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Four against hundreds
Sunday 29th June 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
We woke to the sound of shouting on the 27th of June as four young men, wearing Zanu pf scarves, stretched out across the width of the road and roused the neighbourhood. It was ten past six in the morning, the sun was hardly up and a cold sheet of frost lay across gardens and along roadsides.
"Hey, hurry up, hurry up," the Zanu PF youths shouted; "time for voting! Let's go, let's go to vote," they yelled.
The arrogant calls were met with silence. Even in urban Zimbabwe people are deeply traumatized by the events of the past few weeks and so we stay behind closed doors. The progress of the four men could be tracked by the barking of dogs and the thought that just four young men could intimidate hundreds is a chilling reality.
The 27th of June will be remembered as a dark day in our history. How will we explain to our grandchildren that in the depth of Zimbabwe's crisis there was a Presidential election in which only one candidate was contesting?
As he prepared to step into his official limousine after casting his vote for the only contesting Presidential candidate, Mr Mugabe smiled for the cameras.
"How are you feeling Mr President?" someone asked.
"Fit, very fit," he replied. "And very optimistic."
Optimistic? Of winning an election without an opponent?
Walking round my home town the morning after the election, there was a sombre and dejected feeling in the streets. There was no excitement or expectation and no point talking about results. With only one candidate the outcome was obvious.
One man held up his red stained finger to show that he'd voted - under protest but for his own safety. With dry sarcasm he said he'd spoiled his paper: he said he loved both candidates equally and so he'd given them both an X ! Moments later he shook his head sadly and said: "so many people will die now - there is already such hunger everywhere. Now it will be worse."
Another man lifted his red finger but said angrily: "For What?" His daughter had been told to bring 'top -up' school fees of one hundred billion dollars when schools re-opened after the elections. This amount is five times the man's monthly salary. It is his daughter's O Level year so he said he would sell yet more of his possessions to raise the money - in order to give his daughter a future.
Two young men stood on the roadside desperately trying to flag down a lift for their friend who had just come out of hospital after a severe asthma attack.
Because there is virtually no public transport anymore a group of friends had clubbed together and raised the 90 billion dollars needed for a private car. 90 billion dollars to travel one way - less than ten kilometres to the hospital to save their friend's life. As the youngsters moved on, one said:" We cry for our fair country."
It took five weeks to count the votes cast in the March 29th election. It took just forty four hours to count the votes of the June 27th ballot. The results have been officially stated as follows:
Robert Mugabe: 2,150,269 votes
Morgan Tsvangirai : 233,000 votes
Spoilt papers 131,481.
At 4.17 pm on the 29th June 2008, 84 year old Mr Mugabe was declared the duly elected President of Zimbabwe.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Blanket of fear
Saturday 22nd June 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
A blanket of fear has descended over Zimbabwe as we count down the last few days before the second Presidential election. Our streets and towns are seething with police, army and youth brigade members. Our shops are empty of all basic foodstuffs; filling stations still have no diesel or petrol; water and electricity supplies are scarce; queues at banks and cash machines are immense and prices increase at least once every day. The trauma of living like this has been compounded a hundred fold as now each day brings news of terror, torture, kidnapping, burning and murder. The reports are of barbaric behaviour and extreme cruelty and they are coming from all over the country. The perpetrators move in groups; sometimes they come in the day but more often it is at night.
A report released this week by the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights contains details of some of the victims of violence seen in the last
month: men and women with broken arms and legs, fingers and toes, soft tissue damage to face, feet and buttocks; burns, lacerations and bruising. One patient the doctors described had been: " beaten extensively on the shoulders, back, buttocks and thighs, was also struck in the face and suffered a leak of vitreous humour (the transparent gel-like substance behind the lens of the eye) resulting in blindness."
Alongside the fear of physical violence is the rhetoric from the rallies whose words are now being quoted around the world. In the last few days Zanu PF leader Mr Mugabe has said on four different occasions:
"We are prepared to fight for our country and to go to war for it."
"We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint fight with a gun?"
"The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country - never ever."
"Only God, who appointed me, will remove me, not the MDC, not the British."
Its hard to know what the MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been saying as he's been detained by police five times, his rallies have been cancelled, his vehicle has been impounded and his secretary general is in police custody charged with treason. To further silence the MDC leader, and in obvious violation of electoral laws, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said that they wouldn't air campaign adverts from the opposition party. Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa defended the ZBC's stance saying that international coverage favoured the MDC and never reported Zanu PF's position.
As silenced as Zimbabweans are, hope has come at last from our neighbours who have begun to speak out. This week Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe
said: "There is every sign that these elections will never be free nor fair,"
adding that he and the foreign ministers of Swaziland and Angola would write to their presidents "so that they do something urgently so that we can save Zimbabwe."
And now, beaten, bloodied, scared and in a state of mourning, we go to the polls again. We don't need the rallies and the speeches to know where to vote on the 27th of June.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
To stay safe, stay silent.
Saturday 14th June 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Every time the man insulted and complained in his ugly, raised voice, I could feel droplets of his spit on my neck. He was standing so close behind me that I felt distinctly uncomfortable. There must have been about twenty of us waiting in the queue at the supermarket but no one commented or said a word about the abusive tirade. The owners of this sort of behaviour are well known to us all and to stay safe we stay quiet. "Hey Manager," he shouted, "someone send for the manager. Why must I wait like this? I don't expect to have to wait." The more the man ranted the quieter it got in the shop. Two security guards standing at the exit doors did not come forward, instead they retreated out of sight and the shower of spit on my neck increased. "Hey, bring more tellers! Come on, I'm tired of waiting. Hey, you, how much is that chocolate? No, not the local one, the imported one. What about the newspaper, the imported one? How much? Hey, hurry up."
The owner of the abusive behaviour was a man of perhaps thirty. His head was shaven and he wore a thick gold chain around his neck. In his hand, on obvious display, he flicked a thick bundle of money. Under his loose, open-necked shirt we could all see the T shirt he wore with the face of Mr Mugabe on it.
This is the face of Zimbabwe a fortnight before elections: one man silences twenty. We see but we stay quiet.
Two men arrived on foot at a farm this week and they were carrying Zanu PF posters. As they began putting up the posters on the walls of outbuildings a worker tried to object - this is private property after all. "You are not allowed to complain," came the response. "Or maybe you are MDC?" The worker did not respond and the posters of Mr Mugabe were plastered on the walls of private property.
This is the face of Zimbabwe where election observers have begun arriving but are only allowed to watch from 8 am to 5pm.
A friend was at the hospital when the latest victim of political violence arrived. The victim was in his early sixties and accused of being an MDC supporter. Both his arms and one leg were broken , his skull was fractured and the injuries too severe to be treated at the local hospital.
This is the face of Zimbabwe where only 400 election observers will watch 12 million Zimbabweans on the 27th of June. 400 election observers to watch 9231 polling stations. One observer for every 23 polling stations - it is a mockery, an insult to a tired, broken, hungry and frightened population. Is this really the best Africa can do?
Until next time, love cathy
Missed the target
Saturday 8the June 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
A new schedule of minimum wages for some categories of employment was released by a government department last week. One of the lowest in the schedule is a yard or garden worker whose minimum wage has been set at 3.2 billion dollars a month. To outsiders this may sound like a massive amount of money but in reality it is a death sentence. As I write this letter a 1 kg packet of plain hard biscuits is 9.2 billion dollars, a 2 kg packet of potatoes is 3.6 billion dollars, a 400 gram tin of baked beans is 1.8 billion dollars. By the time you read this letter all of these prices will have increased; it is likely they will have doubled within a week. On a full month's pay a yard or garden worker cannot even feed himself for a few days; worse still, he cannot provide any food for his family, he cannot buy any clothes or shoes and cannot pay his children's school fees. God help him if he gets sick. Perhaps the saddest fact of all is that this government stipulated minimum wage is currently worth just ten US cents a day.
After almost a decade of political turmoil and economic collapse, the vast majority of Zimbabweans are unable to cope on their own and are surviving on charity of some type or other. It may be from families in the Diaspora sending hard currency home every month, relations abroad paying school fees and medical needs or friends, churches and other well wishers sending parcels of food, toiletries, medicines and other essentials. On a much larger scale help has come from the international aid organisations who this winter were set to feed 4 million Zimbabweans - over a third of the population.
This week all aid organizations operating in Zimbabwe were ordered to immediately stop all their field operations and to re-apply for new licences. It seems none are spared from the ruling issued by the Social Welfare Minister. All are affected from school children surviving on one charitable meal a day to rural households receiving grain and food relief to people with HIV/Aids receiving life sustaining anti-retroviral drugs.
The timing of the ban on charitable assistance could not have come at a worse moment for Zimbabweans. It is winter, market gardening is minimal and vegetable growth very slow. Supermarket shelves remain largely empty. All basic goods continue to be unavailable including maize meal, flour, rice, sugar, cereals, beans, oil and many more.
This week, while Mr Mugabe, his wife and their delegation were in Rome attending a UN Food Security conference, dire news was released about Zimbabwe's daily bread which should be growing this winter. The state sponsored Herald newspaper reported that only 8 963 hectares of wheat have been planted this winter amounting to just 13% of the government target of 70 000 hectares.
Agriculture Minister Rugare Gumbo was quoted as saying: "We have missed the target, with challenges being shortages of fertilisers and fuel as well as frequent breakdowns of tillage facilities."
Zimbabwe was often in the international news this week for diplomatic incidents at road blocks, for food insecurity, for ongoing political violence, for widespread arrests of MDC officials, activists and MP's and for the prevention of MDC election campaign rallies. For the ordinary and very long suffering people of Zimbabwe, we are counting down the days to round 2 of the Presidential election. It cannot come soon enough and the reasons for which candidate to choose become more obvious each day.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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