Cathy’s letter from Zimbabwe
Dear Family and Friends,
For a few months I’ve been slowing down on the frequency of my fourteen year marathon of Letters from Zimbabwe. There are many critics but also much despair about the backward slide of our beloved country. I can only tell the story of life in Zimbabwe from my perspective and my snapshot this week is of the good, the absurd , the annoying and the utterly shameful.
The good helps to maintain sanity and on an early morning trip to Harare a long crested eagle sits on a telephone pole just as the sun breaks over the horizon. The feathers on the eagles head provide a majestic silhouette in the golden dawn while a swirl of mist hugs the ground, curling along the twists and turns of an unseen river. The ripening summer grass is heavy with gold, purple and white seed heads, gently swaying and bowing in the dawn breeze. I pass a man riding a bicycle with a broken bicycle tied onto his carrier rack while above him many thousands of red footed kestrels sit side by side on the electricity cables, waiting for the day when it’s time to leave on their winter migration to Asia.
In the capital city bureaucracy consumes every task, testing the patience of a saint. Not being able to make a simple payment to the tax authorities despite their lines of tellers and cashiers because the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority don’t accept money. All payments have to be made into one specific bank and the deposit slips then taken back to the tax authorities to be stamped. Is this because they don’t trust their staff you wonder? It gets worse though because when you find that one specific bank that accepts tax payments, it takes half an hour to make a simple cash deposit. That’s because all deposits have to be double checked and the deposit slip counter signed by the Accountant. Is that because they don’t trust their staff you wonder, as you trudge back to the tax offices again?
Then comes the downright annoying as born, raised and permanently resident Zimbabweans have to queue at Immigration offices for an annual ‘resident’ stamp in their passports. This is because we are classified as ‘Aliens’ if our ancestors weren’t born here, despite our new constitution which stipulates that every born Zimbabwean is automatically a citizen.
And then, after enduring all this, there comes the utterly shameful. A group of 3,000 people who are predominantly white Zimbabweans, have formed a lobby group called Zimbabweans Against Sanctions. They are calling for the lifting of all targeted sanctions against Zanu PF individuals by the EU and US. There are only two individuals left on the EU targeted sanctions list, namely President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace, along with one company, the Zimbabwe Defence Industries.
The white lobby group say they approve of the compulsory 51% indigenous shareholding of all companies and they blame targeted sanctions for the collapse of Zimbabwe’s economy. Their Chairman, Matthew Smith, says targeted sanctions should be lifted because:
‘the truth about Zimbabwe needs to be heard … and needs to be told from our perspective, especially as white Zimbabweans on whose behalf these damaging sanctions were supposedly imposed.’
It’s ironic that a predominantly white lobby group thinks sanctions were imposed because six thousand white people had their farms seized and not because twelve million Zimbabweans lost everything in our country’s decade long collapse. Denying that their motive is to protect their own businesses from being seized by Zanu PF, Matthew Smith said he was making this call now because: ‘the time just feels right.’
What a shame for Zimbabwe that the time didn’t feel right for these white people to speak out when half a million or more farm workers and their families were rendered homeless and destitute in land invasions; when at least 850,000 people were left bereft and desperate after government bulldozers destroyed their homes and livelihoods in Operation Murambatsvina; when at least 4,000 people died from cholera in 2008; or when countless hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans were the victims of political violence in the 2002, 2005 and 2008 elections.
It’s also ironic that retired Zimbabwean cricketer Heath Streak is one of the lobby group’s prominent members despite the black armband ‘death of democracy’ protests and subsequent exile from Zimbabwe of his colleagues, and our country’s most famous cricketers, Henry Olonga and Andy Flower.
Where were the voices of these 3,000 white Zimbabweans when millions of Zimbabweans, black, white and brown, were going to bed hungry, crawling under razor wire border fences, running from violence, hiding from persecutors, being beaten, burnt, raped and tortured.
This Zimbabwean is ashamed. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.