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No Welcome mat
22nd November 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Within half a kilometre of a main army barracks and in view of a steady stream of traffic and hundreds of people, a man lay next to a main road leading to the Harare airport this week. Barefoot, painfully thin and with thick, unkempt hair the man lay unmoving on the verge, his feet protruding into the busy road. Standing on the opposite side of the road four men in army camouflage stood hitch- hiking, choosing not to see the man lying a few steps away from them. Is this what Zimbabwean authorities did not want the former UN Secretary General and former US President to see on a planned 2 day humanitarian assessment visit? Is this why these two respected Elders were denied visas to enter Zimbabwe?
Outside banks, building societies and post offices the crowds of people trying to withdraw their own money have grown to multiple thousands. Many people have resorted to sleeping outside the banks in order to be near the front of the queues where they can only withdraw five hundred thousand dollars a day - enough to buy one mouthful of a single cornish pasty being sold at a local bakery this week. Two and a half million dollars was the price tag for this simple take away snack - five days of queuing at the bank to buy one meal for one person. Is this what the authorities in Zimbabwe did not want Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter to see? Is this why they were denied visas to enter Zimbabwe?
On a seventy kilometre stretch of road through what used to be prime agricultural land on the way to the capital city, there is silence and desolation as roadside farms lie unploughed and unplanted while the country remains barren of seed and fertilizer. Even as the rains fall on the land and the ground turns springy underfoot, the weeds are sprouting but not the food. The lushest crop I saw in 70 kilometres was grass being carefully manicured on a golf course. Is this what the authorities did not want Mr Annan and Mr Carter to see and why they were denied visas?
In supermarkets, the majority of which are not allowed to trade in US dollars, the shelves are empty. There are no staple goods, no dairy products, no confectionary, no fast foods, no tinned or bottled products, nothing to eat at all. From all over the country there are first hand reports of people barely surviving by eating roots, wild berries, beetles and insects. Is this what the world's respected Elders were not supposed to see and why they were denied visas to come into Zimbabwe?
Hospitals without disposable gloves, medicines, drips, bandages or disinfectant. Nurses who cannot afford to come to work. Toilets and taps without water. A growing cholera outbreak in all areas of the country with 300 people already dead. Raw sewage flowing in the streets of high density areas. Dustbins which have not been collected in urban residential suburbs since July in my home town. Men, women and children collecting water in bowls and buckets from swampy streams and murky pools. No soap to buy in the shops so no chance of preventing the spread of cholera by washing your hands with soap and water. Is this what Mr Annan, Mr Carter and Mrs Machel might have seen had they been granted visas to see for themselves the humanitarian catastrophe now engulfing Zimbabwe?
We hope that the Elders will not give up on Zimbabwe, even though there is no welcome mat at our doorstep.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
Births, deaths and voters
Sunday 16th November 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Most nights between 11pm and midnight a Spotted Eagle Owl patrols my neighbourhood. He's a big grey and brown owl with bright yellow eyes and distinct ear tufts but it's his haunting, Hu - huuu call that alerts me to his presence in or near my garden. The arrival of the owl often comes at just about the time the electricity is switched on and I think that in the years ahead whenever I hear the Spotted Eagle Owl hooting I will always remember these darkest of days when my home country was collapsing. It is a time when the losers of an election held eight months ago are still clinging onto power even though they cannot even provide the most basic requirements of life..
If we are lucky nowadays the electricity comes on in the middle of the night when we are asleep. It doesn't last long. On good nights we have maybe five hours of electricity before it goes off for the next 19 hours. It is impossible to run a home, business or institution with just a fifth of our power needs. The electricity supply (ZESA) is a government run enterprise and is in a state of almost complete collapse. Zesa no longer send bills to customers - they say they have no paper on which to print the accounts. You have to volunteer payment, usually guessing what you owe, or risk disconnection - leaving you without even those four or five hours of power in the middle of the night. This week the government run ZESA refused to accept cheques from customers - customers who are paying them for not supplying electricity.
Water supply, controlled by ZINWA, a government enterprise, has collapsed everywhere and this week came the chilling news from Medicens Sans Frontiers that one million people in Harare alone are currently at risk from Cholera. In cities, towns and villages around the country our taps are dry most of the time, apparently because there are no chemicals to treat raw water. Desperate people resort to desperate measures including collecting water from shallow wells dug on open roadside land - even that alongside cemeteries - and from cloudy pools in stagnant streams where mosquitoes swarm in their thousands. Despite this, still we are required to pay water bills every month, for the dirty, smelly water that sometimes splutters out of our taps and into our toilets. ZINWA do not warn us to boil the water, they do not send out accounts and they say that from December they too will not be accepting cheques from customers - customers who are paying them for not supplying water, paying them for disease.
In the middle of this week I went with a cheque to pay for my telephone connection with Tel-One - a government controlled enterprise, and the only fixed line telephone system in the country. To connect to a number outside of my home town has become almost impossible in the last few months with the exchanges being out of order for multiple hours every day. Tel- One no longer send out accounts to customers so you must pay what you think you owe, or be disconnected. Tel- One refused to accepted a cheque for less than two million dollars. The next day a friend went to pay for their telephone connection and had a cheque for three million dollars. Tel- One refused to accept the payment saying they no longer accepted cheques for amounts of less than ten million dollars and said that from next month they will not be accepting any cheques at all.
Government controlled systems are collapsing all around us and ZANU PF have no solutions for any of the massive problems which are closing the country down, chasing away the tourists and leading a nation into starvation and disease. It is time for a new election in Zimbabwe, one in which losers actually lose and winners really win. I leave you with one last thought for those who do not know: the contentious Ministry of Home Affairs does not only contain the Police but also the Registrar General's office where births, deaths and voters are registered.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
Saturday 8th November 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Going to visit a friend in trouble this week I saw a very large green snake trying to cross a main road. I was on a service road which ran parallel to the highway and watched in horror at the events that followed. The snake must have already been hit by a car because as hard as it tried, it couldn't get off the road.
It raised its head and neck and tried to lunge forward but barely moved at all. Thrashing from side to side, tongue flicking, the snake managed to creep forward a little towards the bush on the roadside but it wasn't enough and freedom and safety was so near and yet so far. Suddenly a stream of cars came by and one hit the snake full on. A gruesome end was inevitable and intervention was impossible. Later, when I passed the same place again, the snake had gone but a handful of people were standing around looking at something on the roadside and the assumption was obvious.
This is exactly how it feels to be in Zimbabwe this November 2008. No matter how hard we try, we just can't move forward. Change and democracy is so near and yet so far away.
People have almost given up hope of ever getting to the other side of the road to freedom and safety in Zimbabwe's journey. It's been eight years since farms were seized, Title Deeds rendered worthless and commercial agriculture destroyed. It's been five years since independent newspapers, radio stations and television channels were closed down. Its been four years since we've been able to buy fuel from filling stations and nearly two years since we've been able to buy food in supermarkets. It's been seven and a half months since we voted to change the government of Zimbabwe. Throughout all these years the assault on opposition politics, private businesses, charities, professionals and all sectors of civil society has been unrelenting as time and time again we've been hit head on but still we struggle desperately to reach the end.
Its a shocking thing to admit but most of us don't know how many Zimbabweans have died in the struggle to change the governance of the country. A conservative estimate must be of at least seven hundred people who have been killed in political violence in the last eight years. Multiple thousands have been arrested and incarcerated for their political associations or for daring to protest. Included amongst these are the outstandingly
brave women of WOZA whose leaders Jenni and Magodonga were finally granted bail this week having spent 3 weeks in prison after being arrested during a peaceful demonstration in Bulawayo. We also don't know how many Zimbabweans have had no choice but to leave the country since the year 2000. A conservative estimate must be of at least four million people living in self imposed exile in the region and abroad.
As I write this letter the leaders of the Southern African Development Community are about to meet, again, to discuss Zimbabwe. We wonder if they know that ordinary people here have no food - no maize meal, flour or rice. If they know that it is our main growing season but ordinary people have no seed to plant and no fertilizer for the soil. If they know we are forbidden from drawing enough of our own money out of the bank to buy more than 2 loaves of bread and are having to buy imported food in US dollars and South African Rand. Do they know that hospitals have no medicines and that nurses earn enough to buy only two loaves of bread a month. Do they know that children at most rural government schools have had no lessons for many months and have not written public examinations.
Perhaps the SADC leaders do know all these things and will find the courage to insist at last that the voices of the ordinary people must be heard and respected. We voted in March, chose new leaders and have been writhing on the road for too long.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy
Of sausage flies and absurdity
1st November 2008
Dear Family and Friends,
Watching the tragic events in the Congo over the last few days and seeing diplomats flying in from all over the world to try and help, makes me feel ashamed to be a Zimbabwean. When all of Africa's
attention should be focused on the DRC, here were are messing around in Zimbabwe still calling on SADC to convene special meetings which may, or (more likely) may not, force the winner of Zimbabwe's March elections to share power with the loser.
Another week has brought another stalemate for Zimbabwe - no relief for ordinary people, no political progress, no change. The SADC Troika learnt, and apparently admitted, that the power sharing agreement of September 15th had been tampered with and was different from the one initially signed on September 11. Why its taken six weeks for this information to be exposed and confirmed by SADC is a mystery but it does not bode well for Zimbabwe. Then, instead of throwing out the whole process and demanding that the people's voice of March 29th be respected, the SADC Troika told us that a full SADC meeting is to be held to talk about what to do next. It's all become so absurd that its embarrassing to have to keep writing about it.
Everything about life in Zimbabwe has been reduced to the most absurd levels. Imagine having to queue for up to 5 hours to withdraw your own money out of the bank. Imagine arriving at the bank queue, as in my home town this week, to find that there are two queues, one for Police, Army and Youth Militia, and one for everyone else. Imagine having to queue for two days to draw out enough money to buy just one single loaf of bread. Imagine a young, single mother being unable to get enough of her own money out of the bank to buy milk and eggs for her sick baby who desperately needs high protein food. Imagine people in rural villages being forced to eat beetles and leaves - not by choice but to stay alive. Imagine having just days left in which to get a life saving crop planted in the ground but still they talk and don't act. These are all the tragic, absurd realities of everyday
life in Zimbabwe but there are a couple of beautiful ones too.
Imagine a 46 cm high Purple Crested Lourie with magnificent
crimson wings bathing in 5 cm of water in a hot Zimbabwe birdbath. Imagine an insect being called a Sausage Fly! It's that time of year when these big headed, fat bodied, shiny brown ants fly in clumsy, dizzying circles to the lights at night. The story goes that when you see a Sausage Fly the rain is three days away. It's not coming true this year as still the rain hasn't come and the sun burns down upon us. One day this week it was 32 degrees Centigrade in the house at midday and 56 in the sun outside - almost too absurd to be true.
One last absurd thought comes to mind this week. You have to wonder what would happen if Barack Obama and John McCain were told they had to share power? Until next week, thanks for reading and thanks to my webmaster for taking over the burden of sending out of this letter.
With love, cathy.
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