Jackals, transformers, chicken and chips

Dear Family and Friends,

Under the arms of the shady Sausage tree I sat with a group of friends watching the sandy river bed to see what we could see. We had just been watching warthogs feasting in a pile of elephant dung but now the vultures were circling, anticipation was high.  A pair of black backed jackals trotted down to the silver stream of water far across the sandy river bed. A fish eagle had just caught a fish and stood atop its still wet prey. The jackals approached, we were too far away to see exactly what happened but within a couple of minutes the jackals had the fish and the eagle flew away to hunt again. This certainly wasn’t what had attracted vultures and so we scanned the golden sand again until we saw it.  A big male lion was watching us, his russet and black mane framing his face. As we sat in silence watching what followed, I was struck by the overwhelming magnificence of Zimbabwe: such enormous diversity, stunning beauty, bountiful resources and wonderful people and yet we remain suffocated by decades of corruption, bad management, widespread plunder and selfish enrichment by a few, all of which have reduced our country to a state of near collapse.

After a few days away I returned home to a dire situation. A huge explosion had rocked my neighbourhood, someone had stolen the oil from the electricity transformer which had promptly burnt out and exploded. As I write we have been twelve days without electricity in a residential Marondera suburb. ZESA (electricity suppliers) have given a number of different responses including: “we don’t have a transformer,” “we are running around looking for a transformer,” “I am not answerable as to how much longer it will be before we can restore electricity,” and today: “we have a temporary transformer meant for another job but the crane is broken.” In twelve days the loss to a few hundred homes has been immense: all the food in fridges and freezers has gone rotten; people cannot pump water from boreholes on the many days the taps are dry; cold geysers; no way to charge batteries and mobile phones; no lights at night so no security; nothing to cook with except firewood. “Go Solar!” people say and yes, we would if we could but a 200 watt solar panel is around ZW$2,000; a solar battery around Z$4,200. For most people earning an average of ZW$800 a month, these prices are simply unaffordable and so people do what they must to survive. Every day for the last twelve days the sound of Msasa trees being chopped down to provide wood for cooking has been the only noise in my neighbourhood. These same trees, normally so spectacular that international visitors come to Zimbabwe just to see them in their spring colours, are disappearing faster than ever this September.

At the same time as one neighbourhood staggers through a twelve day electricity blackout in my home town, the national ZESA Public Relations Manager released a statement this week cautioning people about buying food from unlicensed operators saying some of them were using transformer oil to fry food which apparently lasts much longer than cooking oil particularly for frying things such as chicken and chips.

Since my last Letter From Zimbabwe three weeks ago, fuel prices have increased from Z$9.36 to Z$10.25 a litre; the bank exchange rate for one US dollar has gone from Z$9.94 to Z$11.01.  The government awarded civil servants a 76% pay rise leaving the lowest paid workers getting Z$1,000 a month which is only worth US$90 and reducing every day as the value of the ZW dollar collapses further. Considering that civil servants were earning US$475 until Feb 2019 when the government  changed all US dollars into ZW Bond dollars, civil servants naturally want to earn at least that much now, so today their pay should be ZW$5,300, not Z$1,000. Government doctors were offered a 60% pay rise a few days ago which they turned down and proceeded to go on strike saying they wanted a 400% increase and that it must be linked to the US dollar. It would be a gross understatement to say that Zimbabwe’s working and middle class employees are in a state of near penury, a fact that seems to be lost on our leaders when we learn of the latest burden to taxpayers of US$1.7 million for the hire of a Swiss jet for the President’s five day trip to Japan last week.

The good news is that we have not been forgotten and the UN is sending a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to Zimbabwe. Clement Nyaletsossi is to assess the situation amid growing concerns over abductions and beatings of oppositions and pro democracy activists.

I am delighted to announce that my new website www.cathybuckle.co.zw is now up and running. The new website has an eighteen month archive of my Letters From Zimbabwe dating back to January 2018 (each with its own photograph), information and links to all my books, subscription links to sign up for my Letters from Zimbabwe, links to all my social media sites and a direct email link to contact me. Earlier archives of Letters from Zimbabwe written between 2000 and 2017 are contained in my four books: ‘Can you hear the drums 2000-2004’; ‘Millions, billions, trillions 2005-2009’; ‘When winners are losers 2009-2013;’ and ‘Finding our voices 2013-2017.’ I hope that you will visit and enjoy my new website and recommend it to others who are interested in eye witness accounts of life in Zimbabwe. Until next time, thanks for reading this letter, now in its 19th year, and for supporting my books, love cathy   www.cathybuckle.co.zw

OBITUARY | Robert Mugabe: A leader loved and hated in equal measure by Zimbabweans
Public Hearings Monday 9th to Thursday 12th August

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