Putting perpetrators on notice

Dear Family and Friends,

In the dust on the window of my car a man drew a cross with his finger.

“God will bless you,” he said and then put his hands together and said a prayer in Shona, his head bowed, his fingertips resting on my car window.

I rested my hand on my chest in thanks for his prayer and he did likewise. “I know you will never forget me; you always help me. “

Driving away I felt both humbled and ashamed: humbled at being prayed for in a supermarket car park because I had given a man a 50 cent packet of buns; ashamed that it has come to this in Zimbabwe, that almost 37 years after Independence 90% of people are unemployed and there are just no jobs to find, no matter how hard you look.

Leaving the supermarket I passed four banks in the space of as many minutes. Outside each there were literally hundreds of people, standing outside the doors, sitting on the pavements, leaning on the walls; all just waiting, endlessly waiting for a chance to draw their own money out of the banks. Recent withdrawals around here have plunged to the equivalent of US$20 per person per day. It’s rare to get the twenty dollars in US dollars these days, mostly its in $2 Bond notes or in $1 Bond coins. How can it be that almost 37 years after Independence our leaders have so broken the economy that we cannot even withdrawn our own money out of the banks?

Money is now so short in Zimbabwe that people who were struggling before are now not coping at all, begging, borrowing and going without because no one’s got anything to spare. Our leaders seem to not see the vagrants and beggars, the thousands queuing outside the banks, the countless masses desperately trying to meet their month end commitments and maintain the thin veneer, the pretence that everything’s fine with them. The Zimbabwe government’s latest response to the desperate plight of ordinary people has come with a new onslaught of fund raising.

Last week the Finance Act of 2017 was gazetted and it bought shock news for people already struggling to stay afloat. Unemployed people engaged in what is known as informal business are to be taxed and it is to apply retrospectively to take effect from January 2017. Hairdressers, minibus drivers, informal cross border traders, cottage industry, haulage truckers and others are amongst those included in the new regulation. Strangely, however, small scale miners are exempt; the Act reads: “Small scale miners calculated at the rate of zero per centum of each dollar of the purchase price of precious metals or precious stones …” The damage being caused to the environment and landscape of Zimbabwe by small scale miners is widespread making it even more unbelievable that they will not be taxed on their bounty: the gold and diamonds that so many of our political figures openly display on their wrists and fingers and around their necks when they campaign for our support and our votes.

But, there is good news too this week from Zimbabwe. High Court Judge Nyaradzo Munangati-Manongwa made a landmark ruling that allows government officials to be sued in their personal capacities in cases associated with torture and maltreatment of suspects. At last, there is nowhere to hide and the perpetrators of human rights abuses can now be held to account for their actions; they can no longer hide behind the despicable mantra of saying they were only acting on instructions of their superiors. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights programme manager Mr Chimbga said: “It will open the floodgates to lawsuits as people realise their rights cannot be abused. We are putting perpetrators on notice that we are coming for them.”

There is no better way to end my letter from Zimbabwe this week then by repeating those few words: “We are putting perpetrators on notice that we are coming for them.” Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy 31st March 2017.

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