Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Cathy's letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends,
"Everyone here is sket, coz last time they chaya'd us all." This little sentence said to me by a local shop worker, says it all for the atmosphere in Marondera just 26 days before parliamentary elections. Everyone in the town is scared because we are all waiting for the beatings, stonings and burnings that have characterized every single election here in the last five years. Our town is full to bursting with strangers, luxury cars, vehicles with no number plates and people with pockets full of money.There are burly youths swaggering four abreast on the main roads, men in dark glasses sitting in the sun just watching and every day literally hundreds of people queuing outside the passport offices. The atmosphere in the town is extremely tense. Most days I have to go past the house which was petrol bombed in the last elections; the house that I watched burn for hours through the night but which the fire brigade said they could not come and attend to. Every week I see friends, both black and white, men and women, who have been beaten and tortured in the last five years, lost their homes, possessions and jobs and had to literally run for their lives. None of us have seen justice done, yet, and the memories are still fresh.Memories in Marondera are still very real, not only of burnings, beatings and even human branding carved into men's backs at the last election, but of a litany of abuse and decay that has become every day life. Less than a year ago our schools were closed down and the head teachers arrested. AsI write our government hospitals and clinics do not even have phenobarb to control epilepsy, patients have to take their own food and outpatients queue outside in the open, sitting on the ground, for up to four hours before they are seen. Many of our suburban roads are now almost unusable; the edges steeply eroded, wide gullies ripped across the centres and literally scores of pot holes. In a 2 kilometre stretch of road leading to my home only two street lights still work, none of the storm drains have been cleared for over a year and grass is growing in the middle of tarred roads. I don't know anyone in the town who doesn't boil their drinking water, more often than not it has a brown or green colour, almost always it has specks floating in it and always it smells bad. So, having to tolerate all these things every day, we are all smiling at the mad flurryof activity in the last few days, and we are all, equally, not being fooled.This week, suddenly, our town is being cleaned up. Just 26 days before elections, local officials have appeared out of the woodwork. Suburban roads which have not had pot holes filled or edges repaired for the entire rainy season, are being graded. Across the road from the main Marondera hospital this week all the fruit and vegetable vendors' home-made shacks have been pulled down and replaced with treated timber structures. In 2000 I used to stop there and buy a banana for four dollars. Now, the bananas are one thousand dollars each and on the lamp post there, next to the women who sell bananas, is an election poster. On every fourth or fifth street light, regardless of the fact that the bulbs and tubes dont work anymore, posters of the Zanu PF candidate have been erected. The pictures are very familiar to me, they show the same face that "war veterans" put up on the trees on our farm in 2000 when they set up their headquarters and "re-education camp" in our cattle paddocks.It is five years later, everything else has changed, but that face on the election poster is still the same. There are no opposition posters on trees or lamp posts in Marondera yet. There are no people wearing opposition hats or T shirts and the reason is because "here everyone is sket because last time we all got chaya'd." Until next week, with love,cathy. Copyright cathy buckle 5th March 2005http://africantears.netfirms.comMy books on Zimbabwe, "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available from:orders@africabookcentre.com ; www.africabookcentre.com ; www.amazon.co.uk ; inAustralia and New Zealand: johnmreed@johnreedbooks.com.au ; Africa:www.kalahari.net www.exclusivebooks.com

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