Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cathy's letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends,A small bent over piece of brown cardboard tied onto a post on the side ofthe road was all the sign I needed to tell me I was headed in the rightdirection this Friday. The Stop sign at the junction of the intersectionhas gone. The road markings warning me to stop have long since worn offthe tar. The road is littered with potholes and the grass on the verges isuncut and about five foot high, making it almost impossible to seeoncoming traffic. I stopped at the intersection and across the road onepiece of white string held a poster to a street light whose bulb hasn'tworked for months. The wind had folded the poster in half so I couldn'tread it but this too made me believe I was going the right way. When I gotto the gates of the school I slowed down, pulled over and looked at theline of yobs sitting on the wall in front of the school hall. They weremen and women in their late teens and early twenties and clearly had noreason to be in a junior school where the oldest pupil is 12. Some of theyobs were wearing T shirts with slogans advertising the ruling party andthen I knew for sure I had arrived at the right place to check if my namewas on the voters roll.I was absolutely determined not to be intimidated by a bunch of boredbullies. I had read the reports by the opposition that in some areas theirsupporters had been physically assaulted after checking if their nameswere on the voters roll. It would have been very comforting to see thefriendly face or colourful vest of an independent election observer but ofcourse that's just a pipe dream. As I walked past the yobs sprawled on thewall, someone hissed and someone else passed a comment which set them allto laughing but it was water off a ducks back compared to what I'd had toendure in the last two Zimbabwean elections. Inside the junior school hallthere was a singing lesson in progress and a teacher was trying to get aclass of seven year olds to sit up straight, stop pushing each other andpay attention and sing. The sound of the children singing was wonderfuland their innocence such a stark contrast to the bullies on the walloutside. I was the only person checking if my name was on the votersroll. There was no one ahead of me or behind me, no queue outside, no onewaiting in the car park and with just a week left for voters rollinspection, this is not a good sign.The opposition MDC have still not announced if they are going to take partin the March poll so basically, just weeks away from an election, there isapathy, confusion and a tired resignation by many ordinary people who justsay they couldn't be bothered anymore.I sit at my desk on a Saturday morning writing this letter and it is aglorious day. The sky is blue, rain clouds are gathering on the horizonand birds flit backwards and forwards past the open window in an endlessfashion parade. Paradise fly catchers with long orange tails, migrant beeeaters, red bishop birds, yellow weavers and so many others with theirspectacular breeding tails and exotic colours. Over the road from me awoman and two little children live in a wooden shack on a building site.They always smile, laugh and wave and clap with cupped hands if I stop togive even a single sweetie. I know people who have been tortured,murdered, abused, raped and imprisoned in Zimbabwe's fight for democraticgovernance since February 2000. All of these reasons are good enough onesfor me to go and check if my name is on the voters roll and then to endurewhatever is necessary to cast a ballot in the March elections. Until nextweek, with love, cathy. Copyright cathy buckle 22 January 2005. http://africantears.netfirms.comMy books on the Zimbabwean crisis, "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" areavailable in Europe from: orders@africabookcentre.com ; www.africabookcentre.com ; in Australia and New Zealand:johnmreed@johnreedbooks.com.au ; Africa: www.kalahari.net www.exclusivebooks.com

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