the introduction of flights between Harare, Beira and Maputo.  But the question everyone is asking is why now?

Anyone who knows anything about elections in Zimbabwe knows just how quickly the snake can, and does, reappear in the grass.  Just a fortnight ago the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office updated information on their website relating to Zimbabwe.  They say that ‘political tensions remain, particularly in light of a potential constitutional referendum and elections.’ They advise their nationals who are resident in Zimbabwe to : ‘have a contingency plan in place in case you need to leave at short notice.’ The FCO advise caution when travelling in unfamiliar areas saying:  ‘Farm invasions continue, often accompanied by violence and looting of property.’ To demonstrate just how fragile the situation is in Zimbabwe, the FCO advise people to be aware that an open hand is the political symbol of the MDC- T and say: ‘a friendly wave may therefore be misinterpreted. Wearing T-shirts with political slogans, can provoke a hostile reaction.’

As absurd as knowing that a ‘friendly wave may be misinterpreted,’ is the knowledge that at any time and any place there may well be a snake, right there under your feet. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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104 <![CDATA[A step in the process]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Tension had been building for weeks, everyone was expecting trouble, propaganda and rumour had reached ridiculous proportions and no one thought there was a chance of a peaceful final meeting on the draft new constitution. For three and a half years every step of our new constitution making process has been littered with bickering, accusations, intimidation and threats. We’ve had rowdy youths barging their way into meetings and breaking them up; meetings cancelled or abandoned; delegates assaulted; rapporteurs threatened, recording equipment seized and MP’s fleeing venues to get away from violent elements. To be honest many people didn’t think we would even get to the closing All Stakeholders Conference while others had already given up on the whole process saying it had been politically hijacked long ago.

No one expected that the final conference would go smoothly and we sat on the edge of our seats waiting for trouble, but it never came. Or it never came in the crude, big -stick way, which has become the trademark of decision making in Zimbabwe. Unbelievably over a thousand men and women met in Harare for two days and only one incident made front page headlines when a Zanu PF delegate, Temba Mliswa, grabbed a camera being used to record proceedings and took it away. Other incidents were going on that didn’t make news headlines but were highlighted in a press statement by a quartet of NGO’s known as ZZZICOMP. The group recorded delegates who intimidated, harassed, heckled and issued verbal threats to other delegates. They said there was widespread coaching of delegates by all three political parties which left them parroting party opinions.

So far most people haven’t seen the new draft but those that have are far from happy about clauses which are clearly the result of political negotiation rather than the opinions of ordinary people. It’s not really clear what happened to the pages of amendments Zanu PF were insisting on or what happened to resolve any of the most contentious issues such as dual citizenship, diaspora voting; presidential running mates, land rights, a prosecuting authority or the devolution of power.

I know that my rights as a Zimbabwean are not protected in the draft new constitution. I also know that it is extremely unlikely that the multiple thousands of born and resident Zimbabweans struck off the voters roll in the last ten years will even be allowed to vote in the referendum on this draft new constitution. Don’t get so upset about it, people say, it’s just another step in the process. But which process: the Zanu PF process, the MDC process or a process for our children and future generations of Zimbabweans regardless of which political party they choose to support. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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103 <![CDATA[Tapping on the windows]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s a constant tapping on the windows at night, now that the first rains have fallen in Zimbabwe. The reappearance of millions of insects after an absence of four months is an attack on the senses. From the persistent whining of mosquitoes that turn sideways and disappear when you look for them, to the silent ascension from the depths of the earth of a million flying ants, the insects are back. A vast array of airborne beetles, ranging from small shiny brown creatures to large glossy black monsters with fearsome body armour, horns and  spiked legs, spend their nights pinging against lights and tapping on windows. The natural aerial assault has added to the man made surprises and uncertainty that has overtaken Zimbabwe this week.

It started with a visit from South Africa’s ex ANC youth leader Julius Malema who had apparently come to Zimbabwe to ‘meet progressive forces’ and also to attend the wedding of a Zanu PF youth leader.  Met at the airport by Zimbabwe’s minister of youth and indigenisation, Malema was said to have been ‘whisked away,’ first  through the airport’s VIP section and then in a convoy of fast moving vehicles. Later, when Daily News reporters tried to interview Malema, his body guards whom the paper described as ‘heavily built goons,’ manhandled the press photographer, forced him to delete photographs of Malema and then confiscated the camera’s memory card. Speaking at the wedding he’d come to attend, Malema had obviously been taking lessons from us. He said that white South Africans must give back land and minerals. Malema said that they would not pay for the land in South Africa when it  was surrendered and the only thing they were scared of was defeat. ‘Seeing blood is not what we are scared of as long as that blood delivers what belongs to us we are prepared to go to that extent.’ It wasn’t clear  who the ‘we’ was that Julius Malema  referred to but they were frighteningly familiar sentiments in a country that has witnessed at first hand just how easily radical rhetoric becomes terrifying reality.

The next frighteningly familiar thing came in the form of newspaper  photographs and TV video footage  of houses being knocked down by bulldozers in Epworth outside Harare. Disturbing images were shown of men, women and children standing amidst the rubble and ruins of their homes  with all their worldly goods jumbled in heaps around them: furniture, bedding, clothing, kitchen equipment and  food. Hundreds of families were affected by the demolitions and said they’d been allocated stands on the land a year ago by a couple of men they called Zanu PF party leaders. Asked to comment on the allocation of stands on privately owned land,  Zanu PF’s Harare province chairman, Amos Midzi,  said: “we have no policy whatsoever to take over private property anywhere in Harare.'  It was the most ironic statement after twelve years of private property seizures.

Then came the warning made by Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo who was being interviewed by a South African TV channel. Gumbo said that if Zanu PF lost the next election it would be ‘messy.’ Gumbo said that events such as had taken place in Libya and were still taking place in Syria, could happen in Zimbabwe. ‘There will be deaths. People could be killed and maimed,’ he said. It wasn’t clear if Mr Gumbo was representing his own position or that of Zanu PF but it all adds to the fear factor that increases as we draw ever closer to a constitutional referendum and election. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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102 <![CDATA[Dogs in the manger]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

To the beckoning whistles of the Paradise Flycatchers and under a blistering October sky, Zimbabwe waits for the rain. As every day gets hotter and drier and we think ‘maybe today,’ everything around us seems to be in a state of growing unease, infected with the delirium of October heatstroke. 

Because of the three week truck drivers strike in South Africa, a few items began disappearing from supermarket shelves in Zimbabwe, making us wonder if this was October delirium or frightening reality. Little gaps on the shelves reminded us not only of those recent nightmare years when there was no food to buy but also of the fact that an estimated eighty percent of the food on our tables is still imported. It’s a  frightening fact that is hardly ever talked about here because it exposes the real truth of twelve years of land seizures. But this is one of those facts that that you can’t hide because everyone can see all the run down, unproductive farms along any highway in any part of the country. The majority of commercial farms in Zimbabwe, given out as reward for political patronage, remain locked in ‘dog in the manger’ mode: I don’t really know to do with it but I’ll be damned if I’ll let you have it. The few farms you do see working are growing money not food. Tobacco yes, food no, is probably the best way to summarize the view from Zimbabwe’s window.

Local economist Erich Bloch said that a meltdown in Zimbabwe could occur in a matter of weeks if trucks from South Africa didn’t start coming in. Despite the October heat it is very chilling to realise how quickly and easily we could plunge back into those horrific years when hunger was everywhere and shops were empty.

Ironically, while farms remain unproductive and food is being imported, October is the time of year when everyone gets into a feverish state about planting maize. From back gardens to roadsides and wetlands to railway lines the dust is flying  in and around all urban areas as little squares are cleared. Last year the trio of inputs consisting of a 20kg bag of seed maize, 50 kg bag of Compound D and 50 kg bag of A.N. fertilizer cost $78. This year the cost of those three same inputs has gone up by 25% and it now needs $100 to get a small field of maize (corn) into the ground. It’s hard to comprehend the 25% increase when officials continue to assure us that inflation has gone down. This October even though people know yields will be reduced, they are preparing to plant without fertilizer and say they will just hope for the best.

Zimbabwe’s been stuck in this tug of war between the ‘dogs in the manger’ and those ‘hoping for the best’ for so long and as the rain clouds gather it looks like we’re about to waste another rainy season out there on the farms. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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101 <![CDATA[Bizarre, sad and strange but true.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Infected by the searing October heat, we’ve had a fortnight of  bizarre, sad, and  strange-but- true incidents. It started in hot, dry Matabeleland. In a notice in the Chronicle newspaper, residents of Bulawayo city were advised to flush their toilets at exactly the same time every third day.  7.30 pm is the designated synchronized flushing time that the  two million residents have been asked to observe every 72 hours. Apparently prolonged water shortages have left less and less water in the city’s reticulation system which prompted the Council to call for simultaneous flushing in order to prevent blockages and burst pipes. The Council said the simultaneous flushing doesn’t apply to people with their own septic tanks and that people who have water should also flush their toilets at other times. While the 72 hour synchronized flushing might be one of the most bizarre requests we’ve heard for some time, Zimbabweans have perfected the art of taking things in their stride and then of joining in the laughter at the predictable tidal wave (!) of jokes and skits that follow.  

The second bizarre thing to happen came with a notice in the national newspapers inserted by the Minister of Finance. It wasn’t the normal sort of notice you’d expect from a Finance Minister containing information on  taxes, duties, levies or interest rates. This notice was to advise people that  Ministry of Finance staff had been sent home because they were being physically prevented from getting into their offices by war veterans. It was with a very distinct sense of déjà vu that we heard this news. The press notice said the operations of the Finance Ministry were being disrupted by demonstrating war veterans who were demanding, among other things, an increase in their monthly pensions from  US$160 to $620 a month. This demand for more is in addition to the bulk payments they each  received in 1998 , the free school fees they receive for their children and free farms they got in the land seizures of the last twelve years. The Ministry of Finance crisis had started a  few days earlier when two hundred war veterans barricaded the government complex, demanding the 400% increases. The press statement said that other government Ministries housed in the same complex had also been affected by the war veterans’ barricade including the Ministries of Justice and Legal Affairs, Higher Education, Economic Planning and the Attorney General’s Office. If it had been anyone else barricading government offices and demanding a 400%  increase there is no doubt they would have been bundled off in police trucks but that didn’t happen. Ministry workers went home while the country shook its head in disbelief.

The third thing to happen wasn’t bizarre but tragic.  The lead motorcycle rider in the Presidential motorcade was burnt to death after he hit a truck while clearing the route for the cavalcade near Borrowdale village in Harare. All Zimbabweans have encountered the Presidential motorcade and it’s a frightening thing at the best of times. Everyone’s learnt that you get off the road and stop and you do it right now, regardless of where you are, where other traffic is or who’s behind or in front of you. This latest incident is the fourth involving the motorcade this year. One man was killed and fifteen injured a few months ago when the police vehicle clearing traffic ahead of the convoy rammed into a commuter minibus. In another incident a vagrant walking in the road was knocked down and killed by a police escort bike in the motorcade and on another occasion the convoy vehicle carrying members of the Presidential guard burst a tyre leaving one man dead and others wounded. 

Only in Zimbabwe. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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100 <![CDATA[Queuing up for the front page]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

An hour before midnight the calls of an Eagle Owl chased sleep away. It’s that time of year when the heat of summer doesn’t persist long after dark and so you spend all  night pulling the blankets on and off.  For a long time the Owl called out again and again, its deep, drawn out ‘hoo-hoooo’ haunting and alluring at the same time, eventually beckoning you outside to have a look.  Armed only with a torch you sweep the beam around the highest points: on top of electricity and telephone poles, high up in trees  and on top of the roof. Then you see it, sitting rather precariously on a television aerial. The big owl stares unblinking into the torch light, not moving, just looking. Moving round for a clearer view you catch your breath when you see there are actually two Spotted Eagle Owls sitting side by side on the aerial. That explains the prolonged, almost frenzied hooting and knowing that there are two birds clearing the garden of rodents, or maybe courting, you leave them to it and go back to bed.

By then sleep is even further away. The image of two owls sitting side by side on a  moonlit night set me to thinking about the topic  which has been the national obsession for almost a month. Instead of talking about the deadly serious issues of the constitutional referendum and then the general election that President Mugabe has unilaterally decided will be held in March 2013, everyone is still obsessed with the recent wedding of Prime Minister Tsvangirai. Everyone’s talking about it, or more accurately talking about all the women who are coming out of the woodwork laying some sort of claim to the man.  Promises, pregnancies, damage payments, customary breaches and alleged broken promises  all queue up to make front page headlines almost every day. For this to be happening  in a land where HIV and AIDS stand in the shadows of every doorway, it hasn’t set a very good example for youngsters and so the talk goes on and on.

Most shocking of all is the fifteen thousand US dollars a month ‘maintenance’ payment  being demanded from the Prime Minister by one woman. Saying that the Prime Minister was : ‘in a position to pay maintenance for my upkeep,’ and that he was: ‘handsomely paid,’ the woman is demanding to be paid an enormous amount of money every month.  Fifteen thousand US dollars is the equivalent to almost three years salary of a government school teacher or seven and a half years pay for a domestic or garden worker in the country.  Open-mouthed, ordinary Zimbabweans have looked at the breakdown of the fifteen thousand dollar a month ‘maintenance’ claim and can’t help but wonder if this is  a common level of expenditure being practised by our leaders. The most staggering amounts being demanded in the ‘maintenance’ breakdown are $4,000 for groceries when most people can hardly afford 5% of that in a month; $1,200 for telephone calls which is a far cry from the twenty to thirty dollars a month most  people spend and the $3,200 for clothing, hair and beauty has left us shaking our heads in total disbelief as we debate if we can afford a ten dollar T shirt or a twenty dollar pair of jeans. 

This September it is very hard to banish thoughts of four thousand dollar  a month grocery bills. How can this be happening in the same country where the World Food Programme say 1,6 million need food aid ? The WFP say  one in five rural people will need food aid during what they call the peak of our ‘hunger season.’  There is a restlessness in Zimbabwe these summer nights and it’s not just the hooting of the owls causing it.   Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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99 <![CDATA[Purple splats]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

In the eerie glow thrown by a thin orange crescent of the setting  moon, sausage flies and flying ants filled the evening sky this week. The orange moon sinking into a dark, dusty horizon along with the sudden reappearance of gossamer-winged insects  is a sure sign that summer has arrived.  Clouds are starting to build up, Jacarandas are turning purple and wherever there’s a mulberry tree the ground is carpeted in fallen fruits and purple bird droppings. First thing in the morning you can track the flight path of the fruit bats, the purple splats spread far and wide from the bountiful fruit trees. Irresistibly you are drawn to the Mulberry tree and it is impossible to resist feasting straight from the tree,  paying the price later with purple fingers and feet. Purple is the colour of early summer and this year it has brought both bad news and good news for Zimbabwe.

The bad news came in the form of a half page newspaper report headlined ‘A.G. wants tough action against white farmers.’ Despite the fact that only an estimated three hundred commercial farmers are still on their properties and that the government has seized 95% of the country’s farms without compensation in the last twelve years, the Attorney General isn’t happy. A.G. Tomana says the remaining white Zimbabwean farmers are clogging courts around the country with what he calls ‘frivolous appeals.’ Tomana says that the penalty for white farmers refusing to vacate land the government has gazetted for compulsory acquisition is two years imprisonment. ‘Prosecution should have been the easiest way to deal with the issue,’ Tomana said. ‘It is strange that people continue to violate and break the law in open day and nothing is done,’ the Attorney General said, bemoaning the reluctance of officials to enforce the law. While talking about an absence of law enforcement , it was sad that the Attorney General said nothing about the thousands of perpetrators of crimes in the last twelve years who still walk freely amongst us. Their crimes, ranging from arson and rape to torture and murder were committed under the guise of  ‘political violence’ and their victims have waited for over a decade but still  justice hasn’t been done.

Later in the week, good news came from the South African Supreme Court of Appeal. Nearly four years after the SADC Tribunal ruled that Zimbabwe’s land reform processes were racist and that farmers ought to have been compensated for their farms, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal upheld that ruling. A press release from the SADC Tribunal Watch said: ‘Despite the Zimbabwe government’s claims to the contrary, the Supreme Court of Appeal confirmed in its judgment that, according to the SADC Treaty, the decisions of the Tribunal were final and binding.’ The Court dismissed the appeal made by the Zimbabwe government against the attachment of Zimbabwe government-owned property in Cape Town whose sale will be used to pay legal costs.

Zanu PF’s Presidential Affairs Minister Didymus Mutasa said: “After this judgment, which is legal, we should let it go and we speak to the ANC [African National Congress] and take a political decision. I hope that is possible.”

A legal ruling overturned by politics is something we’ve become familiar with in Zimbabwe, but in South Africa?

We are watching, holding our breath; do we dare to hope?

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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98 <![CDATA[The Forgotten Ones]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

So many things aren’t often talked about in Zimbabwe anymore. Things like what happened to the families of at least four thousand people who died of cholera. Or what happened to the estimated three hundred thousand farm workers who lost their jobs and homes during land seizures or what happened to all the children who used to go to little farm schools. As the country’s media is dominated with topics about political power struggles, elections, the draft constitution, and the private relationships of the Prime Minister, the people who suffered the most in the last thirteen years have become the forgotten ones.

There’s a very sad case underway at the moment involving a senior female prison officer who is trying to evict a teacher who lives in a house in the farm compound and teaches at the farm school. There are no smoke screens of race or indigenisation to hide behind such as there have been in hundreds of other farm evictions since 2000. In this case the teacher, Edwin Maseva, is one of three teachers employed by the Ministry of Education to educate one hundred junior school children  at Makumimavi Primary School.  The female prison officer was given the farm under Zanu PF’s land redistribution and she wants the teachers out.  Mr Maseva is facing criminal proceedings for resisting attempts to evict him from the compound  which is reserved for teachers accommodation. Parents of children at the primary school have apparently appealed to the President, Prime Minister and Ministries of Education and Land  without success. Now the matter is being battled out in court with the help of  Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. It is quite clear that once the teachers are gone the school will cease to be functional and one hundred children will join the ranks of the forgotten ones.

Another subject not often talked about is the fate of farm workers who lives have been torn apart by the farm invasions and the horrific political violence in 2008 leaving them and their families traumatized and destitute. It’s hard to believe that a home-made, wooden go- kart, pulled by a kite would embark on an expedition to highlight the plight of those farm workers but it did. 

Armed with 50 litres of water, a map, GPS and a few essentials, Ben Freeth and his two sons, Joshua (12) and Stephen(10) set sail across the Makgadikgadi salt pans in Botswana  these last school holidays. The boys  called the go-kart the ‘Mike Campbell Dune Dancer’ in honour of their grandfather who  fought tirelessly for justice and the protection of human rights taking the case of farm seizures all the way to the SADC Tribunal. The account of Ben, Josh and Stephen’s expedition is a delight to read, from the first practice runs in an Harare car park to watching shooting stars and eating sticky gingerbread in a vast, deserted sand-scape. 

‘There is a certain discipline about moving onwards towards nothing,’ Ben says in his account and the words ring very true for Zimbabweans who for so long have been striving to get to the end of this vast tunnel we’ve been stuck in for thirteen years. The all too brief account of the ‘Mike Campbell Dune Dancer’ expedition and a few photographs is on my website at the following link http://www.cathybuckle.com/Ben-Freeth.php along with details of the Mike Campbell Foundation: ‘rebuilding shattered lives in Zimbabwe and protecting people’s rights.’ 

From a teacher on a farm school , to a dispossessed farmer and his sons on a Botswana salt pan, these are the voices fighting for the ‘forgotten ones.’ If not them, then who?  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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97 <![CDATA[Mopping up.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Unbelievably, census mayhem continues in Zimbabwe a fortnight after the conclusion of the 2012 population count.  Ten days after they said they’d finished counting us in the2012 census, the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT) said they were about to embark on another mop-up operation. The original census took place from the 17th to the 27th August  and Zimstat hailed it as a big success. Here and there came a few rumblings from people who said they hadn’t been counted and the next we heard was that a  ‘mop-up’ operation was underway. Three days later the Census Director, Washington Mapeta said the mop- up operation had been concluded. “ I think it has gone well to cover others who might have been missed and it ends today,” said Mapeta. That took us to the 30th August but all was not well.

Aside from the usual, predictable complaints that there wasn’t enough money to pay the enumerators, whispers started growing louder that everyone  in the country had still not been counted. In the first few days of September there were reports coming in from Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mhondoro, Lupane – all saying that people from a number of areas hadn’t been counted. A former MP in Lupane East told an independent radio station  that 108 homesteads in his area hadn’t been counted and no one knew why they had been left out.

By then eyebrows were really raised. Was it really possible that 30,000 enumerators hadn’t been able to count the population in ten days? Each enumerator only had to count approximately four hundred people which, over ten days meant an average of forty people a day; not a lot when an average household could be expected to have five or six people resident.

The wheels really came off when the Deputy Minister of Justice, Obert Gutu, said his household in Harare hadn’t been counted. The MDC MP said he lived in a Close in Harare which had seven houses in it and none of them had been counted by census enumerators. The Deputy Minister said he felt aggrieved, marginalized and discriminated against and was considering taking legal action against Zimstat.

The Zimstat Census Director told everyone who hadn’t been counted in the Census to either contact enumerators in their areas or visit Zimstat offices so that they could be counted.  An independent newspaper reported that when people who hadn’t been counted tried to visit the Zimstat offices in Bulawayo they were turned away. It turns out that the Zimstat offices in Bulawayo are in the same building as the CIO. One man said he was denied entry by security guards who said the building was a security threat. (Yes, the building was a threat, not the visitor!)

Then a second ‘mop-up’ operation was announced. The Zimstat Director said they were checking reports and enumerators would be redeployed to areas where people said they hadn’t been counted. Those people would have to now try and remember where they were on a night over three weeks ago. One local weekly newspaper said that the Zimstat Director launched into a tirade when he was asked about payment irregularities saying that journalists were hell bent on trying to discredit the 2012 cenus. Whew, we thought Zimstat had done a pretty good job of that all by themselves!

And lastly, just to put the record straight, there were 11.6 million Zimbabweans counted in the 2002 census, not the 14  million that are being quoted in recent ZBC news bulletins. As much as it might suit their propaganda to say there were  14 million people in Zimbabwe ten years ago, there actually were not.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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96 <![CDATA[Spring doesn't come quietly]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s red in Zimbabwe at the moment, all shades of cool, warm and hot red.  A fortnight earlier than last year the Musasa trees have thrown off all their old dusty leaves and announced spring.  In a perfect artists palette the colours of the new leaves range from a soft delicate pink to shimmering orange, hot crimson and  deep earthy red.  Underfoot is a carpet of Musasa pods, curled, split, furry inside with little shiny circles where the seeds lay before being ejected far and wide. Spring doesn’t come quietly in Zimbabwe, our days filled with the explosions of cracking pods and shiny brown seeds rattling on roofs and pinging against  windows. The not so nice red also filling our lives at the moment are the clouds of red dust that lift up, rearrange themselves and then settle on everything below. No sooner do you wipe off one layer than another one settles. Then there are the blood red sunsets which announce the end of almost every day at this time of year. Not long before reaching the horizon and as it sinks through the dust and ash of countless uncontrolled fires, the sun suddenly turns bright red. You don’t have long to watch it, less than ten minutes, before its gone leaving a sky streaked with pink and orange and gold.

Watching a blood red sunset this week I was struck by the commonest sight at this time of year which tells so much about life in Zimbabwe. Its taken less than a decade of turning a blind eye by an urban municipality for a fragile and delicate wetland to be unashamedly taken over by a couple of dozen people. Unchecked and uncontrolled, anyone who feels like it has  apportioned themselves little plots all over the wetland. Every year the trees and shrubs decrease and retreat as places are cleared for cultivation. In the last four years while town authorities have squabbled over politics and jostled for position, the last of the precious indigenous herbs, sedges and water purifying plants have been eradicated from the wetland.  Gone too because their habitat was destroyed are the countless  birds, insects, reptiles and mammals that make up the particularly special diversity of wetlands. Nature’s own unique water storage and purification system has been replaced with strips and squares of kitchen gardens. Here everyone does their own thing.  One woman has dug two shallow wells  from which she waters a few lines of green vegetables.  Another has scooped out a waterhole where she does laundry for herself and others, the soapy scum draining into the ground, seeping into what’s left of the stream. Others have chopped down decades old Musasa trees and planted sugar cane in their place. Every day fires are started and left to burn, consuming everything in their path, exposing yet more land.

In front of a deep red Musasa tree  and with a blood red sun setting behind him, I watched a man bent over his hoe, turning the soil in a newly exposed square on the outer edges of the wetland. As the sun dropped into one horizon, a spectacular full moon rose on the other, so big and so close you felt if you reached out you could touch it.  In the same week that the first man to walk on the moon died, another man toiled in the dust beneath it, hardly seeming to notice the splendour around him or even realising the damage he was doing. The tragic irony is that while fragile urban wetlands are being destroyed, the country continues to import 80% of its food needs and all along the country’s highways mile after endless mile of seized farms  stand underutilized, un-worked and derelict.

The colour red has infected our politics this week too. A ‘deadlock’ has been declared over the draft constitution. Mudslinging and insults fill the local  media while SW Radio Africa broadcasts are being jammed again. For the thirteen year in a row, political fighting has reached fever pitch at the very time of year when every attention should be on the land: preparing fields, stocking up on inputs, getting ready for the rains and growing enough food to feed the country. Will we ever learn? Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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95 <![CDATA[They don't exist anymore]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s one down and two to go in our deeply suspicious Zimbabwe. After very inadequate advertising about what information was being sought and why, our 2012 census got underway. It was met with more than a little suspicion. It had followed a fortnight of mayhem with soldiers demanding they be registered as enumerators, invading workshops, intimidating people and then stopping registration of valid enumerators. Then came almost daily flip flopping by authorities about the training of enumerators, the need for training, the timing of training, the cancellation of training and then the resumption of training. To say that people were confused is an understatement.  Just when we thought the census wasn’t going to happen at all, deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara rode in on a white horse. Mutamabara reportedly held marathon meetings with the ministers of Defence, Security and the two co-Home Affairs Ministers to ensure that the census would go ahead. Why such intervention was needed no-one understood but by then the damage had been done and everyone was deeply suspicious about the whole process. As the census began no one really knew who exactly was going to be doing the counting and if we could trust them either in our homes or with the answers we gave to their questions.

Where were you on the night of Friday the 17th was the first  of what most people had thought would be a few basic questions. We should be so lucky! The census official took out a huge red and white A3 form and waded into a myriad of questions. Somewhere near the bottom of the page and by then knowing my name, age, address, where I was born and what my education and occupation was, the census official  looked up. More in statement  than question she said: “ You are a Citizen.”  All the answers I’d given thus far indicated I was and so she seemed a bit taken aback when I replied: “Alien.”  Her eyebrows went up so I said: “ Alien!  Struck off the voters roll because my parents weren’t born here.” There was no time to say more or to say how aggrieved and discriminated against the multiple thousands of born and raised, tax-paying Zimbabweans feel at being struck off and classified as  ‘aliens. ’ The census enumerator didn’t say anything more, just blacked in another mark on the form with her pencil. Thinking it was over I groaned when she turned the form over and I saw the other side was also completely covered with questions.  “I don’t remember so many questions in the 2002 census,” I said. “There weren’t even half this many,” she replied. “I was shocked to see all these questions myself. if I had known, I would never have put my name down to do the job this time,” she said.

Twenty minutes later we were finished. The one question I had hoped would be asked but wasn’t was how many members of my family had been living in Zimbabwe in 2002 but now lived in the diaspora. The number of Zimbabweans who left for the diaspora in the last twelve years is thought to be three or four million but on the basis of the 2012 census questions being asked in ordinary homes last week, it seems they don’t exist anymore.

Thirty one thousand enumerators were engaged to count an estimated population of 14 million people. Each enumerator had to count approximately 466 people in the ten days allocated for the census. The cost of the census was estimated to be a staggering 37 million US dollars which works out at about US$ 2.60 per person!  What a performance just to count us, we dread to think of the inevitable turmoil looming with the constitutional referendum  (if it even happens) and then an election. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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94 <![CDATA[All eyes turned south]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Despite the mayhem with soldiers trying to take over our census and the brewing storm over our proposed draft constitution, all eyes turned south this week. With an estimated three million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa, both legally and illegally, for many people our southern neighbour has become a second home. We all have friends, family and relations living in South Africa; we have their currency in our pockets and ninety percent of the food we eat is imported from South Africa because we still haven’t worked out how to grow our own food on all the government’s  seized farms.

It’s not hard for us to follow events over the border because so many Zimbabweans have resorted to satellite dishes and decoders enabling them to receive television channels from South Africa and Botswana. Our one and only local TV station has such poor programming and is so bombarded  with political propaganda that most people just can’t stand watching it anymore.

We could be forgiven for at first thinking that what we were seeing on South African news channels was happening in Zimbabwe. Situations of police using force, usually with baton sticks and tear gas, have become commonplace in Zimbabwe in the last twelve years  but we haven’t become immune to the horror of it by any means. Appalled we watched South African news channels broadcasting film footage of scores of police opening fire on striking mine workers. The police were not wearing tear gas masks, were not wearing helmets and visors and were not holding riot shields to protect themselves. Instead live bullets poured out of their automatic weapons; the dust rose and a police member wearing a blue beret raised his arm, flinched from bullets flying  from behind and alongside him, and with a clenched fist he shouted out twice: ‘Cease Fire.’ When the dust settled many bodies lay on the ground.

South African news channels described a ‘media blackout’ and hospital ‘lock down’ that followed. No one was talking, not miners, not police not hospitals and not family members. It was only at lunch time on the following day, that the police finally held a press conference. Thirty four miners lay dead and seventy nine injured at the end of what the South African Police called ‘self defence’ and South African media called the Marikana Massacre.

Suddenly the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of South Africa being shocked and appalled about events in Zimbabwe, we looked with anguish and horror  at what was happening there. How could this be happening in South Africa we asked? The most progressive, prosperous country on the continent. The country which boasts the most enlightened constitution in the world and yet police used live ammunition against striking miners and used it to kill.

Since February 2000 countless ordinary South African citizens, churches, civic society organizations and NGO’s have been tireless friends of  Zimbabwe. They’ve taken us in when we were on the run, protected us when we were scared, fed us when we were starving, shouted out for us when we’ve been silenced, tended our wounds when we’ve been beaten.  They’ve sent food parcels, blankets and medicines and for years churches and others have continued to fill boxes with groceries for people  in Zimbabwe. What can we say to our neighbours now  except we are sorry, saddened and shocked. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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93 <![CDATA[Cold shivers down our spines]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Everything about life in Zimbabwe this past fortnight has been very confusing. On the natural front, spring arrived. Musasa pods began splitting and dropping and deciduous trees started shaking off their dusty winter  leaves. Our gardens came alive with returning migrant birds such as  woodland Kingfishers and Orioles; African Hoopoes resumed their tireless termite stabbing in dry scratchy lawns and once again our early mornings were greeted with the mocking ‘go-away’ taunts of  the grey Lourie’s. Temperatures rose, jerseys came off during the day and extra blankets were folded off our beds and put back into the cupboards for another year. Then climate confusion kicked in. A freezing blast hit South Africa and we saw dramatic pictures of snow in many parts of our neighbouring country. It took the usual three or four days for the weather to reach us in Zim and back out came the blankets, jerseys and scarves. As a youngster at a Catholic boarding school in the 1960’s, the nuns always promised us we would get a day off school if it snowed; maybe snow  in Zimbabwe is not as crazy a proposition as it sounded all those years ago.

Confusion also reigns on the administrative front in the country. The outgoing American Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, said recently that we were all too obsessed with politics and should concentrate on development and getting on with our lives. It’s something we would love to do after so many years of turmoil but it’s easier said than done. Only in Zimbabwe could an ordinary population census be turned into a  political  bun fight.

Schools around the country were ordered to close a week early to enable the co-ordinating, registration and training of civil servants who will be conducting the August population census. Parents re-arranged their lives and changed their work schedules, holiday bookings were disrupted and tourists suddenly found that they couldn’t get a hotel room or hire a car anywhere. When the national count was less than a fortnight away we suddenly started seeing very belated census adverts in the press and then the mayhem began.

With utter disbelief we watched as soldiers hijacked the census preparations. At centres around the country soldiers arrived in numbers  and demanded that they be registered as enumerators despite the fact the positions had already been allocated and the  teachers were about to be registered and trained for the task. For days the reports got worse and worse: soldiers refused to go away; refused to let enumerators into training centres; confiscated clipboards, training material and foodstuffs and prevented training workshops from being held; journalists were harassed. Riot police arrived at one centre in Harare and they wouldn’t let government officials, organisers or enumerators in. Government ministers waded in and the registration process was announced as having being postponed for a day, then another day. Then what was openly being called ‘anarchy’ was taken to Cabinet. They said that only the pre-agreed  1,500 soldiers would be accredited to take part in the census and they would count people at prisons, police and army bases, as has always been the practice. This was a far cry from the 10,000 places the soldiers had been demanding in the census counting. We’re not sure what happened behind the scenes but next came a statement from the Acting Finance Minister saying the training of census enumerators  had been cancelled but that the census would not be affected as most of the enumerators had been trained and undertaken previous census counts. A day later this changed again and census enumerators were told to report to their centres, the training was back on. Confusion reigned.

And the unforgettable quote in the midst of the mayhem came from the Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesman. Contacted for comment by NewsDay newspaper about soldiers disrupting census registration, the Colonel said: “Were they wearing uniforms? I am not aware that such a thing has happened.” All this might seem absurd to outsiders, but to Zimbabweans waiting for a constitutional referendum and an election within the next few months, we dread to think what lies ahead for us; this has sent cold shivers down our spines. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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92 <![CDATA[Poppets in a cardboard box]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Sitting in empty cardboard boxes on the pavement outside a supermarket, two little children paint a vivid picture of life in urban Zimbabwe today. It’s been three and half years since the winners of our 2008 elections were forced to share power with the losers and life isn’t easy for most people. In February 2009 when our own currency became so worthless that we changed to the US dollar, rent for a couple of rooms in a high density area was US$20 a month, now its US$100 a month. Electricity for those two rooms was US$15 in 2009, now its US$50. A litre of fuel in February 2009 was 75 cents, now its US$1.45 making every trip in a commuter minibus burn a hole in already empty pockets.  

The mothers of the children sitting in cardboard boxes are unemployed but keep food on the family table by selling goods on the pavements. They’ve got everything from fruit and veg to sweets, cigarettes, biscuits, belts, carrier bags, cell phones, batteries, socks, watches, hair extensions and anything small and lightweight you can think of. Their prices are usually lower than in the supermarkets they sit outside and it’s a constant war. The vendors are selling illegally, they don’t pay rent, rates, taxes or have any overheads and are a constant headache to legitimate shop keepers, health officials and police.  It’s very hard not to support the vendors when you know that’s their only way of supporting their families but equally hard not to sympathise with shop owners who are struggling to stay afloat amidst ever increasing wage and utilities costs. 

These two little poppets in their empty fruit boxes watch wide- eyed as Zimbabwe passes them by on a late winter morning whipped by a cold wind. Less than fifty metres from their little boxes a huge mound of garbage sprawls across the pavement and into the road. Ash, plastic bags, bottles, rotting banana skins, batteries and the inevitable flies and rats. The pile has been there for a couple of weeks but local authorities seem unable to see it.  A few metres away a vagrant wearing filthy rags is asleep, sprawled right across the pavement but local officials seem unable to see him.

From their cardboard boxes the eyes of the two children grow wide as a quad bike roars past carrying two policemen in uniform but not wearing crash helmets. Outside the bank a man walks past carrying a generator on his shoulder and inside the bank I queue to pay a bill. The amount owing is US$10 but the bank charges an additional US$2 to accept the payment.

The sights seen by two children in a cardboard box on a pavement is a dramatic contrast to those seen by our eight member Olympic team at the opening ceremony. Smiling and waving they carry our flag high and we are so proud of them: Kirsty Coventry, Christopher Felgate, James Fraser Mackenzie, Wirimai Juwawo, Ngonidzashe Makusha, Cuthbert Nyasango, Sharon Tavengwa and Micheen Thornycroft.

Perhaps one day two children who started off in a cardboard box will also have the chance to show the world what Zimbabweans can do, regardless of their skin colour and ancestral background or of the incessant dirty, greedy political fighting that suffocates all of our lives.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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91 <![CDATA[Who was holding the gun?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Our new draft constitution has finally been released. It has been four years in the making and cost  over forty million US dollars to get to this stage. The draft runs to 164 pages; each of its fifty six thousand plus words has cost over one thousand US dollars. Within hours of its release the draft constitution had been posted on numerous websites on the internet. 

Despite the vast expense, incessant leaks, political bickering, accusations and threats, the release of the Draft Constitution did not make headline news on the country’s one and  only TV station. ZBC TV relegated the news of our new Draft Constitution to a sluggish slot, twenty six minutes into their main evening news bulletin. The Draft Constitution came in fifth place after stories of the President talking at the AU , the President calling for the removal of sanctions, the President launching a women’s economic empowerment framework and Zanu PF saying there was no going back on their disbanding of their party’s district co-ordinating committees.

Inspecting and understanding 164 pages of a document so critical to the future of our country is no small task but already eyebrows are being raised about the most contentious topics whose interpretation is difficult and often confusing. In the grey areas it’s hard to know which are the guiding principles Zimbabweans really wanted and which are the result of negotiated settlements between rival political parties protecting their own interests.

Expecting to read that the current President, in power for the past thirty two years, would  not be able to stand again in elections next year, the draft constitution has introduced new limits but they will not disqualify current leaders from standing again. The new draft reads: “A person is disqualified for election as President or Vice President if he or she has already held office as President under this Constitution for two terms.”

Then there is the section relating to citizenship. Despite earlier assurances that dual citizenship would be enabled in the draft constitution, it isn’t. Three million plus Zimbabweans living in the diaspora must be questioning what their place or that of their children is in the future of our country or in its decision making. For those Zimbabweans in the diaspora who have faithfully been sending home millions of dollars every month to support their families, not to mention the economy, this is a sad, sad day.

Eyebrows are raised at the section relating to the right to life. Conditions have been significantly increased but it seems the death penalty will continue to be allowed - for men - but not for women. So if a man commits aggravated murder he will die but if a woman does the same she won’t. Surely the question then will easily be: who was holding the gun?

A referendum on this draft constitution may take place as soon as October and is expected to cost thirty million US dollars but at this stage it is not clear which Zimbabweans will actually be able to vote in that referendum. Will all the born and raised, resident ‘aliens’ already struck off, be allowed to vote in the referendum or just the resident ‘aliens’ whose parents were born in SADC, or none of the resident ‘aliens’ until the electoral laws are changed? NO one seems able to answer the question.

Trying to make headway through the 164 page draft constitution  our attention couldn’t help but he diverted by the sudden freezing weather to hit the country. Thick frost, frozen hose pipes, outdoor water bowls and bird baths turned to solid ice and  plants burnt and crisped.  According to the met dept a cold continental air flow is upon us, it will last for a week and night time temperatures of minus three degrees Celsius can be expected in some centres.  The quote which raised a smile came from the head of the Met Dept  who said:  “ People are also advised to put on warm clothing.”

 

A copy of Zimbabwe’s  final draft constitution is posted on my website following this link: Click here

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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90 <![CDATA[Funny, we thought it was about human rights.]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,
It’s been a roller coaster week in Zimbabwe with major developments which will have a huge impact on the future of the country making news every day. First came news that a Zimbabwean woman who admitted to being actively involved with Zanu PF gangs and beating farm workers during two farm invasions has been denied refugee status in the UK. At the UK Appeal Court, the Secretary of State found that the woman’s actions amounted to ‘crimes against humanity,’ were deemed to be ‘inhumane’ and determined the woman should be “excluded from refugee status.” This ruling has shown Zimbabwe the way.

Then came more good news. A leaked report from a chapter in our draft constitution, which has still not been released, apparently states that every Zimbabwean by birth will retain their citizenship even if they have subsequently taken foreign citizenship. It’s hard to believe that we might be taking such a progressive step in our new constitution. It is one which acknowledges that a large proportion of our population is in the Diaspora and reminds us how much work, lobbying and petitioning has gone on by people outside the country. For this we thank them. Most estimates put the number of Zimbabweans who have fled the country in the last decade at three to four million – more than a quarter of our total population. This dual citizenship story is far from over because voting rights for Zimbabweans by birth but now classed as ALIENS, both living at home and in the Diaspora, are not automatically guaranteed until amendments are made to the Electoral Act.

Next came sad news. After two years of delays, parliament finally passed the Human Rights Bill which will allow our established but impotent Human Rights Commission to investigate human rights abuses. The passing of the Bill should have been cause for huge celebration but in fact it came with a proviso which has left us saddened, disgusted and feeling betrayed. The proviso to the Human Rights Act is that the Human Rights Commission will be barred from looking into any human rights atrocities committed before February 2009. These atrocities, spanning decades and involving multiple thousands of people, will apparently be dealt with in a yet to be crafted piece of legislation by some yet to be identified institution at some yet to be specified time in the future. MDC MP’s were quoted as being delighted with the passing of the Human Rights Bill. One MDC MP said that people should ‘take solace’ because any violations in the next election would be dealt with. “We are fighting to win an election,” he said.  Funny, we thought this was about justice for victims of human rights atrocities, not winning elections. The new Human Rights Act is small comfort for people whose loved ones are in their graves or for victims who still see their tormentors walking free on the streets amongst them.

The roller coaster came to a juddering stop with the rumour that the EU are apparently considering dropping the last of their targeted sanctions against a hundred odd individuals in Zimbabwe. The rumour was denied but as we know so well here, there’s no smoke without fire. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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89 <![CDATA[Next up for grabs]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

We don’t know if we’re on our heads or our heels in Zimbabwe after the latest government notice about indigenisation. It seems the farms and mines are not enough and next up for grab are businesses, banks, schools, and virtually every privately owned entity. The best way to tell it is with quotes.

The latest indigenisation saga caught our attention with a question by a NewsDay reporter to Zanu PF’s Minister of Youth, Empowerment and Indigenisation, Saviour Kasukuwere. The journalist asked the Minister if his ministry would consider an empowerment model proposed by Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono. Minister Kasukuwere’s response, quoted in NewsDay was: “F***k you, I have no interest in that. You don’t ask me about the governor (Gono)! Get out of my office! Get out of my office! Get out now.”

Next came front page headlines which screamed: “Govt to grab private schools.” General Notice 280 of 2012, published in the Government Gazette laid out regulations for the indigenisation of nine major sectors. This included schools with a net asset of one dollar which are to be required to have a 51% indigenous ownership. The notice applies to privately owned pre schools, primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities. NewsDay newspaper wrote: “The indigenisation programme that initially targeted mines, is now a blanket plan… covering finance, tourism, arts and entertainment, engineering and construction, telecommunications and the motor industry.”

Minister of Education, David Coltart, immediately responded to the government notice urging schools, their boards and trustees to: “continue the good work they are doing and disregard this so called provision which is illegal and unenforceable.”

While the assault on private education was in the spotlight, the threat to banks was growing. The Indigenisation Minister said all foreign owned banks had a year to dispose of 51% shareholding to “indigenous Zimbabweans.” Indigenous Zimbabweans only refers to people with black skin, even if people with other skin colours were born and have always lived here, as have their parents, grandparents and great grandparents.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai then issued a statement about the indigenisation threat to banks and schools saying: “There is no such government position.” The PM said the Indigenisation Minister had no power to: “project an image of a voracious government keen to compulsorily grab almost all institutions and companies in the country.” Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the regulations outlined by Minister Kasuukuwere in the General Notice were: “of no legal effect, an absolute nullity. In any case, if you indigenise a bank what are you indigenising? A building or computers?”

Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono said foreign owned banks would not be seized: “yesterday, today or tomorrow” and described the latest General Notice as: “devoid of detail and rationality.” Gono said he was waiting to consult with president Mugabe and that: “his instructions will be final.”

At the end of it all, those last five words were the most worrying. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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88 <![CDATA[Snakes, eels and burning maize bags]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Standing on a bridge, looking down into a cold mountain river, I wondered what the chances were of seeing a trout. It was a quiet winters morning in an uninhabited area and my patience was rewarded, not with a fish but with a reptile. A thin green snake swam across the river, sliding on the surface of the water, from one bank to the other. At the far side, the snake struggled to get a grip on the slippery bank before disappearing into the bush. It had all happened so fast that for a moment I wondered if it had been an illusion. Walking away from the river along a red dirt road, square chips of mica sparkled and glistened where they lay amongst the dust and stones. Turning off the road onto a narrow little path which wound around tussocks of sun bleached grass and dry, scratchy shrubs, another surprise awaited. Right there, in the middle of the path, was a great excavation: a pile of red soil alongside a deep, angled hole which you could not see the bottom of. This was an Antbear hole but could just as well be hiding some other creature and its innocent appearance was as much of a deception as the swimming snake and shining mica sparkling in the dust.

A little later, near a pool in the river, a sudden movement in the water caught my eye. It was an eel and within seconds disbelief was confirmed as a few of us gathered at the water’s edge to witness this rare sight. Over a metre long, the African mottled eel swirled and twisted in the crystal clear, mountain water. For a few seconds the eel lay still in a patch of sunlit water, cameras clicked madly, capturing a memory that will long be cherished.

Back in the real world, newspapers and emails provided the contrasting image of Zimbabwe – the one we struggle to live in and survive every day. One news report told of Russia holding negotiations to supply us with military helicopters in exchange for platinum mining rights in the Darwendale area of Zimbabwe. It’s impossible to understand moves likes this which are in direct contradiction to the incessant propaganda about indigenisation and the mantra that Zimbabwe’s resources, in, on and under the ground, are only for indigenous, black skinned Zimbabweans. Another report told of 300,000 tonnes of maize recently imported from Zambia. The irony was that the maize had been grown in Zambia by Zimbabwean farmers who had been evicted from their farms and had their property seized by the Zimbabwe government in the last decade. The Zambian grain is being given out to rural Zimbabweans by the government’s GMB (Grain Marketing Board) in a grain loan scheme. One rural recipient described bags of grain he received which had stickers with the name and address of the grower – a dispossessed ex Karoi farmer now producing food in Zambia. The sad story got worse with a statement from a source in the GMB who said they had now been ordered to repackage the imported maize and destroy the Zambian bags which showed the identity of the growers.

Finally, came the photograph taken recently of our town’s fire engine. The fire department to whom all of the town’s residents are required to each pay a monthly levy of US$ 1.82, was hard at work. They weren’t busy extinguishing a blaze but with carrying people. The double cab of the fire engine was so full of people that more had perched on top. Four people, in their own clothes, are clearly visible sitting on top of the fire engine as it stopped to cross an intersection in the town. And this is what we are all paying a ‘fire levy for?’

After a week of swimming snakes, antbears and eels followed by Russians, helicopter gunships, burning maize bags and passengers sitting on top of the fire engine – you have to wonder what is reality and what is illusion. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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87 <![CDATA[Less is more]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,
Front page headlines midweek screamed the shocking news that President Mugabe’s trip to Brazil was costing the country seven million US dollars. The President had gone to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to attend a UN summit on Sustainable Development. He was accompanied by a delegation of ninety two people.

The next day I attended a meeting along with perhaps forty others at our local Municipality. Called an ‘All Stakeholders’ meeting the idea was for local council officials to tell us what they were doing with our money every month and to give residents of the town a chance to publicly air their views. This was a meeting that had been requested by residents months ago and was finally happening. Only about twenty chairs had been provided  for members of the public and for the first hour and a quarter people shuffled in and out.  At the start of the public part of the meeting residents were asked by the council to ‘keep emotions down’ but when it came our turn to talk there was an explosion of fireworks .‘You are failing to meet your obligations’ was the message repeated again and again by residents to the council officials. Roads are falling apart;  litter is piling up; refuse is everywhere; the street lights haven’t worked for years; sewage blockages are everywhere; water is only available for a couple of hours a day, trees are being chopped down in every direction. Month after month residents pay for services that they aren’t receiving and this is one angry town. Even the representative from the War Veterans Association spoke for almost half an hour and said aid that our beautiful town had become a filthy growth point.

Most dramatic of all, however, was one statement which stuck in my mind. The Chamber Secretary said he was pleased to announce that the town’s budget for the year had been approved by Government. The budget for the whole year is 6.1 million dollars.  The contrast between a towns entire annual budget being less than the cost of the President and his delegations trip to Brazil is dramatic. Less is more.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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86 <![CDATA[Already in the barracks?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,
Winter has arrived in Zimbabwe in a freezing blast. Occasional light dustings of frost suddenly escalated to almost daily white carpets blanketing low lying, exposed ground in the mornings. Everything in the path of the frost has been burnt. The last traces of green in the bush and across open plains disappeared and were replaced with tall golden grass. Overnight temperatures have dropped to low single figures with zeroes and minuses already being recorded in the early hours of the morning. Just after sunrise one day this week I noticed a bird sitting forlornly on the edge of a birdbath in my garden. Thinking there was no water I went to have a closer look only to discover that there was water but it had frozen and was solid ice. That morning, water in garden taps and pipes was also frozen and people gathered to see ice crystals clustering and hanging on diamond mesh fences. As the sun rose higher that bitterly cold morning we counted the cost of the unexpected freeze. Vegetable farmers told of tomato crops completely destroyed, lawns went brown overnight and those plants we thought were frost tolerant had been burnt to a crisp.

In the same week as winter settled over Zimbabwe,  a series of chilling  statements started hitting the news. First came a strange prediction made by the Minister of Justice who was speaking at a public seminar in Harare. Minister Chinamasa said he wasn’t a prophet but that what he was going to say was prophetic. He said he foresaw what he called a ‘war-mongering scenario’ developing as we approached elections. The Minister said there would be a “tendency to provoke incidences, to overblow them and exaggerate … in order to allow a Syrian/Libyan-type Western intervention.”
 
Then came news that the Defence Minister had threatened the Finance Minister for refusing to release two and half million US dollars for army recruitment and operational expenses. When Minister Biti said there was no additional money available and that the government was already in debt, the Defence Minister was reported to have threatened to send army generals to the Finance Minister’s office. The MDC said the Defence Ministers comments were “unprofessional and a serious threat on the Finance Minister’s life.”

Next came the shocking news that the Public Service Commission had recruited ten thousand new members of staff in the last five months without approval from the treasury. Speaking in Parliament ,Finance Minister Biti said: “the main culprits are the Ministry of Defence which employed 4,600 personnel since January 2012, and the Ministry of Home Affairs which has recruited 1,200… without treasury approval.” So, if we understood this correctly, the new soldiers had in fact already been recruited and are even now sitting in the barracks.

The last staggering statement of the week came from 561 new police graduates being reviewed by President Mugabe at their passing out parade in Harare. Addressing the President, the police graduates chanted in unison: “You are our God chosen leader and we hereby stand by you and remind the EU and its allies that they can rule the rest of the world but not Zimbabwe…” The recruits went on to say: “we promise that we will spread the revolutionary gospel,” meanwhile the rest of us wondered what was that internationally accepted principle about an impartial police force.

So while police graduates march in the dust and unbudgeted new soldiers sit in barracks, ordinary people shake their heads and wonder why we even need another five thousand soldiers when we aren’t a country at war or involved in anyone else’s war. It’s not just the weather making us shiver this winter. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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85 <![CDATA[Paws and noses]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,
They say that a picture speaks a thousand words and that was never more true than in  Zimbabwe this week.

The  picture was of paws and noses.  Toes and little black noses could just be seen in a  gap the height of a brick, at the bottom of a trucks’ steel door. This picture came from Meryl Harrison, who became internationally known and honoured for her courage and passionate determination to save thousands of animals in Zimbabwe from 2000 – 2005. Meryl rescued cats and dogs, snakes and bunny rabbits, cows, pigs, horses, sheep and goats that were stranded on commercial farms which were being seized and violently taken over by war veterans and Zanu PF supporters.  Meryl went to places the rest of us were running away from. She faced drugged, drunk, armed men and youths and just would not give up until she had rescued the animals, her ‘innocent victims’ stuck in the middle of a political orgy. Meryl left Zimbabwe for a couple of years  when the worst of the farm invasions were over but was asked to return by old friends in the veterinary profession who told her "animal welfare has all but collapsed since you left." Meryl  came home in 2010 and her feet had hardly touched the ground before she was immersed in animal welfare problems. Controls had all but collapsed, regulations were being ignored, there was no money and everyone was struggling. Animal welfare was in a perilous state. A charitable organization led by vets and called VAWZ was established with Meryl appointed to lead the investigations in the field.

Meryl still goes where most people don’t or won’t and has just exposed the story behind the picture of paws and noses  under the truck door.  The first people knew about it was  an email from Meryl  looking for  homes for fifteen puppies and one adult Boerboel bitch that had been confiscated. The puppies  were  a mixture of German Shepherds, Boerboels and Great Danes cross Pointers. Meryl said they were all very traumatized but would be fine  with a bit of love and a lot of TLC. A vehicle had been stopped by police at a road block in Beatrice and the puppies were removed by VAWZ  for being transported in what a government vet described as ‘totally unsuitable” conditions.

Meryl’s words sent shivers down our spines as she described what she had found: “Conditions in the back of the truck were horrendous when we opened it up - the stench of stale urine and faeces hit us - the pups were all scrabbling to get out at the same time, many of them soaking wet with urine. There were several bags of dog food that had been torn open, they were also covered in faeces and urine - several patches of vomit were seen on the floor of the van. The three Great Dane cross pups were squashed in wooden travel boxes that were too small for them, they were unable to stand up or turn round - the wooden boxes were soaked with urine and faeces. The adult Boerboel bitch had been tied to a piece of metal inside the van - there were also two small white pups loose in the back that were constantly being bullied by the three Boerboel pups and we could hear their screams before we even opened the back of the van.”

The puppies had started their journey in Johannesburg, South Africa and were being taken by road, in a sealed van, on a 2,700 kilometre road journey through Zimbabwe and Zambia to a pet shop in Lubumbashi in the Congo.  Meryl’s call for homes for the puppies received 200 responses and offers of help almost immediately. The animals had  by then been checked out by VAWZ vets and were being temporarily cared for in an animal shelter.

Then things got nasty. A charge of theft of the dogs was made against Meryl but dropped when police finally admitted there was no case to answer. This had followed three days of harassment, intimidation and threats of arrest to Meryl by the driver of the vehicle whose owner had connections. When told that the owner could be charged under the Cruelty Act, the retort came back: ‘never – he is untouchable.’

He obviously was ‘untouchable.’ An admission of guilt fine – for cruelty - was paid by the truck owners, and then, unbelievably,  the police gave the go ahead for the journey to continue, in the same vehicle and conditions as before.  Meryl told the last of the story: “VAWZ Inspectors watched with very heavy hearts as the pups were loaded back into the same truck, the Boerboel bitch literally being thrown in the back - at one stage the driver taunted them by waving the puppies in their faces. The crying from the pups added to the sombre atmosphere.”

Walking past my own little dog, rescued from horrors by Meryl a couple of years ago, I stop to stroke and give a gentle pat. Meryl cannot win them all but we thank her for showing us what is right and being brave enough to fight for it. Meryl is our moral compass and if you would like to contact her or help VAWZ in their work, email ndirande39@yahoo.co.uk or
www.virginmoneygiving.com/charities/vawzuk

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 

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84 <![CDATA[Blood in the dust]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

With overnight temperatures starting to drop below 5 degrees Celsius and frost peeping over the hedges, winter is upon us but it’s not just the temperatures that have left us chilled and shivering in the last few days.    

Hardly had the UN Human Rights commissioner Navi Pillay left  Zimbabwe after her five day visit to the country than there was blood on the dusty ground of Mashonaland East. During her visit Ms Pillay had commended President Mugabe on his recent calls for no more political violence but as soon as she was out of sight, news came of murder and mayhem in Mudzi. 

Sixty seven year old Cephas Magura died after being hit with stones while seven other MDC members were seriously injured and rushed  to hospital in Harare. The MDC had police clearance for their rally but said that when their members came under attack from  Zanu PF youths the police: “did not act.” Eye witnesses also said they saw the Zanu PF Member of Parliament for the area a few metres from the site of the attack. The MDC reported that an autopsy on Mr Magura showed there had been multiple blows with blunt objects to his body and head. On release from hospital another of the MDC victims not only named his attackers but also described how his desperate calls for help from Police were ignored. “ When I ran to the police officers seeking protection they locked their doors and drove off at high speed leaving us at the mercy of Zanu PF thugs,” the man said. A few days later the US Embassy In Harare issued a strongly worded statement on the violent encounter and clearly pointed a finger at both the perpetrators and the police. They embassy said : “The United States condemns the ZANU-PF thugs responsible for committing these attacks and the members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police who failed to fulfil their official duty to serve and protect their fellow Zimbabweans.”

Next came the news that a BBC Radio 3 classical music presenter, Petroc Trelawny  had been arrested while he was attending a music festival in Bulawayo. Mr Trelawny had come to the country representing a charitable organization called The British Friends  of the Zimbabwe Academy of Music and was acting as a compere at the Festival. One of the music festival’s committee members said Mr Trelawny was: “telling stories to about 500 children when they arrived to take him away." Mr Trelawny was charged with failing to apply for a Temporary Work Permit. Things got worse when Mr Trelawny slipped whilst in police detention and dislocated his shoulder and while he was in hospital the wrangling went on. First a judge ruled that Mr Trelwany should not be prosecuted but immigration challenged the decision saying Mr Trelawny had lied on his visa. Finally, a week later a Bulawayo magistrate ruled there was no law prohibiting tourists from taking part in music events and said Mr Trelawny was free to leave Zimbabwe.

In the midst of murder and bloodshed, classical music and arrest, came the amazing news  that President Mugabe  had been jointly chosen with Zambia’s President to be a tourism ambassador. The pair are to co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organization's general assembly in August 2013.  Almost as soon as the announcement had been made, the UN came in for strong international criticism and quickly back-pedalled. The UN said that the two weren’t actually tourism ambassadors or even tourism leaders but in fact had just received an open letter calling on African leaders to promote tourism That wasn’t how Zimbabwe saw it and the government controlled Herald newspaper had headlines boasting: “President appointed UN Tourism Ambassador.”

It’s hard to see how tourists could be attracted to a country where you can be stoned to death for going to a political meeting or you can be arrested and detained for a week for being a voluntary compere at a music concert. Zimbabwe will remember Cephas Magura and we send our condolences to his family and friends. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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83 <![CDATA[Bring on the national migraine]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Africa Day dawned fine and clear in Zimbabwe. There was neither water nor electricity and it was a crisp, cold morning. For some  this was a public holiday destined not to be spent in the sun or garden or relaxing with a book. This was to be a public holiday spent in a queue at the post office trying to do motor vehicle licensing. Arriving at the Post Office at seven thirty in the morning there were already five people in front of me and it wasn’t long before there were another five behind me.

When you queue in Zimbabwe it is customary not only to see how many are in front of you but to make sure people agree with your position in the line so that the inevitable queue jumpers don’t get a chance to push in. Everyone in the Africa Day queue had a weary look on their face. We had all been in this same place trying to undertake this same task more than a few times in the last couple of weeks. It was my fourth attempt and this time I was determined to succeed.

In order to reduce the number of illegal vehicles and forged licence discs on our roads, authorities have come up with a whole new licensing system. It is laborious and time consuming to say the least. An official A4 size form has to be obtained, filled in and signed for each vehicle. Original documents and photocopies of every log book and insurance document have to be provided and then comes the hard part:  you get in line at the post office. Unbelievably this massive national task is not to be staggered over weeks or months but has to be completed in a fortnight: bring on the national migraine headache.

In my home town, where the Post Office recently had to vacate the thirty year old Post Office building and are now situated in the old rugby club bar of the Country Club, everyone was braced for a hard, hard slog to get the new licence discs.  Post Office officials had only been able to get everything that was needed for the process to commence by the 18th May, eight and a half working days before the deadline and national expiry of all vehicle licence discs.  Before then there was one problem after another: they didn’t have the forms, didn’t have the computer or  staff had not been trained on the processes and requirements. Worse still, if you happened to be in the queue when there was a power cut, your forms could not be processed or you new disc printed.

Within minutes a uniquely Zimbabwean camaraderie got underway outside the relocated post office in my home town on Africa Day. First there was comparing of notes, have you got the right forms, the right photocopies, the correct paperwork. A couple of people  asked that their places in the line be protected while they raced off to get whatever documents they didn’t have. Then came the grumbling about the bureaucracy of this new process, the ridiculously short time frame given, the one and only counter operating and able to process your documents. People continually consulted watches and worked out that it was taking ten minutes to complete one form. Then the calculations began: ten minutes per form being done by only one member of staff, they were only going to able to do forty eight vehicles a day in this, the one and only post office in the whole town. More calculations started, someone suggested there were ten thousand cars, buses, trucks and trailers in the town; that meant it was going to take 208 working days for the residents of our town to comply with the new government regulation, a regulation whose deadline is on the 1st June 2012. A regulation we have already been told will incur instant spot fines if we are not displaying the correct disc by the due date.

The topics diverted to the lack of electricity, water, street lights; the appalling municipal services; widespread corruption in government departments and so it went on and on as we crawled our forward to the front of the queue. There were, however, some good things about the Africa Day queue in my home town. The first was that the Post Office staff had given up their public holiday to work at this impossible task and despite our bad tempers and the barrage of complaints, just put their heads down and got on with it.  Then there was the generator that roared outside the window. Not a government generator but one very generously  loaned by a civic minded businessman in the town. Then there were the people in the queue – all of us regardless of age, sex, race or political persuasion – we were all in the same boat and differences were put aside in order to achieve something which seemed almost impossible in the circumstances. Leaving with the precious, highly prized new document in hand you had to smile because as much as these things are sent to exasperate us, in the process they surely do unite us. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

 

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82 <![CDATA[Distinctly second hand]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Bleary eyed and feeling distinctly second hand, Zimbabwe is stumbling into winter 2012. At first a cheer went up when we heard news that ZESA (the electricity supply company) were going to introduce nine hour a day power cuts. The cheer was because when they made the announcement we were already having power cuts that lasted for at least twelve hours a day. So we stupidly thought the nine hour announcement meant supplies were to be shared more equitably and we would actually  gain three hours of power every day. Maybe we’d even be spoiled and be able to boil a kettle or have a hot bath we thought, in a delirious, heady moment.

ZESA said it could only meet half of the national demand during the country’s winter months and that only major hospitals and what they called ‘strategic facilities’ would be spared from prolonged power cuts.  Despite saying they could only meet half of demand, our dream that we would get electricity for half of every day turned out to be an hallucination. The very day after their nine hour statement, the extended power cuts started in earnest and have now settled into a pattern. At 4.30 or 5 in the morning the electricity goes off and stays off until 10 pm at night leaving us without power for at least seventeen hours a day.

Hardly had ZESA finished making their nine hour statement, then we heard  the bad news from Mozambique’s Cahora Basa hydroelectricity company.  They said they were considering reducing or suspending electricity exports to Zimbabwe altogether because we owe them a staggering eighty million US dollars.  Predictably no electricity means that water can’t be pumped and so water out of a tap has become a luxury that lasts for three hours twice a week if we are very lucky.  And so, as we did in the worst years of Zimbabwe’s crisis between 2005  and 2008, we have gone back to waking up in the middle of the night in order to charge batteries, cook food, and, if we can stand it, do the ironing – assuming we’ve been able to find and spare the water to wash clothes in the first place.

In an interesting  labour court case recently, one man challenged his employers who had deducted pay from his salary for the hours that had not been worked because there was no electricity. It’s a situation familiar to multiple thousands of people who work in industries and businesses that depend on electricity for production. Workers are being penalised for ZESA’s failure and the reductions in people’s wages is having a ripple effect on families, on their  buying power and ability to pay school and medical fees. The labour court President ruled in favour of the company, saying that if the courts ruled in favour of employees it could have the effect of causing companies to close down.  She said the labour courts needed to come up with judgements that compensated employees but did not prejudice other employees or the company itself. The answer seems to be staring us in the face: ZESA must be held to account and compensate millions of Zimbabweans prejudiced by their failure to produce the service we pay them for. It’s a crisis where companies, schools, institutions and individuals are forced to buy and run generators at huge, unbudgeted costs, as well as fuel, batteries, invertors and charging equipment if they are to stay functional. Obviously they then have to increase their prices in order to cover these expenses but can’t increase their wages and so the spiral grows.

The weirdest thing about these massive electricity cuts is that when you do manage to catch up on what’s been happening in the country it’s the same old fights still dragging on: missing diamond money; the wrangles and scandals over a proposed visit by religious ‘prophet’ TB Joshua who had previously predicted the death of an ageing African leader; the political in-fighting within Zanu PF, their politburo and their district party elections; the endless political fighting over the ‘almost but not quite’ finished draft of our new constitution, excerpts from which keep getting leaked to the press and trashed before the finished document has even been released.  

All of this provides a thick smoke screen for the national fury over the electricity crisis that is crippling productivity and growth in the country. It’s a smoke screen in which the very people who ran the ZESA parastatal into the ground, did no maintenance and rewarded themselves massive salaries, allowances and perks have got away with it all. It’s the same smoke screen which obscures and protects the very people responsible for the near or complete collapse of countless parastatals around the country from railways to airlines, water to roads and everything in between.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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81 <![CDATA[This is Africa]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Travelling over the Odzi River a few minutes after dawn when the landscape is  just emerging from silhouette, a trail of warm, white mist lifts off the water. The  vapour hangs almost unmoving in the cold morning air and as you look further, it’s easy to identify the path of the river: the straight stretches and the bends, all are clearly marked by the route of the hovering mist cloud. When the sun breaks the horizon it reveals open plains, golden grass and mountains spotlighted in the dawn sunrise. You can’t help but be inspired by what you see and as you allow the sight to burn into your memory, you add it to the folder: This is Zimbabwe.

Contrast is just around the corner. Kilometre after endless kilometre of seized but now deserted, derelict farms.  Once thriving fields now empty, tractors and people working in the lands just a fading memory from the past. Farm buildings stripped of roofs, door and window frames look as if they’ve been hit by bombs but in fact you know they just been destroyed by another kind of war: a rabble of political pawns who came and grabbed, in the name of land reform, and then left. This picture too you have to keep because it has become the reality of Zimbabwe now.

Along the road you pass growth points where the buildings are shabby and badly in need of repair and paint, where donkeys and oxen stand in the dust hitched to carts and wagons, and everywhere the chores of the women bombard your view. Girls and women walking, always walking, carrying huge burdens on their heads: firewood, water, bags of food. Often they are also carrying a baby or toddler strapped to their backs and this vision too  is  added to your memory folder; an ancient image but unbelievably, still so much the picture of  Zimbabwe today.

Across the border in a foreign land your perspective widens and everything screams at you: bizarre, outrageous, larger than life. Pink, purple and orange houses, some even decorated with leopard spot patterns. People living in houses made of mud and sticks and bamboo strips. Giant flea markets that line the main highways for many kilometres.  Here there are roadside money changers whose bank- note folding, flicking and repeated counting techniques leave you dizzy, confused and totally ripped off if you fall prey to their tricks.  Ancient diesel trains billow plumes of thick, choking black smoke and at every water source children are stripped to their underpants or less and they swim, fish, and splash in every roadside puddle. This is the land of bicycles; even danger warning triangles on the highways carry pictures of bicycles. Four on a bicycle is not unusual: one on the cross bar, one on the seat, one on the carrier and a child strapped to the last person’s back. It’s hard to take it all in so you just shake your head and add the image to the memory because this too is Africa.

Returning to Zimbabwe the last memory  is unfortunately the ugly face of Africa’s corruption epidemic. Give me one of those packets of cashew nuts, the customs official aggressively demands and you stare each other down, waiting to see who will give in first. Will she refuse to open the boom and let you pass through the border or will you mutter and give in. Tragically you get this same bad taste at so many other border posts in and out of all our neighbouring countries – everyone wants their cut to do the job their government pays them to do and you are the helpless victim. Heading back to the never ending political turmoil and power struggle of Zimbabwe you wonder if our situation has also just become another case of This is Africa or if we really can turn it round and prosper again.. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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80 <![CDATA[What's in the briefcase?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Nothing about our thirty- second Independence day in Zimbabwe seemed real this year. It was a gorgeous day under a bright blue sky and warm sun. Heavy dew covered the early morning landscape and an extravaganza of birds were busy harvesting seeds from the golden grass and carrying fluff for their nests. Everywhere the aloes and indigenous succulents are throwing up enticing spikes getting ready to show off their glorious winter flowers: orange, yellow, delicate purple and rich, creamy white. 

For me Independence day started with the drudgery of bucket filling because, perhaps  as an Independence present, there was water coming out of the taps. It was the first time in three days we had had water. It was neither clean nor clear but it was water and the fear that it wouldn’t last long became reality when the taps had already run  dry before midday.

The second Independence day present was electricity. Amazingly we had woken up to find the power on and this meant chores: ironing, cooking, charging batteries, catching up on computer work. Like the surprise appearance of water in the taps, we knew the electricity probably wouldn’t last long but at least it stayed on until sunset that day. For the rest of the week we paid the price, only getting electricity in the middle of the night.

The third Independence day present came with two young men walking down the road. Both were black Zimbabweans and both far too young to have been born before independence in 1980. Friendly greetings were exchanged; “Happy Independence,” I said to them and they echoed my words, big smiles on their faces. For most Zimbabweans, on most days, this is the real face of Zimbabwe 32 years after Independence because, despite the past and despite our different skin colours, we are all Zimbabweans and all living the same struggle of not enough electricity, water, jobs or money and corrupt officials lording it over a decaying infrastructure. The brief but cheerful exchange with the two young men lifted my spirits after a week of vitriolic, racist statements by senior government ministers who provide little example to the new generation of Zimbabweans. 

Then came the biggest surprise of Zimbabwe’s 32nd Independence Day. A cup of tea made with real electricity, a TV being powered by real electricity and ZBC were showing live coverage of President Mugabe’s Independence Day speech. After three weeks of rumours of a leader on his deathbed, there was no sign of frailty or ill health whatsoever. Inspecting the forces, walking completely surrounded by 9 dark suited  bodyguards my eyes were glued to one man in a dark suit who walked slightly apart from the pack and he carried a small black briefcase.  We could only imagine what might have been in that briefcase.   Mr Mugabe spoke for almost an hour and his words came as a big surprise. Instead of the usual, fist clenched, anti west rhetoric, he spoke at length about peace, tolerance, freedom of choice and association and non violence.  He said: “the fights of yesterday are left in the past,”  and said people should be free to choose whichever party they wanted to belong to and whoever they wanted to vote for.

Gob smacked is perhaps the best way to describe the national reaction to this Independence speech. It comes after years of brutal crackdown; laws which curtail free speech and publication; legislation which allows seizure of land and Title Deeds and prohibits redress from the courts;  thousands of people raped, tortured, beaten and murdered and a quarter of our population living outside the country. Now suddenly comes talk of peace, tolerance of peoples differences and  freedom of choice. How can we suddenly believe this spectacular change of attitude? How do the same leaders eradicate the political violence, racial and political intolerance that they themselves have encouraged with 32 years of clenched fist slogans of “Pasi na.” (Down with) Is it really possible to put this demon back in its box?

I will be taking a short break for the next few weeks so until next time, thanks for caring about Zimbabwe, love cathy

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79 <![CDATA[Sizzling fireball]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

When there was a loud roaring noise and then a big explosion late one afternoon this week, most of the neighbourhood ran outside to see what had happened. It was one of those rare occasions when the electricity was on during the day but that didn’t deter people’s curiosity. It’s school holidays at the moment so there was soon a good crowd of people standing around on the road. From the left a man came running out of the bush, doubled over and with his hands over his head. To the right we could see a man perched high up a tree with an axe cutting branches off a big old Musasa tree. Almost as one, all the spectators on the road took a few steps back when the frightening  noise started again. There was another explosive crack and we watched in horror as a burning fireball ran up and down the overhead electricity cables. White acrid smoke drifted down amongst the spectators and we stood in  shocked silence for a moment while we worked out what was happening above our heads.

The two men, one who had run out of the bush and the other who had been up the tree, were wearing blue overalls with the words ZESA printed on their backs. They were electricity company workers and had been cutting branches that  were too close to the overhead cables. Inexplicably they had not switched the electricity supply off beforehand. When a branch fell it hit, bounced and then got tangled in the overhead cables causing a massive explosion and burning fireball. All eyes turned to the two electricity workers. Like parents interrogating errant children the first question was: “Are you OK” and the second was “why on earth didn’t you switch the mains off first?”  They didn’t answer and as the overhead cables dipped and bounced and the fireball sizzled up and down the line, the two workers walked off up the road. Unbelievably they didn’t have any support team, vehicle, ladders or even a radio to alert their colleagues. “What about these damaged cables?” someone called out to the retreating men. “Later” came the reply, thrown over a shoulder, the single word hanging in the smoky, stunned neighbourhood. It seemed miraculous that no one had been  hurt, electrocuted or killed and with damaged, slack cables sparking and smoking overhead, people started pulling out cell phones and calling the electricity company.

No one came from the electricity company  that day or the next. The next two nights were like sleeping in a night club . Every gust of wind caused the overhead cables to touch and then followed a buzz, hum and a roar followed by a crack, bang and sizzling fireball. Countless phone calls followed until,  two days later, the electricity company finally came to re-tension the cables. 

Our neighbourhood  fireball had at least provided a bit of a distraction from the massive rumour that engulfed Zimbabwe this Easter. For days everyone’s nerves had been on edge and it became impossible not to get caught up in the frenzied whispers about the health of President Mugabe. The  88 year old President was either unwell, seriously unwell or fighting for his life in a hospital in Singapore depending on which story you listened to. It all came to a shuddering halt when Mr and Mrs Mugabe finally emerged from an unmarked aircraft and showed no obvious signs that anything was wrong.  Like the fireball on the overhead cable, that rumour fizzled out in a puff of smoke and Zimbabweans were severely castigated by Zanu PF’s Webster Shamu who said we were: ”pandering to the agenda of imperialists.”  Like naughty children Zimbabwe went quiet again, until next time, thanks for reading, love Cathy

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78 <![CDATA[Mums and Dads, Gogos and Sekurus]]> Dear Family and Friends,

The first whisps of winter are beginning to drift over our horizon. The days are getting shorter and the sunsets more copper. Early these mornings the mist lies thick in the dips and valleys, often not burning away until eight or nine o’clock. Visiting a friend when the dew was still thick on the grass one morning this week, there was neither electricity nor water and the chat soon turned to how unpredictable everything in the country still is.

It’s hard to believe that just three years ago the new MDC Finance Minister announced that we had become a multi- currency economy  and we began using  US dollars and South African Rands.  It’s like a bad nightmare remembering that in January 2009 we were buying one single US dollar for five hundred billion Zimbabwe dollars. The scrapping of the Zim dollar and introduction of the US dollar caused a national sigh of relief.  In a single move one man put a stop to the horrific mismanagement which had caused a decade of financial insanity and economic collapse. Almost overnight super-hyper inflation crashed from multiple billions of percentage points to zero. Vast supermarkets and wholesalers whose shelves had been completely empty were suddenly full of food – all imported of course. The  black market  which had controlled the country and all of our daily needs from bank notes to food, fuel, equipment and medicine, disappeared within weeks.  Within a few months the world, and many of our new leaders, stopped following the huge daily struggle of ordinary people, we were back on track they said. On the surface of things Zimbabwe is getting back to normal, but not for everyone.

A largely unnoticed horror continues to unravel for pensioners in Zimbabwe this April 2012. Three years ago, in April 2009, it cost a family member living in the diaspora less than US $100 dollars  a month to support their parents or grandparents who were over 65. These were parents and grandparents who had lost everything to hyper inflation. They had lost their life savings when 25 zeroes were removed from the currency and turned upright citizens into destitute paupers. Desperate pensioners first  sold their assets, jewellery, treasures and family heirlooms in order to buy food and medicines, then they sold their cars. When that money had been gobbled up by hyper inflation,  they sold their houses in order to stay alive. With no government support, no subsidies in recognition of their age and no way of replacing their lost assets, pensions or life savings, and when they had nothing left to sell, Mums and Dads, Gogos and Sekurus  had no option but to hold out their hands and say: please help. 

The 100 US dollars that supported a pensioner three years ago was enough to pay their rent, water and electricity in a one bedroomed cottage for a month and leave  30 or 40  dollars  for food. Three years later, despite the government’s stated inflation rate of less than 5%,  the rent, water and electricity for the same pensioner in the same cottage now costs 450 US dollars a month and that’s before they’ve had anything to eat or gone to the doctor.

“The prices are never going to go down are they,” my friend asked as we had tea while the mist lifted and melted under the morning sun.  We both knew the answer and that the prices will continue to go up but we said nothing. What can you say to someone who worked all their life, planned and saved so carefully for their retirement and then had it all stolen in front of their eyes by their very own government. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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77 <![CDATA[Headstones in the golden grass]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,
I have been writing this letter almost every week since March 2000. This very long and sad story that I first sent to just seven people  is now into its thirteenth year.  As a nation we have been through such turmoil and trauma during these years and one of the most painful is the break up of extended  families. It’s hard to know how many Zimbabweans have had no choice but to leave the country over the last thirteen years. Most estimates put the figure at about a quarter of our population or around four million people who left for political, humanitarian or economic reasons.  Many left behind their parents and grandparents, their aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces. They also left behind generations of their ancestors who are buried in and scattered on our Zimbabwean soils.

Marondera cemetery entrance  March 2012
Stone pillars at entry to Marondera cemetery March 2012
Headstones in the grass Marondera cemetery March 2012
Remains of bench Marondera cemetery March 2012

This week a message came from a  Zimbabwean in the diaspora, asking if I would visit the grave of a relation and take photographs as a keepsake for the family. The request came just a few days after damning newspaper headlines exposed the  shocking statements made by a former Zanu PF MP of Mbare who lost his seat to the MDC in the 2008 elections. Speaking at the graveside during a funeral, the former MP said : “I would eliminate whites in Marondera within a week, especially MDC Member of Parliament Iain Kay.” The ex MP said he and his party did not recognise Marondera’s  MP, Iain Kay, and continued: “Please allow me and Chipangano Youth a week’s stay here and we would eliminate Kay without any problem. Down with all whites.”

There’s nothing like a bit of hate speech to incite violence 32 years after Independence. There is no doubt that if a white Zimbabwean, regardless of their political or personal status were to make similar threatening or racist statements, they would be arrested in the blink of an eye.

Arriving at the cemetery on my errand  it took some considerable time to find the grave I was looking for, not because it is a massive cemetery but because it is so overgrown and run down. The sign directing you to the cemetery is barely invisible in tall, uncut grass. The fence, or what is left of it, that surrounded the once pretty and tranquil cemetery, is lying rusting and tangled in the thick grass. This fence was taken down by the local Municipality when they came with chain saws and tractors two winters ago and felled the pine trees that  lined and shaded the graveyard. When they had finished they dragged the timber away but  never bothered to put the fence back up. A  little gate attached to stone pillars with nothing on either side is the only sign that something once protected the graves of the people of the town. Inside the cemetery the grass was taller than me and most of the graves were invisible in the unkempt jungle. A small concrete slatted bench where you used to be able to sit and think about your relations buried here, has been broken for over two years. The odd tall headstone looms out of the golden grass and I found it impossible not to keep tripping as I fought my way through the vegetation, expecting at every footstep to encounter a snake or fall over a grave.  Sadly I recalled the occasion two years ago when I asked at a Municipal meeting for the cemetery to be maintained in order that we may respect our friends, relations and ancestors of all skin colours who are buried there. I was silenced by council officials and told not to be emotional.

After a while I found the grave I was looking for and spent a little time there, paying respects for a family who can no longer do so themselves. The overwhelming thought that so often comes to mind is how un-necessary all these years of turmoil have been and wondering when and how it will ever end.  I end with a message of thanks to the many, many people who are on this mailing list and have been such long and faithful readers of my writings and devoted supporters of Zimbabwe.  To see the occasional photographs that will illustrate descriptions in this letter, please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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76 <![CDATA[Buckets and batteries]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It might sound strange but the two most prized possessions in homes around Zimbabwe in 2012 are buckets and batteries. Buckets to carry water and batteries to produce electricity.  Three years after the winners were forced to share power with the losers of the 2008 elections and three years after we started trading in US dollars, normal life is impossible as we battle to cope with massive electricity and water cuts.  The situation is worse now than it was at any time in the past eleven years as now we are paying with a first world currency but receiving a fourth world service. 

In the last seven days we have only had water in our taps for 10 hours of the 168 hour week. Buckets rule our lives and are lined up in order of priorities and of cleanliness. Drinking water is strictly guarded; using it for washing dishes, clothes, bathing or flushing the toilet is a mortal offence. The dirtier the water is, the dirtier the job it has to perform and clean or dirty, every drop is so precious.

In the last seven days we have only had electricity for 46 hours  of the 168 hour week.  All of those 46 hours that the electricity has been on, have been in the middle of the night. Everywhere people you meet look exhausted, have big rings under their eyes and have had very little sleep. In the middle of the night people are getting up in order to cook a meal for the family, iron the children’s clothes for school, change and charge batteries and catch up on the backlog of work on computers.   The power cuts have extended to all almost all areas of my home town and have included schools, hospitals, clinics and all residential areas. Some shops in the very centre of town have had electricity for a few hours in the daytime but mostly they have to operate on generators, doubling the costs of running their businesses. One small scale farmer I met recently was trying to cure a tobacco crop and said it was costing him one thousand US dollars a week for diesel for the generator he was having to use.

This week we heard the very distressing news that Mozambique have cut off power supplies to Zimbabwe. The Minister of Energy and Power development was quoted as saying: "Hydro Cahora Bassa switched off supplies to Zimbabwe on Thursday or Friday last week over the money owed which is around $75 million or $76 million."   Hardly were the words out the Minister’s mouth when they were contradicted by a Board Member of the Cahora Bassa power company. Mr Rosaque Guale said: "We would like to inform you that we have not cut electricity to Zimbabwe. That information is misinformed. "  Well, the information might have been misinformed but the fact remains that we are still in the dark, physically and mentally.

Then, after shamefully making ordinary members of society suffer because of the excesses, abuses and irresponsibility of their leaders, the Energy Minister finally said that they had started ‘vigorously disconnecting defaulters.’ He was talking about our country’s leaders: MP’s, Governors and government officials who have run up massive bills, some of over a hundred thousand US dollars. Then came a statement in parliament made by Prime Minister Tsvangirai who said: “ As Government we call upon everyone to pay their bills, including Ministers and top officials that I have heard are not paying up. …Personally, I have had to pay a $5 000 bill at my residence in Strathaven. I paid and so should you!”

Five thousand dollars for a personal residence, people whispered in disbelief, how many years worth of unpaid bills did that represent. Most medium size family homes expect to get bills of about a hundred and fifty dollars a month so five thousand dollars would represent almost 3 years worth of unpaid electricity bills. Most depressing of all was the knowledge that the Prime Minister hadn’t paid his bill in the first place. Thousands of people lost their lives to get him and members of his party into office: hundreds of thousands were brutalized, burnt, tortured and raped; the sense of betrayal people feel is palpable.

Searching for something to smile about in the whole diabolical saga, a banging came on my gate. It was the electricity meter reader. Well that job wasn’t hard as the meter was completely still, the dial and numbers unmoving. He stood at the gate listening to loud music on his cell phone and when I went back with the reading I asked when the power might come back on. He shrugged and smiled, “nothing’s working anymore,” he said as he went off, singing along to Dolly Parton. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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75 <![CDATA[Soggy letters]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s nothing quite like an ordinary day in Zimbabwe to make you feel pretty sure that you are having a nervous breakdown.  Things that immediately spring to mind have all happened in the last couple of weeks, such as:

Standing in a queue to pay an electricity bill when the electricity is off in the power company’s office, and has been off in homes and business for 16 hours a day, almost every working  day, for the past month. While you contemplate this irony you shuffle forward painfully slowly because only one counter is being manned, the receipts are being written by hand and the teller is holding each US dollar bank note up to the sun to see if it is a forgery.

Or there’s the similar and equally absurd situation of standing in a queue at the local Municipal offices to pay your water bill even thought there hasn’t been a drop of water in the town for the last four days. Everywhere you look people are carrying bottles, buckets and even black plastic dustbins full of water from wells and boreholes to their homes and shops.

If those two don’t fit the bill, you could go to the Post Office and collect your letters from the post box, which you pay an annual rental for. When you get there you find that all the boxes have been painted red, including the numbers, so you can’t see which box is yours. You have to go and wait at a ‘window’ which turns out to be a hole in the wall blocked off with a piece of dirty plywood. Finally someone emerges and hands you a pile of wet letters - because the roof leaks, he says, un-apologetically.

Included in the soggy letters is one from the locally based, international bank offering you  internet banking . This comes despite the fact you closed your thirty year old  bank account there six months ago because they lost a cheque a month after you deposited it and after they had cleared and honoured it. When you told them that wasn’t your fault they put it in writing that if you didn’t get a replacement for the cheque they lost, they would deduct the value from your account. When you then spent half a day and travelled  200 kilometres to get a replacement cheque from the company that issued the first one, the bank refuse to reimburse you for your fuel or time. And now they want you to do internet banking with them – I don’t think so!  

If you haven’t completely lost your mind by now, you can go and park your car outside a shop you’ve parked outside for the last twenty years and come back to find your wheels have been clamped. Suddenly this has apparently become a no parking zone. When you ask why there are no signs or yellow lines, authorities say the road markings haven’t been done.

On the way home you pop into a supermarket to pick up a few groceries. You hand over a twenty US dollar note and are given your change in the form of a bubble gum and two suckers – because we use US dollars here, but not the coins that go with them.

Finally you go to the filling station to put petrol in your car. The attendant runs inside to start a petrol driven generator which will power the petrol pump to put petrol in your car.

This is everyday life in Zimbabwe and after yet another 16 hour power cut the only sensible way to end this letter is not with a message saying : Sent from my iPhone or Blackberry, but : “Sent from my solar panel.” Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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74 <![CDATA[Piglets in single file]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

My first face to face meeting with a bushpig was very early in the morning when I went to check on two baby elephants that were  in my care, being hand reared after they had been left orphaned in a culling operation. The elephants spent the night in a safe enclosure which was secured with poles which slotted horizontally across the opening. Every afternoon a deep bed of hay would be prepared in the enclosure for the little elephants, so deep that it easily reached my waist. Every morning the poles would be removed and the elephants let out into the game park. One morning I arrived to find the elephants asleep in the hay – with a friend! It was a very large bushpig which woke up in fright and charged straight at me. Luckily the very deep hay slowed the animal’s forward momentum and gave me a chance to run. I learned to climb an eight foot fence that day! I stood panting and shaking on the other side, looking at this fearsome,  grey, hairy creature snorting and puffing at me through the wire. For a few moments the 100 kilogram wild pig and I stared at each other, not sure who was more scared, then the bushpig turned and trotted off into the long grass and disappeared into the bush.

In years that followed I had other encounters with bushpigs, always early in the morning, but none so close or frightening, and most which  involved shouting and running, chasing them out of the maize we grew on our farm to feed the livestock. I never thought then that it would be a treat to see  bushpigs which are mostly thought of as crop raiding pests which dig under fences and root around in crops doing a lot of damage.

On a recent journey through what used to be a very productive farming area, my eyes were peeled. Farm after farm for more than thirty kilometres was largely deserted. Fences gone, houses stripped, roofs removed, window and door frames gone and even brick walls being dismantled. Giant trellises in perfect straight rows which once supported hops, now have a few stunted maize plants growing between the supports. The road was in a shocking state; it was impossible to travel at more than 20 kilometres an hour, as you zig-zagged between deep, gaping gullies and treacherous holes. All I could think was how sad it was that the tall  thriving crops which used to sway in the warm wind here, have been replaced by  a few mud and thatch huts which stand alongside little squares of pale, stunted maize. How sad that we are still seeing such a desperate, impoverished situation eleven years after farm takeovers. This year the harvest predictions from the national grain crop are that it will provide less than one sixth of our needs. 

Then, on the road ahead, a ‘sounder’ of bushpig crossed from one side to the other. A large boar, four or five big sows and in between the adults, running behind each other in single file, came the fat, black piglets, perhaps ten or twelve of them. It was a sight to lift flagging spirits, to know that some have survived.  It’s hard to know how many species have been able to survive the orgy of hunting, poaching and habitat destruction of the last eleven years. A time when farms have become lawless, no-go areas and where most people have no idea of what’s really been going on.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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73 <![CDATA[Join the dots]]>  

Then the President was asked if he had found a successor to replace him and he said it was the members of his party who would select someone once he had told them he was ready to retire. “But not yet,” Mr Mugabe said, “at this age I can still go some distance, can’t I?” 

So there it was, in a couple of brief sentences, the road ahead for Zimbabwe had been laid out for all to see.

After the birthday interview the propaganda frenzy turned to what  ZBC called the “Birthday Bash of the Year.” A giant birthday party was being arranged in the Eastern Highlands city of Mutare. “All roads lead to Mutare” screamed ZBC who started their nightly news bulletins all week with a countdown to how many days were left until the birthday party.

The Independent press reported that vendors were moved out of areas near Sakubva stadium, the venue for the party. Two days before the ‘Birthday Bash of the Year,’ workers were said to be operating day and night, even under floodlights, to get critical renovations done. These included toilets and ablution facilities described as being in a “sorry state,” a car park, VIP stand and fence around the stadium.  One day before the event TB news footage showed men trundling around with wheelbarrow loads of cement. 

In my home town which is on the main highway to Mutare, traffic built up dramatically. Streams of very upmarket cars raced past, all sporting their little Zimbabwe flags on their dashboards or rear-view mirrors. Scores of extremely well dressed and undoubtedly well connected people gathered outside the Hotel on the main road, double and triple parking and obstructing traffic apparently of no consequence. Then came the security crews. Green trucks filled with helmeted men, lights blazing, speed limits ignored.

Strange, we the ordinary Zimbabweans thought, as we watched the Mutare birthday frenzy. Was there any coincidental connection between this and the recent suspension of the white Mayor of Mutare. Was there any connection between this  and the continued detention in custody in Mutare of a 74 year old white ex- farmer, Peter Hingeston who was arrested when he missed a court hearing for medical reasons. Mr Hingeston  had his farm seized in the mid 2000’s and retired to a house in the Vumba mountains. Now the government apparently want that too and Mr Hingeston is being prosecuted under the Gazetted Land Act for the alleged illegal occupation of his retirement home. And lastly, we wonder if there is any connection between the Birthday Bash of the Year and the third week of 16 hour a day power cuts, or the Birthday Bash and the grindingly slow, impossible to use internet and email connections all week.

We wonder in silence and we join the dots. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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72 <![CDATA[24 carat pigeons]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The chat around the table the other day was how many fat pigeons were shot with stones from the catapults of kids in the areas of Hot Springs and Nyanyadzi as the road heads south to Birchenough Bridge. It is the most amazing 125 kilometre stretch of road which starts eleven hundred metres above sea level in Mutare and drops to four hundred and fifty metres by the time it gets to Birchenough Bridge. In the space of half an hour you go from the lofty mountains and lush green of Mutare to the hot, dry scratchy lowveld and Baobab trees of Hot Springs which is two thirds of the way to Birchenough Bridge. It’s a road that used to be much travelled by families and school groups heading for the hot mineral springs and pools at the Hot Springs resort in the ‘good old days’ before the diamond discoveries of 2006.  All along the immediate west of this road are the diamond fields which could and should be Zimbabwe’s saving grace but aren’t.

“I know the money is being stolen but I don’t have any proof of how it is being stolen,” the Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti  said this week about the money from diamond sales.  Biti was commenting on a report  just released by Global Witness on the ownership of two of the main diamond  mines which are right near that  Hot Springs road.  The report called “Diamonds: A good deal for Zimbabwe?”  makes for gripping and chilling reading.  Contained in the Global Witness report are the names of seven Chinese executive directors and board members and seven Zimbabwean board members of one of the diamond mining companies, Anjin. In the Zimbabwean list,  five of the board members are senior security personnel whose names are preceded with titles  like Air Vice Marshall, Brigadier,  retired Colonel, Commissioners in the police force and the permanent secretary in The Ministry of Defence.  The principal officer and company secretary of Anjin is a brigadier who is on the EU sanctions list. Global Witness urge the Zimbabwe government to cancel the Anjin agreement and say consumers should not buy diamonds from the Marange mines until they can be sure they are not funding human rights abuses.

The Global Witness report raises eyebrows over the decade long rallying call of ‘indigenization’ and ‘Zimbabwe for Zimbabweans.’  Reading the list of Chinese directors and board members of a diamond mine near  Hot Springs, leaves  you wondering who really owns Zimbabwe and if the ordinary people of our country will ever see the benefits from the stones under our feet.  

Ironically, in the same week that Global Witness raise questions about the ownership of diamond mines and the ‘opaque’ company structures, the EU removed 51 people from their Restrictive Measures/ Sanctions List. The list includes many shocks, including the wives of a number of senior Zanu PF officials. It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to read between these lines and think about what happens next.

Back at the table with friends came the real question about birds and catapults which  is how many of those stones were actually diamonds and how many pigeons went to meet their maker on the back of 24 carats.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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71 <![CDATA[Eating stolen fruit]]>  

Dear Family and Friends.

It’s mango time in Zimbabwe. Small, sweet, sticky orange mangoes whose string gets caught in your teeth; these are the mangoes we used to play with as kids, washing them when the pulp was finished, combing the string into hair and then drawing a face on the hard oval pip.  Then there are the big kidney shaped mangoes which you really need to eat outside or sitting in a bath because it’s impossible not to end up with juice running down your chin and dripping all over your shirt.  In recent years the big red ball mangoes have been added to the juicy tropical extravaganza. Weighing almost a kilogram each they are stringless with very sweet, firm, orange flesh.  The problem is you know they are stolen.

Buying these huge ball mangoes on the side of the road at one US dollar apiece, it’s hard to put out of your mind the knowledge that they have come from a farm that was violently seized two years ago from its owners and for which no compensation was paid. You know you are eating stolen fruit and by doing so it’s a bit like being an accomplice to a crime. This is one of the thousands of things that sit on our consciences every day and weigh the country down with a huge burden of guilt, like a sin that needs to be confessed and absolution given.  

The ball mangoes will inevitably follow the same route as the apples, plums, pears, litchis, peaches and nuts before them. Every year the harvest will get less and less as the men who grabbed the farm and reaped what they did not sow, will be unwilling or unable to water, prune, fertilize and control diseases on the vast orchards they seized.

Nowhere is there a more graphic demonstration of the national shame  we carry around than in our supermarkets. Going shopping in Zimbabwe with a notebook tells the most shocking story of where we are in terms of producing our own food eleven years after Zanu PF’s land seizures.

In the cereals aisle of my local supermarket there were fifteen varieties, only two were made in Zimbabwe and both were more expensive than their imported South African counterparts sitting on the shelves alongside them.  There were eight different makes of jam on display, two were Zimbabwean, four South African, one made in Spain and one from Cyprus.  There were ten makes of pasta on sale, all but one were from South Africa. Of the eight different brands of coffee on the shelf not a single one was Zimbabwean. There were thirty two varieties of sweet biscuits on sale, four were Zimbabwean, twenty five South African and three from Greece.  There was no fresh Zimbabwean milk or cream to buy. Flour and maize meal was all in local packaging but if anyone is any doubt about where the vast majority of the contents originated they need look no further than the ceaseless stream trains and trucks coming over our borders.

In the last few weeks more and more alarming statistics have been released about this year’s expected national harvest. Plantings of all the major crops are down by between thirty and fifty percent. The President of the ZCFU, Donald Khumalo said we could expect to see a deficit of one and a half million tonnes of maize this harvest.  Shamefully Zimbabwe is expected to have only produced enough food for one quarter of the population.  Mr Khumalo said “we have basically lost direction as a country.” His counterpart in the CFU, Charles Taffs said the country should brace for a big disaster.

Already we are preparing for the propaganda and the blame game, despite the fact that since November the farming unions and experts have been warning that there just wasn’t enough planting and farming being done on all those millions of seized hectares. This is the new Zimbabwean disease: sitting waiting for free ploughing, fuel, seed, fertilizer, tractors, boreholes, irrigation equipment and even harvesters.

Eleven years after land was forcibly seized from white Zimbabweans without compensation and given to black Zimbabweans but without Title Deeds, the result is sitting on our supermarket shelves. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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70 <![CDATA[Footprints in the dust]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

A disturbance before dawn one morning this week led to the search for who or what had made the noise on the roof. Running footsteps, a thump and a thud and then the eerie quiet. Following an invisible scent, the dogs showed the route taken by the intruder. Running with increasing frenzy, noses millimetres off the ground, they stormed under hedges and thick bushes, ran backwards and forwards across the lawn before coming to a stop with tails wagging stiffly and tongues dripping, under a big Musasa tree. There, high up in a fork of the tree, sitting completely still was the pre dawn intruder. A Small-spotted Genet stared unblinking into the beam of the torch, momentarily mesmerised, paralysed at having been discovered. A beautiful creature with creamy brown fur covered with dark spots on its body and black rings all the way down its very long tail.  For the briefest of moments we stared at each other by torch light. As soon as the beam of light moved away, the cat disappeared silently into the tree, perfectly camouflaged amongst the dark, lichen covered branches.

Just this brief encounter with the Genet explained all those soggy little fruit pips lying in the sand a few days ago. It explained the shredded remains of a birds nest lying on the ground and answered the question about who owned those  little footprints left in the dust on a windowsill.

The Genet is one of the growing number of wild creatures looking for somewhere new to live  this year as their habitat is destroyed in the frenzied cultivation of every open space around and in urban areas. Cobras, mambas and other snakes are becoming far more frequent in urban gardens, while Storks, Egrets, Ibises Plovers and Nightjars are retreating and disappearing, along with their natural habitat.  After eleven years of farm seizures which were claimed to be making land available to ‘the masses,’ there is no sign that the revolution eased the pressure for ordinary people, quite the contrary in fact. This season the uncontrolled cultivation of urban and peri-urban areas, by anyone and everyone, wherever they want, is worse than it has ever been.  As trees are cut down , undergrowth cleared and woodland turned into self apportioned maize and sweet potato plots, ground nesting birds, small carnivores and  reptiles have been forced to run for cover.  The very sights and sounds of Zimbabwe, so sought after and attractive to tourists, is melting away like the cat in the night, while our leaders continue their never ending fight over power and politics.

The latest horror, if ever we needed something new  to scare away tourists, is typhoid. Fifteen hundred people now affected in some parts of Harare. White quarantine tents, polyclinics they call them, have been erected in the grounds of health facilities to isolate and treat infected people. The Minister of Health described it as a “stone age” disease while a Zanu PF Harare spokesman said it was yet another imperialist western plot. “We suspect biological warfare by imperialists,” Claudius Mutero said, describing this disease as “sanctions-induced typhoid.”

Oh dear, oh dear, there’s more sanity in looking up trees for cats in the night. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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69 <![CDATA[Why so hush, hush?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

When I arrived at my local Post Office this week I couldn’t believe my eyes as I squinted through the brick dust and picked my way around the rubble.  For the past six weeks there have been increasingly loud whispers that the Post Office was moving out of the Post Office. (Yes you read that right!) At first I thought it was some sort of mad Zimbabwean joke and just shook my head, muttered under my breath  and laughed.  As the days went past and Christmas drew closer, the story kept coming back. In the end I asked the counter staff and, like everything in Zimbabwe, it was a mission to get to the bottom of the story. First look over your shoulder and make sure no one is listening, then check that no one is watching and then talk in the quietest of whispers. Eleven years of fighting for political power have turned us into the most suspicious, untrusting people you can imagine.

Anyway, it turned out the whispers were true, the Post Office staff told me. The owners of the Post Office building had put the rent up and when the Post Office management said they couldn’t afford the new rent, they were told they would have to vacate the building by the 31st of December. A few days after Christmas, Post Office staff were packing things in boxes and a computer was being dismantled. It’s really happening, they said,  the new rent being demanded was a staggering seven thousand US dollars a month and they had no choice but to  vacate. Like everything Zimbabwean, there were more questions than answers, uppermost was who actually owns the Post Office. It sounded like a silly question but I asked it anyway: “Doesn’t the Post Office own the Post Office?” More glances over shoulders and whispered whispers before I was told that the government Post Office had been sold in 2005 to the government telephone company’s Pension Fund. For the last six years the Post Office had been renting the Post Office. Confusion reigns, but it’s laced with suspicion. Why all the whispers; why no publicity or protest, no public meetings; why so hush, hush, is there politics behind this?

New Year came and the Post Office was still open and functional. They had been given a reprieve of one month, time in which to dismantle parts of the building that were essential for the continued operation of postal businesses. They were referring to the many hundreds of steel post boxes cemented into the walls of both the main Post Office and another smaller, circular brick building in the grounds. As the days of January passed there was no sign of movement or dismantling infrastructure and no notice to the public about the pending move.  Perhaps it was a mad Zimbabwean joke after all I thought.

Three days before the end of January 2012, I arrived at the Marondera Post Office to be met with the sound of banging and hammering as I made my way to my steel Post Box cemented into the wall. Chips of brick and cement flew in all directions, there was no barricade or notice  to deter pedestrians, no warning of falling rubble.  A pair of builders wearing goggles and armed with hammers and chisels, were smashing the steel Post Boxes out of the walls. I felt sure someone in authority would have emptied the letters from the post boxes before they started smashing down the walls but thought I’d better check, just in case. Wiping brick dust out of my eyes I unlocked my box and sure enough there were all my letters, sitting under a coating of brick dust.

The Marondera Post Office has been in its present location since 1977.  On the 27th January 2012 a handwritten notice, stuck to a signboard was propped up outside the door. “To our valued customers. The Post Office will be moving to new premises at Marondera Country Club with effect from 1st February 2012. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

I stood outside for few minutes watching people’s reaction to the sign.  One after the other people exclaimed in disbelief:  moving the Post Office to a Club where the main activity is a bar? Situated on the outskirts of the town behind a sprawling commuter taxi rank and huge flea market, the Club is hardly a safe and secure place for a Post Office. No one has forgotten how this same Club was taken over by war veterans  in 2001. How they  planted a Zimbabwe flag in the main driveway, renamed it The Laurent Kabila Memorial Club, cleaned out all the food in the kitchen and drank the bar dry. I took a trip to the Club to see where our new Post Office was going to be. At the gateway the grass is two meters high, the Club signboard is promoted by a beer advertisement. The buildings are in a bad state of repair; grey, chipped, run down. There is no mention or indication that the Marondera Post Office is about to arrive here and I found myself filled with sadness. Small towns around the country are falling apart at the seams. 

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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68 <![CDATA[Just doing my job]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

All week we received increasing warnings about an approaching cyclone. ZBC radio and TV advised people to avoid low lying areas, not to try and cross flooded bridges or fast moving rivers and to be prepared for heavy rainfall and big storms. Whilst warning us about the approaching weather system, ZBC reminded us that the last cyclone to hit Zimbabwe had been Cyclone Eline, in February 2000, and went on to point out that some of the bridges destroyed by Eline had yet to be repaired – eleven years later. A disgraceful admission if ever we heard one.

Roofs, gutters, drains and trees near houses were top of the list to be checked and cleared. We’d been told to prepare for hailstorms, high winds and rainfall of 80 mm (just over three inches) every day for two or three days. The view from the window was of people checking their roofs, hammering in nails and clearing sticks, pods and branches from gutters.

I spent a morning under a bright blue sky and blazing sun trundling backwards and forwards with a friend collecting rubble and bricks that had been dumped in the bush nearby. We used the bricks to repair a deep gully which had made our quiet, suburban road almost impossible to traverse. Despite repeated appeals to the local municipality, it’s been over four years since any road repairs or maintenance have been done in the neighbourhood. No pot-hole filling, no drain clearing, no grading, no sign of a single municipal worker. My emergency brick dumping was a lonely and desperate attempt to save what’s  left of the road in the path of an approaching cyclone.

By the middle of the week storm clouds had stared building up in the burning blue sky. Towering, deep purple columns rising from a dense and imposing grey horizon. Cyclone Dando was now being called a Tropical Depression and had hit Mocambique causing major flooding. It was moving in to parts of South Africa leaving a trial of flooding and devastation.

While we waited for the storm a human cyclone was underway in Bulawayo. Seventeen members of WOZA were arrested while standing at a shopping complex. A woman police officer beckoned to the group and made her intentions quite clear from the outset:  'WOZA people today I am going to fix you,’ she said. The women were taken to Donnington police station where WOZA leaders said that a number of the women were assaulted in custody. Some were knocked on the head with a broomstick and threatened, as police tried to get them to admit that they been planning a protest. Another young woman had a plastic bag forced over her head and was told to kick her leg when she was ready to talk. A male police officer said to the women: ‘we are going to remove your panties and beat your bottoms.’ At that time the WOZA lawyer arrived and the women were released from custody, many said to be deeply traumatized by the events.

A press statement from WOZA said that the male police officer who had threatened to remove the women’s underpants and beat their bottoms, followed the WOZA members out of the police station and said: 'when you see me around town don't hate me I was just doing my job.'  

It’s not clear what, if anything, the seventeen women will be charged with. Nor is it clear what, if anything, will happen to the police for their actions to WOZA members at Donnington police station in Bulawayo. If the abuses of the past are anything to go by, we must assume that, like Tropical Storm Dando, they will come to nothing, just blow away in the wind.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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67 <![CDATA[Porcupine quills filled with gold]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Since Christmas we’ve been watching, wide eyed and open mouthed, the developments in Zimbabwe’s latest gold rush. This time it’s in Kwekwe where nuggets, metal detectors, panning, digging, pounding and hammering are the words on everyone’s lips.

Stories of gold rushes from the old days of our history get blood pumping and hearts racing. Outlandish adventures, outrageous exaggerations and the wildest characters you can imagine taking part in the frenzied search for gold. Myths, legends, facts and fiction all become a heady, swirling, maze: tales that Fig trees were apparently planted to mark sites that needed further exploration; pegged claims being swopped for cases of whisky; porcupine quills filled with grains of gold being found in the back of dusty, musty caves.

Zimbabwe’s latest gold rush began with stories that 100 kilograms of gold nuggets had been found. Fact or fiction wasn’t important, the thought alone triggered the stampede. A  Midlands police spokesman said the gold alluvial had been discovered near the Munyati River in the Sherwood Farming Block, about 20 kilometres outside of Kwekwe. At first there were reports of approximately four hundred gold panners trying to get a look in. Within a couple of days the press reported that thousands of people were pouring into Kwekwe to join the gold rush. Mayhem and politics was hot on their heels.

Armed police with dogs arrived and chased the gold panners away saying: "We want sanity to prevail while we identify the proper owners of the mining claim.” Violence broke out and the police made a confusing statement which has left us still wondering exactly what went down. “No one was killed. Only a few rogue thugs who intended to pan, threw stones at the police,’ said a police spokesman. Kwekwe hospital opened its doors and took in casualties. One man had sixteen stitches in his head after being beaten with a shovel.

Next on the scene was Zanu PF. Hundreds of panners who had been chased away from the Sherwood Block gold field attended a rally addressed by Owen "Mudha" Ncube, the Zanu PF Midlands security official. The press said Ncube announced that the gold deposits belonged to Zanu PF. He said Zanu PF had fought in the liberation struggle to ensure that Zimbabweans owned their land, and the minerals in it, and therefore had rights to control who mined at the gold fields. NewsDay reported that Zanu PF had started making a list of people who would be allowed to mine the gold field when it re-opened and this led to a frenzied scramble for Zanu PF membership cards with 3,500 being sold in the first two days. The cards sell for one US dollar each so this seemed like a very good way to make money too.

Meanwhile the Midlands police spokesman said at least four people had laid claim to the Kwekwe gold field and the police were waiting for the Mines Ministry to adjudicate between them. No prizes for guessing who wins this one.

Gold fever in Kwekwe in 2012 left me looking for anecdotes about gold mines in the area from the past. I came across reminiscences of the wife of a former manager of the famous Globe and Phoenix Gold mine. Mrs Atkinson wrote about the new railway line that had opened in November 1901 and went from the mine to Harare, a journey previously undertaken with pack mules and donkey carts: “The railway journey took about four hours… Not only did the train driver stop to collect more fuel by chopping down a tree or two but if he spotted a herd of buck or a flock of guinea fowl, he would go after them on foot and shoot ‘for the pot.”

‘The law of the jungle where the strongest survive’ is how the diamond human rights monitor Farai Maguwu described the recent scramble for gold in Kwekwe. Not much has changed in the last hundred years. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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66 <![CDATA[Raucous, scolding Francolin]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Finding a wild Flame Lily to welcome the New Year was a difficult task this year. Normally they are all over the bush by late December, glorious flashes of crimson in knee-high, lush green grass. This year, after a decade of completely out of control, illegal cultivation, the search was a difficult one. All my usual peri-urban haunts yielded nothing. Stretches of open grassland, between rocky outcrops, in old quarries, the edge of vleis and in the scrub near streambanks – all have been dug up and planted with maize, sweet potatoes, nuts, beans and sugar cane. In the process of searching I became reacquainted with the striking blue of the Woodland Kingfisher with its enormous red beak, the bright yellows and reds of Masked Weavers and Red Bishop Birds and the raucous, scolding, chattering of a Redbilled Francolin. At last I came upon a Flame Lily. Deep crimson, ablaze with fiery yellow at the base of the flower, fading into a delicate, yellow outline along the wavy edge of the petals. What a sight to welcome 2012.

The madness wasn’t far behind. Hardly had we drawn the first breath of the New Year into our lungs than the absurdities of the never ending struggle for political power engulfed our lives again.

First came the news that the country’s leading timber producer, Border Timbers is facing closure. 2,500 hectares of prime timber plantations in Chimanimani have been invaded by people from surrounding areas. An Estate Manager said the invasions were being co-ordinated by politicians and that people were simply walking into the plantations and “parcelling themselves pieces of land.” The invaders were cutting down the trees and planting little squares of maize and rapoko. The impact of cropping on mountainous plantations, with their fragile, porous soils is devastating. The Estate Manager said that repeated appeals for intervention to the government’s Environmental Management Agency had yielded nothing. A councillor for the Chimanimani area said he had moved a motion in Council for the invaders to be evicted from the timber plantations but this had failed because: “our colleagues from Zanu (PF) are against the idea.”

Next came the unbelievable news that the Minister of Transport had issued a circular ordering Air Zimbabwe to stop flying to South Africa, obviously to try and stop the planes from being seized by creditors. The suspension of flights followed the Christmas from hell for both Air Zim and their passengers after a plane was impounded in the UK over unpaid debts and passengers were left stranded at Gatwick airport for over a week. The CEO of Air Zimbabwe said that now the national airline was waiting for government to pay their debts for them. (Again)

Then came the most despicable news of the week. Eighty Anglican Clergymen who had gathered for a week long prayer retreat at Peterhouse School in Marondera, were ordered to leave by the police. Told they needed police permission to meet at the private school, the Clergymen refused to leave saying they weren’t breaking any laws. The next day the police were back. The spokesman for the Harare Bishop said: “This morning police returned with re-enforcements and threatened to arrest men of God, including the Bishops, if they did not leave immediately.” First they lost their churches, then their church assets, then the people they were helping were evicted from church orphanages and homes and now it seems these Anglicans may not even meet on private property to pray together.

More madness followed: war veterans demanding parliament be closed, teachers threatening to strike, the constitutional process on the verge of collapse and then the jamming of Short Wave Radio Africa’s broadcast on the 4th of January. Oh poor Zimbabwe, when will it ever end. How we long for a normal life again. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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65 <![CDATA[Letter to Father Christmas]]>  

Dear Father Christmas,

I know that you only give gifts to children and I’m not a child but I wonder if you would consider the items on my list for the benefit of all Zimbabwe’s children, most of who don’t have a voice, and for their parents who struggle so much every day.

First and most important: Is there any chance you could give us some more water? Scooping water out of open wells in the bush because our taps are dry 22 hours a day makes life very tough and we are so scared of our children getting sick. We haven’t had a drop of water in my home town for the last three days, it’s been much longer in many other places and we would really appreciate your urgent help on this. 

Secondly: Please can we have a little bit more electricity? These 16 hour a day power cuts are gruelling and we don’t understand why the power company keep charging us more and more but give us less and less. We have to keep throwing away the food in our fridges because it goes bad and are cooking outside over smoky fires so a bit more power would be a very welcome gift.

Next Father Christmas, please, oh please can you stop the latest batch of farm invasions. Never have we seen anything so cruel as groups of thugs evicting farmers and their workers from their homes just a week before Christmas. Maize and tobacco crops are flourishing in the land, cows are growing shiny and fat on the new green grass but no one can stop it all being seized by a bunch of greedy criminals. They are using their political connections to steal people’s homes and livelihoods and reap crops they did not sow. It’s breaking our hearts Father Christmas, where are all these people to go, they know nothing but farming, they have no other homes or incomes.

If you had any spare cash it would be great if you could pay off Air Zimbabwe’s debts that they seem to owe in a number of countries, not to mention the money outstanding to their long suffering members of staff.  It seems every time they land somewhere their planes are being grounded or impounded leaving passengers stranded. Families separated by our political and economic crisis are in exile around the world and are desperately trying to get together this Christmas, they need your help.

There are so many other things I’d like to ask for this Christmas but the most important gift you can bring us is hope. Hope for real, meaningful change for Zimbabwe. Hope for an end to fear, oppression, greed, intolerance and political violence. Hope for real democracy, prosperity and respect for human rights.

To all Zimbabweans and those who care about us, wherever you are in the world, thank you for your support of my writing and books in 2011 and for not giving up on our country. I wish you all a peaceful, happy Christmas, surrounded by friends and filled with laughter. I hope that 2012 is a better year for us all and for Zimbabwe. Until my next letter in January, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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64 <![CDATA[Damp squib]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The day before the official opening of Zanu PF’s Bulawayo conference the collapse of a tree in Harare got tongues wagging and left the superstitious running for cover. A Musasa tree thought to have been nearly 200 years old collapsed on the road near State House when it was hit by a vehicle. The tree, which was a National Monument on a declared Historic Site, has for many years been called the Hanging Tree despite the fact that historians disputed stories that famous Zimbabwean ancestors were hanged from its branches in the late 1890’s. One historian said the Hanging Tree was an urban myth but even so there can be few of us who haven’t stood under its branches at one time or other and wondered, goose bumps covering our arms.

In a magnificent article, journalist Angus Shaw described how a n’anga arrived and performed a ceremony over the collapsed Musasa tree, witnessed by crowds who had gathered, many of whom took away leaves and pieces of bark as momentos. Shaw wrote that the the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association said the “tree represented "powerful forces" in the nation's social and political life.” He said that a street vendor nearby said the collapse of the Musasa was surely a sign that “something big was going to happen.

On the same day as the ‘Hanging Tree’ collapsed in Harare, Mr Mugabe was in Bulawayo, planting a tree on National Tree Day.  All eyes were on him and Bulawayo as Zanu PF held their annul congress. This the most important gathering of senior members and leaders of Zanu PF and this year it had the potential to be explosive to say the least. Zimbabwe held its breath.

A year of damning Wikileaks cables had shown that most of Mr Mugabe’s high level colleagues had betrayed him and indicated that he should step down, including his Vice Presidents. Everyone thought that the Bulawayo gathering would be the place where the betrayers would be held to account and lose their positions in the party’s leadership but nothing happened.

Delegates had a unique chance to change the leadership of their party but did not do so.

They unanimously endorsed Mr Mugabe as their presidential candidate in the country’s next election. Mr Mugabe is 87 years old.

Wearing a baseball cap and a red and white Zanu PF jacket, Mr Mugabe addressed the party he has been the president of for thirty one years. He spoke to the four or five thousand delegates for two and a half hours and television cameras showed a very restrained and subdued audience – not a reaction we have come to associate with these events.

Despite anticipation and expectation, the Bulawayo gathering appeared to have been a regurgitation of more of the same. Mr Mugabe described the present government of national unity as “a drag on our nation,” saying it shouldn’t be allowed to continue. He spoke repeatedly of an election in 2012. He said there was no turning back on indigenization laws and that they were not an election gimmick. Mugabe said all mining companies would be forced to hand over at least 51% of their shareholdings to black Zimbabweans.

At the end of a week when we expected huge fireworks but got a damp squib, you have to wonder if the collapse of the 200 year old Musasa tree is a sign that something big is going to happen.  That grand old tree will be missed but reminds us that nothing and no-one is immortal. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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63 <![CDATA[Chicken dinner]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Believe it or not, the hot topic of conversation this week was take-away chicken portions. Shock, intrigue and controversy came with an advert for chicken pieces that was aired on DSTV, a South African satellite television broadcaster that is available in many countries in Africa.

The advert came from Nando’s, a South African fast food chain which has a Zimbabwe franchise and outlets in many centres around the country. The advert shows Robert Mugabe standing alone at a Christmas dinner table, holding place name cards of absent guests. To background music of “Those were the days my friend,” and with actors playing the characters, Mugabe is shown having a water pistol fight with Libya’s Moammar Gaddafi, whose is using his trademark golden gun. Then on stage he sings with China’s Chairman Mao, and later makes sand angels in the desert with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Final scenes are of Mugabe playing on swings with South Africa’s P W Botha and then standing on top of a tank with Uganda’s Idi Amin, both with their arms outspread in classic Titanic pose. The advert ends with the words “No one should ever eat alone so get a Nando’s six pack meal, for six.”

The advert was definitely a case of forbidden fruit being more desirable as people scrambled to find a satellite TV where they could watch the Nando’s advert. Ironically it’s only because the sole TV channel in Zimbabwe, ZBC, is so biased and full of propaganda, that everyone that can has satellite television. In the blink of an eye the advert was on You Tube enabling even more people to watch it.

Within a couple of days the inevitable happened and a Zanu PF militant group known as Chipangano warned, through ZBC radio, that Nando’s should withdraw the advert or face punitive action. Chipangano called for an apology for what they described as the negative portrayal of Mr Mugabe in the advert.

The blame game and denials rapidly moved into full swing. Nando’s Zimbabwe said they were not informed about the advert or the marketing strategy of Nando’s South Africa. DSTV said they could not “filter out” adverts on the satellite channels that were available to Zimbabwean subscribers. A major shareholder of the company that holds the Nando’s Zimbabwe franchise, who is himself and ex Zanu PF Governor, said the advert was a ‘violation of business ethics” and in disregard of “African values.”

Of course, anyone that hadn’t seen the advert by that stage, made determined efforts to see it and find out what all the fuss was about. Things reached absurd levels midweek when the Short Wave Radio Africa broadcast was jammed just as a news report about the Nando’s advert began. The jamming continued for the next two hours and no one was in any doubt about who was behind the radio’s signal interference.

What had started out as a Christmas advertising campaign for a chicken dinner had turned deadly serious. On Thursday Nando’s South Africa announced they were removing the advert because of the : “volatile climate and believe that no TV commercial is worth risking the safety of Nando’s staff and customers.”

 

And the world thinks that everything is OK in Zimbabwe? Happy chicken dinner. Thanks for reading, until next time, love cathy

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62 <![CDATA[Plum coloured Starling]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The saying it never rains but it pours, was never more true than this week. After another round of scorching temperatures, punishing water shortages and bone dry days, a storm brewed up very rapidly early one evening. Very strong winds were followed by a spectacular half hour of continuous sheet and forked lightning and then the heavens opened. Fifty millimetres (two inches) of rain pounded down in an hour and a half over areas of Mashonaland East and left us like drowned rats floating on the detritus. Areas of Harare had eighty millimetres in an hour and huge pine trees fell like matchsticks in many places.

I thought I’d had it bad when about two litres of rain streamed in through a hole in my roof soaking everything in its splash range below. It was nothing compared to a neighbour whose roof leak caught twenty litres of rain – it was like someone left the tap running he said. We both laughed at the insanity of that comparison because our taps only ever have water for a couple of hours a day if we’re lucky as our town continues to suffocate in a never ending water crisis. It’s a crisis that has crippled most towns and cities around the country despite donors providing all the water treatment chemicals and almost three years of opposition control of town councils. The municipalities give more excuses than you can shake a stick at, none of which help alleviate the toil of finding, collecting and carrying water all the time, or reducing the fear of disease. A number of people in my immediate neighbourhood have been collecting water for weeks from an open and unprotected shallow well they have dug in a patch of open ground near a local cemetery. They had their water supplies disconnected by the local municipality because they couldn’t afford to pay large backdated accounts which went back to early 2009 when we converted to trading in US dollars. The amounts owing by residential households range from fifty to five hundred US dollars and leave people with no choice but to risk disease and collect water wherever they find it.

The last water-borne disease tragedy to hit Zimbabwe was an horrific cholera epidemic in 2008 which killed over four thousand people.  This year the disease fear is typhoid. The Harare City Council this week said they were “talking numbers in excess of 500 cases” in the capital alone.  Their spokesman said shallow wells and boreholes in unsuitable places were the main carriers of typhoid. Messages are being sent out by one mobile phone service provider alerting people to the spread of typhoid through contaminated food and water and advising people with fever, stomach pains and diarrhoea to get medical treatment immediately.

The morning after the storm the roads in my neighbourhood had been scoured. Thick beds of sand blanketed corners, dips and the bottoms of hills. Potholes and gullies not filled or patched, let alone even inspected for over five years, tripled in size and depth overnight. What should have been simple, routine road maintenance has been ignored for so many years that it will now need heavy machinery and vast amounts of money to restore basic suburban roads.

Closer to home casualties of the rain storm lay in the form of carpets of flying ants’, countless drowned earth worms and curled up, water- logged sausage flies. A veritable explosion of Tsongololos (millipedes) emerged from underground. Flooded out of their hiding places, they were drying out on rocks, logs and sandy patches everywhere. Hard at work were numerous birds whose nests had been damaged in the storm. Weavers, Flycatchers and Manikins worked tirelessly, flitting backwards and forwards with strips of grass, fluffy seeds and strands of papyrus. The best sight was that of a gorgeous Plum-coloured Starling carrying bunches of soft green Musasa leaves to re-line its nest in a toilet stack pipe. Such beauty in such an ugly venue, a familiar Zimbabwean contrast.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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61 <![CDATA[Mayhem and obscenity]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The moment I saw the long legged bird with its stout body and flat head I was taken back in time. As I watched the bird walk, head above the grass, I searched for its name in my memory. It didn’t take long to remember that this was a Kori Bustard, once a familiar bird I’d seen often on our highveld farm. The sighting of the Bustard on a hot and very humid November day announced the start of a very strange and contradictory experience this week.

I had been given the rare opportunity of going back in time for a few hours by paying a brief visit to a commercial farm that was still partially functional. There aren’t many of them left eleven years into land seizures. These politically biased land takeovers should have ended years ago for the good of the country. Instead they just go on and on, year after year, slowly draining the last drops of lifeblood from our once thriving agricultural industry.  Every week now we hear of what are being called ‘black on black’ land seizures. These entail repeated invasions and evictions by black people, of black people who themselves invaded and evicted white people from the farms a decade ago. It all makes a complete nonsense of the rhetoric that land invasions were allowed in order to correct colonial, racial imbalances and empower indigenous black Zimbabweans.

With all this in mind, you can’t help but feel very apprehensive when visiting one of the few remaining commercial farms in Zimbabwe. The farm gates were locked and manned by a guard and it wasn’t far from there to the cropping lands. The road was of deep red soil and it snaked around a cluttered workshop and a couple of run down buildings. The obvious neglect told its own story. Farmers no longer spend money on buildings and immovable infrastructure because they know that on any day, at any moment an arbitrary bod off the road can walk in and claim the farm as his own. After writing this fact down for eleven years, it is still as absurd and incomprehensible as it was when it first happened in March 2000.

The road passed through an avenue of towering gum trees and alongside the remains of depleted seed beds before emerging at the tobacco lands. Perfect lines lay in measured sections, bisected by roads at equal intervals. Row after row of tobacco plants with enormous leaves met the eye in every direction. Looking down the lines there wasn’t a plant out of place and hardly a weed to be seen anywhere. Three tractors and trailers were at work in the lands. At least fifty men and women were busy doing various tasks. The first reaping was underway and a dozen or so were picking the lowest leaves, loading them into spring clips and laying them on the trailers so they could be taken to the barns for curing. A gigantic irrigation pivot towered over a section of the field, looking like an enormous scaffolding on wheels, the multiple watering points reducing the risks for the vast crop. This is farming the way it should be done, farming that contributed to a country’s economy, you knew it at a glance. The chilling reality was that this farmer and his fifty employees may not be here at the end of the day, week, month or year. He had no guarantee at all that he would be allowed to harvest this crop at the end of the season – it all depended on who was passing by and what their political connections were.

There were 36 commercial tobacco farms in this district a decade ago. Only six remain and all are enduring varying degrees of mayhem and obscenity at the hands of people trying to evict them. Leaving the farm and returning to the main road, the contrast is so dramatic that you literally draw in your breath. All of the neighbouring farms have been taken over. All the boundary fences have gone. Cattle and goats graze right on the edge of the main highway, tended by children who should be in school. A scrappy, primitive mud and thatched hut stands in what was once a large tobacco land. Two men guide a pair of long horned oxen as they plough up a small field. They are making a small red square of an acre or two in the midst of a vast, deserted land. A group of women sit under a tree selling wild fruits displayed in chipped enamel tin bowls.

This week the President of the Commercial Farmers Union described farms being the least prepared for the growing season in fifty years. He speaks of catastrophe and predicts massive food shortages in the coming months. Anyone who doubts his predictions doesn’t have to look far to see what has prompted this dire warning. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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60 <![CDATA[Unarmed and outnumbered]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2011, the world remembered the men and women of their armed forces who lost their lives in war; their fallen heroes.

Zimbabwe also remembers. We remember our men and women who died in wars, and also those who were killed in more recent times which have often felt like war. We remember:

The men of all races who fought and died in World War One. Sources indicate that731 were killed in service abroad between 1914 and 1918.

The men and women of all races, who fought and died in World War Two. Sources indicate that 1173 people were killed in service abroad between 1939 and 1945.

The men, women and children, of all races who died in the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1960’s and 70’s. An estimated 35 thousand people on both sides lost their lives.

We remember the estimated 20 thousand men, women and children who lost their lives in the early 1980’s at the hands of Zimbabwe’s Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in what is known as the Gukurahundi massacre. Those who perished were unarmed and outnumbered. They could not get state protection, did not have the chance to fight back and fell at the hands of their own government.

We remember the men and women who lost their lives in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the late 1990’s into the new millennium. Their names and the number of people who died, have never been made public.

We remember the people of all races who were brutalized and also those who lost their lives during Zanu PF’s seizures of commercial farms around the country from 2000 to 2011 and which are still continuing today. The victims were unarmed, outnumbered and unable to get protection.

We remember the men, women and children who were brutalized, and also those who died before, during and after the violent elections of 2000, 2002 and 2005. They were unarmed and outnumbered; they tried and failed to get protection.

We remember the losses and suffering of 800,000 men, women and children whose homes and livelihoods were obliterated when government bulldozers mowed their houses down. We do not know how many died as result in the bitter mid winter of 2005, we do know that nearly a million people lost everything at the hands of their own government.

We remember the hundreds of men, women and children who died in the violence before, during and between the two elections of 2008. Hundreds died and thousands fled. They were unarmed and outnumbered and tried but failed to get protection.

To them all we dedicate a thought on Remembrance Day.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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59 <![CDATA[Here we go again]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The searing heat and record breaking temperatures melting Zimbabwe in late October were finally broken by rain a few days ago. Never have thunder, lightning and mud been so welcome. There’s nothing quite so delicious as walking out on a quiet dirt road early in the morning after a night of noisy rain storms. It’s that time of day when yours are the first footprints to mark the wet sand. The ground is soft and springy underfoot, the air cool and clear and if you are lucky you may see the tracks left by an animal of the night. It always comes as something of a surprise the way a single rain storm awakens an extravaganza of weird and wonderful beetles, spiders and insects. Almost overnight they are back: Flying ants, Tsongololos, Sausage Flies, Rhino beetles and giant moths the size of saucers.

As the sun lifts from the horizon its not long before the voices of the crickets fall silent, to be replaced by the screeching of cicadas as the day heats up. The reality of Zimbabwe is sitting in a heap at the side of the road. There’s obviously been a burglary in the neighbourhood during the night and the unwanted, discarded items are lying in the wet grass: a black sun hat, an ornamental carved wooden assegai with steel tips, a plumber’s rubber plunger and an assortment of car parts. Walking a little further down the road the day’s work has already started for two young men who are digging a foundation for a new house. Damp soil thuds off shovels, their laughter rings out in the quiet of the dawn; a raised hand is lifted in greeting.  A builder strides past carrying his spirit level; smiles and greetings are exchanged. A school girl meanders along, a little pink satchel on her back; she casts her eyes down and responds shyly when you say good morning. The first vehicle approaches, it is an early commuter minibus going towards the half built high density housing complex nearby. They started building there after the government’s Operation Murambatsvina  (clear out the rubbish) of 2005 left 800,000 people homeless. Four workers wearing overalls emerge from a gate, we chorus early morning greetings. A woman carrying a hoe and a bag of seeds heads down to a roadside field; a man inspecting his newly germinated maize crop lifts his hat and we exchange a few words about the rain, the weather, the hope for his crop.

With encounters like these to illustrate the face of Zimbabwe at the start of every new day, it’s hard to comprehend the turmoil that engulfed the capital city this week. Apparently a choir member complained that street vendors were selling pirated CD’s in central Harare, right outside the building that houses the offices of the MDC. Police arrived to arrest vendors who ran into the MDC headquarters. Minutes later the police were firing teargas, first into the MDC building and then at the large crowd of bystanders who had gathered to watch. The independent papers had screaming headlines and frightening pictures the next day. “Mayhem,” was the banner covering the front of the Daily News with headlines: “Police turn city centre into battlefield,” and “Teargas thrown on civilians.”  NewsDay’s front page screamed: “Hell Breaks Loose” and showed pictures of riot police, men and women running and clouds of tear gas engulfing a street in the centre of the Harare.

The next day Prime Minister Tsvangirai said Zimbabwe was retreating into ‘siege mentality.’ He said political violence was on the increase and that 800 cases had been reported in September. Talking about the teargassing of MDC headquarters, the PM said police had threatened bystanders, thrown teargas into crowds of people going about their business and bought the capital to standstill. “The police say they are for the law, for the people, for the country,’ the PM said, “but what we have witnessed is that they are anti law, anti people and anti country.”

At the end of it all, looking at pictures of rows of helmeted riot police in grey police trucks two thoughts were uppermost; the first was ‘oh no, here we go again’ and the other was: ’goodbye tourists.’ Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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58 <![CDATA[The sky is falling in]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The chat in the queue at a government hospital Outpatients department this week was about the searing heat that has been beating down on the country in the last few days. The extremely high temperatures scorching Zimbabwe have been the national talking point as day after day we’ve looked up into dazzling blue skies without even a whisp of cloud. One woman in the hospital queue said that God must have dropped the sun, letting it fall down lower in the sky. People laughed and her words made me think of Chicken Licken, Turkey Lurkey and all their mates who were sure the sky was falling in! Someone else in the hospital queue said that this heat was a sign from the ancestors: a warning of something, although no one volunteered what. The dreaded word on everyone’s lips is ‘drought.’ Memories of hunger and starvation are still very fresh in our minds although the hunger in our recent past was caused more by political mis-governance and negligence than by weather.

This October is hotter than most people can ever remember. Many higher areas of the country which usually have milder climates have been recording minimum overnight temperatures of 27 degrees and midday temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius. Too hot to walk outside barefoot, in fact, too hot to be outside, let alone to be walking. In the drier lowveld areas temperatures have been hitting the high 40’s for a number of days. According to the Meteorology department, temperatures like this have not been recorded for almost fifty years, last seen in October 1962. Even sleeping in this heat is a problem, too hot even for a sheet. The nights are made considerably worse by clouds of whining, niggling mosquitoes desperate for just one little mouthful of blood.

Exacerbating our rising tempers in the searing heat has been the crisis with water. In urban areas in many towns and cities it has become normal to have no water for days at a time; you are very lucky if you have water for an hour or two a day and it is very unusual to have a continuous supply. Morning, noon and night people are trudging with water containers to the nearest stream, borehole or open well. Handpumps on boreholes sunk by NGO’s in many small towns and congested residential areas last year are always surrounded by people waiting for their turn to fill a container. Wheelbarrows, handcarts and even pick up trucks loaded with small containers and huge drums all join the water queue. They have now become such a familiar sight that no one gives them a second glance. Its hard to believe this is urban Zimbabwe in 2011.  In some parts of Harare where residents have gone for over three weeks without water, fights have broken out and people queue day and night at the handpumps.

Travelling to an eastern town this week, both the heat and the water shortages were common denominators. A shimmering mirage danced on the tarmac and I looked for something to take my mind off the heat. First I saw two oxen hitched to a cart standing under the shade of a tree. Beasts with huge curved horns their tails flicked incessantly at flies and they were accompanied by two young men. One lay flat on his back in the shade of the tree while the other did all the work. He was busy unloading dozens of empty blue plastic beet crates filled with empty brown beer bottles called Scuds. The beer crates were being piled up on the side of the highway, waiting to be collected and replaced with full ones by the brewery truck. On the road a steady stream of four wheel drive vehicles went past, watched by two oxen and their burden of beer bottles.

Minutes later another sight caught my eye and helped take my mind off the scorching heat. I saw four little Vervet Monekys running through the short burnt grass towards the road. Two scampered across the tar, the third hesitated before deciding on a very fast dash in front of my approaching vehicle. And the fourth, which I felt sure I was going to run over, turned a head over heels somersault right on the edge of the tar and sat staring at me, looking dazed and bemused; as surprised as I was that it had been able to stop in time.

What a land of contrasts! Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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57 <![CDATA[Scott free for torture]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Its been one of those weeks where we’ve been shaking our heads in disbelief all the time.  A week of ship captains, torturers, deported pensioners and watching TV in the dark.

First came the interview with Zanu PF’s Patrick Chinamasa by the Independent newspaper. Asked if the 87 year old  Mr Mugabe would be the party’s presidential candidate in the next election, Chinamasa said:  “We will put our best foot forward and President Mugabe is our best foot. We can’t change the captain in the midst of a storm.”

Then came two stories of Zimbabweans in exile which left us open-mouthed and wide eyed.  On the one hand is the 47 year old Zanu PF spy and torturer who has been given community service and granted asylum in the UK. On the other hand is an 88 year old woman who lost her farm to Zanu PF thugs, went to the UK to live with her daughter and has now been told she can’t stay in the country. 

When the UK Immigration Judge, David Archer said last year that there was no doubt that ex Zimbabwean CIO spy Philip Machemedze was “deeply involved in savage acts of extreme violence,” it seemed pretty obvious that the man would be deported from England. Machemedze had admitted to electrocuting, slapping, beating and punching a farmer; smashing someone’s jaw with pliers and putting salt into the wounds of a female MDC member who was being held in an underground cell. In the four years that he’d been a spy for Mr Mugabe’s government, Justice Archer said of Machemedze’s victims:  "Some were killed slowly and their bodies disposed of. He witnessed people with their limbs cut off. Other acts of torture were too gruesome to recount."

A few months later Philip Machemedze was granted asylum in the UK. A tribunal ruled that under European Human Rights law Machemedze’s life would be in danger if he was returned to Zimbabwe.  "Those rights are absolute and whatever crimes PM has committed, he cannot be returned to face the highly likely prospect of torture and execution without trial," the Judge ruled.

The reason this whole story has surfaced again is because Machemedze had been living and working illegally in the UK for seven years before he was found out. Finally charged for working illegally, Machemedze’s sentence has just been deferred for six months in exchange for half a day a week spent in service for the ‘poor and needy’ at a local Pentecostal Church. Making her ruling, Judge Julian Lambert said: “If I see you have done good work when you return and I have your promise that you will continue that good work I shall give you your liberty.” Punished with church service for working illegally but going scott free for torture. What about those ‘savage acts of extreme violence,’ and what about the human rights of his victims?

On the other hand is the story of the 88 year old Zimbabwean woman who has just been told she cannot stay in the UK. News reports say that Mrs Werrit went to live with her daughter and son in law in Kent eight years ago after her farm was taken over by supporters of Zanu PF who said they would cut her throat if she came back. The UK Border Agency said it had "fully considered" Ms Werrit's claims of persecution in Zimbabwe and "found she was not in need of international protection". Ironically Mrs Werrit, is just a few months older than President Mugabe but will come back to no health care, no pension and no government assistance for any of her needs.

Lastly, cause for head shaking came with a list of quotes in a local newspaper.  NewsDay’s  front page banner headline was: ‘Gaddafi’s bloody end,’ and inside came: ‘Some of Gaddafi’s craziest quotes.’  My favourites were: “Were it not for electricity we would have to watch television in the dark, ” and “A woman has the right to run for election whether she’s male or female.”

The end of Colonel Gaddafi sends a dramatic message to dictators who continue to fool themselves that their people love them. It’s a message that ends in a storm drain under the road. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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56 <![CDATA[That's my throne!]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

When the Archbishop of Canterbury came to Zimbabwe last week it gave us all a lift, regardless of our religious persuasions. Here was a man who had the courage to say it like it is, something we’ve been sadly starved of for the last two and a half years. Zimbabweans are frazzled, worn down and bone tired of the platitudes and diplomatic niceties that have come to characterise our once firebrand politicians. None of our leaders say it like it is anymore and that made the visit of the Archbishop even more refreshing. 

The Anglican Archbishop didn’t mince his words in a sermon he gave to the multiple thousands of people who had gathered at the City Sports Centre in Harare. To outsiders it may have seemed strange that Archbishop Rowan Williams was addressing Anglicans in a sports stadium rather than in the Cathedral. But he couldn’t because the previous, and ex-communicated Bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, has taken over the Harare Cathedral and 40 percent of other Anglican churches in the country. Kunonga is an open supporter of Zanu PF and has described President Mugabe as a “prophet from God.” Speaking to the press at the Harare Cathedral, Kunonga said that Archbishop Rowan Williams was no threat to him. Kunonga said: “I am in charge of the church, of all its properties. I am in the cathedral. That's my throne. He cannot come here.

 In the last few months Kunonga got a court ruling and started taking over church houses, schools, clinics and orphanages, evicting anyone who does not support his breakaway church. Harassed, intimidated, beaten, arrested and locked out of their churches, Anglicans have been hounded by Kunonga and his band of followers. They have taken to holding religious services in private homes, tents and even under trees. It is a truly humbling sight to witness this vast body of people turning the other cheek. 

In his sermon at the sports centre, the Archbishop’s references to events of the last decade were obvious. He  said: “God has given so many gifts to this land. It has the capacity to feed all its people and more. Its mineral wealth is great. But we have seen years in which the land has not been used to feed people and lies idle; and we have begun to see how this mineral wealth can become a curse…” Weaving his message into biblical references, Zimbabweans knew exactly who the Archbishop was talking about when he asked if we could hear the voice of the Creator saying: “ ‘Why will you turn my gifts into an excuse for bloodshed? Why will you not use what you have for the good of a community, not for private gain or political advantage?’ ”

The day after delivering his sermon, the Archbishop of Canterbury met President Mugabe and gave him a dossier detailing abuses being suffered by Anglicans in Zimbabwe. The Archbishop asked Mr Mugabe to guarantee the safety of worshippers and “put an end to illegal and unacceptable behaviour.

The Archbishop then went on a visit to Manicaland and described how he met Anglicans in the area : “They gathered at the roadside to meet us, they gathered in extremely smelly disused cinemas to meet us and in the middle of a field. …It's been hugely moving and I'm very glad I came."

This stoicism and continual turning of the other cheek in the face of violence, oppression and blatant theft has become the national character of Zimbabwe; it has become our middle name.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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55 <![CDATA[A single bolt of lightning]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Despite past records indicating that it was too early for rain and international long range forecasts predicting that rain was still some weeks away, the heavens opened over much of Zimbabwe this past week. It didn’t just drip or drizzle, but absolutely pounded down. Thunder and lightning came cavorting in on a high wind, the sky went deep purple, lit with an ominous orange glow, and then the hail rattled down. Small icy balls bounced on the baked ground, clattered on roofs and windows and knocked on doors. When the strange orange light in the clouds disappeared, hail was replaced by torrential rain. That first storm gave us 25 mm (one inch) of rain and in the next two days another 63 mm fell in my home town.

Months of choking dust and wind blown ash were washed from trees and roofs and everything looked instantly cleaner. You could almost see the trees and plants breathing again! The rain brought to life the ‘goodies,’ in the form of Kingfishers, Coucals and Flycatchers, and the ‘baddies’ in large numbers: water scorpions, rain spiders and a plague of very hungry mosquitoes.

The Met Department made an announcement on ZBC TV and Radio news bulletins. “This is NOT the start of the rainy season,” they said but no one paid them any attention. Three inches of rain led to an immediate flurry of ‘mealie madness.’ Everywhere you looked people were digging up roadsides, verges and empty spaces in order to plant a few rows of maize seeds. It’s all illegal cultivation in our urban areas but with authorities perpetually engaged in fighting for their own political survival, the enforcement of many laws remains non existent.

Not long after the first torrential storm I received a call from a family in a village 20 kilometres away. The rain hadn’t got to them but the lightning had. Without warning and from an almost clear sky came one single bolt of lightning. It struck the new, shiny tin roof on the extension to their house that they had finished building just a week before. Bricks fell off one of the newly plastered walls; a solar panel mounted on the roof shattered; wiring from the satellite dish started burning; electric cables leading into the house caught fire; a battery used to power lights and TV melted and smoke rose from the radio as internal circuits burnt out. In a split second their precious assets had been destroyed by a single lightning strike and the family were in deep shock, not quite able to believe that no one had been electrocuted.

As the shock receded, the reality of the loss sunk in. Without their satellite dish and battery powered electricity, the family had lost their ability to receive international news. They wouldn’t hear the horrific news that children playing football in the grounds of St Paul Secondary School in Lupane had just stumbled upon a mass grave. The ground had caved in at two points revealing human bones. The Minister of National Healing rushed to the scene and described a mass grave five metres wide and five metres long which is thought to contain between thirty and sixty bodies. Local villagers in the areas said these were victims of the Gukurahundi, a massacre to silence opposition, which was conducted in the early 1980’s by the army’s Fifth Brigade. A massacre which human rights organisations say claimed as many as twenty thousand lives, people whose bodies still remain in mass graves in Matabeleand and other areas.

Hard to believe that thirty years later this national tragedy has still not been dealt with. Perpetrators have not been held to account, victims have not been identified and families have been unable to find peace. The MDC National Healing Minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu said: “We must allow our people to tell the story as they saw and lived through it, followed by reburials which should come as a package of national healing.”

How much longer must Zimbabwe wait, is the question we all ask. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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54 <![CDATA[The whole story]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Taking a friend home to his rural village this week, my eyes were wide open to absorb sights that we once took for granted in Zimbabwe, before farming districts became ‘no-go areas.’ How sad it is that eleven years after they were violently taken over, our commercial farming areas have become largely wasteland. Lonely, derelict, desolate places where the overpowering image is mile after mile of nothing-ness. No fences, no farming activity, no production, and in most places, very few livestock and even fewer people.

Sitting on a small anthill, surrounded by blackened, burnt landscape was a young man with a whip in his hand. Four black and brown cattle were snuffling in the dust and ash nearby, searching for green shoots of grass. It was a very hot day, windless and bone dry with hazy mirages shimmering in the distance. The look on the face of the young man was that of utter boredom. Every now and again his hand came up and flicked at a fly on his face or he lazily swished the whip in the direction of the four cattle. Too old to be at school and one of the approximately 80 percent of people unemployed in Zimbabwe, the young man had become the cattle minder. He would only have been a little boy, perhaps nine years old, when this place was turned upside down. I wondered if he could remember the time when this farm had been bustling with life and productivity and employed scores of people. The irony of the young man and his four cattle in this particular location weighed heavy on my mind.

The anthill that the young man was lolling against is on land which used to be a prime dairy farm. Just a decade ago there were sturdy fences and lush green pastures where the young man was sitting. A few hundred fat, shiny black and white Holstein cows used to graze here, so heavy with milk that their udders nearly touched the ground. Every two or three days the milk tankers came, all year round, winter or summer, rain or shine. The fresh milk from this dairy farm was much sought after by everyone in the area, as was the thick, sweet cream it gave and the glossy yellow butter it made. The commonest sight in the early mornings and late afternoons was of people walking to the farm carrying containers, going to buy fresh milk, straight from the cow.

All that came to a stop when the Zimbabwean Ambassador to an eastern European country decided he was going to have that dairy farm. We could never understand why an Ambassador based in another country should be given a seized farm, or how he could be classed as a ‘land hungry peasant’ but common sense made no difference in the greedy political land grab.

My friend’s words interrupted my thoughts as we passed the now deserted dairy farm. “There is nowhere to get milk here anymore,” he said, commenting that he had two large packets of milk powder in his bag. Around the corner, on another seized commercial farm, the fences were all gone and a donkey cart lay abandoned in the dirt with a broken axle and only one wheel. The driveway leading to the farm house which had once been a wide clear road, was so under utilized that it was overgrown with grass and tree saplings and had become little more than a footpath.

Arriving at my friend’s village the contrast to the desolate overgrown farms was dramatic; everywhere people were visible and busy. They were re-thatching roofs before the rain, stacking bricks that had been made and fired during the winter, carrying piles of dark black manure from their cattle pens to the fields. Women were carrying water to their beds of tomatoes and cabbages and everyone was busy getting ready for rain and the new season.  

Later that day I sat reading a book I had bought recently, called “If Something is Wrong.” Published by the Agricultural Workers Union (GAPWUZ), the book presents eye witness accounts of Zimbabwe’s farm seizures as told by the farm workers. It is a seldom heard side to the land reform story which makes for compelling, painful reading. First hand accounts from men and women who had no voice during the land seizures. Men and women who met every criteria for receiving the land that was being seized. But they did not; instead their lives, homes and families were utterly ravaged by greedy, violent thugs doing the bidding of their political masters. Perhaps one day the young man leaning on an anthill watching four cows will hear the whole story.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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53 <![CDATA[The good, the bad and the downright ugly]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The good, the bad and the ugly is a very apt description of life in Zimbabwe this week. The good has come in the form of the fast approaching rainy season. Temperatures have soared over the last few days and the first rain clouds have started to gather on the horizon. Heaven in the garden has come from standing under the drooping, dripping mulberry tree and feasting on ripe, sweet purple berries. Purple fingers, lips and tongue; angry, impatient birds cursing from overhead! A rare treat came for me with the appearance of a carmine bee eater sitting on the electricity lines over my house. Carmines are usually associated with hot lowveld river valleys where they build nests in big colonies, burrowing into sand cliffs and river banks. At first I thought this Carmine Bee-eater must be lost but then I saw another one, and then another two. For a couple of hours they stayed around before swooping high into an invisible current of wind and disappearing. The final treat of the week came with the sound of running feet on the roof just after dark. Not human feet but those of the Night Ape as it headed towards an avocado tree for an early appetizer before starting its nocturnal rounds.

In between the ‘good’ and the bad came the absurd, just to bring us down to earth. First came the story of the four men apprehended by police in Harare. The police forgot to handcuff their captives and then left them unattended in a police car whose engine was running, while they chased after another suspect. The four suspects put the car in gear and drove away, chased by the Police in a second car which proceeded to run out of fuel before the men could be re-arrested. The Herald newspaper described the escape as “the conclusion of an otherwise highly-successful police operation.”

 

Second came the report that Air Zimbabwe, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, had just received yet another emergency cash injection from the government. The 2.8 million US dollar bail out had finally managed to break the airline’s two month long strike. On one of their first resumed flights, from Victoria Falls to Harare, there was only one passenger on board an aircraft which seats 60 people. Talk about a good way to make a return on government money!

The ‘bad’ this week came with the interception by riot police of women in Bulawayo marching to commemorate the International Day of Peace. The women were singing songs about national healing and  handing out flowers and leaflets when an estimated 50 riot police moved in on them. Eyewitnesses described riot police chasing and beating the unarmed protestors with baton sticks causing a number of injuries and many being taken to hospital. Twelve of the women were arrested, including WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu.

The downright ‘ugly’ this week came with more reports of Zanu PF youths taking over council properties, car parks, markets, bus and taxi ranks in Harare where they are intimidating people, extorting bribes and using violence against people who report them to the police.  Unbelievably the co Home Affairs Minister, Theresa Makone, whose ministry is in charge of the Police, was quoted in the press as saying there was chaos. She said: there is nothing I can do to stop their invasions.”

This is hardly the picture of law and order that Zimbabwe so desperately needs in the turbulent months leading to another election and hardly the image to attract tourists and investors. Until next week, thanks for reading, love Cathy

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52 <![CDATA[Lies and spies]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

We are neck deep in Wikileaks cables and the high tide is still flooding in. Every day the leaked diplomatic cables are providing evidence that nothing is as it seems in Zimbabwe. The cables have exposed lies and spies, hypocrisy and duplicity, and double standards of monumental proportions. The nation is holding its breath as we wait to find out the fate of the most senior figures in the country who have betrayed their leaders. The secret whisperings made to American diplomats in Harare have left few big names unscathed.

Predictably, the state controlled ZBC TV are largely ignoring the leaked cables which expose any criticism of Zanu PF’s leadership but the independent press are overflowing with the stories and newspapers are flying off the streets. In the past week the headlines have told the story in all its gory, backstabbing and treachery.

“D Day for Zanu PF spies,” said News Day on Monday, describing officials who support President Mugabe during the day and decampaign him at night. Beneath the headline were the photographs of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono, the two vice Presidents and Jonathan Moyo.

“Dead Men Walking” was the classic headline of the Daily News mid week, with pictures covering their front page of all the ‘sellouts” who wanted President Mugabe out of power. Pictures were of senior figures within Zanu PF including Indigenisation Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Vice Presidents Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo. Politburo member Jonathan Moyo was there too, described as the ‘serial flip flopper’ due to his continual mind changing about which political party he supports. Moyo then went on to launch a one hundred thousand US dollar lawsuit against the Daily News for their reporting of the Wikileaks cables which exposed his indiscretions.

“Zim politics enters injury time,” was the headline of News Day’s mid week editorial, with the subtitle: “with friends like these who needs enemies.” The Editor spoke of betrayal and treachery within Zanu PF which had made friends more dangerous than enemies. Editor Brian Mangwende ended his piece with an old Arabic saying: “Better a thousand enemies outside the house, than one inside”

“Army Commanders Face Court Martial.” was the top story in The Zimbabwe Independent this week. You could almost hear the national intake of break with the release of the Wikileaks cable concerning the two senior army officials who had criticized their boss, General Constantine Chiwenga. The two, a Major General and a Brigadier General had described Chiwenga as a “political general” with “little practical military experience or expertise”. The whispers started coming in fast and furious, they speak of traitors, investigations and even court martial.

“Forked Tongues,” was the headline of the editorial comment in The Zimbabwean, the article ending with the words: “Only one thing is certain – what has been whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.”

It remains to be seen what action will be taken against the top Zanu PF leaders who have betrayed their supreme leader. But one thing that has become dramatically clear is the coming of age of Zimbabwe’s independent press. They have done us proud in what is a notoriously oppressive and dangerous profession in the country.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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51 <![CDATA[Lost in smoke and haze]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s that time of year when fires are burning on every horizon, leaving us shrouded in a blanket of smoke almost every day. Bright blue summer skies are permanently smudged with grey, white and yellow smoke and the wind is heavy with dust and ash. Fires are out of control again this year, mostly because there are no longer clear boundaries between all the seized commercial farms and nothing to stop the fires once they start. There are almost no visible fire breaks and even fewer genuine farmers with the will or the inclination to put the fires out once they start. As a result the smallest fire is picked up by the wind and travels scores of kilometres through the dry bush, destroying everything in their path.

On a brief visit to the east of the country this week, the view from the road provided a graphic picture of life in Zimbabwe, leaving you feeling as if you had gone back decades in time. A man and woman waited outside a bottle store in a dusty clearing, holding a length of rope made from tree bark at the end of which was tied a very large pig. Two young men were walking along the edge of the tar road, leading a goat on a length of frayed black raffia string.

Across a newly burnt field a barefoot old woman, wearing a long black dress, was walking through the smoke. A little puff of ash and dust rose at every footstep, her voice carried on the wind as she shouted in conversation with a young woman she passed. This young woman, also barefoot, carried a baby on her back, wrapped in a pink towel, had a toddler at her feet and a basket filled with pots and enamel bowls on her head. Women in blue and white dresses and head scarves walked in pairs on the roadside, heading to a church meeting, their eyes streaming from the inescapable smoke and dust. A little further on a young teenage boy struggled to control the wheelbarrow he was pushing, running to keep up with it as it took on a life of its own down a very steep hill. All around him the tops of the surrounding mountains were invisible, bathed in smoke. The Msasa trees covered in new spring foliage, were also suffocating, their splendour and colour lost in smoke and haze.

A green bus roared past at tremendous speed, rattling and shaking, part of its back fender hanging off, with the words: ‘God Answers,’ written in big letters above the front windscreen. From the other direction came two minibuses, both clearly overloaded and travelling way over the speed limit. One had the words: “Smooth Operator” painted on its front, the other bore the legend: “Check Yo Time.”

Fires were burning on both sides of the road providing a feasting frenzy for black fork-tailed Drongoes which swooped and dived into the flames to catch fleeing grasshoppers. Locusts and beetles flew blindly from the fire, straight into the mouths of birds or pinging and cracking as they hit car windscreens. A slender mongoose ran across the road, from one smoky side to the other, its black tipped tail held high above its sleek burgundy body.

Along a stretch of road passing through communal farms, as opposed to seized commercial farms, the scene was much more orderly. Piles of dry and combed thatching grass was stacked high off the ground on racks. Dry maize leaves and stalks, called mashanga, had been gathered from the fields and was also stacked safely on racks well off the ground. This was the precious food for their cattle and goats, the means to support the animals until the rains bring new green grass in two months time. So far the villagers have managed to save the grazing around them from fires and their cattle and goats have still got full bellies. These rural villagers with their seven acre plots continue to put the fat cats and political land grabbers on the seized commercial farmers to shame. How different things could have been for the country if farm land had been given to farmers and people who knew what to do with it.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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50 <![CDATA[A hundred and twenty years]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Doing a favour for a couple who were leaving the country, a friend and I went to collect a crate of books from their rapidly emptying home. It was a very heavy, slatted plank, wooden crate and contained perhaps fifty books. The books had belonged to the man’s grandfather, Donald Moody, who came to the country in an ox drawn wagon in 1892. He was part of a group of farmers and their families who came from South Africa in what was known as ‘Moodie’s Trek.’ The books were being donated to a small museum in eastern Zimbabwe and were all over a hundred years old. Most of the books were dated around 1910 but some were older, with one published in 1894 and another in 1898. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was there, alongside Charles Dickens, Milton and Faust. The books of poetry and classics provided a unique insight into the type of people who had been on the Moodie Trek a hundred and twenty years ago. Were they all the brutal ruffians, racists and rogues that our children are taught about in Zimbabwe’s classrooms today, or were they, like so many others in our history, tarred with the same brush that marked a few bad characters?

At the top of the crate of books was a photograph album and I couldn’t resist the urge to have a look inside. Carefully I turned a few of the thick, heavy pages and was instantly taken back to the life lived here a century ago. Many of the handwritten captions under the pictures were no longer legible and many of the photographs were similarly faded beyond recognition. Some had survived the ravages of time and weather: a group of men, oxen and wagons preparing for a river crossing; a child sitting on the dusty ground wearing a bonnet; women grinding corn; men carrying spears; the earliest residence of a government official, dated 1915, and a hippopotamus breaking the surface in a wide stretch of river in Inyanga.

As the sun began to move towards the horizon, the electricity went off and it was too dark to see the images in the hundred year old photographs.  I looked through the newspapers of the day instead. It was a strange feeling to have records from 1910 in one hand and newspapers of 2011 in the other. Here was the story of a hundred years of the country right in front of me, a unique encounter.

By a strange quirk of coincidence I came a across a full page declaration in one of the newspapers inserted by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe.  It was headed: ‘Statement on the Abuse of the National History Curriculum,’ and was a forthright and damning expose of what is going on in Zimbabwe’s classrooms.  The teachers described how politicians in power have corrupted the history curriculum to suit their own ends. The statement said politicians have done this to: “peddle their ideology and to brain wash innocent learners.” The statement said that teachers working in politically volatile areas of the country have “stopped teaching components of the history syllabus for fear of being attacked.”

The closing paragraph of the statement by the teachers’ union read: “We call upon the nation to join teachers in condemning such efforts to convert our children into creatures endowed with political hatred…. We implore parents to ‘unteach’ what has been or is likely to be ‘mistaught’ about the history of this country.”

The statement by the teachers union in 2011 is as much a part of our history as the Moodie Trek a hundred and twenty years ago. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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49 <![CDATA[Pay more for less]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

There’s nothing that can put Zimbabweans into a bad mood quicker than no water or no electricity. Put the two together and you can almost see people’s blood pressure rising. A collapse of the national electricity grid on Wednesday plunged most of the country into the dark. That night the clatter of generators rang out from every direction; the noise was deafening and the air vibrated! ZBC TV ran a crawl line on the screen during the main evening news bulletin calling for people to switch off their geysers and lights to save electricity. What electricity, we all shouted, as we watched battery powered TV’s, because there was no electricity to save.

Ironically the national black out came in the same week that the protest group WOZA delivered 101,000 petition signatures to parliament In Harare for presentation to the Anti Corruption and Monopolies Committee due to sit during the week. WOZA’s ‘anti abuse of power’ petition has long been calling for reduced electricity charges and for a pre-paid metering system to be introduced.

In my home town, calls to the local electricity supply office resulted in a variety of reasons for what very rapidly degenerated into rolling 18 hour a day power cuts. We were told that the hydro electricity generators at Kariba Dam were being maintained, then that the thermal units at Hwange weren’t working and finally, the clearest of all reasons given was that there just wasn’t enough electricity in the country. An article in the press later in the week quoted a Zesa spokesman as saying there was “an unstable grid, resulting in the disconnection of inter connectors.’ The article spoke about a two hour national blackout but in many places it seems the inter connectors are still disconnected because we are still in the dark!

In my home town the power cut continued for the next three days. Lights flickered on between 11pm and midnight and went off again a few hours later, long before sunrise. If you are lucky it flicks on for an hour or two in the afternoon but don’t bank on it! Coping with five hours of electricity a day, and then only in the middle of the night, is gruelling. We had got used to this a couple of years ago when daily extended power cuts were the norm but it comes as a shocker this time round when many of us are woefully unprepared.

You can hardly hear yourself think, let alone hold a conversation with anyone as you walk around town, negotiating the smoking, roaring generators that clutter the pavements. Everywhere except the government buildings that is, where the norm is, as always, no change. Outside the passport office people are ordered to queue on the other side of the road providing a deadly hazard for drivers when suddenly a score or more surge across the road, running to be allowed in the gate in small batches. At the Post Office where civil servants and pensioners get their monthly payments, it is utter mayhem which is embarrassing and shameful to witness. With nowhere to sit or shelter, hundreds crowd the car park, pavements and road, standing for hours at a time in the full sun waiting to get their meagre salaries or even more meagre pensions. Payments seem to be dependent on electricity to power computers and people wait without apology or explanation from officials within.  

To all this mayhem add no water. No electricity means no water can be pumped and for three days my home town has been bone dry. Not a drop in any tap, sink or toilet. Everywhere we go we apologise to people for smelling and at every stream and shallow well, crowds of women scoop water out into containers to carry home.  A borehole has been sunk in the town’s green, a small park which used to have pretty gardens, lawns and benches. Now lines of people wait their turn to get to the hand pump and draw a few litres of water to carry home. The lawns have turned to dust and the plastic water containers are piled up where once the flower beds were. When you have to physically carry every litre of water that you need, everything takes on a very different perspective.

Hard to believe that life is still like this, two and a half years into our so called unity government. Even harder to explain to outsiders who say: but everything’s OK in Zimbabwe now isn’t it? Far from it and after a bad week it seemed inevitable that something daft would happen and it did, on Friday. An announcement came from Zesa – the electricity supplier with no electricity to supply. They said that tariffs are to increase by 31% from the 1st of September. Pay more for less must be their new slogan. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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48 <![CDATA[Fire engine with no water]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe was rocked to the core this week by the death of the Commander of the Defence Forces, retired General Solomon Mujuru, in a fire at a farm in Beatrice. General Mujuru’s body was burnt beyond recognition in the early hours of Tuesday 16th August 2011. General Mujuru was the husband of Zimbabwe’s Vice President Joice Mujuru.

Everything about the fire at Alamein farm has left Zimbabweans whispering and suspicious. The morning after the fire a journalist who arrived early on the scene said the fire brigade had been called but didn’t arrive for some hours and when it did get there, had no water. The journalist said the borehole also wasn’t working and water was being pumped into a bowser from a dam 3 kilometres away. A radio communication system on the farm was apparently out of order and the three policemen stationed just 50 metres from the house were not aware of the fire until the blaze was so intense that asbestos roof sheets began exploding and shattering. One newspaper reported that guards at the farm did not have air time for their cell phones to call for help; another newspaper said that that farm workers had used their mobile phones to contact Vice President, Mrs Mujuru and summon the fire brigade.

No one can understand why General Mujuru, who was a big, strong man, was not able to escape from the inferno as there were numerous doors and windows, none of which had burglar bars.

The Beatrice farm, Alamein, was taken over by General Mujuru who evicted the owner, Guy Watson Smith in 2001. Given just an hour’s notice to vacate his home and farm, Guy Watson Smith said he left with just a suitcase, forced to abandon his life’s work and assets. Guy Watson Smith told the press this week that he has spent the last ten years trying, through the High Court of Zimbabwe, to get payment for his assets that were seized. These included: 460 breeding cows; tractors, irrigation equipment, fertilizer, diesel; coal and vehicles which were valued in the region of two million US dollars. Asked about the flammability of his house on Alamein Farm this week, Mr Watson Smith said it was built of brick and cement with asbestos roofing which made it, in his words, ‘fireproof.’ Mr Watson Smith said: “there were more doors and windows than holes in a colander. Our main bedroom alone had 3 doors out of it and 4 double windows. How do you get trapped inside that?”

The banner headline on the front of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper at the end of the week summed up the feeling prevailing everywhere: “Mujuru allies cry ‘murder most foul’.”

As I write this letter, General Mujuru is being laid to rest at Heroes Acre in Harare. There are more people gathered than I can ever remember seeing there. The stands and grounds are overflowing; people are seated under, around and in the branches of the surrounding Musasa trees whose leaves are red and orange in an early spring flush. The MC at the funeral is Kembo Mohadi and his words perhaps explain far better than I can, the current sentiment in the country. He said: “Before I call on His Excellency President Mugabe to speak may I implore you all to exercise maximum discipline.”

The death of General Mujuru breaches a wall already straining at the seams and we wait to see which way now for the faction fighting within Zanu PF in the succession war and which way now for Zimbabwe.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy

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47 <![CDATA[The Emperor's Cloak]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

A few minutes after starting this letter, I kept hearing the sound of something hard hitting my roof. At first I thought it was one of the little tree squirrels that have taken up residence on my roof this winter. When the days became shorter and colder one squirrel arrived and settled in. Every morning, soon after the sun touched the roof, the little Tsindi set off on its rounds. Leaping from the roof onto low hanging branches of an Avocado Pear tree, scampering along the wall and running nimbly along lichen covered Msasa branches. This was the morning patrol: the squirrel inspecting its territory. Throughout the day the squirrel was busy, running backwards and forwards, chasing off a challenger and then courting a female. Clicking, chattering and chirruping, they chased each other over the roof and it wasn’t long before they were carrying leaves to a nest they built under a protected overhang near a gutter. Inevitably the squirrels grew bolder as the days passed: sunbathing on the roof, fiddling around on the lawn, a bushy tail flicking seductively at my exasperated dogs who stood quivering below. The dogs were taunted to distraction until this week one little squirrel met its end. Another one remains, and probably babies too, but the frenzy overhead is distinctly muted so I knew that wasn’t the cause of the noise on my roof.

After one distinct crack on my roof which was just too close for comfort, I went outside to investigate and soon spotted the young teenage boy. Perhaps thirteen or fourteen years old he had a catapult in his hand. His weapon was home-made: a forked stick, a strip of bicycle inner tubing and a pocketful of stones. I called out to him immediately to stop throwing stones.

Instead of getting the expected reaction of giggling and running away, the youngster stared straight at me, a look of arrogance and defiance in his eyes. Perhaps he’d been watching the English kids looting, I thought. Pointedly he put a stone in the catapult, lifted his arm and aimed.

‘No!’ I shouted, pointing a finger at him.

The youngster stared at me for a few long seconds, before dropping his gaze and walking away.

After watching the horrific looting, burning and rampaging of youngsters in England, it has been very hard not to compare their behaviour to that we have regularly seen in Zimbabwe in recent years. Here they call it political and the perpetrators get away it but behind that Emperors cloak it is plain and simple criminality and everyone knows it. It doesn’t matter where it is happening, who the victims are or why; the adjectives and emotions are the same: selfish, senseless, barbaric.

For the first time in eleven years we got a taste of how it must have felt for our family and friends outside the country. To watch from afar and to feel so helpless. Our hearts go out to people who have had their property destroyed and burnt, their assets looted and their homes lost. We know how you feel, we empathise and hope that justice and compensation will be swift.

For eleven years we’ve been waiting for justice and compensation but they have not come and it continues to be a festering wound in our nation. As a country we cannot heal while people who looted, raped, tortured, murdered and burnt still walk free amongst us. We know who they are, what they look like and even where they live but the Police say ‘it is political’ and they do nothing. How different Zimbabwe could be if the perpetrators of crimes were held accountable and punished for their actions. And so, while the squirrels scamper overhead and winter draws to an end, we watch, we wait and always we hope. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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46 <![CDATA[For Howard]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

I am writing this letter in recognition of the life of a young man.

I first met him when he was just a few months old. Warm and safe he was snuggled up against his mother’s back, held tightly in place with a warm, bright wrap. He didn’t wake up when I stroked his fat little cheek, but his mother glowed with pride. The next time I saw the baby he was a chubby little toddler, perhaps nineteen months old. Giggling and chuckling he was into everything and trustingly took my hand when I held it out to him, his sticky little fingers dwarfed in mine

Then came those glorious years before life gets serious, before school and learning starts and when the world is a child’s playground. How clearly I remember the adventures that little boy and his friends had. Riding in the back of the truck when we went to put food out for sheep and cattle; jogging around in the back of the ox drawn cart when we were bringing poles and firewood back from the timber plantations; catching tadpoles and crabs in the shallow water of the stream; running with leafy sticks herding cattle from one paddock to another. The treat of the day was a sweet, sticky bun and a frozen cold drink to suck noisily from a plastic tube. Lying on the carpet watching cartoons on TV, playing with dinky cars in the sand, digging tunnels and climbing trees.

Then came school and it wasn’t easy. Conditions were tough, education was primitive, equipment and facilities almost non existent. Throughout the boy’s school years I followed his progress, helping his parents with school uniforms, shoes, books, pens, pencils and crayons and the never ending school fees. Later came sports kit, exam fees and more pens, books and calculators and then he was a teenager.

I last saw the young man about five months ago. He strode up to greet me, his eyes shining and face beaming in smiles. His huge hand shook mine, my fingers dwarfed in his. His mother watched the meeting, her face glowing with pride, just as it had when she first showed me her baby nineteen years ago. The young man and I laughed and chatted and the pride of his parents was palpable. We parted on such happy terms, smiling and waving; a picture that will stay in mind always.

On a cool and still evening this week, I stood outside looking out over the African bush. The sun had gone and a bronze glow lay on the horizon. A bat flitted in and out of sight, catching invisible insects. A call came on my cell phone and tears ran down my face as I listened to the tragic news of the violent end that had come to the young man. In the background I could hear the mourners gathering: singing, clapping, drumming, wailing

This letter is for Howard, in recognition and memory. May his soul rest in peace. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 

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45 <![CDATA[Miss Muffet]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

This week I asked a friend who had returned to the country after living in the diaspora for a couple of years if she was still glad to be home. She replied: “I have had absolutely no regrets about returning to Zimbabwe, it’s the best thing I have done for a long time (though I am sure that not everyone thinks that!)” 

I first met Meryl Harrison six years ago, just when she was preparing to leave Zimbabwe. Meryl had risked her life time and time again rescuing the thousands of animals stranded on invaded farms and stuck in the middle of Zimbabwe’s mayhem. Meryl’s courage and bravery then put most of us to shame and we watched in awe at what one totally determined and dedicated woman could achieve.

Leaving Zimbabwe wasn’t what Meryl wanted to do but was something that a quarter of our population had to do, for all sorts of reasons, as the country collapsed into economic and political mayhem. Coming back to Zimbabwe is a huge decision but for Meryl it was right as it gave her back the ability to really make a difference.

Meryl told me this week about a dog called Miss Muffet, the reason her return to Zimbabwe might not be such a popular move.

Miss Muffet was a three month old Labrador puppy, axed to death one night in late February. She was one of three dogs sleeping in the garage of a house in Penhalonga during an invasion of the farm by a mob of 21. Sleeping alongside Miss Muffet at the time were a female Rottweiler which was stabbed in the spine, and a male Labrador which was axed three times in the head by the invaders.

Meryl got involved in her capacity with a private animal welfare organization (VAWZ) and she was determined to see justice. Thanks to swift action and skilled expertise of a vet in Mutare, the Rottweiler and adult Labrador were saved. Tragically for Miss Muffet, it was too late for intervention.

From that point on everything about this familiar and tragic story was different.

Meryl described how the Police in Penhalonga acted very swiftly and arrested the invaders. They said the accused were to be charged with Public Violence but Meryl and her colleagues weren’t satisfied. A long meeting followed and it was eventually agreed that the accused would also be charged under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

Then followed eight court appearances, four subpoenas and hundreds of kilometres of travelling between Harare and Mutare. In the VAWZ docket for the court, Meryl included a photograph of a 3 month old Labrador puppy. She told me she did this: “so that the Magistrate could see that the puppy would have been absolutely no threat to anyone - at that age, they think the whole world is their friend!”

The case finally went to trial a couple of weeks ago and nine of the twenty accused, who were the main perpetrators of the attack on the dogs, pleaded guilty. In mitigation the accused apologized for killing the puppy and offered to replace it. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison, 1 year of which was suspended and the remaining 6 months made up of each being given 140 hours of community service.

For Meryl, seeing justice being done for Miss Muffet, a Rottweiler and a Labrador makes all the effort, frustration and grit worthwhile. There are many people, like Meryl, and many organisations, like VAWZ, working tirelessly out of the spotlight, to bring Zimbabwe back from darkness. In them is our hope. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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44 <![CDATA[Fermenting carpets]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

The view from Zimbabwe’s window is gorgeous at the moment. The bush is gold and bronze and many of the deciduous trees have started shaking off their dusty old leaves as they prepare for a new season. Spectacular sunbirds give flashes of crimson and emerald as they flick in and out of the flowering aloes and succulents which have given us a spectacular show this winter. It’s always such a treat to see the vast range of delicate pink and purple bells, bright yellow spikes and blazing orange and red flowers emerging from these thorny, prickly plants.   

The Paperbark Acacia trees are crowded with pods at the moment and it takes just a glimpse to transport me back to the time before farm invasions, war veterans and greedy, ugly politics ravaged our country. A time just eleven years ago when Zimbabwe was prosperous, peaceful and so very productive. The pods on the Acacia trees remind me of the time when my then young son and I would gather them up by the sack load around our farm; lay them in the sun to dry and then mix them in with the winter feed for the sheep and cattle.

Another sight that always brings back memories is a huge Fig tree growing on the roadside of a main highway. The trunk and branches are covered in thick clusters of figs. They are green and clinging on at the moment but in the next few weeks will turn orange and red and start covering the ground in heady, fermenting carpets. This too reminds me of winter afternoons on the farm. Followed by a straggle of dusty, barefoot kids we would go out to collect wild figs and fill bags with the intoxicating sticky fruits. The kids, of course, would soon get bored and scamper off with home made bows and arrows, reluctantly emerging when it was time to head home. The figs were another natural bounty to add to the winter feed mixture, relished by all the livestock. The gathering of the fruits was a task not without hazards as the figs were always smothered in ants.

Happy memories were banished when suddenly a line of vehicles stopped on the road ahead bought me back to the present. It’s yet another police roadblock and this time they are obviously looking for something as everyone is being stopped. Three or four police stand in the highway questioning drivers while a few metres off the road other police stand, rifles in their hands and hanging from their shoulders. After a cursory glance at the drivers licence, the policeman asks:

‘Any firearms on you?’

No, was the answer.

‘What about behind the seat? Any weapons there?’

Again: no.  

‘In the glove compartment?’ the policeman asks, indicating that it must be opened so he can look inside.

Cars have to open their boots and covered freight is looked at. You don’t ask what’s going on, just quietly, unquestioningly, comply.

For a moment a conversation from a few years ago suddenly came into my mind. I met a woman who had returned to Zimbabwe for a visit. She had left the country in the mid 2000’s when political violence was raging. She had gone to New Zealand and when I asked her if she had any regrets, she said the best thing was that her children had learnt to trust police and not be scared of them. I fear Zimbabwe is still a very long way away from that.

I end this week with a message of condolence for people in Norway engulfed in the horror of bombs in Oslo and mass murder in Utoya. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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43 <![CDATA[Three legged pot]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

You can get very dizzy trying to follow Zimbabwe’s progress towards the next election. This week provided a prime example of our endlessly spinning circles. Just when it looked as if everyone including SADC, Zanu PF and the MDC had come to an agreement about an election being held in the second half of 2012, Zanu PF held a politburo meeting in Harare. Behaving as they have for the past 31 years and ignoring the fact that they are in a coalition government, they made a decision for the whole country. Wide eyed and open mouthed we listened with disbelief to the news headlines mid week. Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo emerged from the politburo meeting and said:

"The politburo is unanimous that elections should be held this year." 

‘Gobsmacked’ is a pretty good description of how we reacted to Gumbo’s ‘unanimous’ announcement. Political Science lecturer John Makumbe put his finger on it for anyone who might be confused:

“They are clearly living in the past and are refusing to realise that they are no longer the ruling party. Now there is an inclusive government and they are part of a three-legged pot, so it’s no longer the politburo which runs the country.”

Not to be deterred, the best was yet to come. Speaking to the Zanu PF Central Committee a couple of days later, Mr Mugabe said: "Having joined government and tasted the warm sweetness of power, the MDC formations no longer want elections. They want elections suspended indefinitely and their governorship extended to infinite." Coming from someone in power for 31 years that was rich!

As absurd as all the rhetoric and politburo’s unilateral decisions are, events on the ground are already telling the real story of what’s going on in Zimbabwe.

Later in the week, chatting with a man who lives in a rural village, a lot of things started to make sense. Whether elections are held in 2011 or 2012, Zanu PF are readying their game plan. The man described how their quiet lives were being repeatedly disrupted by groups of Zanu PF youths.  It started a couple of weeks ago when Zanu PF officials arrived and all the residents in the village were called to attend a meeting. Democracy doesn’t work at this level: attendance at the meeting was compulsory in that the names of who was present and who was absent were written down. The intimidation has begun. At the meeting it was the same old same old: the same tired slogans and chants; the same clenched fists, the same rhetoric, the same demand: vote for Zanu PF. Nothing new to offer their voters then! 

A fortnight later they were back.  Without warning ten Zanu PF youths arrived, split up into three groups and went door to door, house to house through the village. They called people to come out and said they knew who the MDC sympathisers and supporters were; they said they were writing names down.

“You know what will happen to you if you vote MDC again,’ they said.

And all this when an election is probably still a year away. We shudder to think what lies ahead for Zimbabwe, particularly for the most vulnerable people in remote rural villages. Only one thing will be different this time round and that is the floodtide of technology.  From bustling urban to remote rural, almost everyone’s got a mobile phone now so the news of every threatening visitation spreads like wildfire in the pinging of thousands of text messages. Bravo Econet, you are the fourth vital ingredient in the three legged black pot! Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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42 <![CDATA[Seven degrees]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Winter crept in under the door this week, just when we thought it had
forgotten us. In twenty four hours the day time temperature plummeted from
the mid twenties to a bitter seven degrees Celsius and Zimbabwe shivered. As
the mist and wind swept in and swallowed my neighbourhood, the electricity
went off and plunged us into the cold and dark.

In my home town the electricity supplier, ZESA, said it was load shedding
when we phoned, even when we told them it was a fault. The problem was a
main overhead power cable which had woken the whole neighbourhood when it
broke at around five in the morning. Crackling, banging, flaring and
sparking, the cable had snapped in two places and then fell along and across
a small suburban road. It took a telephone cable down with it and finally
came to a rest on a neighbour's steel gate. What a mess it was and extremely
dangerous. After repeated calls to ZESA telling them there was a live cable
lying on a man's gate and along a few hundred metres of suburban road, they
finally arrived three hours later, at 8.30 in the morning. By lunch time the
cable was still lying across the tar road and ZESA had left a team of tree
cutters to remove branches that were touching the overhead cables. The usual
absurd and extremely frustrating conversation between residents and ZESA
workers wasn't long in coming.

'Why don't you come any do any maintenance on these lines anymore," we
asked.

'Aaah, we don't have money,' was the reply.

'But if you came and trimmed the trees every year, like you used to, the
cables wouldn't get weakened and break and it wouldn't lead to such
expensive repairs.'

There was no reply. It's been at least six years since ZESA have gone around
my neighbourhood clearing vegetation and brush from around their poles and
transformers or trimmed tree branches growing too close to the lines.
Someone pointed to the shoulder high dry grass and scrubby bush growing
right up to the ZESA switching box. Last year a bush fire in exactly this
spot had caused an explosion in the box, the melted green paint proof of the
near tragedy that we had all rushed to avert, extinguishing flames with
branches and sacks.

Just a few metres away the branches of a large eucalyptus tree blowing and
swaying in between the overhead power cables were easily visible.

'While you've got the workers and the ladders here, will you at least trim
the eucalyptus branches,' we asked.  

'Another time,' came the reply. It's exactly the same response they gave us
when we made the same request about the same tree a year ago.

That response was about as comforting as the mid year statement made by the
Chairman of the Zimbabwe Power Company a few days ago. Mr Maasdorp said :
"the only way to compensate for a sub-economic tariff is to cut back on
maintenance and ongoing refurbishment. This is clearly not sustainable and
if the situation is not addressed urgently, the lights you have from time to
time today will go out tomorrow!"

Not mentioned in the Chairman's public mid year statement was the recent
report in The Zimbabwean newspaper that farmers on seized farms owed ZESA
eighty million US dollars in unpaid bills and wanted government to give them
more financial support. While they're at it, I'm sure a couple of million
urban residents won't mind government paying their electricity bills either!

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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41 <![CDATA[This is home]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Coming back to Zimbabwe after a month away is a huge shock to the system.  Conditions in our third world country can probably best be described as surreal, and that’s being polite! The strangeness of the experience starts before you even set foot in the country. Sitting in an international airport looking down the list of departures for destinations all over Africa, your eyes are drawn to the word ‘cancelled’ and your heart goes into your mouth. You look back across the line and are not surprised to see that it’s Air Zimbabwe flights that are cancelled. Our national airline is still on its knees, a litany of excuses continuing to humiliate us with the word ‘cancelled’ on airport departure boards around the world. It could be any number of reasons today: unpaid fuel bills, unpaid staff, striking air crew.

Arriving at Harare International Airport, the contrast with the service you’ve just left behind in the first world is dramatic. Bored  surly and unwelcoming Immigration Officials do not greet you or smile at you; they scowl as they thumb through your passport leaving you feeling as if you should turn round and go away again. In the ladies toilets only one of the door latches on the row of stalls closes; there is no soap in the dispenser and a huge plastic barrel of water stands in the corner, uncovered and exposed to a myriad of germs.

Encountering two police roadblocks in the first ten kilometres from the airport is the surest sign that you are back in Zimbabwe. What do they want? What are they looking for at their incessant roadblocks? It takes just a few minutes to be reminded that these officials have perfected the art of making everyone feel as if they are a criminal. With pity you look at the crowd of commuter omnibuses that are inevitably pulled over at every roadblock. Their passengers tired, thirsty and frustrated as time and again the vehicles are stopped by the police and the drivers have to hand over money.

Out of the long grass on the roadside four school children wearing bright purple uniforms and white shirts emerge. They look to be eight or nine year olds and on their backs they wear little school satchels but this is not their only load to bear. Each child carries a large bundle of sticks and branches balanced on their heads: firewood for their Mum’s to cook supper with. Wood for the fire which will be their buffer against the freezing winter nights and provide the flickering light by which they will do their homework.

After iPods and iPads, trains, buses and aeroplanes, computers, laptops and broadband – this contrast is so dramatic that it leaves you wide- eyed and deeply shocked at just how far behind the world Zimbabwe has fallen.

Arriving home the potholes and gullies on the suburban roads are deeper than ever and there is no water and no electricity in the house. An African Hoopoe stabs the browning grass for the last insects of the day, calling its mate again and again: “Whoop–whoop, whoop-whoop.” The sun turns blood red as it sinks into the dust smothered horizon and for a moment the absurdity and abnormality is banished, because this is home.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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40 <![CDATA["Too gruesome to recount"]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Something we have become grudgingly used to in Zimbabwe is the knowledge is that in all our cities, towns, villages and neighbourhoods are the perpetrators of bloody crimes and brutal human rights abuses. Up to three decades after they murdered, raped, burnt and tortured, in the name of their political masters, they have gone unpunished and continue to walk brazenly amongst us.

Speaking in Plumtree a few days ago, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai made a dramatic statement on political violence. He said: “My hands are very clean and my conscience is clear. I did not kill anyone during Gukurahundi. I did not kill anyone during Operation Murambatsvina and I did not kill anyone during the 2008 Presidential elections run-off. I challenge Mugabe to come out in public and say the same.”

At the time of writing there has been no response to the Prime Minister’s challenge. What there has been, however, is renewed attention on a member of the CIO, who continues to live in the peace and safety of Wales in the UK. Despite admitting that he had kidnapped dozens of MDC activists and, in his own words, done things to them that :”are too gruesome to recount,” the 47 year old Zimbabwean former spy has been living in asylum in the UK. Phillip Machemedze also admitted in a UK court to rubbing salt into the wounds of a female MDC member before she was taken to an underground cell, stripped and whipped. He admitted electrocuting, slapping, beating and punching a white farmer who was suspected of giving money to the MDC. Despite all of this a Judge in Newport, South Wales, said that Machemedze will not be deported from the UK because his life would be in danger if he came back to Zimbabwe. When an attempt to appeal the ruling was made, a senior immigration judge said in part: “Whatever is felt about Philip Machemedze and his actions, the UK cannot return him to face death or inhuman or degrading treatment ….”

“Death or inhuman or degrading treatment” are just words to a judge. To the relations and survivors of a massacre in Matabeleand in the early 1980’s, they are words describing the slaughter of twenty five thousand men, women, children and babies. To those of us living here, the judges words are experiences that the vast majority of Zimbabweans have encountered again and again in the last decade. We’ve seen our friends beaten and detained, our parents and grandparents destitute and suicidal; our children out of school and our professionals crawling under border fences to survive. We’ve lost our homes and businesses, put our children to bed hungry and been to so many funerals we’ve lost count.

The UK rulings protecting CIO operative Machemedze are apparently because he supplied information about his colleagues. But we are left wondering if the  Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic supplies information about his colleagues will he too be granted asylum in Newport, South Wales?

I will be taking a short break for a while but in the meantime please keep watching Zimbabwe and supporting the efforts of the ordinary, hard working people who make our country great. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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39 <![CDATA[Its about us]]>  

Dear  Family and Friends,

I met a young man back from the diaspora this week and as we talked I knew that if our country’s oppression and economic collapse had done anything good for Zimbabwe, it was this. After some years of living outside the country he had come home full of enthusiasm, patriotism and innovative ideas. Already working to develop a business and improve his neighbourhood, his creative attitude was like a breath of fresh air.  He had seen how democracy works, seen how things should be done and wanted to reproduce that way of life here. I asked him why he had chosen now to return to Zimbabwe. A time when the struggle for political power was intensifying, a time when another bloody and violent election seemed inevitable.

“Zimbabwe isn’t about Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai,” he said, “it’s about you and me; it’s about us, the people.”

The next day this train of thought was reinforced when I received a newsletter from the Friends of Hwange Trust. Thanks to an innovative idea and the determination of a group of people who were not going to give up, a solar system has been installed at a watering point in the Hwange National Park. A truck and crane were needed to move the specially designed stand for the solar panel which will run the water pump at Kennedy 2 pan, A mammoth task that has been years in the making to provide what the Trust describe as: “an adequate, environmentally friendly source of water for the animals that drink there.”

Later in the week I got a message from a friend in Harare who is an astronomer. He described a viewing he had just made of the International Space Station passing through the belt of Orion and then of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Mike wrote: “the event took place only 22 degrees above the horizon, and there was a Full Moon to contend with. The International Space Station came along right on schedule...very bright...so I tracked back along its apparent path with binoculars, and about 90 seconds later, Endeavour popped out from behind the tree-line! It was easy to see in binoculars… I was able to follow it for about 3 minutes before it followed the station into the Earth’s shadow.” Mike ended his message by saying what a privilege it had been to see the last ever flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. What a fantastic experience this was, and seen from the skies of Zimbabwe by a born and bred Zimbabwean who knew where, when and what to look for and then took the time to share his observation.

So, despite the news of yet more disappointment from the latest SADC meeting in Namibia and the absurd detention of top lawyers and a journalist in Windhoek, ordinary Zimbabweans continue to look for and achieve the good. If only the politicians would stop scrabbling for power and look to the people, how great we could again be.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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38 <![CDATA[Don't use the lifts]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Walking out in the early mornings there are two things you can almost guarantee this winter. One is the delicate, rosy-pink glow at sunrise, announced by the voices of scores of roosters all over the neighbourhood. The other is the thin blue spirals of wood smoke that rise from cooking fires in all directions and fill the dawn air.

Yet again winter has bought gruelling power cuts back to Zimbabwe making marathons out of the smallest of chores. It’s always the Mum’s that carry the heaviest burden and you don’t have to go far to see the proof. Looking out of a small prefabricated wooden cabin I caught a glimpse of a young teenage girl and her Mum one morning this week. It was a cold morning and a thick blanket of white mist was lying in the nearby vlei and across the grassland, waiting to be dissolved by the sun. Through the open door of the cabin I could see that the place was full of smoke and Mum was bending into the flames stirring the contents of a pot. The door and walls of the cabin were covered in black soot and the girl emerged from the smoke to pick up a few branches of firewood that were stacked in a pile outside. It was a little after six in the morning but already the girl was dressed for school, a bright green uniform, brown shoes and a thin green jersey. After breakfast, cooked on a smoky little fire eaten in a smoke filled room, she would set out on her walk to school and later, when she got home, she would undoubtedly have to go and help her Mum collect more firewood and carry it home.

Every afternoon lines of women and girls trudge out of the bush with huge piles of sticks and branches on their heads, balanced on a small cloth ring. It’s not from choice they do this but from necessity. From little wooden cabins to big brick houses and blocks of high density flats – all have the same struggle with cooking food and heating water. Visiting a friend in an upmarket Clinic in Harare this week, I noticed a sign stuck onto the silver doors of the lift. “Due to erratic power supply, we advise you not to use the lifts to avoid the risk of getting stuck.”

When a couple of thousand women in Bulawayo tried to protest to electricity supplier ZESA , they were met with a brutal response from riot police. WOZA estimated that 40 women, unarmed and singing, were beaten by riot police when they tried to present a yellow card (a football warning) to ZESA and tell them to improve their services. WOZA were asking for fair load shedding, an end to 18 power cuts, transparent billing and pre-paid meters. ‘ No more luxury cars, we need transformers ‘ they said. Undaunted by the truncheons of police whose wives, mothers and daughters also go out and collect firewood and cook over smoky fires, WOZA have promised to continue their campaign until their demands are met. The main one being: “ZERO service, ZERO bill.” A slogan that could as well apply to any number of other parastatals and municipal councils around the country.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. 

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37 <![CDATA[Giving back to Zimbabwe]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,
Travelling to a small country town on a cold and wintery morning this week, my eyes were drawn to a shimmering silver trail running down the smooth, black boulders of a rocky mountainside. Glistening and gleaming on the boulders, I knew the water trail wouldn’t be here for much longer. The last puddles and pools of rain water are now trickling away and disappearing underground, signalling the start of our long dry season.  Flying low overhead was a stunning Auger Buzzard, white wings edged with black, a long stick hanging from its beak. It’s nearly nesting time and the Buzzard had obviously found its spot on a cliff ledge nearby. In the valley below lay a breathtaking panorama of open woodland and bronze grassland; some of the aloes have started flowering providing a breathtaking portrait of the African bush.

But everything is not as peaceful as it seems because, alongside the beauty of this magnificent time of year, is the grim reality that now is the time Zimbabwe’s wildlife species are most at risk. The end of the rainy season; drying up of small water pools and bronzing of the tall green summer grass, forces animals out into the open and makes them easy targets for poachers. Johnny Rodrigues of the Zimbabwe Conservation task Force calls the coming months our “peak poaching season” and recently sent out the most horrific report on rhino poaching in Zimbabwe’s Save Valley Conservancy.

Game Scouts had reported seeing a severely wounded black rhino and when Rangers located the animal they found a gruesome, horrific sight. The rhino had been shot several times by poachers who had then hacked the horn off the animal’s face and left the poor creature for dead. But it wasn’t dead and the rhino was found wandering around with an enormous open wound and obviously in extreme distress.

In situations like this, immediate action is needed, sometimes to save the animal, other times to provide a merciful release. Vets, transport, fuel, drugs, tranquilizers – all are needed in a hurry. After a decade of turmoil in which almost all government departments have been ravaged by economic collapse, paralyzed by the exodus of skilled and professional staff and suffocated by political interference, a few dedicated people and NGO’s have been left saving our wildlife.

Johnny Rodrigues and his wife Cheryl have been doing superb work in this regard.  For the last decade they have been travelling to the remotest of places to see, record and intervene in the plight facing Zimbabwe’s wildlife. They mobilise resources and specialists to save as many animals as they can. This might be in the form of animal feed, veterinary supplies, tools, water pumps or just a few bags of milk powder to save an orphaned baby animal.

Johnny is passionate about conservation and not afraid to expose the big players behind the gruesome poaching syndicates which are decimating Zimbabwe’s big game species including lion, elephant and rhino.

Johnny and Cheryl sent me a list of supplies desperately needed to get them through the “peak poaching season.” Its not your average shopping list and reads as follows: “We need M99 as a priority but are also trying to raise funds for veterinary supplies for the guys in the field who are doing the snare removals. These are: Antiseptic powder; Wash; Creams; Bandages; Wire cutters; Bolt cutters; Dart gun; hypodermic needles; Scalpels and anti inflammatories.”

If you want an example of people working tirelessly behind the scenes and ‘giving back” to Zimbabwe, Johnny and Cheryl Rodrigues and their Conservation Task Force are it! If you would like to help them save animals this season or just be on their mailing list, drop them a line at galorand@mweb.co.zw

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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36 <![CDATA[Still beat you over the head]]>  

In the middle of the day when you couldn’t find a news channel that wasn’t covering the royal wedding, ZBC TV were dishing out the same old same old. The daily dose of propaganda jingles praising Zanu PF and Mr Mugabe followed by an assortment of political lectures and finger pointing which is thinly disguised as news reports. While the Royal couple stood at the altar and exchanged vows we were being told that Zimbabwe is a sovereign state and capable of running its own affairs.  Then came a peculiar and ironic lecture from a senior Zanu PF official telling us not to belittle the efforts of SADC and to stop using the media to perpetrate hate speech.

While an antique horse drawn carriage carried the newly married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace, ZBC TV were still ignoring the event.  The real irony in ZBC TV’s non existent coverage of the British Royal Wedding, was the fact that Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to the UK, Gabriel Machinga, was on the official guest list to attend the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. It was a controversial invitation and one British newspaper, the Daily Mail, had described Machinga as a servant of President Robert Mugabe’s “murderous and kleptocratic regime.”

At the end of the day when the worlds news channels were replaying highlights of the Royal Wedding, ZBC TV were still showing the finger in what was obviously a deliberate snub. The evening news bulletin carried repeats of all their midday reports as well as politburo member Simon Khaya Moyo paying tribute to China on celebrating the 90th anniversary of communism. And then, like a jug of iced water and with an undeniably smug look on her face the news reader told Zimbabwe about the British Royal wedding in a sort of “Oh, by the way” tone of voice. Thirty minutes into the main news bulletin of the day and in a single sentence unaccompanied by either film clip or still photograph, the announcer said Prince William and Kate Middleton had got married. Without drawing breath, the news reader then turned to her colleague and said: “and now for business news we cross to…”

So Zimbabwe won’t remember the Royal Wedding of the 29th April 2011 even though Britain gives us multiple millions of pounds in aid every year. In fact just two months ago in February, the UK said they were considering increasing aid to Zimbabwe to more than a £100 million a year, as a ‘reward’ for democratic reforms. It was a very controversial proposal which  political analyst Professor John Makumbe summed up beautifully when he said: “Even if they did get the money, you and I both know that ZANU PF are the kind to take the money and still beat you over the head.”

Zimbabwe will remember the 29th April as one of those strange days when heavy, unexpected, unseasonal rain came sweeping in and sent people running. Not running in, but running out, into the rain to try and cover their newly harvested maize cobs lying out in the open to dry.  We well also remember the 29th April as the day when Zanu PF finally stopped threatening us with elections which they said were coming before the end of the year. Finally the state controlled Herald newspaper ran headlines that there won’t be an election in 2011 after all and Zanu PF politburo member Patrick Chinamasa said he thought Zimbabwe wouldn’t be ready for an election until 2013. It remains to be seen if this dramatic climb down by Zanu PF will see a reduction in the wave of violence and an end to the widespread arrest of MDC officials.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy. 

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35 <![CDATA[Wasted all these years]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

A day before the start of the long Easter weekend, I gave a friend a lift to his rural village. It was very slow going through the nearby town as huge queues of people were again trying to withdraw their April salaries from building societies and savings banks. It had been government pay day the day before but that had coincided with an extensive power cut. Every time the electricity goes off, the computers go blank and salary withdrawals come to a standstill – a bitter pill for people barely earning enough to survive on, made worse because it was the start of the Easter weekend. One startling image, hard to miss in the crowds and queues, was the large number of khaki police hats that could be seen right at the front of the masses – not to keep order but to withdraw their own pay.

At every intersection on the way out of town the roads were thronged with people trying to get lifts. The commuter minibuses were overflowing with passengers, packed in, sitting sideways, like sardines in tomato sauce, the roof racks loaded high with bags, furniture, bicycles and suitcases.

Before long, under a startling blue, cloudless sky, we were heading into the country. All along the road, for mile after mile, the grass stands higher than a man and it took a little while to understand why. There is nothing here to eat the grass anymore. The herds of beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep and goats that used to graze these commercial farms and crop the grass to ground level have long since gone to the abattoirs and not been replaced.

Every now and again, in the dips and rises of the road you catch a glimpse of a mud walled hut with a thatched roof. Nearby these primitive homes are little patches of stunted brown maize plants surrounded by an ocean of towering grassland. My friend and I talked about the yields from these little maize fields on the seized commercial farms; he says they will be lucky to have grown enough to support their families through the seven, long, dry months ahead. Not a chance there is surplus to help feed the country’s population. He tells me that in his village less than 10 of the 120 families resident there have been able to grow enough maize for their own needs this year. Many planted too late and their crops couldn’t stand up to the heavy rains. Most simply didn’t have the money to get enough fertilizer to boost their crops.

We pass mile after mile of dense grassland where all the fences have been stolen. We don’t see animals or people; we don’t see tractors or combine harvesters; we don’t see gangs of farm workers harvesting summer crops onto trailers or even walking in the lands. All the seized farms here are overgrown, barely utilized and all but deserted. A single monkey jumped out of a tree and ran across the road in front of my car and for a moment I felt like we were in a time warp, in a country that has gone back in time by a hundred years or more.

Arriving at my friend’s village the contrast was dramatic. The grass is shorter, chickens scratch around immaculately swept yards, goats and cows are out in the fields. There are warm handshakes all round, smiles and jokes and everyone willing to lend a hand with unloading and carrying. Everywhere you look you see people busy: harvesting their maize; fetching water, pushing wheelbarrows, tending vegetable gardens. On two sides the village is bounded by seized commercial farms but the villagers tell me they are not welcome on those farms. They cannot graze their cattle there, fetch water when their wells run dry, cut grass for thatching their houses or even gather firewood. “They share nothing with us” the villagers say as they look with contempt at the long grass and inactivity on the seized farms on their boundaries. “They have done nothing, those people, only wasted all these years.”

I end this week with a message of condolence for the family and friends of Rwisai Nyakauru, the 82 year old headman for Nyamaropa in Nyanga who died after being kicked and beaten by war veterans and Zanu PF youth and then spent 25 days in leg irons in police custody. May his soul rest in peace.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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34 <![CDATA[Shooting stars and satellites]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

As Zimbabwe arrives at its 31st anniversary of Independence, the first pre-winter cold snap descended on many parts of the country. It came with thick grey clouds, an icy wind and slanting rain. In my home town, day time temperatures dropped from 25 to 14 degrees Centigrade in a visible plunge of the thermometer. Out came jerseys, socks and extra blankets and the knowledge that winter is drawing closer.

I would love to be able to write that 31 years of Independence have bought tranquillity and bountiful prosperity to Zimbabwe but sadly that is very far from the reality on the ground. But instead of doom and gloom, I paint you a simple picture of our beautiful country in the 31st year of Independence from Britain.

Zimbabwe’s Independence heralds the time of year when the rain stops, the clouds disappear and we are left with big, bright blue skies stretching to all horizons. It’s the time of year when green, lush grass is replaced with golden fields and the views across open bush are of spectacular savannas and shimmering plains. In amongst the bronze grasses are startling patches of purple and red – the flowering seed heads of Natal grass. The roadside Cosmos flowers which have given us a gorgeous three month extravaganza of pink and white, are coming to an end, their seeds now being feasted on by birds fattening up for winter. Big, gaudy, blue headed lizards are back; scuttling up and down tree trunks in search of food and mates. The first of the termite trails of red soil have started rising up the tree trunks, a sure sign that the dry season has arrived.

Mid April is the time of thick, tall lengths of purple sugar cane for sale on the roadsides and enormous watermelons with dripping red flesh and a million shiny black seeds. It’s the time of year when the maize crop is drying and roadside plots are full of people gathering cobs or putting plants into triangular stooks for the final drying before harvesting begins. 

Independence time is the season when the days are getting shorter, the sunsets are bright orange and shiny copper and the night skies are a wondrous spectacle. It’s the perfect time of year for watching for shooting stars and for satellites tracing across the darkness. It’s also the time of year when the mosquitoes finally start to die down and let us sleep in peace.

This 31st anniversary of Independence a Spotted Eagle Owl has taken to sitting on top of a street light outside my house in the evenings. Not long after the sun slips into the horizon, the owl arrives, gliding on silent wings to its perch overlooking the neighbourhood. The street light hasn’t worked for at least six years now, perhaps if it did I wouldn’t have the delight of owl spotting! The owl is a very handsome creature, sitting completely still as the last caramel glow of sunset fades from the sky and the bird becomes a silhouette in the twilight. A pair of nightjars with their new young fledgling, swirl and circle, snatching up the last of the day’s insects and the Owl sits unmoving, regal, watching over the countryside.

I end with a message of support for Father Mkandla, the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Hwange. The co-minister of National Healing and Reconciliation said that Father Mkandla was arrested on Wednesday evening at his home soon after a meeting at which he had delivered a powerful sermon on violence. This is the face of Zimbabwe, 31 years after Independence. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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33 <![CDATA[Wiped off the land without a trace]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabweans began to take notice of Mike Campbell, his wife Angela and their son in law Ben Freeth in December 2007. Having exhausted their legal options in Zimbabwe, Mike Campbell tried to stop the seizure of his farm by going to the regional SADC Tribunal. Just before Christmas 2007 the SADC Tribunal ruled in their favour. The Tribunal set a hearing date for January and granted interim relief which: “orders that the Republic of Zimbabwe shall take no steps ... to evict from or interfere with the peaceful residence on and the beneficial use of the farm known as Mount Carmel."

Following the interim order, Ben Freeth wrote to JAG (Justice for Agriculture) and his words were invigorating to those of us farmers who had already lost everything, and challenging to those whose turn hadn’t yet come. In his first letter Ben wrote: “Sitting on the sidelines in secret "dialogue" simply will not do. It has failed.  It never had a chance of ever working.  The truth of this may hurt for some…”

The challenge came in his second letter where Ben wrote: “Do we continue to allow these injustices to continue so that we are then wiped off the land without trace; or do we try to stand for justice and the future of this country and indeed our future on this continent?”

A few months later, on the 30th June 2008, a chilling email came telling of the abduction of Mike and Angela Campbell and Ben Freeth from their home on Mount Carmel Farm in Chegutu. It had happened two days after the presidential run off elections. The JAG message read:

“Mercifully, at midnight, Mike and Angela Campbell and Ben Freeth were released at a house of a black lady in Kadoma.  All three have been severely beaten.  Mike has serious concussion and a broken collar bone and fingers.  Angela has a broken arm, in two places. Ben has a badly swollen and totally closed eye and feet severely beaten…. The purpose for the brutal attack and vicious beating carried out at Pixton Mine (youth militia torture camp) was the forced compliance, under extreme duress, with the signing of a formal withdrawal of the Campbell Case from the SADC Tribunal.  The Campbells and Freeth were taken by ‘war vet’ Gilbert Moyo and approximately twenty thugs to the mine.  They were viciously beaten until they complied with the signing of a withdrawal of the case….”

On 28 November 2008, the SADC court delivered its ruling, with the five panel judges finding the land reform programme to be racist and in violation of international treaties and human rights. Justice Louis Mondhlane said that constitutional Amendment 17 put in place in 2005 to clear the way for compulsory acquisition of land in Zimbabwe had resulted in expropriation targeting only white farmers. “Its effects make it discriminatory because targeted agricultural land is owned by white farmers” Mondhlane said.

Zimbabwe refused to be bound by the SADC Tribunal ruling.

In 2009, Mike Campbell and his family left Mount Carmel farm after it was burnt down by so called ‘land invaders.’ A few weeks ago Mike Campbell launched yet another application to the SADC regional Tribunal. For the first time in legal history, all 15 leaders of the Southern Africa Development Community were cited as respondents.

Sadly Mike Campbell passed away this week but he will not be forgotten. His brave and determined fight for justice will always be remembered; he will not have been wiped off the land without a trace. One day, when Zimbabwe again respects property rights, we will have Mike Campbell to thank for showing us the way.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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32 <![CDATA[Beer puddles]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

They say that good things come in threes and despite all the bad news about Zimbabwe, a few flickering lights have given cause for hope recently.

A few days ago, good news came for a couple of hundred villagers living near a main highway, when a passing beer truck lost its load. Rounding a bend on the main road in the east of the country I came across an accident which must have happened just a few minutes before. A large truck loaded to its maximum height with crates of Chibuku beer had lost at least half of its cargo on the tarmac at the foot of a hill. The brown plastic beer containers, known here as Scuds, had rolled out of dozens of blue plastic crates and were lying all over the road. Many of the Scuds had burst and spilled their contents and the tarmac was running with beer, sticky pools of the thick, cloudy beer forming puddles in the steep eroded cut-offs on the edge of the tar. Some of the crates must have shattered on impact and shards of blue plastic decorated what was rapidly turning into a frenzy in front of my eyes. From out of the bush in all directions people came running: men, women and teenagers. They raced out into the road without even a glance for approaching traffic and feverishly gathered up undamaged Scuds and ran away with them. Some of the more adventurous people were cupping their hands and literally drinking from the beer puddles on the road, while others used tins and empty bottles to snatch a few mouthfuls. Stepping hard on my brakes to avoid hitting any of the manic beer collectors, I slowed as I passed the truck driver; the look in his eyes said it all: despair and a hopeless acceptance that he wouldn’t be able to save much of his cargo. Nearly four hours later, on my return journey, I was astonished to see the beer truck still stranded on the side of the highway. His now empty blue crates had been reloaded and tied down, watched by a sizeable crowd of very merry spectators. Four women came running out of the bush carrying empty twenty litre containers, heading for a spot under a tree where decanting of looted Scuds seemed to be taking place. A great roar of approval went up at their arrival from a crowd of a hundred or more people who stood, sat and danced in the long grass on the roadside. The unexpected party on the roadside made me think of other good news that has given us cause to smile and cheer recently. 

Very good news came for democracy in Zimbabwe when the MDC’s Lovemore Moyo was re-elected Speaker of the House of Assembly.  After being removed from a post he had held for two and a half years by a Supreme Court ruling because his original election had been procedurally flawed, Lovemore Moyo was again chosen by MP’s for the critically important position. The result came in at 105 votes to 93 and has left Zanu PF in an angry tizz as they hunt for which three of their own MP’s` had obviously voted for Lovemore Moyo. Speaking to his ZANU PF committee members a couple of days later, Mr Mugabe said about the mystery voters: “Let us correct ourselves…. They are wrong in being members of our party.”

The last piece of good news came at the end of the recent SADC meeting in Zambia. The summit's final communiqué read in part: “There must be an immediate end of violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of the GPA." Back in Harare Mr Mugabe was quoted as saying in response to SADC: “We will not brook dictation from any source. We will resist interference from any source, even from our neighbours,”  

So SADC, will you be giving us reason for beer drinking on the roadside? Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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31 <![CDATA[No respect]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

For the past fortnight Zimbabwe has been subjected to the most horrific images on ZBC television’s news bulletins. Every evening, during what is advertised as prime time, family viewing, ZBC TV have been showing film footage of hundreds of bodies being exhumed from a mine shaft in Mount Darwin. The same film clips are repeated in early morning bulletins, as children are getting ready for school, and again at lunch time; presenting images of such horror that it doesn’t bear thinking how these gruesome and gory sights are affecting young minds.  

The exhumations are not being carried out by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Museums and Monuments, archaeologists, pathologists or other specialists. There don’t appear to be any independent witnesses, recorders or experts on hand. The Co- Home Affairs Minister, Kembo Mohadi was quoted in the press as saying: “My ministry is not in charge of the project and we are not part of it.” The Director of National Museums and Monuments said the same, resulting in much suspicion and political posturing.  The Co-minister involved in the country’s programme of National Healing really put his finger on the pulse when he said: “The truth must be told during this exercise, but how do you tell the truth when evidence has been exhumed and reburied without involving organisations like churches, the Organ of National Healing, civic society and other groups?”

The exhumations are being carried out by a group called The Fallen Heroes’ Trust whose co-ordinator is George Rutanhire, a member of the Zanu PF Politburo.

On television we do not see images of professionals and specialists carefully recovering the remains, instead we see men in blue overalls wearing gum boots and plastic gloves pushing and shoving bones into plastic bags. We do not see the recovered remains being carefully laid out for examination, investigation and scientific identification; instead we see great mounds of human remains, piled high on top of each other, partly covered with loose strips of plastic sheeting. We do not see ropes and barriers preventing members of the public from disturbing the site, instead we see people in their own clothes clambering in and out of the mine shaft to have a look. And then, horror of horrors, comes the report that schoolchildren, teachers and villagers in the area were forced to go down into the mine shaft to view the bodies close up. The trauma of what they have seen will surely haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Zanu PF say that the bodies in the mine shaft are the remains of people massacred by Rhodesian soldiers in the 1970’s. Eyebrows are raised for many reasons, one of which is that the film footage being shown by ZBC TV is of some corpses with hair still attached; bones still joined; clothes still intact. Journalists described a putrefying stench in the mine shaft; one reporter described fluid dripping from a body and there appear to be many flies buzzing around the exhumed remains. All this from bodies that have supposedly been underground for over three decades?

Perhaps worst of all is that this place of horror and tragedy has been turned into a prime Zanu PF propaganda venue. One after the other speakers are coming forward and castigating the  MDC for not visiting the site and condemning Rhodesians. Speeches criticizing and rebuking Prime Minister Tsvangirai are being made alongside mounds of human remains and we sit and watch in stunned silence at the crass insensitivity and obscenity of it all. Respect is sorely absent throughout this whole gruesome spectacle; respect for the dead, for their surviving relations and for millions of Zimbabwean children seeing such horror on television at breakfast, lunch and supper time. 

Until next time, love, cathy 

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30 <![CDATA[For Owen]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

A three word text message on my phone this week bought the news I had so hoped wasn’t going to come: “Owen is dead.”

The story of Owen is one that has been repeated a thousand times over in the last eleven years and yet it is not often talked or written about.

In the early 2000’s when Zanu PF supporters and war veterans were swarming over the country, grabbing farms and brutalizing MDC supporters, Owen had a good marketing job in Harare. To save money he stayed in a single room in a prefab house in a high density area while his wife and two children kept the family home in a rural village. At every opportunity Owen worked on their rural home; he replaced the roof, built a small extension to the house and invested in solar panels to enable lights at night, television and DVD’s to entertain the children. Owen was rightly proud of the home and life he was enriching for his family.

With every political drama, at each violent election and whenever human rights abuses were raging, Owen would phone every week for news of his family. He sent money, groceries and medicines. His precious salary kept his family alive and he always managed to scrape a few dollars together for his brother and sister in law and their children and other members of the extended family. Tragedy came often for Owen in the first four years of the new millennium. His mother and father passed away within a year of each other; then his brother died, then his niece.

In 2005 Owen lost his job, laid off when the company he worked for went to a four, and then a three - day week. The agricultural ingredients they needed for their products were no longer coming from the farms the war veterans had grabbed. All but a handful of employees kept their jobs, Owen was not one of them. He tried staying in town to look for other jobs  but then came Operation Murambatsvina and Owen’s home was demolished by the government bulldozers. Owen did what hundreds of thousands of others were forced to do that winter, he went to his home in the rural village. Within a few months he knew he had to find work; the needs of his family were too great: food, school fees, clothes, medicines. Owen went over the border and got work in South Africa. 

For the next six years Owen commuted backwards and forwards to South Africa: six months away, two weeks at home. Each time the Reserve Bank governor removed zeroes from the Zim dollar, Owen sent real money home to his family. When the Zimbabwe government ordered price controls and food vanished from the supermarket shelves, Owen sent groceries home. When Zimbabwe was literally starving to death in 2007 and 2008 Owen had a trusted courier who carried food into the country for him and he literally kept an extended family of 12 or more people alive.

 

Owen finally came home in late 2010. He said he was tired and wanted a rest. We could all see he was sick. By the time he agreed that he needed medical help, Owen couldn’t walk, his feet were burning, his legs were swollen and he had sores in his mouth and throat. For three weeks they struggled to save him but yesterday the message came: ‘Owen has died.’

This letter is for Owen and the millions who had no choice but to leave home and find work in the diaspora in order to keep their families and relations alive. What a sacrifice you have made; it will not be forgotten. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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29 <![CDATA[Just words again?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

As each new critic of events in Zimbabwe has spoken out over the last eleven years, the official government response has repeatedly been a barrage of insults followed by the instruction to people here to: “Look East.”

As I write this letter we are trying to look east but state run media are not helping.

Japan is east of Zimbabwe but, 6 hours after the horrific earthquake and Tsunami, our state run media were too busy criticising America and Europe to Look East themselves. Six hours after the earthquake, when all the international news channels were showing rolling film footage of a massive tsunami engulfing a Japanese coastal area and a giant black wave of silt, boats and cars swallowing fields and towns, ZBC TV were carrying headline news of Mr Mugabe’s statement on Libya.

“Libya is an African issue,” said Mr Mugabe. “Africa is for Africans and we took exception to interference by imperialist powers. We resent and absolutely reject interference into Libyan affairs from outside.”

Minute after minute I forced myself to watch the main evening news bulletin. Insults, propaganda and condemnation of the west went on and on until, thankfully, an hour later the news came to an end. The tragedy in Japan had not been mentioned at all.

24 hours after the earthquake in Japan the world began to hear of the extent of the tragedy. Two hundred thousand people in emergency shelters; a nuclear emergency from radiation leaks; over 700 dead and the number growing by the hour. Still ZBC news hadn’t looked east. They replayed the Libyan, Africa is for Africans’ story; they reported Mr Mugabe’s statements about the situation in the Ivory Coast and then followed endless insults and attacks by supposed analysts and experts. Attacks on US President Obama for America’s renewal of sanctions for another year and attacks by a procession of Zanu PF officials condemning sanctions against their leaders. Still there was no mention of the horrors unfolding in Japan. 50 countries had by then offered help to Japan meantime Zimbabwe hadn’t even mentioned that there had been an earthquake.

While the world watches Japan and tries to follow events in Libya and the Ivory Coast, all sorts of mayhem is underway in Zimbabwe. A growing number of senior MDC officials and civic activists are being arrested. Munyaradzi Gwisai and others remain in custody for watching videos of uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and this week the MDC Minister of Energy was arrested. Prime Minister Tsvangirai said the Energy Minister’s arrest was an attempt to obscure massive corruption. Wide eyed and open mouthed we received the news that the Speaker of the House of Assembly had his position nullified by the Supreme Court. The MDC Speaker, Lovemore Moyo, had held the position since August 2008 but now, 19 months later, the Supreme Court have ruled that Moyo’s election did not follow Parliamentary procedures. We now have no Speaker of Parliament and the independent newspapers are overflowing with reports of intimidation, violence, repression and political stalemates. One Editor writes that we are a country under siege again.

Recent events finally turned Prime Minister Tsvangirai back into the firebrand he used to be and he acknowledged that the unity government had irreconcilable differences. “We have come to a time when people with legendary patience like myself say enough is enough.”

Just words again? It remains to be seen.

I end with thoughts and support for the people of Japan. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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28 <![CDATA[Hit List]]>

Dear Family and Friends,

At 6 am in the morning, seven soldiers dressed in camouflage stood hitch hiking on the main highway leading to Harare. A few kilometres along the road another group were trying to flag down a lift. This was the day that Mr Mugabe and Zanu PF were holding their much advertised ‘Anti Sanctions Petition Campaign.’ The early morning was cool and overcast, the roadside grass dripping with dew, drenching strings of children as they cavorted along the road towards their schools. Smiling and waving, shiny-faced and innocent, they pushed and giggled, proud in their bottle green, navy blue, and deep purple uniforms.

On the outskirts of Harare there were three Police roadblocks within ten kilometres and an increasing number of soldiers sitting in the back of open pick up trucks. In the centre of Harare some shaven headed youths and a few newspaper vendors were wearing full size Zimbabwe flags strung around their necks and draped down their backs. And so the city braced for what was coming.

The first sign of what lay ahead came , as it always does, with shouting, whistling and banging. These are the Zanu PF  ‘youths’  calling people to come to the Zanu PF function. By 9 in the morning numerous big open trucks full of people were heading towards the venue. A 60 seater bus went past, filled to bursting with people even standing in the aisles. On the roof rack of the bus, sitting in fifteen lines of four, were another fifty or so people. These on the roof rack were the rabble rousers. Wearing the national flag wrapped around their heads and draped like towels round their shoulders, they whistled and shouted, banged their hands on the sides of the bus and waved their fists, the Zanu PF symbol.

A truck filled with white-robed Apostolic church members went past, forty to fifty women sitting on the floor of the truck, watched over by half a dozen shaven headed Church men, also wearing full length white robes. Sitting half in and half out of commuter minibus windows, youths wearing Zanu PF T shirts shouted for people to go to the Anti Sanctions rally. Mostly people did what they have become used to doing: they looked away and tried not to make eye contact.

“Down with Sanctions” the speakers at the rally shouted, clenched fists thrust over their heads. Down with, down with, down with – the same feverish, negative, chorusing that so personifies politics here. Mr Mugabe said there was a Hit List of Western companies he had instructed his Minister of Indigenisation to look into. Companies which include Old Mutual, Rio Tinto and BP. Barclays Bank and Standard Chartered Bank were singled out particularly by Mr Mugabe; he said they were on the Hit List of foreign owned companies to be investigated by Minister Kasukuwere.  

Two days later I popped into my local branch of Barclays Bank. They have installed new security doors since I was there a couple of weeks ago, a fascinating little coincidence considering the Indigenisation Hit List talk.  I thought I’d find the place full to bursting, with worried customers, but there was only one other non staff member in the bank on an otherwise busy Friday morning.  The Personal Banker on duty couldn’t answer any of my questions like: is my account going to be safe here, or, is there a chance you will close your branches in Zimbabwe?, Looking nervously over his shoulder, smiling even more nervously, he talked quickly and quietly:  the Hit List speech was the first time he’d heard about this, he said, they were as much in the dark as I was. I was worried about my account, he was worried about his job. I didn’t tell him that as a farmer I knew all about these Hit Lists and as a result was now a dispossessed farmer. The farm indigenisation Hit List left nearly three quarters of a million people who worked on the land without homes, jobs and pensions.  Three quarters of a million people of whom less than 10 thousand had white skin colour.

Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy. 5th March 2011.  Copyright © Cathy Buckle. www.cathybuckle.com

For information on my new book “IMIRE”, about Norman Travers and Imire Game Park, or my other  books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,” African Tears,” “Beyond Tears;” and “History of the Mukuvisi Woodlands 1910-2010”, or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact cbuckle@zol.co.zw

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27 <![CDATA[The spark]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

On a stretch of road to the south east of the capital city of Harare I was extremely fortunate to witness an uprising recently. It wasn’t an uprising of people throwing off a dictator but an uprising of aerial attackers after a rain storm. It began in the early afternoon when the only visible sign of a possible onslaught was two wide bands of grey on a horizon perhaps 30 kilometres away. The closer I got, the wider the storms seemed to be, looking like dense grey smoke, until suddenly I was right in the middle of one. Big, heavy rain drops pounded down and soon turned into a torrential downpour. Visibility dropped to just a few metres, the temperature plummeted and the noise was deafening. In less than 10 minutes it was all over; the rain band moved leaving pools of water on the verges and clouds of steam rising off the tar.

Before long the view was again of tall golden grass, tips bent over, heavy with their new crop of seed. In amongst the grass the occasional glimpses of pink, purple and white Cosmos flowers. Flowers that will always remind me of the road to my farm where the pink and white extravaganza crowded the verges and were a delight to see, always lifting tired spirits after long days working out on the land. Funny, isn’t it, how a flower in the golden grass a decade later, can provide a flashback to another life: a time when our country was fat and flourishing, healthy and prosperous.

On my return journey a couple of hours after the rain storm, the steaming tar was dry, pools and puddles had disappeared and been replaced by a feeding frenzy, an aerial uprising. The rain storm had prompted millions of flying ants to emerge from underground and embark on their first and only flight. The attackers descended on them from every direction. Dozens of Falcons filled the skies. From trees and bushes they came in their scores and then hundreds to feast on the flying ants. From their perches on overhead electricity lines and pylons they plunged and plummeted on their prey, swooping and circling in so many hundreds they were impossible to distinguish individually or to estimate their number. For a moment it looked like the masses crowded and shouting for freedom in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya ! These birds, once called the Eastern Redfooted Kestrel, have now been reclassified and are known as Amur Falcons. Once a year, for just a few months, the Falcons come in their thousands to Harare where they roost in a gum tree plantation in Tafara, a high density suburb on the outskirts of Harare. Hard to believe that in one poor and overcrowded area of Harare between ten and thirty thousand Falcons stop and rest every year on their way back to Eastern Asia, Russia and China. To see the Amur Falcons rising off the pylons in their thousands is an uprising that must be seen to be believed.

After the rain storm had passed I again turned my attention to the people on the roadsides, looking for signs of another kind of uprising. After Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, it’s hard not to look for the beginnings. We have all the ingredients needed: unemployment estimated to be over 90%, a civil service earning less than half amount of the poverty datum line, continual water and electricity shortages – if you can afford the services at all - and a very uneasy political situation. They say that an uprising takes a spark but so far it hasn’t ignited. 45 people arrested in Harare for watching videos of Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings remain in detention as I write and lawyers report that at least six have been beaten whilst under interrogation in custody. The spark hasn’t ignited yet in Nyanga where the MDC MP remains in detention and a witch hunt is underway in remote mountainous villages.  The MDC spokesman for the province, says three truck loads of Zanu PF youths were going house to house looking for MDC supporters and hundreds of villagers have fled into Mocambique, crossing the Gairezi river which runs along the border.

While this is happening people try to makes ends meet and women sit on the roadsides selling watermelons: enormous green gourds filled with dripping, sweet, crimson flesh – just the sight of them makes your mouth water! They’re also selling freshly lifted ground nuts and round  Nyimo beans, which when boiled in salted water are oh so more-ish ! Young men are on the roadsides too and the smell of roasting maize cobs, lined up against little fires tempt you with the taste of a country so tired and yet so resilient.

I close with messages of support and condolence for the families of so many hundreds of people who died trying to free Libya, Egypt and Tunisia and to the people of New Zealand whose lives and families have been torn apart in the earthquake. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy,

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26 <![CDATA[Yellow bellied losers or Day of the Jackal? ]]>

Dear Family and Friends,

We have had two years of relative tranquillity under the uneasy governance of a combined MDC and Zanu PF regime but that is starting to change very rapidly. Since Christmas there has been a new wave of property invasions, including holiday cottages in Nyanga and Juliasdale, and weekend and tourist venues around Lake Chivero, including caravan parks, boating clubs and a well known bird sanctuary.

In the last month there have been almost daily reports of violence, intimidation, arson and arrests of senior figures in the MDC for obscure reasons. Some of these include the MDC M.P.’s for Zhombe and Nyanga North and MDC district chairpersons of Chivi district.

The only radio and television stations allowed to broadcast within the country are bombarding us with anti-MDC propaganda and this week, for the first time in a long time, a third of Short Wave Radio Africa’s evening news bulletin was jammed one night.

On a “man in the street” level, there are small signs starting to cause unease. It is becoming increasingly common to see trucks hugely overloaded with young men crowded into the back. Very often the trucks have no number plates or obscured number plates and it is very interesting to drive behind one of these vehicles and look at the faces of the young men: is that fear you can see in blood stained, tired eyes or is it alcohol and drugs? It is equally interesting is to see that these vehicles are never stopped at the numerous police roadblocks on our highways.

Increasingly the feeling is of the noose beginning to tighten and as it does we cannot help but look up, to the top of the continent and watch, and wonder.

The clarion call which started on the roof of Africa is spreading further and growing louder by the day. Leaders of Tunisia and then Egypt fell as their people finally insisted that they go. As I write Libyans are trying to free themselves from a man in power for 42 years. The call for change has spread into the Middle East and the people of Bahrain and Yemen have come out on the streets and say their leaders have been in power for too long and must go.

For those leaders prepared to listen, the message is loud and clear. Ten years in power is enough and these men who insist on staying in power for twenty, thirty and forty years are learning the hard way: in shame and without dignity.

Can this happen in Zimbabwe?  Many think it can’t. Tagged onto the bottom of an article of mine recently on a South African website were the comments that Zimbabweans are a: “pitiful, spineless people” and that” “Tunisia will never happen in Zimbabwe as people there are a bunch of yellow bellied losers.”

Others beg to differ and I end with the words of respected political science lecturer John Makombe who wrote: “Thank you Tunisia and Egypt for making us realize what is possible with people power. The day of the jackal is coming very fast.”

Yellow bellied losers or jackals? We’ll see. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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25 <![CDATA[Wiped clean]]>  

 

Dear family and friends

China’s Foreign Minister arrived in Harare just three days after a bunch of Zanu PF youths went running through the streets of central Harare.  According to The Herald newspaper, these men were on a police approved demonstration against foreign businesses and traders and even had a police escort on their route. The demonstration was apparently supposed to be protesting what was called the “slow pace of indigenisation.” The protest which began at the Zanu PF Headquarters was headed by a group calling themselves Upfumi Kuvadiki and it soon turned very ugly. Apparently hijacked shortly before it neared its final destination, the protest against foreign businesses rapidly degenerated into a looting spree.

Shops were ransacked, glass display cabinets smashed, and thousands of dollars worth of goods snatched. Laptops, cell-phones and TV’s were some of the items which disappeared in the arms of the looters. It took just a few minutes of lawlessness to destroy peoples’ livelihoods – something we have become very familiar with in Zimbabwe since the year 2000.

In the days that followed the incident there was much finger pointing, accusing and blaming. Within 24 hours ZBC had fixed their gaze squarely upon the MDC and proceeded to fill their news bulletins with more and more far fetched stories, none of which were backed up by police statements.

The furore had hardly died down when China’s foreign minister arrived to discuss investment opportunities. Foreign investment after we’ve just had protests against foreign businesses – a pall of confusion clouded the capital city! Our  Economic Planning Minister said  that the Chinese were: “looking into mining development, that is exploration and exploitation, agriculture, infrastructure development and information communication technology.”

The air surrounding the Chinese visit was heavy, suffocating with irony. Just three days before we’ve had youngsters protesting against foreign owned businesses and now we’re talking about massive Chinese investment. Even more ironic was the mention, in passing, of Chinese interest in Zimbabwean agriculture. Coming after 10 years of taking farms away from born and raised Zimbabweans because they have white skins, how can we be looking at a Chinese role in our country’s agricultural future?

One answer came in The Zimbabwean newspaper which quoted a speech by the Minister of Youth Empowerment last week. Speaking In Marondera about a white Zimbabwean farmer who had his land seized but was now managing to make a success on a small piece of rented land, Minister Kasukuwere  said:“ New black farmers are struggling to utilize land productively while white commercial farmers are realizing high yields out of our land. Life should be made difficult for such white farmers.”

The irony of a Chinese investment visit in a week of mayhem was exposed in the Independent newspaper in the readers’ SMS hotline which said it all:

“Zimbabwe can never be a colony of the US or Britain but it can be a colony of China. Talk about double standards.”

“It is difficult to say which is not colonisation, the British way or the Chinese way …”

“Zimbabwe must now allow China to take us for a ride…”

“This is another form of colonisation…

The visit is over, the propaganda continues but I am left haunted by the words of one man whose shop was looted : “ How do I come back? I’ve been wiped clean.” His words echo those of so many who have lost everything in the last decade where ugly politics has left multiple thousands of casualties in its wake.  A new war has just started: on one side is foreign investment and on the other is indigenisation, empowerment, racism and xenophobia. Until next week, thanks for reading love cathy.

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24 <![CDATA[People who cannot be traced]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

All eyes are glued on developments to the far north of Zimbabwe. First in Tunisia and then in Egypt we have witnessed what happens when people finally reach the end of their patience with leaders who have been in power for too long.

In Tunisia Mr Ben Ali had been in power for 23 years and protesters said they’d had enough of corruption, nepotism and a leader and government out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. People complained of high unemployment, a lack of political reforms and impunity. Weeks of repeated protests by thousands of people in Tunis ended with President Ben Ali fleeing the country. The people called it the Jasmin Revolution and woke up to a new era in the country and a new chapter in their lives.

Hardly was the revolution in Tunisia over when protests erupted in Egypt. Multiple thousands of protesters took to the streets. They said the wall of fear had been broken and that they were inspired by what they had seen in Tunis. In Egypt the protesters were met by teargas, rubber bullets and water cannons. Running in alongside the protesters were secret police in plain clothes, wielding fists, boots and baton sticks. Egyptian protesters kept on coming, walls and walls of them: bold, chanting, determined and fearless. Egyptian protesters said they want freedom, jobs, an end to corruption and a change to genuine democracy. They kept pushing forward demanding an end to President Mubarak’s 30 year rule. A glimpse of a news clip from Egyptian state television caused a moment of déjà vu when the country’s leader was described as “the President of the country and commander in chief of the defence forces.”

Everything from the reasons for the uprisings, to the reaction by the authorities, is chillingly familiar to Zimbabwe. Tear gas, baton sticks and water cannons; boots, fists and rubber bullets – all are methods of control well known to Zimbabweans. Familiar too are the complaints of the protesters; in fact they are so similar that they may have been describing the situation in Zimbabwe. Leaders who have been in power for two and three decades, corruption, high unemployment, lack of political reforms and impunity are top of the list of protestors’ complaints.

While these dramatic events were going on in North Africa, President Mugabe was in Addis Ababa for an AU summit and

Prime Minister Tsvangirai was in Switzerland attending a global forum in Davos. Captured for a moment by a top BBC reporter, Mr Tsvangirai was asked a few pertinent questions and his answers left raised eyebrows:

What are your feelings about a free and fair election being possible he was asked. The Prime Minister replied that as long as the AU and SADC played their part then the “Zanu PF dirty tricks will be minimized.”

Asked about the 51% indigenisation of businesses, Mr Tsvangirai said changes had been made to the law, plans were being drawn up and that it was not a compulsory takeover but one of mutual agreement.

Asked about land reform and if farmers were going to be able to return to their properties to farm, Mr Tsvangirai said : “that is gone, we are past that.”

And, back at home while Tunisia and Egypt exploded, and while both President and Prime Minister were out of the country,

the independent press were full of shocking headlines. In the Zimbabwe Independent came reports headed: “Violence flares in Harare,” “MDC T can’t stop Zanu PF abuses,” “Elections – propaganda, lies and deception.”  From NewsDay came screaming  headlines: “70 000 government ghost workers exposed. Of 250,000 civil servants in Zimbabwe, the newspaper reported that a recent audit: “has revealed there are about 70,000 ghost workers.” These are apparently people on the payroll who “cannot be traced.” The US$ 14 million dollars paying ghosts every month is  being swept under the carpet when it could be used to support genuinely employed civil servants  who are continuing to pour out of the country in search of a living wage.

As I write this letter the situation in Egypt has not been resolved and what is being described as a “political tsunami” continues. Where to next?

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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23 <![CDATA[Whispers in the pine needles]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

There is a natural swimming pool on a cold mountain river in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands. At a spot where the Inyangombe River cavorts over an outcrop of smooth, weathered, brown rocks, the river settles briefly into a pool below the waterfalls. Sometime in the past, many decades ago, river sand was brought in and deposited on the banks, creating a perfect beach.  The water in the pool is clear and cold, the river base covered in smooth pebbles and when the wind blows in the branches of the overhanging trees and whispers in the pine needles, you can’t help but forget the absurdity of current affairs in Zimbabwe.

When a friend got a hole in the exhaust pipe of his car this week, a simple job turned into a marathon. A visit to a local garage, line the vehicle up, drive onto the ramp and then wait while the car is elevated a couple of metres off the ground and the repair is undertaken. No problem you say? Ah, but only as long as the electricity stays on! Twenty minutes into the job the electricity went off, the car was left stranded 2 metres off the ground. Closing time approached and my friend got anxious. “What about my car,” he asked?

“Nothing to do” the mechanic replied, “I’ve got no way of getting it down. It’ll have to stay there till tomorrow.”

“Haven’t you got a generator?” my friend asked, his wallet, ID and house keys were all locked inside the car which was hanging over his head. The generator wasn’t powerful enough to run the elevator ramp and so the workshop was closed up till the next morning.

Long before opening time my friend was back at the garage. The electricity had come on overnight when no one was around but had gone off again at 5 in the morning.

Close your eyes, can you hear the wind in the pine trees above the Inyangombe River, I thought to myself as I heard the story.

8 o’clock came, 9, 10 and then finally at 11 in the morning the electricity flickered back into life. A simple 15 minute job had taken 19 hours and the loss of business incurred by my friend and the garage owner another incalculable drain on our stone broke, impoverished country.

Every day brings to light another absurdity in Zimbabwe, never more so than now as talk of elections gains momentum. I could hardly believe news reports that a convicted rapist, the leader of an Apostolic Church, has just been released from prison 13 years early because he’s got high blood pressure. My own blood pressure soared at the news, particularly because this church man has long been an outspoken supporter and campaigner for Zanu PF. “High blood pressure!” still the words echo in my head as I close my eyes for a moment and listen for the hiss of the Inyangombe River tumbling over the rocks.

Then came the staggering news from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network who have been conducting research into the state of Zimbabwe’s voters role. One of their findings is that a third of the registered names on the voters roll are of dead people. They also say that 2,344 names belong to people aged between 100 and 110 and that 9 names  are of people apparently aged between 111 and 130 years. This in a country where life expectancy is less than 40 years, leaves us all in no doubt that without a new voters roll, change is certainly not coming to Zimbabwe anytime soon. Are you listening Mr Zuma, SADC and the AU?

Oh to sit on the beach alongside a clear, cool mountainous pool!

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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22 <![CDATA[Mutton masquerading as lamb]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

This Christmas I had the unique opportunity of seeing my own country through the eyes of friends and relations from overseas. It was a very strange experience, often sad and embarrassing, sometimes funny but always met with the statement: ‘only in Zimbabwe.”

My visitors wanted to see everything and so we hit the roads and the shops – not to buy but to look. Is anything made in Zimbabwe anymore, was the most frequently asked question as we looked at shelves crowded with South African food: everything from staples like sugar and flour, to biscuits, spreads and tins. Even the vendors in car parks are selling boxes of South African fruit. We have become a suburb of South Africa, an invasion met without complaint, so relieved that there is food on our shelves.

Within a day of my visitors’ arrival, the water went off. One day, two, three and never a drop coming out of taps. How do you cope like this, the visitors ask, as we line up buckets, basins and baths outside to catch rainwater and runoff. Later we stagger inside carrying the bounty from heaven to wash dishes, flush toilets and have a few precious litres left to work up a quick soapy lather and pour over our heads at the end of the day.

Christmas Day was spent at a once very popular garden restaurant for a meal that had been booked three months in advance. It was a family reunion with people from across borders and continents. The menu advertised traditional Christmas fayre but there was no electricity on the day and the food that arrived on our plates was strangely peculiar to say the least: Very old mutton masquerading as lamb, served with chips and cold cauliflower florets; Fried slabs of salty ham pretending to be roast beef, served with chips and cold cauliflower florets. The meal staggered on largely uneaten until desert came. Christmas pudding and mince pies were “off”, replaced by a suspiciously old, cold chunk of apple pie with a splurge of unidentifiable melted yellow liquid poured over the top.  The coffee, if that’s what it was, was indescribable.

How they did it remains a mystery, but electricity supplier ZESA managed to stay on almost continually over Christmas but soon after New Year came pay back time. Cuts lasting six, ten, fifteen hours at a time. Cold breakfast, lunch and supper. Cooking outside, fridges dripping, freezers defrosting, having to throw food away, How do you cope like this, the visitors ask, this is ridiculous, dangerous?

And on the nights when there was electricity, we suffered a few brief, embarrassing forays into ZBC television. Endless bottom waggling women singing their praises of Zanu PF and its leaders before news reports which are more like party political broadcasts. How can you bear it the visitors ask?

The highlight of the visit was a few days in the Eastern Highlands. Everyone noticed the endless police roadblocks, an average of one every 10 kilometres. You can’t block out the view of what were once hugely productive farms along the road which are now rapidly reverting to bush; no fences or workers or signs of production. A few scrappy little squares of weed- choked, ankle- high yellow maize standing alongside a couple of primitive mud walled huts, surrounded by vast derelict fields. At the cottage in the mountains the atmosphere was tense and on edge. The “war vets” were here just two days before demanding that the owners of the few remaining cottages hand over their keys and vacate. This is THEIR land the so called war vets say. These are THEIR cottages.

The natural beauty of Zimbabwe never failed to heal a wound, relieve the hurt, revive a broken heart. Spectacular rainy season skies which change in an instant from bright clear blue, to low, heavy purple clouds bringing torrential rain storms streaked with lightning, roaring with thunder.

Early in the morning the day before my visitors left, a slender mongoose ran across the garden and feasted on the scattered corpses of shiny brown flying ants lying amid a million abandoned wings. A Hammerkop dropped down to join the feasting and later a crested Lourie arrived, repeatedly chastising my visitors from the diaspora to “Go Away.”

And so, ten years after the start of the mayhem that drove family and friends into exile, they left saying everything has changed but nothing has changed.

I end with special thoughts for people in Australia, Indonesia and Brazil inundated with floods, mud and devastation. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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21 <![CDATA[A million gossamer wings]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

As Zimbabwe arrives at Christmas 2010 it is opportune to record what some of our leaders have been saying recently. Their words give insight into their thoughts and warnings as to where we may be heading in the 2011.

Speaking to delegates at the Zanu PF annual congress in Mutare, Mr Mugabe said it was time for revenge:

"Why should we continue having companies and organisations that are supported by Britain and America without hitting back? Time has come for us to revenge. ..We can read the riot act and say this is 51 percent we are taking and if the sanctions persist we are taking over 100 percent."

Speaking to the Zanu PF central committee Mr Mugabe said:

“ It is grossly disturbing to learn of the extent to which some of our people have gone towards literally giving back the land to white farmers, all for a pittance of the farm profits at the end of the season."

Speaking on International Human Rights Day, MDC Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said:

“We all know that soldiers, members of the police and CIO are being deployed in the rural areas to harass our parents. The army is not there to beat up and abuse people. It is there to protect them. … These are national security institutions which must not be abused. This must stop. When we go to elections it is not a declaration of war.”

Speaking about her powerlessness and frustration in tackling corruption, the MDC’s Co Home Affairs Minister, Theresa Makone said:

“There is a sense of impunity that pervades the whole government, because the people that ruled this country for the past three decades have not been able to arrest public officials, or to try to address the problem or bring justice to perpetrators of corruption”

And then came this little gem from the Zanu (PF)Bulawayo governor, Cain Mathema, who is apparently pushing for the exhumation of Cecil John Rhodes who was buried in the Matopos over a century ago in 1902. Mr Mathema said:

“I wonder why years after independence of Zimbabwe his grave is still found there.  We are going exhume it and send it to Britain where it belongs.  Right now we are failing to get rains because of Rhodes’ bones buried at Matopo Hills”

The last pertinent quote, and a suitable place to end another year of letters from Zimbabwe, comes from across the world. Released after 7 years of house arrest, the Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, may as well have been talking about Zimbabwe when she said: I don’t believe in one person’s influence and authority to move a country forward. One person alone cannot do something as important as bringing democracy to a country.”

I am taking a short break from this letter and wish all Zimbabweans, wherever you are in the world, a peaceful and happy Christmas filled with love and laughter and hope for real change for our beleaguered Zimbabwe in 2011. Until Mid January, I leave you with sincere thanks for your support of my writing and with the sight of Flame Lilies, the sound of Paradise Flycatchers, the smell of rain and the feel of a million gossamer wings in your fingers as you catch flying ants pouring from the depths of the Zimbabwean soil. Love Cathy 

 

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20 <![CDATA[Mosquito swatters]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Christmas in Zimbabwe is a sumptuous extravaganza of peaches and plums, litchis and apricots. It’s the time of flying ants and flame lilies, of dark purple skies and vivid, searing streaks of lightning crackling in the air. This year Christmas is coming with some of the most violent and torrential rain storms we have ever seen, with strong winds, hail and sheets of water covering the ground in minutes. It’s a frantic money raising time of year though, and almost as soon as each rain storm subsides the vendors emerge from cover and get back to business. All along the roads women and children sit displaying piles of tomatoes and bowls and buckets filled to overflowing with wild fruits, running out with their wares whenever a vehicle slows down.

In between the vendors and all along our highways there is a very high police presence. Sometimes its road blocks with drums, signs and cones, other times it’s a couple of police on a motorbike waving vehicles down; or a pair of police on foot standing in a lay-by who risk their lives and yours as they just step out into the road and signal for you to stop when you are on the open road travelling at 120 kilometres an hour. In the busiest locations in towns roadblocks have sprung up in the last few weeks with police accompanied by ZBC radio licence inspectors who are fining drivers and making motorists buy a full 12 month licence which is only valid till the end of the year and expires in two weeks time. None are immune from this Christmas revenue collection.

It’s the time of year when prices go up, almost overnight, as shop owners anticipate more customers and increased sales. It’s the time of year when everyone expects a Christmas bonus; a 13th cheque which is unaffordable and crippling for most employers whose businesses are struggling to stay open but it’s a payment nonetheless that most employees here have come to regard as their right.

This is the time of year when you see people trying to sell the strangest of things. This week two men outside a supermarket were selling what looked like mini tennis racquets but which had a criss-crossed wire gauze in them. “Mosquito swatters” they told me when I stopped for a second, a confused look on my face. Stranger still where the 20 kg bags of seed maize being sold in what used to Zimbabwe’s busiest book shop and stationery outlet. A shop with branches around the country whose slogan is: ‘Leading stationers to the nation,’ but which now stands almost empty stocking only a few political memoirs by Zanu PF figures, a meagre selection of stationery and of course the seed maize!  

Christmas in Zimbabwe is also the time of year when Zanu PF hold their annual congress and the rhetoric is flowing fast and furious, feeding feverishly on each new Wikileaks disclosure. The talk is of traitors and plots, of plans for regime change and at the hidden agendas of foreigners from the west. Fingers are being pointed, accusations are being made and we are being warned that Zimbabwe “will not brook any outside interference.”

This rhetoric aside, Zimbabwe is approaching Christmas 2010 with a growing sense of trepidation and unease. The warnings of what lies ahead for us in coming months as we hold elections, are growing louder by the day.  We are listening, watching and again looking over our shoulders while we try to inhale the magnificence of December in Zimbabwe.  Until next time, thanks for reading and for the wonderful response to my new book, love cathy 11th December 2010.

Copyright © Cathy Buckle. www.cathybuckle.com

For information on my new book “Imire”, about Norman Travers and Imire Game Park, or my other  books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,” African Tears” and “Beyond Tears;” or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact cbuckle@zol.co.zw

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19 <![CDATA["She knows!"]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Before dawn the sound of wheelbarrows fill my suburban neighbourhood. Around the craters which once were potholes, through cavernous gullies which are consuming the tar and around the muddy swamps where vehicles have skidded and got stuck. The wheelbarrows are negotiated through the deep sand drifts which have gathered on corners, in dips and at the bottom of hills; sand that the rain has scoured off our un-repaired suburban roads; sand that once held our roads together but now engulf the storm drains. In the wheelbarrows are the water containers: white, yellow, blue, green; twenty litre bottles – chigubus- we call them, a most precious possession.

Around the piles of sodden, festering, dumped garbage, uncollected for over two years, the wheelbarrows find and make their own paths – the shortest route to the nearest water. This is usually a shallow hole in the bush, an open well or seepage in a wetland. Or rather what’s left of our precious urban wetlands which have gone unprotected for over a decade as dirty, greedy political power struggles have ignored everything else in Zimbabwe. Wetlands which until recently were filled with wild herbs, flowers, reeds and sedges; home to colonies of nesting Weavers, Red Bishop birds, Herons, Hammerkops and Whydahs. Wetlands that are now a maze of illegal cultivation and are carved up into little strips containing a few mealie plants or sweet potato ridges, climbing beans or creeping pumpkins.

Amongst this ‘allotment gone mad,’ our urban population have no choice but to dig holes and collect water.  As I write this letter our town has just survived ten days without a drop of water coming out of our taps. Every day the municipality had another excuse as they kept on promising: “tomorrow”. Our brand, spanking new pump which worked for just a week suddenly stopped working and for ten days an honest explanation never came to light. The need for new valves was one story; sabotage was another; a worker who hadn’t filled the oil and therefore seized the engine was another story that was muttered. On Thursday, eight days into the hell of empty taps, smelly toilets and bucket-baths in under 5 litres of swampy water, the municipality came around, door to door. Not to offer their humble apologies, explanations, promises or to deliver a bowser of water; oh no, they came only to bring their monthly invoices.

Walking in town the following morning an unkempt man wearing blue overalls and red plastic slip slops came up to me. Clutching a bible he said to me: “We are in hell Mai.”  Ten days without water, electricity only in the middle of the night, a town strewn with litter and everyone talking about the rat explosion, I looked at the man and said: “I Know.” He was delighted!

“She knows!” he shouted to anyone who would listen, and kept on shouting as he walked away, laughing, turning back, pointing to me and calling ” She knows!”

That night I went to a Christmas Carol service with the words of the disturbed man still in my head. The service ended with Silent Night and verses were printed and sung in German, Shona, English and Afrikaans. As I sung I knew that 83 WOZA activists had been charged with ‘criminal nuisance for holding a peaceful protest on International Peace Day; that journalists and newspapers are under renewed threats and that political tension is gathering momentum everywhere. How Zimbabwe longs for and deserves a Silent Night, a new era and a bright horizon.

I end this letter with the news that after a gruelling two month journey and a 12 day stop at Beitbridge border, my books on Norman Travers/Imire have arrived. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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18 <![CDATA[Redhead]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Three months ago a Redheaded Weaver arrived in my garden and began building a nest in exactly the same spot as the last time it had been here a few years ago. The male is a very striking individual with a bright scarlet head, chest and upper back. It’s impossible not to notice him when he’s in the garden. There was nothing left on the telephone line from his last nest, not a wisp of spiderweb or a single strand of vegetation, and yet the little male obviously remembered its place and methods and set to work feverishly.

It was the time of year when the Msasa trees were shedding their leaves and the Redhead built the skeleton and entrance tunnel of the nest exclusively using the midribs of the falling Msasa leaves. A few days into the nest building, a female Redhead appeared. The courting and cajoling began almost immediately. Flitting from tree to tree, fluffing out feathers, tail quivering and body shivering, he chased her tirelessly, trying to impress her with his aerial and physical displays and stunning good looks.

Calamity came when the Redhead saw himself in a window and perceived an enemy in his own reflection.  

The similarity between the behaviour of the little Redhead and the pre election fever now stirring in Zimbabwe is striking.     

The Redhead looked at his apparent opponent and went into attack mode. Sitting on the window ledge he pecked and tapped at his image in the glass again and again and again. You could almost see his headache! Around the house he went, window to window, and it was all out war. Everywhere the Redhead looked there were apparent enemies threatening his territory. Car mirrors, solar panels and even tin lids contained enemies and so the Redhead went into destroy mode, defending his sovereign territory.

Every day the Redhead went to the skeleton of his nest and added a strand or two but every day he got diverted when he saw his own image in the windows. You could almost see the Redhead saying to himself: ‘I’ll build tomorrow,”  but for now it was more important to destroy the perceived invasion. The female Redhead soon tired of her mate’s behaviour. For a week or so she sat alongside him on the windowsills and pecked at the reflections of themselves but it wasn’t long before her instinct to create and produce kicked in and she left her mate to his self destructive ways and disappeared from the garden to look for greener pastures. 

There are scores of reflections in windows and mirrors across Zimbabwe that are undoubtedly about to be attacked as we go into pre election mode here. There are so many onlookers that could come forward and prevent the onslaught against the reflection but they don’t and they won’t. SADC, the African Union and our neighbours are all already turning their backs. How can they stay quiet when our own Minister of Defence spoke in Kwekwe this week and said: “Zanu will rule even if you don’t want it. Zimbabwe belongs to Zanu PF.”

Just like my garden belonged to one single, striking Redhead who attacked and attacked and attacked, becoming in the process his own worst enemy. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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17 <![CDATA[Chickened out]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

A few weeks ago something really peculiar started happening at the beginning of the main evening ZBC TV news bulletin.  The newsreader would announce a “brain teaser” for the evening, usually the meaning of the initials of some government organisation or other. Night after night we watched in bemused wonder as the brain teaser was posed, feeling a little like a class of kindergarten children. This week the novelty “brain teaser” at the start of the evening news has shot to dizzying heights. Now we have a large brown flashing question mark in a framed box that takes up almost half of the screen. The questions have also upgraded and are usually about nationalist leaders and colonial issues. After the political question is read out we are told to: “Stay tuned for the answer which will be revealed as the bulletin proceeds.” 

That’s not the only strange thing happening on the state controlled ZBC TV – the only television news that the majority of the population have access to. Suddenly, over the last couple of weeks, the ZBC news readers have stopped referring to Morgan Tsvangirai as the Prime Minister of the country and instead almost always refer to him now as the “leader of the MDC (T) party.” Both titles are of course accurate but the inferred loss of status by not using the title ‘Prime Minister’ is glaringly obvious. Perhaps they thought we wouldn’t notice, or perhaps, like so many other things in Zimbabwe, the more you say it, true or false, the more people believe it?

Brain teasers and lost titles faded into insignificance on Wednesday night and I couldn’t believe my ears at the statement read out by the newsreader.  “Mr Morgan Tsvangirai,” she said, “leader of the MDC (T) party, has chickened out of elections,” proposed for 2011.

“Chickened Out!” One can only imagine what would happen if ZBC TV used such a term to refer to Mr Mugabe who is always now called: “The Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Defence Forces.” 

The main ZBC TV nightly news bulletin wouldn’t be complete without the ‘sanctions’ tirade. Every night there is at least one report about “illegal” sanctions on Zimbabwe. Targeted sanctions and travel restrictions, imposed on less than 300 individuals, continue to be blamed for everything. If my maths is correct and assuming a population of 11 million people, 300 sanctioned individuals represent less than 0,003% of Zimbabweans. This week ZBC TV carried a story that sanctions were “hurting the poor;”  another report was that the distribution of  maize and sorghum seed had been hampered by “sanctions.” Then came the report that “sanctions on Zimbabwe” were  having a detrimental effect on Zambia and other countries on Zimbabwe’s borders.  I lost the thread there somewhere as I tried to make a mental list of local foods currently available in our supermarkets and couldn’t think of more than half a dozen items. Sanctions? And yet everything, everything we use is imported.

As the talk of elections escalates in Zimbabwe, we descend ever faster into that strange “Alice in Wonderland” media place again. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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16 <![CDATA[Family, friends and elephants]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Under a wide blue sky a warthog and her three babies ran across a red dirt road below a kopje. The piglets ran with tails straight up, like aerials, as they followed their mum into the surrounding bush. In the sky nearby half a dozen vultures circled low over a clearing and in the distance, the haunting call of a fish eagle promised water, fish and the myriad treasures waiting discovery in our beautiful Zimbabwe.

A couple of hundred people had gathered at the foothills of Castle Kopje in Wedza. A beautiful kopje, her rocks stained orange with lichen and balancing precariously on top of each other. We sat under a great Acacia tree watching a couple of young black rhinos browsing nearby, waiting for the proceedings to begin.

Our host told us this was a traditional Shona burial ground, a sacred place, and that he’d had to get permission from the local Chief to bury his mother here. Just seven months ago we had been in this same place to bury his father, Norman Travers, here.

The service began and one after another the eulogies told of how Gill Travers was a loving, dedicated and endlessly creative woman. A woman who made her home in the African bush, raised her family there and then shared it all with lions, leopards, hyaenas and otters. Gill’s doctor said she was the only patient he had who had been bitten by a hyaena and then an otter; the only patient who needed a leopard’s claw removed from her forearm!

Alongside giraffe and elephants, rhinos and warthogs, Gill and Norman Travers farmed the land and created a game park which attracted tourists from all over the world. They began outreach programmes with rural schools, endlessly spreading the message of conservation, and they held open days for local elders, headmen and chiefs.

Working with the Department of National Parks, they took in black rhinos ravaged by poaching, and embarked on a unique programme, rearing the calves and then and returning them to the wild. Gill and her catering partner Mattheus prepared milk formulas in bottles for rhinos and cream teas and venison casseroles for visiting guests all in the same farm kitchen! The perfect team creating what Gill’s grandson called an “oasis.” Nineteen years ago Gill Travers was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but she fought on undeterred, always welcoming, cheerful and uncomplaining. Gill finally gave up her valiant struggle this week and watched by family, friends and elephants was laid to rest in the ground she so loved.

I write this letter today in memory of Norman and Gill Travers who lie side by side under an Acacia tree beneath Castle Kopje on Imire Game Park in Wedza. Almost two years ago Norman and Gill invited me into their home and week after week we worked on a book together. They told me the amazing story of how a piece of virgin bush in Wedza was farmed, nurtured and transformed. Norman spoke of a “stream of naughty, smelly, little animals” filling their lives and Gill of how much she loved them all and how proud she was of her family continuing with their life’s work.

“Imire, the Life and Times of Norman Travers,” will be available within the next fortnight, please contact me for further information.

To Norman and Gill Travers: Fambai zvakanaka, thank you for giving us Imire, such a gem. Until next time, love cathy 

 

 

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15 <![CDATA[Multiple choice]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Not many people can bear to watch the main evening ZBC TV news bulletin these days. Thirty one years after Independence it is still filled with stories that apportion blame for everything that is wrong with Zimbabwe on: “the whites, the neo colonialists, the colonial settlers, the west.”  

Six years ago, in October 2004, instead of my usual weekly description of life in Zimbabwe, I sent out a letter called: “Until we meet again.” It was not written by me, but by my mother, Pauline Henson, a white Zimbabwean who was saying goodbye to her family and friends and her life here which had spanned more than half a century. She is one of an estimated four million people, a third of our population, who had no choice but to leave home in order to survive. In those six years my Mum has not forgotten Zimbabwe for a single day. This week, in recognition of a quarter of our population of all skin colours, who have been forced to live as strangers in strange lands, my letter contains four extracts from Pauline’s column: Outside Looking in”:

“Friday November 5th 2010.

Six years ago on this very day I left Zimbabwe. I knew as I flew out of Harare that life would never be the same again for me. I was leaving behind a whole lifetime of memories, of friends and family – a daughter and a grandson – to come to a country where I had been born but which was as alien to me as Africa had once been.

Time heals all wounds, they say, but for me the passing years have only emphasised the sense of loss. “I am a Zimbabwean” I tell people here but hardly a day passes without Robert Mugabe or one of his cronies telling white people that their skin colour and their colonial past excludes them from making that claim. I was reminded of that as I watched a re-run of ‘Mugabe and the White African’ this week and heard Ben Freeth ask the question, ‘Can a white man ever be an African?’ For Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ but for me and thousands like me all over the diaspora, Zimbabwe continues to be the place we call home. I think of all the thousands of children I taught and of the teachers I trained – black Zimbabweans all of them – whose acceptance and friendship filled my days in Mutoko and Murehwa and I wonder how we have arrived at this racial intolerance in Independent Zimbabwe. This week, for example, a female Zanu PF member called for the death sentence for anyone who supports sanctions or is friendly to the west! 

But it was a letter in the Financial Gazette that really attracted my attention this week. “Is this racist?” asked the letter writer and quoted a question from the Grade Seven examination which every child in Zimbabwe sits at the end of primary school. This is what the Grade Seven children were asked in a multiple choice question on the General Paper: “Before Independence blacks and whites failed to live together peacefully because: A. the whites had guns.  B. the blacks liked to strike. C. the whites did not like the blacks and D. all the blacks wanted to live in towns.

 Whether this is racism or not, I do not know but what I do know is that it is a very badly designed multiple choice question, aimed at 11-12 year olds to test not factual knowledge but political opinion with racist overtones.   

As Zanu PF gears up for elections, teachers in rural areas are once again in the frontline. Zanu PF does not care for educated people, they think for themselves and so teachers are beaten up for daring to express alternative views. Three of those teachers are fighting for their lives in a Mission Hospital after a violent beating by Zanu PF thugs in Bikita. All over the country anyone with educational qualifications must be pondering their futures in this divided and intolerant country.  No wonder the International Crisis Group declared this week that Zimbabwe is ‘on a knife edge’ in the run-up to the elections.”

To read Pauline’s full column please visit my website. Until next time, from a Zimbabwean at home and one away from home, thanks for reading, love cathy

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14 <![CDATA[Cracks and crevices and holes in the ground]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

The first real rain of the season arrived in the last week of October. It emerged from low purple clouds highlighted by vivid streaks of white, crackling, lightning. After six dry months, we sat below, expectant, panting, longing! It was a typically African storm, the rain pounding down so hard that in minutes everything was afloat. Sheets of brown water covered the ground in a few minutes and when they started to run, they carried away the detritus of half a year: soil, leaves, sticks, pods and everything not physically attached. You couldn’t hear yourself think over the noise of the rain banging in the gutters and hammering on the roof. The choking dust of months was washed off trees, walls and windows and in half an hour it was all over.

Thirty millimetres of rain (just over an inch) had fallen and from the cracks and crevices and holes in the ground, life emerged. The voices of a myriad frogs rang out from every direction: some sweet and melodious, others shrill and urgent and then there were the deep, guttural croaks of the big boys. Shiny black Chongololos (millipedes) came from unknown places and were soon everywhere, their millions of red legs moving in a strange undulating wave. All sorts of creeping, crawling, running and flying insects appeared. Some welcome ones like sausage flies and flying ants; some strange ones like rhino beetles and some terrifying ones like huge rain spiders and other furry coated, long legged beasties.

So life returned to Zimbabwe and for the residents of my home town this first rain brought a unanimous, almost audible sigh of relief as we ran outside with buckets, bowls and baths. For five days the whole town had been without water. Dry taps, empty geysers, hollow cisterns and echoing tanks. Not a drop of water in the entire town; not for schools or hospitals, industry or residential areas. This water crisis had been months, years in the making. Corroded pipes, collapsing pumps and the main town dam visibly polluted with running sewage. We’ve been limping on, getting water for two or three hours a day if we are lucky; water that is always discoloured, often greasy and smelly and water that you never, never, drink before boiling and filtering.  The local Municipality chose not to warn residents that we were about to have a major crisis and then not to tell us what was going on or how long it may be before we got water again. The Municipality sent out the monthly accounts, delivered by hand, door to door but didn’t bother to even attach a note explaining the water crisis or advising us what to do. And so we all did our own thing.

Outside gates around the town huge lines of people gathered with bottles, buckets and containers – these were the houses where owners had boreholes and were prepared to share. School children each had to take a 5 litre bottle of water to school every day. The roads in the mornings were filled with children carrying satchels and suitcases and parents and relations following behind carrying their water rations.  The main bakery in the town drew water into bowsers from a private borehole in order to keep producing bread. In vleis and open areas wells were dug by desperate residents of the town. Shallow holes with unprotected walls and uncovered surfaces. Morning, noon and night women with buckets and 20 litre containers trekked backwards and forwards to these open pools to draw water

With no water for toilets people were defecating in the bush, the same bush were wells were being opened up; the same bush where people have been dumping litter because the Municipality have stopped collecting it again. As the days passed people began doing their laundry alongside, or even in, the open wells. Some residents complained to selfish women that they were soiling the water for everyone else, telling them to carry water away and wash clothes at home. The complaints were met with the same absurd rhetoric of life in Zimbabwe: critics were accused of being MDC supporters.

How we didn’t get an outbreak of cholera or another major water borne disease is a miracle. I pray that I am not speaking too soon as our water crisis continues and our uncollected waste and filth festers and rots and runs down into those open wells.  Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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13 <![CDATA[We have not forgotten ]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Both Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai are openly talking about elections being held in 2011. Just the word “elections” reminds us of the hell of 2008: a time and place we never want to go back to. 

In January 2008 we were all going across our borders to buy basic supplies because our own shops were empty thanks to government price controls which had resulted in all production coming to a halt. My own shopping list on a trip to South Africa had dozens of items on it and included flour, rice, beans, tinned goods, sugar, salt, margarine, cooking oil, tea, milk powder and even toilet paper.

In February 2008 the monthly salary of civil servants and people in general employment was only enough to purchase one single loaf of bread and a two litre bottle of cooking oil. In March a loaf of bread cost 7 million dollars and a dozen eggs were 30 million dollars. In reality these prices were actually in the billions but Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono removed zeros from the currency just before the elections. On the 29th March Zimbabwe voted. After casting his ballot Mr Mugabe said: “The moment the people stop supporting you, then that’s the moment you should quit politics.”

Throughout April 2008 the election results were not announced and a tsunami of violence swamped the country. Newspaper headlines screamed: “Murder, torture, terror” and “Hundreds flee Zanu PF.” 

In May 2008, 5 weeks after the poll, election results were finally announced. The MDC had won the majority of seats in parliament and Mr Tsvangirai had more votes than Mr Mugabe in the Presidential vote. It was announced that the Presidential majority wasn’t large enough and another poll was to be held. Violence swept across the land and multiple thousands of people were killed, maimed and tortured for “voting the wrong way.” A loaf of bread soared in price to 40 million dollars.

A run off Presidential ballot was held in June 2008; Mr Mugabe was the only candidate as Mr Tsvangira pulled out because of widespread violence. One man at my local hospital arrived with two broken arms, a broken leg and a fractured skull; he was accused of having supported the MDC. On the 29th June 2008 Mr Mugabe was again declared the President of Zimbabwe.

In July 2008 hundreds of people arrived at foreign embassies in Harare begging for sanctuary and humanitarian assistance. The MDC said that at least a quarter of a million people had been displaced from their homes by violence. The Reserve Bank Governor set a maximum daily withdrawal limit from banks of 100 billion dollars. At that time a five day penicillin-based antibiotic cost 2 trillion dollars. There was no bread to buy and a single scone cost 140 billion dollars. 5000 people a day were arriving every day at a Home Affairs refugee reception centre in South Africa.

In August 2008, five months after the elections, Zimbabwe was still in limbo with no parliament and no MP’s having been sworn in. In September Zimbabwe began hearing about power sharing where losers became winners and vice versa.

October 2008 saw inflation at 231 million percent and there were only cabbages and condoms to buy in major supermarkets. There was no seed maize or fertilizer to buy as the rainy season began and in November 2008 hospitals didn’t even have disposable gloves let alone medicines, drips or bandages.

Two years later we don’t have democracy, but thanks to an MDC Finance Minister who put the brakes on, we do have imported food in the shops, US dollars in our purses and inflation under 10%. Zimbabwe has not forgotten the hell of 2008, who took us there and who brought us back. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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12 <![CDATA["Go Away"]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

On a sweltering October day I took a friend to his home in a rural village. It was midday when we left the nearby town and we were loaded down with maize seed, fertilizer, fencing wire, a banana tree, bicycle and a number of bags and boxes. It was one of those days that are so hot, you feel as if you are melting. A day when clothes are dry almost as soon as you hang them on the washing line; when you burn your feet on the sand if you dare walk barefoot. In the deep shade under the newly green Msasa trees, the temperature was 36 degrees Centigrade; in the full sun my thermometer raced up to 46 degrees. It’s that time of year when all we can think of is heat and all we long for is rain; desperately, breathlessly, we look up, in anticipation.

The only route to my friend’s home in the village, his kumusha, meant travelling past my own farm – the one taken over by militant youths and drunk, drugged men a decade ago. The one whose Title Deeds I still own and for which I have never been paid a single cent of compensation for. It wasn’t just the heat of the weather that made my hands sweaty and clammy as I turned onto the first familiar road.

Under a glaring blue sky without even a smudge of cloud, I travelled through what used to be my home neighbourhood. I knew the twists and turns of the road, looked for familiar rocky outcrops, anticipated the deep drifts of loose sand on the verges which accumulate in the same places every year. The names and faces of all the people who had lived and farmed here flashed into my mind as I passed their homes. I could hear their voices and their laughter and remember the embracing welcome that was always waiting whenever I visited. Beautiful homes, gorgeous gardens and everywhere the signs of production and busy farm life: men working in fields and on fence lines; tractors trundling backwards and forwards; big flocks of sheep and goats, herds of beef and dairy cows – all with their heads down, on irrigated pastures, or in troughs filled with hay, mashanga (maize plant residue) and silage.   

In my minds eye it was so comforting and familiar but in reality it has all become so ugly and alien.  

A magnificent purple bougainvillea against the side wall of a farmhouse was the only thing left to look at as I passed a neighbours home. Parts of the roof of the house have gone, the timber and beams have gone; the walls are grey, the gutters gone, security fencing and farm fencing all gone.

On both sides of the road all these seized farms are deserted. No crops, no livestock, no workers, no fences,

We passed a man pushing a wheelbarrow, loaded and wobbling under the weight of a newly cut indigenous tree, the bark still mottled with grey and green lichen. Behind him a woman followed, thin and gaunt looking, she had a toddler wrapped in a towel, tied onto her back. On her head, resting on a small cloth pad, the woman carried a dozen long branches, tied together with strips of bark. They were walking past what had once been a prolific dairy farm where the view had always been of fat, shining black and white Holstein cows, their udders heavy with milk. Now the view is of nothing. Eight years after the farm was taken over by a Government Minister, the view is of black ground and burnt bush. Deserted fields, no sign of workers or machinery, no ploughing, planting or livestock. All along the roadside the fences have gone, the internal paddock fences have gone, the once lush pastures have gone, the contours protecting the soil have gone.     

Farm after farm we passed and the view was the same: derelict, burnt, unploughed and no one out working in the lands. “Where is everyone?’ I asked my friend.

“Now that they aren’t being given all the inputs by government, they are just sitting,” he said.

“But they’ve had ten years,” I responded. “Surely by now they can afford to put in their own crops and produce something on these farms they took?”

My question had no answer.

My heart ached at the sight of so many tree plantations that have been ravaged: felled or burnt. Trees planted by so many of us that farmed along those roads: trees for fuelling tobacco barns; trees for shade, for firewood for staff, for poles for fences.

What I saw of my own farm is too painful to write about.

Arriving at the village, my friend’s family were waiting with big smiles and a warm welcome. We unloaded the makings of their summer crop and parted with handshakes and wishes for good, gentle, soaking rain. As I drove away the chant of patriotism during the rescue of Chilean miners filled my head: “Chi, chi, chi, le, le, le.”

What can Zimbabwe’s chant of patriotism be, I wondered All I could think of was the angry, alarming calls of the Grey Lourie so familiar at this time of year: “Go Away, Go Away,” it screams again and again. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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11 <![CDATA[Tea, Cricket and Truth]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

When South Africa’s Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu turned 79 this week and announced he was retiring from public life, I felt very sad for Zimbabwe. Desmond Tutu has been an earnest, dedicated and unflagging supporter of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. Throughout the last decade he has been consistently outspoken about the abuses inflicted on Zimbabweans by their own leaders. Time and time again when all other African leaders were struck dumb, Desmond Tutu raised his voice for ordinary people. 

In 2002 when legislation curtailing freedom of speech, movement and association was introduced, Desmond Tutu was interviewed on the BBC. He strongly criticised Mr Mugabe and said Zimbabwe was: “On the slippery slope of perdition.” Most of us had to look the word up in our dictionaries to find that it was a religious term referring to eternal death and damnation. 

When South African election observers came to Zimbabwe and their cars were stoned by militant Zanu PF youths, they witnessed at first hand an atmosphere laden with violence, intimidation and extreme harassment. The head of the South African observer mission was jeered and laughed at by journalists when he went on to say that Zimbabwe’s elections had been: ‘legitimate.”  Again Archbishop Tutu stepped forward: “I am deeply, deeply, deeply distressed that our country could be among those who say the election was legitimate or free and fair when we are claiming to be adherents to democracy.”

Five years later, in 2007, African leaders were still dumb struck and tip-toeing around the bloodshed, hunger and chaos tearing Zimbabwe apart but Desmond Tutu was not afraid of upsetting the old boys club. He and Madeline Albright, the previous US Secretary of State, published a joint article in the Washington Post. They appealed, not to the world, but to Africa, saying:

“Given Mugabe's consistent unwillingness to respect the legitimate complaints of his people, this is not the time for silent diplomacy. This is the time to speak out. It is especially important that members of the African Union and Southern African Development Community (SADC) raise their voices, for they have the most influence and can hardly be accused of interventionism.”

Later that same year Archbishop Tutu used the International Day of Peace to again cry out for Zimbabwe. He spoke about the harassment of political opponents, detentions without trial and torture  and said : “It must stop now.”

He closed his speech saying: “We are one family, the human family, God's family. Zimbabwe's plight is all of our plight. To ignore its suffering is to condone it.”

Honest and forthright, Tutu’s unique combination of empathy, humility and humour will be sorely missed in Zimbabwe. We wish him well as he turns his time to reading, writing, praying and thinking; and to drinking lots of tea and watching cricket on television.

As one of the loudest voices for ordinary Zimbabweans falls quiet, there is hope that at last, another has returned. MDC Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has finally made a statement about yet more breaches of the power sharing agreement. Mr Tsvangirai said that all along he had been: “ prepared for the sake of our country to sit alongside my yesteryear’s enemies and tormentors to rebuild a stable and democratic country. “  But now he said, the re-appointment by Mr Mugabe, on a Sunday, of Zanu PF governors was one breach too many. He said that with immediate effect the MDC will refuse to recognize unilateral appointments that have been made by Mr Mugabe including the Attorney General, The Reserve Bank Governor, 10 Provincial Governors, 5 Judges, 6 Ambassadors and the Police Commission. The PM said the continued refusal to swear in Roy Bennett as Deputy Agriculture Minister was a personal vendetta and part of a racist agenda.

The Prime Minister will do well to pick up where Desmond Tutu has left off and raise his voice for us, the ordinary people.  Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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10 <![CDATA[Ancient treasures]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

When a Zimbabwean living in the Diaspora asked for a photograph of Bushman paintings recently, the request provided the perfect excuse for an outing into our beautiful bush and kopjes. The brief excursion also allowed me to see what a tourist might see. What an eye opener it was.

On a clear summer morning a friend and I travelled 30 kilometres to a cave painting I’d not seen before. I imagined myself as a tourist in a bus, looking out of the window and the first thing I saw on the journey was all the litter. Everywhere I looked there was litter: on the streets, along the pavements, piled up in heaps outside flats and shopping centres and dumped in ugly, festering piles on the outskirts of towns. Litter removal: such a small thing; the responsibility of local municipal councils, paid for by ratepayers, but not being done. 

Heading onto the open road the first thing you see is that none of the main highways have lane or shoulder markings and there are no warning signs, chevrons or cat’s eyes. Almost every bridge you cross has broken railings and none of the rivers have names anymore, the signs ripped out of the concrete or removed from posts. Isn’t road maintenance being paid for by all the money collected at tollgates, I wondered. 

As we got out into the country the only view was of black. Mile after mile of burnt landscape, black ground in every direction; hills and valleys carpeted in ash, trees scorched, bushes burnt. On both sides of the road farm land lies mostly deserted and derelict and there is no sign of ploughed lands or preparation for the coming rainy season. Boundary fences along the roads have almost all gone and cattle and goats graze right alongside the highway providing a deadly hazard to traffic. These boundary fences were always the responsibility of farmers whose land adjoins highways but now farms have been taken over and regulations about fences are ignored.

Arriving at our destination situated just a few metres off the road and behind the railway station of a small town, we walked towards the small outcrop of rock.  Negotiating our way over burnt ground and around a maze of scorched brambles, I could hardly believe that an ancient national treasure could possibly be situated here. Plastic bags were snagged on bushes and empty beer tins lay on the ground. I had to take a deep breath and try not to look at the piles of human faeces that sat in numerous fly covered heaps around the base of the kopje. I stepped over them and knew without a doubt that if I was a tourist by now I would have turned back in disgust and not continued on this quest to see an ancient painting.

A little further around the kopje, up a few boulders and suddenly there it was, under an overhang of sheared rock. The colours of the ancient paintings beckoned immediately: orange, brown, ochre, yellow, purple. Large, dark brown oval designs in the centre with crowds of animals painted above. A magnificent sable, its long horns sweeping backwards in perfect curves. An unmistakable image, as recognisable to me now as it must have been to the artist thousands of years ago. Leaving the Bushman paintings behind and taking a short drive back to the main road, we passed a plinth and memorial to fallen soldiers of World War Two - the plaque and inscription vandalized and removed in the last decade by men calling themselves Zimbabwe’s war veterans.

Tourism accounted for almost 17% of Zimbabwe’s GDP in 2000 but now contributes less than 5% to our economy. The endless seminars and workshops being held say that billions will be needed to revive the tourist industry. We can all see, however, that a political solution and a few dustbin bags will do very well thank you. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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9 <![CDATA[Red warning lights]]>

Dear Family and Friends,

As the programme to consult people about what they want included in our new constitution draws to a close, we have begun bracing ourselves for what comes next. The drawing up of a new draft constitution leading to a referendum and then an election is now in sight. It is exactly this three-step process where the mayhem began for us all, 10 years ago, in February 2000.

We are bracing ourselves now because in the last few weeks we have seen the re-emergence of the same crude harassment, intimidatory tactics and oppressive practices which tell us that, without a shadow of a doubt, nothing has changed.

The first red warning light went on when the constitutional consultative meetings got to the capital city. The process immediately descended into chaos.  45 meetings were violently disrupted as truck loads of people, apparently bussed in from rural areas, made sure that no one was free to voice their opinions. At one venue Zanu PF youths and ‘war veterans’ barred some people from participating because of their skin colour; at another venue a Zanu PF supporter  reportedly drew a gun in order to stop a resident from delivering an opening prayer before the commencement of the meeting. When the police did not intervene and arrest perpetrators, the MDC’s co Home Affairs Minister, Theresa Makone, finally found her voice. Minister Makone said Zanu PF were “virtually holding the Zimbabwe Republic Police to ransom.” She said the police were too afraid to do their jobs because they received instructions from Zanu PF.

The next red light went on when 83 members of WOZA were arrested whilst taking part in a peaceful march to Parliament on International Peace Day. 76 women and 7 men were held for 2 nights in prison cells, amongst them was a 9 month old baby. WOZA press releases talked of prisoners being held in passageways as the cells themselves were uninhabitable. There were no toilets, no water was available and one man was severely beaten with baton sticks.

The last red warning light came at local level in the form of a strike at the Marondera municipality. It was a strike that hadn’t attracted any sympathy whatsoever from ratepayers or residents of the town who are totally disenchanted with street lights that haven’t worked for over 4 years, roads that haven’t been maintained for 3 years, piles of uncollected garbage dumped on roadsides and under trees and less than 2 hours of dirty water a day if we are lucky. Then there are all the ghost workers still on the municipal payroll and the large amounts of fuel we see being drawn by municipal vehicles every Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Add to this the talk of top council officials each drawing salaries in the multiple thousands every month and you’ll understand why there was no support at all for a strike. All that aside, the warning light came on when the drumming started; clenched fists waving in the air told us this had been hijacked (or perhaps masterminded) by Zanu PF. The signs written on the green cardboard placards were proof. A part of one banner being held up by a dreadlocked man who was probably still in nappies at Independence thirty one years ago, read: ‘Rhodesians must go.’

The warning signs are now clearly visible and we can see the true nature of the beast which has been hiding behind a cloak called “Unity Government” all along. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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8 <![CDATA[Lonely sentinels]]>


Dear Family and Friends,

My son was 8 years old when we were forced off our Marondera farm by war veterans and Zanu PF youths in September 2000. Richard does not remember those very traumatic months that we lived alongside the men who had invaded our farm. Men who were far too young to have been veterans of war; youths who were almost always drunk, drugged, abusive and threatening. Camped in a paddock within sight of our house, a rabble took over our lives, claimed the farm field by field, destroyed our business, livelihood and pension and finally chased us out of our home. For a long time I have been very glad that Richard does not remember that frightening, horrible time but that all changed this week when I phoned him one morning. Richie said he couldn’t talk just then because he was on his way to help a friend who was being evicted from his farm and had been given until 3 that afternoon to get out.

My heart was in my mouth at the thought of another family going through the devastating anguish of being forced out of their home. With just hours in which to pack and move a home and business of a lifetime, I knew that this Mother and her son would need all the help they could get. Before long, like Richard, I was rushing to help and it took me back in time to that bad place that holds only fear and painful memories.  Just a few kilometres out of Marondera town, down a bumpy, winding, dust road through the most magnificent Msasa woodland adorned in glorious spring leaves, I followed my son’s vehicle. We travelled for a dozen kilometres and saw no one and nothing: no ploughed fields, no sheep or cattle, no crops or greenhouses. A line of fence posts caught my eye: standing in a perfectly straight line they had once been a paddock or a boundary but the wire was all gone and the poles stood as lonely sentinels watching over these deserted, seized farms.

Arriving at the farm of my son’s friend, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as soon as I stepped out of my vehicle. Sitting on stumps and broken plastic chairs under a covered carport a few metres from the house were the land invaders. A tatty rabble they were. Half a dozen of them, mostly youngsters and openly drinking at 11 in the morning; one swigging from a $4 bottle of Vladinoff Vodka, others drinking beer out of cut off plastic bottles. One was drumming and they were singing crude versions of “Chimurenga songs” whose lyrics had been changed to: “They are coming to move you out. By 3 this afternoon this will be our house. We are happy you are going. We are getting our land.”

I recognized one of the men, a scruffy layabout with dreadlocks who hangs around car parks. And these were to be our farmers, I thought with contempt. I did not meet their eyes or respond to their begging calls for cigarettes.

I hugged the woman who was losing her home today but we did not talk, there are no words. All day we worked removing curtains and pictures, emptying drawers and cupboards, loading our vehicles with another destroyed life. Eight years ago half this farm was given to the Zimbabwe government but bit by bit they took more and now this bunch outside wanted it all. Wearing broken green plastic flip flops and woolly hats even in the 25 degree heat, they were determined they were going to have this house, and they were going to have it today.

The Police did not come, would not come, because this, they said, was political, not criminal. As 3pm came and went, tempers flared and the invaders moved into the garden and then some even into the living room. The farmer’s dogs, chained under a shady tree whined and whimpered as they couldn’t protect their owners. A beautiful brown and white cat lay on the floor in the bedroom surrounded by boxes, piles, suitcases, coat hangers.

As the shadows lengthened and with the red setting sun in our eyes I followed my son’s vehicle away from his friend’s farm for the last time. The dust was thick and choking and I felt tears burning my eyes. How can this be? 10 years after it happened to us, it is still going on. Nothing has changed; no attempt to stop the destruction of agriculture; no response from the Police; no respect for Title Deeds, property rights or even a family’s private home.

Who in their right mind would dream of investing in Zimbabwe when a bunch of arbitrary drunken thugs can get away with something like this because “it is political.” Is this Zanu PF politics or Unity Government politics? Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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7 <![CDATA[What's going on?]]>  

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s been a long time since the news broadcasts on Short Wave Radio Africa have been deliberately jammed by loud, repetitive electronic noises but suddenly, alarmingly, its back. 

The jamming of SW Radio Africa began at 7.20pm on the night of the 1st September 2010. The news bulletin was by then more than two thirds completed and a report on the need for extra funding for the constitutional outreach programme was just about to be aired. A loud interference broke into the broadcast, the repeated tones continuing until 8.00 pm, making it impossible to hear the remainder of the news reports or the following half hour programme.

Suspicions were immediately raised and the automatic question is:  What’s going on? What is it that the Zimbabwe government doesn’t want us to know? 

Its been over ten years since the fight for political dominance in Zimbabwe destroyed agriculture and business, chased 4 million people out of the country and turned our lives upside down; ten years during which we all learned what signals to look out for when something is up. The jamming of SW Radio Africa is one of those very clear signs and eyebrows are up.

You would think that that with the explosion of cell phone lines in the country and the return of an independent daily newspaper there wouldn’t be a need for radio jamming anymore, but that’s not the case. For the vast majority of Zimbabweans a newspaper is a luxury; computers, emails and internet access are a remote dream and sitting listening to a short wave radio station for two hours a night is the only way to get information that’s not blatant propaganda.

So what is that they don’t want us to know?

Could it be the news that a Bulawayo artist is facing charges with a 20 year prison term for an art exhibition?

Or the fact that the former education minister and Mashonaland East Governor is in a renewed land grab on the few remaining farms in and around Marondera ?

Perhaps it’s the continuing reports of intimidation and harassment surrounding the constitutional outreach programme.

Maybe it’s the 24 point document outlining action to be taken to apparently resolve issues outstanding from the tri party political agreement - issues which are 18 months overdue.

Or maybe, the jamming of SW Radio Africa is being done so that we can’t hear the voices of ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives in a country where fear, intimidation and harassment are still all around us all the time and the only real change we see from our huge government is food in our shops.

When SW Radio Africa asked MDC Information minister Nelson Chamisa what was behind the radio jamming, Mr Chamisa said he didn’t know the station was being jammed. His response was a mirror image of MDC co Home Affairs minister Theresa Makone, When asked about the arrest and detention of a Bulawayo artist, Mrs Makone said she didn’t know about it.  How soon they’ve forgotten that SW Radio Africa was their only voice before they got into Zimbabwe’s massive government – a voice they don’t listen to anymore?

Ironically the jamming of SW Radio Africa doesn’t make less people listen to the broadcasts, but exactly the reverse because now even more people want to know what the government are trying to hide. Until next time, thanks for reading, love Cathy.

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6 <![CDATA[Load shedding]]>  

 

Dear Family and Friends,

We’ve had an electricity crisis of major proportions this past week which has bought the routines of everyday life to a standstill. Businesses without computers, offices unable to access records, machines that cannot be operated and of course, no electricity means no water which makes things even harder still. Repeated calls to electricity supplier ZESA have yielded nothing: no explanation, apology or excuses just two little words spat contemptuously at you for daring to ask: ‘load shedding’ they say. 12, 15, 18 and even 22 hours a day we’ve been subjected to ‘load shedding’ at a time when the country is desperate for business, production and growth. One man home businesses have come to a complete standstill. Small businesses without the means to provide their own electricity are complaining that they’ve been losing about five hundred dollars a day. Bigger businesses estimate lost income of around five thousand dollars a day, not to mention employees sitting around doing nothing who will all have to be paid at the end of the month. Employees who came to work in the morning without having had a proper meal and will go home to much the same: a smoky fire outside and no water to bath or wash with.

Every outlet that can afford to run them, have resorted to generators. In all shapes and sizes the machines clutter pavements and alleyways and pedestrians have become adept at picking a safe path through the wires and conducting their business over the clattering, thumping and roaring of the engines. The power cuts have become so ridiculous this week that even the petrol stations have resorted to using generators to pump fuel into customers’ vehicles. It’s a slow process if you happen to be in a car though because there is a steady line of people on foot jumping the queue as they wait to fill plastic bottles with a litre or two of petrol for generators.

Craziest of all about this week’s non existent electricity is the sure and certain knowledge that come the end of the month our electricity bills will be as high as they always are. First world bills for fourth world service, or even no service at all.

The knock on effects of these extended power cuts is having a devastating impact on the environment. From early in the morning to last thing in the evening the sound of wood chopping is all around. Emerging from bush and woodland all the time is a steady stream of women carrying huge piles of newly cut wood on their heads. Some is for their own use but more is for sale, a small bundle of half a dozen pieces of indigenous wood costing five US dollars – enough to cook perhaps two or three meals.

Despite it all, Zimbabweans really have become masters of ingenuity when faced with adversity so now, if you know where to go and have a few dollars, you can have a haircut or charge your cell phone on someone’s generator. What a shame it is that ZESA aren’t blessed with a similar ingenuity. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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5 <![CDATA[Nothing local]]>


Dear Family and Friends,

Having a meal with friends this week, the conversation turned, as it almost always does, to politics. First the talk was about the constitutional outreach programme which has degenerated into party politics in most areas and left people afraid to attend, scared to speak and facing the consequences of daring to voice their opinions - particularly if they are in rural areas. Then the discussion was about elections - when they should happen; with or without a new constitution and with or without international supervision were a few of many burning questions. Then came the dual citizenship issue and the

disenfranchisement of so many Zimbabweans who now hold foreign passports either because they have been in exile during our country's decade of mayhem or because they've been struck off voters rolls and declared 'alien' if their parents were born outside the country.

Before long our conversation was about the food on the table. A simple meal is still not something any of us take for granted. Memories of 2007 and 2008 when there was hyperinflation and no food to buy are still very fresh in our minds. How well we remember the horror of government price controls, of youth militia going shop to shop forcing prices to be slashed dramatically and then buying up all the stock themselves. We remember walking into huge supermarkets and gazing at aisle after aisle of empty shelves with nothing to sell except perhaps a few wilting cabbages or packets of 'maputi' popcorn, light bulbs or washing up liquid.

How easily this could all happen again, I thought, as we talked about the food we were eating. Almost everything on the table had been grown or produced outside Zimbabwe. The milk was imported from Zambia, where it is produced by dispossessed Zimbabwean farmers. The margarine was imported from South Africa where it is produced by a Zimbabwean company which had no choice but to relocate across the border to survive. The bread was made locally but with wheat imported from South Africa. The eggs were local but the chickens had been fed on imported food. The biscuits were from Mocambique; sugar and coffee from South Africa and even the fruit was imported.

Its been ten years since  Zanu PF grabbed all Zimbabwe's commercial farms and yet we still have nothing to show for it. We are now completely dependent on outside countries for almost everything we eat. A closer look at all the labels on the food in our shops exposes Zimbabwe's continuing inability to stand on its own two feet. Food may have familiar product names and some may have been packaged in Zimbabwe but mostly the contents are imported. How familiar we have become with those little stickers on most of our food which proclaims 'proudly South African.' Browsing around one small convenience and fresh produce shop recently I had to ask if there was anything they sold that was actually locally grown or produced in Zimbabwe. Potato crisps were imported, as were biscuits, jam, chutney, apples, pears, tinned goods, cold drinks and almost everything else.

What a tragedy that ten years after land takeovers, nothing says 'proudly Zimbabwean' because nothing is. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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4 <![CDATA[B.I.D.]]>



Dear Family and Friends,

While international supermodel Naomi Campbell was testifying about a pouch of "dirty little stones" at the war crimes trial of ex Liberian President, Charles Taylor, Zimbabwe's own controversial, dirty little stones, began making headlines.

Everything about Zimbabwe's Marange diamonds is highly contentious including:

- The legal ownership of the mines;

- Supreme Court orders that have been ignored;

- Parliamentary portfolio teams repeatedly barred from visiting Marange;

- At least 30 million dollars from previous sales that never made it to government offers;

- The detention for a month of Farai Maguwu, who publicized abuses at the diamond fields.

Most damning of all is the 61 page report by Human Rights Watch issued in June

2009 which details a litany of abuses perpetrated by the military at the Marange diamond fields. Abuses that include forced labour, beating, torture, sexual abuse and mass killing.

Despite it all, however, Zimbabwe managed to get Kimberley Process approval and started selling diamonds this week. 893 thousand carats, apparently mined during the past two months only, were certified to be "conflict free" by Kimberley Process Monitor Abbey Chikane. Chikane said the soldiers had gone from the two fenced off mines that had yielded the stones and that  "minimum international standards" had been met. The diamonds were sold for 71 million US dollars - a figure from which the government apparently gets around 10% from the sales in royalties, taxes and dividends.

Diamonds from the rest of the Marange mines were not sold this week and are still banned from auction because of ongoing abuses.

A friend asked me this week what I would do if I was given a pouch of dirty little stones from Marange. I didn't hesitate, a brief glance at pages 34 -38 of the Human Rights Watch report  said it all for me. Called:  "Diamonds in the Rough,"  the report described military helicopters with mounted automatic weapons; indiscriminate firing of live ammunition and tear gas; mass graves and piles of decomposing bodies. One extract, given by medical staff in Mutare in November 2008 is horror beyond belief, it reads:

 "..soldiers had brought in 107 bodies from Marange, of which 29 bodies were identified and collected by relatives. 78 bodies we marked 'Brought in Dead"

(B.I.D.) from Marange, identity unknown. We entered cause of death as unknown although many of the bodies had visible bullet wounds. The soldiers who brought them informed us that the bodies were of unknown illegal diamond miners..."

Surely, I thought, if I had a Marange diamond, everytime I wore it I would have blood on my hands and see the letters B.I.D. engraved on the stone. Surely, surely we have lost our way when stones are more valuable than human life. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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3 <![CDATA[The real heroes]]>


Dear Family and Friends,

As Zimbabwe commemorates Heroes Day, the official remembrance is again dominated by Zanu PF individuals. Every day we are bombarded with Zanu PF propaganda on the country's only television channel: big breasted, big bottomed women wriggling their bodies, waving their fists and singing endless refrains in praise of Zanu PF. We hear nothing of heroes from other political parties; nothing of the thousands who have died in the last decade in the struggle for good governance, democracy and new leadership in our country. We hear nothing of the ordinary Zimbabweans who who are the real heroes in 2010. This letter is for them, heroes of the last decade.

The heroes are mothers and grandmothers who managed to keep homes together and families alive when shops were empty and there was no food to buy. Women who went to bed hungry, made meals from nothing and kept hope alive.

The heroes are our children who lost their childhood in the mayhem of ten years of political violence. Children who watched their families being torn apart as parents, siblings, aunts and uncles fled to the Diaspora to escape and to survive. Children who sat helpless, hopeless outside closed schools. Children who lost ten years of education and as a result are without qualifications and jobs.

The heroes are people in rural villages who have borne the brunt of political intimidation, harassment and violence. Knowing their every move is watched and recorded. Knowing that if their name is not on the "good" list of the village leaders they will not get food, seed, fertilizer. People who continue to endure the most primitive of conditions in homes which are still without piped water, plumbing or electricity 30 years after Independence.

The heroes are the professionals: doctors, nurses, teachers, and so many more who have held their heads high, worked in the most appalling circumstances for miniscule wages, determined to keep giving of their skills which have held Zimbabwe together.

The heroes are the ordinary workers who have toiled for the smallest of wages, wearing threadbare clothes, walking miles to work, struggling through endless power cuts, going for days, weeks and months without water and coping with years of not having garbage collected.

The heroes are the activists who have lost everything, and given everything,to bring freedom for us all. Activists who are not in this massive government we are groaning under; activists who are not driving government cars and earning government allowances but ordinary men and women who are brave, determined, driven.

The heroes are the countless men and women who have worked tirelessly from outside our borders. People who have given 10 years of their lives to exposing events in Zimbabwe, speaking out, lobbying governments, raising money for people in trouble, giving support, encouragement and hope.

Happy Heroes Day to all of us, whatever our race, colour, creed or political persuasion.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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2 <![CDATA[Tell us the answer]]>

Dear Family and Friends,

After my letter last week in which I mentioned the enormous disparity between the daily amount being given to constitution outreach technicians (70 US dollars) compared to the daily wage of a civil servant (5 US dollars), I got a very angry email from a company owner.

"I don't know why you keep on about the workers, the employers have it much worse, " the lady wrote.
"You must tell us the answer," she said, referring to her situation as an employer and then describing the dire position her business is in.

Struggling to turn over 3,000 US dollars a month, her company employs 7 people who, in her words, "come to work late and go home early."The monthly wage bill alone is 2,400 US dollars. The company owner does not draw a salary herself because there is no money left after paying the seven wages, electricity, water, rates, rent, fuel.

The anger and despair of this company owner is being repeated all over the country as most businesses remain barely functional while Zimbabwe remains in a perilous economic state.  Property rentals, utilities, wages and costs go up but there is not a corresponding increase in income because people just aren't spending money on anything except essentials. Many companies describe never having had so little work and so few customers since they started operating twenty or even thirty years ago. As absurd as it may sound, employers can't afford to retrench a portion of their workforce either as the exit packages are so high that it will bankrupt the whole company to lay off a few.

Wages are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to employing people in Zimbabwe. Aside from the pay envelope there is the uniform and shoes, the transport, housing and light allowances, the appeals for a meal at work, for school fees, medical assistance and so it goes on and on - desperate workers looking to even more desperate employers whose companies are on the verge of collapse.  

Enter into all of this the pending compulsory 51%  indigenous shareholding of companies and the waves start flooding in over the edge of the floundering boat. Last weekend the Indigenisation and Empowerment Minister, Saviour Kasukuwere, threatened to close down 9,000 companies because they hadn't yet submitted indigenisation plans to his ministry. Apparently only 480 out of 9 557 companies had put in the paperwork that effectively gives control of their companies to complete strangers.

I haven't got an answer for the angry company owner, or for the desperate employees whose wage doesn't get them to the end of the month. There's no answer either for the university graduate who has unsuccessfully applied for 50 jobs in the last five months or for the neighbour who recently lost his job. 

Companies, families and individuals are all in the same position as we start August 2010. We are living from hand to mouth, hoping and praying that we don't have an accident or get sick, that nothing gets broken or stolen and that we can just make it to the end of the month. For all of us there is really only one answer and that is a return to good governance, law and order, property rights and real democracy. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 

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1 <![CDATA[The soul of Zimbabwe]]>

Dear Family and Friends,
Oh to be in Zimbabwe when spring is in the air, what a gorgeous place it is. The cold of winter has almost gone and the wind is running through golden grass, preparing to lift up and shake off last year's dusty leaves. White Helmetshrikes and Glossy Starlings are back in our gardens, Cardinal Woodpeckers are tapping in the trees while Hoopoes spend their days stabbing termites in dry, dusty, scratchy lawns. In the highveld bush the Lucky Bean trees have lost all their leaves and are covered in spectacular red flowers. The pods on the Msasa trees are turning dark chocolate brown and starting to crack, preparing to spit seeds in all directions. Lining the streets of so many towns, the Bauhinia trees are bursting with pink and white flowers and the leaves on the Jacarandas have all gone yellow and are about to fall.

This year another dramatic aspect of our beautiful Zimbabwe is lining roads everywhere as hundreds of miles of trenches are being dug for a communication cable. It is breathtaking to see the magnificent patchwork of colours of soil piled in heaps along the road. Yellow, beige, orange, red, brown, grey, black: it leaves you feeling as if you've seen into the very soul of Zimbabwe.  

Sadly, however, all is not beautiful as spring arrives and our chance in a lifetime constitution making process has turned into a shambles. Every day the reports just get worse and worse. The words used by one senior official to describe the outreach programme, expose the truth of the story: tension, friction, hostile, ugly. We hear of public meetings turning into shouting matches, of people being abducted, assaulted, kidnapped and of villagers being frog marched, intimidated and commandeered. Then there are reports of COPAC (constitutional outreach) drivers and technicians threatening to stop work as they say they aren't getting the pay they were promised. Other reports tell of hotels evicting COPAC personnel or refusing to give them meals due to massive unpaid bills.

In a country where over 90% of the population is unemployed and civil servants only earn 160 US dollars a month, its hard to find perspective in this whole mess. One report tells of COPAC technicians being very disgruntled at only receiving 55 US dollars a day for their services and another 15 a day for their meals. For teachers with degrees surviving on less than 5 US dollars a day, it doesn't really make sense - does it?

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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