Saturday, October 28, 2006

CATHY BUCKLE'S LETTTER FROM ZIMBABWE!

Dear Family and Friends,

There were about sixty people standing in a line that snaked across the car park outside a post office a few days before the end of the month. This is October and the month notorious for seethingly hot temperatures and this day was no exception. Before 8.30 in the morning jerseys and jackets had been discarded, most people were wearing slip slops or sandals and short sleeved tops. The queue was made up of people waiting to draw money out of post office savings accounts. A few minutes before opening time a man emerged carrying a small pile of brown cardboard squares, each the size of a thumbnail. On each scrap of grimy, slimy cardboard was written a number from one to fifty and the man prepared to start giving them out to the people in the line. A peaceful, patient line turned immediately into chaos and it was like watching a spreading pool of petrol and waiting for someone to drop a match. Louts that hadn't been in the queue ran across the car park to grab a square of cardboard, desperate people at the back surged forward, arms stretched out, voices rose up and angry shouts were heard. Then suddenly it was over, the squares of cardboard had been issued and it was simple - no bit of cardboard equals no money for you. Only the people with a numbered square of cardboard would be able to draw their money out today - there just isn't enough money to go round anymore and so the levels of deprivation increase another peg.

I drafted this letter one day before rural council and mayoral elections got underway across the country. In the run up to the vote it has been blatantly obvious that the ruling party are as bereft of ideas as the post office is of money. Year after year, election after election - absolutely nothing changes. In the last week the President of the Council of Chiefs publicly declared that villagers who did not vote for the ruling party would be evicted from their homes. TV news reports have showed ruling party officials addressing rallies and from both speakers and audiences its just the same old same old. The clenched fist-raising in praise of the ruling party, the stream of "pasi na" (down with) slogans which are declared about anyone who dares to differ, and the predictable shouting and berating by the leaders and candidates who don't seem to know how to charm or persuade audiences and so they just tell them off. Ever present too is the huge range of clothing decorated with the President's face and the gyrating women dancing frantically in front of the candidates. All this takes place outside in the open in the dripping October sun and there is no laughter, pleasure or even interest on peoples faces. Zimbabwe's rural infrastructure is crumbling, everyone sees and knows it - roads, clinics, schools, boreholes and transport systems. It is not all hard to know who to vote for in rural elections. It is very very hard to pay attention to the shouting, berating and anger of prospective candidates when you know this and some of the other facts about life in Zimbabwe this week: A four rung, five foot wooden ladder, unvarnished and untreated cost 76 thousand dollars, this is 8 times more than the monthly wage of a garden, house or farm worker. A consultation and filling at a private dentist costs 38.5 thousand dollars - this is more than most government school teachers take home in a normal month. One orange from a roadside vendor this week cost 550 dollars - this was how much a 1000 acre farm cost just a little over ten years ago - a farm with 2 dams, a dairy, tobacco barn, trading store, large farmhouse and 10 farm workers houses.

This week it doesn't matter where you go or who you talk to, rural or urban, everywhere the clarion call is the same - how much longer. Until next week, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Copyright cathy buckle 28 October 2006. http:/africantears.netfirms.com My books "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available from: orders@africabookcentre.com

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