October madness

Dear Family and Friends,

We are waiting for the rain in Zimbabwe and it can’t come soon enough to extinguish scorching temperatures which have left us withering for the past ten days. October is usually known as suicide month but these days as Zimbabwe melts down economically and businesses teeter on the edge of complete collapse, it’s probably more accurate to call October ‘madness month.’

It’s hard to get enthusiastic about anything when it’s so hot but a half page advert in a daily newspaper led me to the offices of the government’s fixed line telephone company.

“Pay your bill this month and get 40% off,” the advert read. “Pay 40% less on your outstanding bill before 31 October! Hurry while offer lasts.”

Arriving at the counter with my bill in hand I tried to confirm the 40% off promise only to be directed to another counter. My bill was inspected and then came the bad news. The 40% discount was only for outstanding accounts and my bill was current, with only this month owing. Returning to the first counter I posed the question: “So you’re punishing good customers and rewarding defaulters?” I asked. “There’s no incentive for me to pay my bill on time from now on. Maybe I’ll just let it run up for a couple of years and pay it when you next offer a 40% discount?” There was nothing the youngster could say, he was just the messenger but his eyes spoke volumes. Parastatal policy makers just don’t get it; how different things would be if they were privatized.

The next taste of October madness came when I met a friend in trouble.
He told me that to secure a place in school for his 6 year old child
in Grade 1 next year he had to provide the following: “Toy laptop,
calculator, ball, skipping rope, flat file, 2 reams bond paper, 6 exercise books, US$ 46 cash.” On top of that there are uniforms, shoes, sports kit, suitcase and more. In a country where 90% of people are unemployed lists like these are condemning the next generation to illiteracy.

The madness increases when two conflicting news reports, a week apart tell of the absurd situation currently prevailing in Zimbabwe’s education system. One week the headlines read: “19,000 qualified
teachers roaming streets due to government freeze (on appointments).“ The next week a report comes from my home province: “Mash East hit by shortage of teachers. “ The Provincial Educational Director says there are 1,876 vacant teaching posts in the province, particularly in the ECD (early childhood development) sector. He also bemoaned the zero percent pass rate at 25 secondary schools in the province.

In the last week of October 2017, with bank queues everywhere, prices going crazy, bank notes almost non existent and no one seeing how much longer we can go on like this, there comes the amazing news that ruling party, Zanu PF, are looking for 8 million US dollars for their December congress. Appealing for donations they have asked beneficiaries of Command Agriculture to donate in view of last season’s bumper harvest. Command Agriculture is the new scheme where the government provides all the inputs to identified farmers and are paid back after the crops are sold. All very well in a good rainy season but a death sentence in a bad one.

Zanu PF’s fund raising committee have apparently instructed each of the country’s 10 province to raise at least US$ 100,000 for their Congress and the remaining US $7 million will apparently come from raffle tickets, dinners and selling exhibition space. They don’t mention the annual door to door, shop to shop, farm to farm “donations” they collect through fear and intimidation.

And finally, the last item in October’s hot madness came in the form of the debacle about the WHO appointment of President Mugabe as a Goodwill Ambassador (of non communicable diseases). Two days later the WHO rescinded their decision and in the flurry of rhetoric came this gem from presidential spokesman George Charamba: Mr Mugabe “was not going to oblige the invitation had it come his way anyway.”

You have to wonder where or how the WHO does its research. Don’t they know that in Zimbabwe if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford to get a hospital bed you can expect to pay: US$8 for cannula insertion; US$54 for catheter insertion; US$130 for a pint of blood and so it goes on and on, a sure death sentence if you are one of the 90% unemployed in our beleaguered land. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

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