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Clear as mud
Saturday 28th July 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
There is a different feeling in the air this week - the stirring of dusty
leaves on thirsty trees, a clearer colour to the sky and the calls of birds not
heard for the last few months. The changing season at least brings a feeling of
hope and a tantalizing promise of sanity to a time of utter madness which many
people are saying may well be the final straw for them. In the fourth week of
government ordered price-cuts, it would be absurd to list the things we cannot
get because they are now too numerous and include most foodstuffs and basic
Almost everyone is living entirely off their pantries and gardens, on food
parcels sent from people outside the country or simply going without the bare
essentials required for every day nutrition and existence.
It has become almost impossible to keep up with the changing statements coming
from the government and things are as a clear as mud. It makes you dizzy trying
to follow the announcements: close, open, banned, unbanned, allowed, forbidden,
can import, can't import. The rules, lists and regulations have reached
ludicrous proportions and, as it was with the farms, there does not seem to be a
master plan at all except perhaps the desire of the government to control,
absolutely and completely, every facet of life in Zimbabwe.
Shops, supermarkets and businesses that we all thought would close down have
not done so because of the government threat to take over companies that folded.
Shop workers know their jobs are hanging by a thread and they have the look of
fear and resignation in their eyes. It is the same look that invaded farmers,
evicted farm workers and then independent journalists had in their eyes as their
lives and livelihoods collapsed. It is the same look that we saw on the faces of
people whose homes were bulldozed by government two winters ago.
As each of the last seven winters have come to an end and the promise of warmth
and renewal has returned, it has been hard to believe that season after season
has been squandered and food supplies have got less and less. Politics, farming
and food supplies is where this all began and must surely be where it will all
Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
311 days of leave a year!
Saturday 20th July 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
The big luxury cars and their nouveau riche occupants have gone from our town
now. The men in big jackets whose multiple pockets were overflowing with bank
notes have also disappeared from view this week. These vultures who came hot on
the heels of the price cutting army and youth brigade have picked the carcass
clean and now just the bare bones are left : our shops are as good as empty.
Most supermarkets have given up all pretence of trying to make it look as if
they've got things left to sell and there are just line after line of empty
shelves. Bottled water, however, is still abundant - surely a relief to the
participants of the endless government workshops who seem to use so much of it.
Our streets have grown dramatically quieter this week as fuel supplies have
dried up and yesterday came another nail in the price control coffin. The all
powerful 'Task Force' on price cuts announced that fuel paid for in foreign
currency and issued by a coupon system has now been banned. Holders of coupons
have 2 weeks to redeem their fuel from private importers and that's the end of
another life line. It wasn't one that many ordinary people could access but
still it kept some individuals, church organizations, donor agencies and
diplomats on the road. Day by day the ways that people outside the country can
help their families left behind are being cut off and so the reality of
aloneness and oppression grows.
It's taken three weeks of madness but at last people are beginning to ask
questions about the price cuts. The first one is why the maximum amount of money
people can withdraw from their own bank accounts suddenly and dramatically
increased from one and a half to ten million dollars just a few days after price
cuts began. Coincidental? You have to wonder, as most ordinary Zimbabweans lucky
enough to have jobs don't earn anywhere near ten million dollars a month. The
government stipulated wage for a domestic house worker, for example is less than
a hundred thousand dollars a month - for sure none of them benefited from price
cuts or from being able to withdraw ten million dollars a day.
People are openly asking where the resupplies of food and fuel are going to
come from now that the cupboard is bare. Everyone is asking where, when and how
this is going to end. And everyone is asking why it happened. Many say its been
done to win voter support but 8 months before elections are due and with empty
shelves already, it makes little sense.
Perhaps answers will come in the next week as Parliament re-opens for the 7th
session but we are not holding our breath. The statistics just released about
the 6th session of parliament leave much to be desired. In the year long 6th
session the House of Assembly sat for business for just 54 days. Imagine 311
days of paid annual leave at the expense of tax payers! The mind boggles.
next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Saturday 14th July 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Shoe polish, dishwashing liquid and light bulbs were the three most plentiful
products in a major supermarket in my home town by this weekend. This isn't a
little family shop on the corner, its a branch of a national supermarket chain
with outlets in most towns and cities around the country. Almost none of the
basics of daily life are available a fortnight after enforced price cuts.
Imagine trying to run a home, school or institution with no rice, flour, maize
meal, margarine, meat, milk or eggs. No salt, sugar, biscuits, porridge, dried
fish, dried beans or powdered milk. No soap, candles or matches - and this at a
time when electricity cuts are occurring daily and last for 15 hours at a time.
Behind the great mountains of shoe polish there are other products too but
mostly not items in regular use and even their stocks are dwindling fast. These
goods stand in long and plaintive lines, side by side along the front of the
shelf, remove one and you can see the back wall - a visible echo shouts at you!
Mid week it was announced that the licences of all private abattoirs had been
cancelled and that all slaughtering and meat supplies had been taken over by the
virtually defunct government owned Cold Storage Commission. In Marondera the CSC
has been completely closed for at least the last five years but on Thursday
hundreds of people jostled outside their premises. It was mayhem: the first meat
in the town for a fortnight. No one questioned what conditions were like inside
the buildings which have stood deserted all these years. No one asked if
fixtures and fittings had been replaced, if the buildings had been fumigated, if
corroded pipes had been changed. No one even asked to see the paperwork proving
that the premises had been checked by Health Inspectors or if the buildings had
been declared hygienic and fit to handle meat for human consumption. It was
utter chaos and the local department of Health said nothing and did nothing.
Towards the end of the week almost 2000 businessmen around the country had been
arrested for not cutting their prices. Most buses and public transport vehicles
had stopped operating as fuel supplies ran out and transporters were ordered to
charge prices way below their costs. The government price cutting task force
have now announced that medicines are next in line to have prices cut and a cold
panic is spreading amongst people on life preserving medicines - as supplies of
drugs run down and are not replaced, how will they survive?
Zimbabwe is on a knife edge and everywhere you look
there is a potential crisis unfolding. Queues containing many hundreds of
people form rapidly as a rumour circulates. Perhaps there is sugar, salt or
flour and suddenly people are running to line up at the back of supermarkets,
outside locked butchery doors, in alleyways, along pavements. The lines this
week have contained more people than most of us have ever seen before. Four
people standing abreast and then four behind them and so on and the mass goes
around the corner, around the block and back on itself again. This is what 80%
unemployment looks like, and also the face of the collapse of a country which
just seven years ago was a major regional food exporter.
Until next week,
thanks for reading, love cathy
Saturday 7th July 2007
Dear Family and Friends,
Zimbabwe has been engulfed in a macabre and tragic frenzy this week and
frankly, it beggars belief. Across the country what has been called a
"Taskforce" has been unleashed by the government to force shop owners and
businesses to cut their prices by 50%. The price cut enforcers are army men in
camouflage clothes, police in uniform and large numbers of youth militia.They go
from shop to shop and simply pick on items they want reduced : SLASH THAT PRICE,
is the phrase we are hearing again and again and then products have to be sold
for less than they were purchased for. Shop owners who refuse to cut the prices
face arrest and having their goods seized. Some have been assaulted, others had
their premises trashed and windows smashed.
The result of it all, inevitably, is rapid collapse and many goods and foods
have now become completely unavailable including all the staples which were
already difficult to find such as flour, oil, sugar, salt and maize meal.
Joining the list now are most other normal household products in daily use such
as soap, candles, matches, milk, eggs, margarine, rice, bread and the list grows
longer by the hour and day. As the prices are ordered down hordes of people with
bagfuls of money swarm behind and buy up all the stocks. Shops are displaying
signs announcing that only one of each item may be purchased but entire gangs
are moving around in dozens and just cleaning everything out.
This week in my home town, all types of meat have become completely unavailable
as butchers were ordered to sell for less than half the price they had paid to
abattoirs. One supermarket in the centre of the town was empty of all goods by
mid week, another two were not far behind - both saying they expected to be out
of business in the next few days - a week at most. In both of these outlets
there were aisle after aisle of completely empty shelves. It was heartbreaking
to see pensioners and desperately poor people looking for bargains but finding
none and then looking for basics and finding none of those either.
Outside a major wholesaler, groups of young men stood around waiting for the
"militia taskforce" to arrive so that they could buy up everything as the prices
were slashed. The car park was nearly full of luxury vehicles - pajero's, twin
cabs, SUV's. even a Lexus - all filled with men talking incessantly on
cellphones and women in tight jeans and artificial hair - their vehicles already
bulging with 'slashed price' goods, many pulling trailers also stuffed to
I went to one almost empty supermarket and stopped near a young policeman in a
pick up truck without number plates that was loaded to the hilt with 'slashed
price' goods. It was a bitterly cold morning and a barefoot and slightly
retarded man was sitting on the tar shaking and shivering with cold. He
stretched his hands up to the policeman and said: "Chingwa" (Bread). The
policeman ignored him and turned away, calling out cheerfully to another young
policeman, also in uniform, who was staggering out with more booty. Again the
shivering and barefoot man asked for bread but they both ignored him. I could
not stop tears filling my eyes and although I had virtually nothing left I bent
down and folded a note into his hand; he clapped his hands in thanks and as I
stood up I caught the eye of the young policeman. There was no compassion or
empathy there, just arrogance. For a moment I remembered how it felt after the
farmers and their workers had been thrown off and someone had helped me when I
was utterly desperate. He had said to me: There but for the grace of God go I.
Now there are so many more in that place of need.
All week as the situation has deteriorated people have been comparing what is
happening now to shops and businesses with what happened to farms. A huge crisis
seems just a few days or perhaps a couple of weeks away, as stocks dwindle,
warehouses empty and we simply run out of food. As I write this letter the
government are continuing to applaud the price cuts and say they will take over
the businesses that close down.
Please keep the plight of ordinary Zimbabweans, particularly the old, sick,
handicapped, frail and unemployed in your prayers in this most shocking
Until next week, with love, cathy
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