CATHY BUCKLE'S LETTTER FROM ZIMBABWE!
Food or freedom.
Saturday 13th May 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
Life has become so difficult in Zimbabwe that the daily struggle for survival is all consuming in these early weeks of winter. Every day now the electricity goes off, sometimes it's just for an hour, but mostly the cuts last for three to four hours in the evening and sometimes in the early morning too. On one grinding day this week the power went off for two long stretches leaving homes, institutions and businesses sitting on their hands for ten hours, barely able to function. People have taken to cooking their evening meal in the middle of the day, doing their ironing in the middle of the night and getting up long before sunrise to boil the kettle, have a bath and cook breakfast before the power goes off at 6am. Even worse though, is the fact that when the power comes back on, we all heave a sigh of grateful relief when we should be phoning, emailing and writing letters of complaint to the electricity authority. Zimbabwe has huge coal mines at Hwange, massive hydro electricity from Lake Kariba and the potential for more solar power than we could use and yet our homes, schools and businesses are in the dark this winter. Our silent acceptance of the situation is almost as bad as the power cuts themselves.
In a supermarket this week I watched half a dozen people standing staring sullenly at a closed door and wondered what was happening. A few more people joined them until maybe 20 men and women stood together in a group. No one talked or moved, they all just stood, staring intently at a closed door. After a while a woman wearing a white dust coat emerged pushing a shopping trolley which contained 10 bags of maize meal. There was a scramble, almost a scrum, and the first ten people to get to the trolley each grabbed a 10 kilogram bag and headed for the check out counters. That was a pretty shocking sight, seeing the scramble, the grabbing and the desperation for staple food, but it wasn't as shocking as the woman in the white coat who stood back and laughed at the people who were struggling to get to the food. I watched for a while longer. The woman in the white coat pushed her trolley back behind the door, more people gathered and waited and then the whole thing happened all over again. This time the woman in the white coat had been joined by two male employees.They were obviously not there to help either their colleague or the customers as they too just stood back and laughed. When I got to the check out counter the teller was also laughing at the food scrambling which had almost bought the whole supermarket to a standstill. I asked the teller why on earth they didn't just put out all the bags of maize meal on the shelf or at least get people to queue. For sure someone was going to get hurt but the teller just shrugged and his boredom with the situation and lack of empathy was palpable. It is almost impossible to understand why people don't complain when things like this are happening but it seems survival is the only thing that matters now. Food is more important than freedom, than fairness, than principles and even more important than dignity. And while people begin scrambling for food before winter has really even taken hold, and when food from summer cropping should be plentiful, (but isn't) the protests in Zimbabwe are increasing.
In the last fortnight 185 WOZA activists, including 73 children, were arrested for protesting about unaffordable education. 19 students from Bindura university were arrested for protesting over tuition fees and 48 NCA activists were arrested for protesting over the dire need for constitutional changes. The week ended with the news that inflation has reached 4 digits and now stands at 1042%. I cannot take that figure in and do not know how we will survive and so I stand outside in the winter sun, the sky is gorgeous and blue and the grass yellow and golden - this at least does not change.