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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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