Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cathy Buckle's Letter From Zimbabwe

Saturday 12th November 2005.
Heart Sore With Shame.

Dear Family and Friends,

Wearing a little red paper poppy on my shirt this second week of November has been something I've done ever since I can remember. I was disappointed this Friday to see just a dozen or so scrappy paper poppies lying in the bottom of the cardboard box two days before Armistice Sunday. At first I thought that this international day of remembrance must have become the latest casualty in Zimbabwe's determination to cut itself off from the rest of the world. I was wrong. The reason there are no poppies this year is because 20 000 little red paper flowers sent from the UK have been impounded by Zimbabwe's department of customs. Apparently even scraps of red paper used for charitable purposes and to remember the end of World War One, are not exempt from our government's desperate attempts to raise money. Customs want 53 million dollars to release the poppies and so, those of us lucky enough to find them, are wearing crumpled poppies left over from last year and I wear my tatty one with outrage but also with pride.
It has been altogether a very shocking week in Zimbabwe and trying to keep track of the events has been very difficult due to almost no coverage by state media. ZBC TV, whose motto is "When it happens we will be there, " have obviously been in other places this week but even so, bit by bit, one way or another, the real news does eventually get out. This week the MDC Mayor of Chitungwiza was detained by police. Six University of Zimbabwe student leaders were arrested for trying to embark on a demonstration about deplorable conditions on campus.
Tuesday's country wide demonstrations by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the National Constitutional Assembly left all their combined leaders arrested and between 120 and 200 others who had been brave enough to take to the streets with them. Also this week came the shocking news that airfares have been increased by 1600% and for anyone planning on visiting their families in South Africa this Christmas, a return ticket will cost 34 million dollars. Each return ticket to the UK now costs 140 million dollars and this is crushing news for hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwean families which are split up across continents. With an average teacher taking home less than 10 million dollars a month, there is no hope at all that even professionals will be able to be united with their families this year.
I will end this week with the good and the bad news. The good news is that the rains have started and in Marondera we have had 104 mm (4 inches) in five days. The bad news is that what little wheat there is this year is sitting out there in the fields getting wet. The wheat is not being harvested because of chronic diesel shortages that have persisted since the March elections. I came across these shocking figures this week which say it all for Zimbabwe's so called agricultural revolution in the last five years. In 2001 Zimbabwe produced 360 000 tons of wheat; in 2002 we produced 280 000 tons; in 2003 the figure dropped to 150 000 tons and in 2004 a paltry 80 000 tons was grown . And this years figure ......its not in yet because its still sitting out there in the rain. And this one simple little agricultural blunder joins the others to explain why we are hungry, tired, broke and away from our families.
Until next week, love cathy.


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