News from Cathy in Zimbabwe

President Mugabe turns 90 on the 21st February and his public birthday celebration is being held in Marondera. For a few weeks we’ve been waiting for the usual frenzy of face lifting that comes before a VIP arrives in town but it’s going to take more than spit and polish and a bucket of whitewash to sort things out.

Three weeks before the 90th anniversary we turned on our taps in birthday town and thick, stinking, black water came out. You couldn’t call it water at all, it looked and smelt like sewerage.
There must be some terrible problem, we thought, a burst sewage pipe must have contaminated the mains and it surely wouldn’t last more than a few hours. Three days later black filth still poured out of the taps but a call to the municipality was as good as useless. They wouldn’t answer any questions, wouldn’t even acknowledge that the towns water was black and unusable and insisted all questions be directed to the Engineer. The conversation with the Engineer turned out to be as unbelievable as the filth coming out the taps.

Q: We’ve had black water for three days, can you tell me what’s going on?

A: We are aware of the problem. We are carrying out de-sludging.

Q: De- sludging? But the sludge is now in our water pipes, toilets, geysers and taps.

No comment.

Q : Can’t you let the sludge out at the base of the reservoir?

A: We can’t.

Q: You mean there’s no outlet for the sludge except into the whole town’s water pipes?

A: There is no other outlet.

Q: But why didn’t we get any warning this was going to happen?
People are going to get sick.

A: You shouldn’t use it, it’s not for consumption.

Q: Then why did you let it into the pipes?

No comment.

A week before the big birthday party most people thought it still wasn’t fit for or consumption and everywhere people’s arms were dragging on the ground from carrying buckets.

While all this was going on we had a third of our annual rainfall in a week. 200 mm (10 inches) of rain left the town even more pot-holed than before and some roads completely impassable. Small holes which could have been easily patched weeks ago are now deep, spreading ditches. Some residential roads like mine which haven’t seen any maintenance at all since 2007 are almost unusable after seven years of neglect. Storm drains are completely blocked with sand, tar has been eaten away by erosion and steep drop offs are criss-crossed with gullies. Add to this no street lights in most residential areas for ten years, two metre high grass on road verges, dumped litter and car wrecks decorating every suburb and you have to wonder how to hide all this from the VIP birthday party about to take place here.

A week before the birthday a little strip of paper, thinner and shorter than a ruler, did the rounds in town. It was an invitation from the town’s MP to attend a meeting but it wasn’t to discuss the diabolical state of the town, roads or water. Eyebrows went up when people saw that the venue was the local Zanu PF Headquarters and at the bottom of the slip were the words: ‘Agenda: 21st February Movement.’ (President Mugabe’s birthday celebrations)

In the same week before the big birthday party, unarmed women singing and carrying roses were beaten outside Parliament in Harare. Riot police moved in from behind and started beating the women who were leaving flowers and a message to parliament to respect and activate the country’s new constitution. A WOZA leader said “ they were beating us from behind because they couldn’t even face us.’

Our thoughts are with hundreds of thousands of people affected by flooding , snow storms and volcanic ash in many countries around the world and to thousands affected by flooding in the area of Zimbabwe’s Tokwe Mukorsi dam in Masvingo. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

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