Category Archives: Zimbabwe

Christmas

Cathy Buckle’s latest letter from Zimbabwe came today and gives us some idea of what we have to look forward to – we leave for Zimbabwe on Friday! This will be my first Christmas south of the Equator where the temperature is likely to around 30C. Chilled beer and a BBQ is not what I’m used to at Christmas but I’ll give it a go :-)

Christmas in Zimbabwe is the time of soft sweet litchis, plums, mangoes and peaches. It’s the time to eat small, sweet purple grapes straight from the vines and to take turns with the birds for pawpaws and figs. It’s the time when its hazardous to sit, stand or put anything under avocado trees as the high up, unreachable fruits ripen and crash to the ground at the most unexpected times. Christmas in Zimbabwe means towering purple rain clouds, sausage flies and flying ants. It means rhino beetles and chongololos, large spiders and even larger snakes. Christmas is that alluring time when flashes of red, crimson and scarlet tempt you into the ever thickening bush to discover wild and beautiful flame lilies. It’s the time of year for mahobohobo fruits: sweet, juicy and oh so more-ish and for mushrooms of all shapes and sizes – so tempting to pick but so lethal to eat.

Christmas in Zimbabwe is that first green maize cob scalding hot from the pot: soft, tender and sweet leaving butter running down your fingers and dripping onto your chin. For some it is chicken and rice, for others turkey and ham and everywhere meat sizzles on braai fires.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means reunion. It’s the time of year when everyone’s on the move. Transport is a nightmare, lifts are like gold and everyone is weighed down with bus bags and bulging luggage. The roads are chaotic, buses and kombis overloaded and impromptu police road blocks appear every ten to fifteen kilometres. The queues outside the passport offices and the borders grow longer while the bribes get bigger to match people’s desperation. Instead of more people staffing home affairs and immigration offices there are less and the looks on people’s faces change from anger and despair to disgust and resignation. Zimbabwe’s new tradition, thanks to a decade of political and economic mayhem, is the great, international, annual migration to reunite with families scattered all over the globe. To the disapora and from the diaspora hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans try to get together and be normal families, just for a few weeks.

Christmas in Zimbabwe means school leavers. A couple of hundred thousand O and A level students pour out onto the roads, waiting for results, drinking too much, playing head banging music and all the while knowing that there is almost no chance they will find a job in a country where unemployment hovers around 90%. Those that can will have no choice but to join the estimated three and a half million other Zimbabweans living and working outside the country. Those that can’t will set up roadside stalls under trees, wheel and deal, sell airtime, become cross border traders and spend their days looking for ways to use the education their parents struggled so hard to get them.

Christmas for MP’s in Zimbabwe this year is the car loans of US$30,000 that were given to each legislator which have been written off by the Treasury at a cost of US$9 million. And on the other hand, for the vast majority of us, Christmas 2012 is a time when the shops are full but the pockets empty as we juggle the bills, chase every dollar and wonder if, by this time next year, our country will have finally become the new Zimbabwe we so desperately need and want.

Cathy Buckle’s latest letter

It’s some time since I’ve posted a letter from Cathy Buckle. Zimbabwe doesn’t make it into the news so frequently these days so I thought that this may act as a reminder that things are little improved.

Dear Family and Friends,
There’s nothing quite like an ordinary day in Zimbabwe to make you feel pretty sure that you are having a nervous breakdown. Things that immediately spring to mind ave all happened in the last couple of weeks, such as:

Standing in a queue to pay an electricity bill when the electricity is off in the power company’s office, and has been off in homes and business for 16 hours a day, almost every working day, for the past month. While you contemplate this irony you shuffle forward painfully slowly because only one counter is being manned, the receipts are being written by hand and the teller is holding each US dollar bank note up to the sun to see if it is a forgery.

Or there’s the similar and equally absurd situation of standing in a queue at the local Municipal offices to pay your water bill even thought there hasn’t been a drop of water in the town for the last four days. Everywhere you look people are carrying bottles, buckets and even black plastic dustbins full of water from wells and boreholes to their homes and shops.

If those two don’t fit the bill, you could go to the Post Office and collect your letters from the post box, which you pay an annual rental for. When you get there you find that all the boxes have been painted red, including the numbers, so you can’t see which box is yours. You have to go and wait at a ‘window’ which turns out to be a hole in the wall blocked off with a piece of dirty plywood. Finally someone emerges and hands you a pile of wet letters – because the roof leaks, he says, un-apologetically.

Included in the soggy letters is one from the locally based, international bank offering you internet banking . This comes despite the fact you closed your thirty year old bank account there six months ago because they lost a cheque a month after you deposited it and after they had cleared and honoured it. When you told them that wasn’t your fault they put it in writing that if you didn’t get a replacement for the cheque they lost, they would deduct the value from your account. When you then spent half a day and travelled 200 kilometres to get a replacement cheque from the company that issued the first one, the bank refuse to reimburse you for your fuel or time. And now they want you to do internet banking with them – I don’t think so!

If you haven’t completely lost your mind by now, you can go and park your car outside a shop you’ve parked outside for the last twenty years and come back to find your wheels have been clamped. Suddenly this has apparently become a no parking zone. When you ask why there are no signs or yellow lines, authorities say the road markings haven’t been done.

On the way home you pop into a supermarket to pick up a few groceries. You hand over a twenty US dollar note and are given your change in the form of a bubble gum and two suckers – because we use US dollars here, but not the coins that go with them.

Finally you go to the filling station to put petrol in your car. The attendant runs inside to start a petrol driven generator which will power the petrol pump to put petrol in your car.

This is everyday life in Zimbabwe and after yet another 16 hour power cut the only sensible way to end this letter is not with a message saying : Sent from my iPhone or Blackberry, but : “Sent from my solar panel.” Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy

Chibuku, ‘the beer of good cheer’


This video refers to drinking skud in Zimbabwe. The drink was originally called chibuku (after the name of the brewery) and was known as ‘the beer of good cheer’. Originally it was sold in wax cartons similar to milk cartons. Now it’s sold in plastic containers called scuds named after the scud missile and the drink is now referred to as scud. The container does actually look like something which you’d ram into a launcher and then send skyward. Here’s a picture of a scud of chibuku.

A good description of chibuku including such information as “Actually, chibuku contains lumps of matter, not dissimilar in texture to cottage cheese, which may or may not be related to sawdust” can be read here. Having drunk chibuku myself I can confirm that this is indeed an accurate description.

PS Nice socks!

From Cathy Buckle

Both Cathy Buckle and my mother-in-law have recently returned to Zimbabwe after a month away. Mother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed her time here in the UK. Her previous visit was at Christmas time so it was a great surprise to her to discover that it could be nice and warm in the UK! She marvelled at many things including seeing our trees in leaf for the first time and was surprised by how many different types there are. Here’s Cathy Buckle’s thoughts on her return home which echo my mother-in-law’s.

Dear Family and Friends,

Coming back to Zimbabwe after a month away is a huge shock to the system. Conditions in our third world country can probably best be described as surreal, and that’s being polite! The strangeness of the experience starts before you even set foot in the country. Sitting in an international airport looking down the list of departures for destinations all over Africa, your eyes are drawn to the word ‘cancelled’ and your heart goes into your mouth. You look back across the line and are not surprised to see that it’s Air Zimbabwe flights that are cancelled. Our national airline is still on its knees, a litany of excuses continuing to humiliate us with the word ‘cancelled’ on airport departure boards around the world. It could be any number of reasons today: unpaid fuel bills, unpaid staff, striking air crew.

Arriving at Harare International Airport, the contrast with the service you’ve just left behind in the first world is dramatic. Bored surly and unwelcoming Immigration Officials do not greet you or smile at you; they scowl as they thumb through your passport leaving you feeling as if you should turn round and go away again. In the ladies toilets only one of the door latches on the row of stalls closes; there is no soap in the dispenser and a huge plastic barrel of water stands in the corner, uncovered and exposed to a myriad of germs.

Encountering two police roadblocks in the first ten kilometres from the airport is the surest sign that you are back in Zimbabwe. What do they want? What are they looking for at their incessant roadblocks? It takes just a few minutes to be reminded that these officials have perfected the art of making everyone feel as if they are a criminal. With pity you look at the crowd of commuter omnibuses that are inevitably pulled over at every roadblock. Their passengers tired, thirsty and frustrated as time and again the vehicles are stopped by the police and the drivers have to hand over money.

Out of the long grass on the roadside four school children wearing bright purple uniforms and white shirts emerge. They look to be eight or nine year olds and on their backs they wear little school satchels but this is not their only load to bear. Each child carries a large bundle of sticks and branches balanced on their heads: firewood for their Mum’s to cook supper with. Wood for the fire which will be their buffer against the freezing winter nights and provide the flickering light by which they will do their homework.

After iPods and iPads, trains, buses and aeroplanes, computers, laptops and broadband – this contrast is so dramatic that it leaves you wide- eyed and deeply shocked at just how far behind the world Zimbabwe has fallen.

Arriving home the potholes and gullies on the suburban roads are deeper than ever and there is no water and no electricity in the house. An African Hoopoe stabs the browning grass for the last insects of the day, calling its mate again and again: “Whoop–whoop, whoop-whoop.” The sun turns blood red as it sinks into the dust smothered horizon and for a moment the absurdity and abnormality is banished, because this is home. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Cathy Buckle’s latest letter

It’s a little while since I posted one of Cathy’s letters but this one certainly needs propagating.

Dear Family and Friends

My son was 8 years old when we were forced off our Marondera farm by war veterans and Zanu PF youths in September 2000. Richard does not remember those very traumatic months that we lived alongside the men who had invaded our farm. Men who were far too young to have been veterans of war; youths who were almost always drunk, drugged, abusive and threatening. Camped in a paddock within sight of our house, a rabble took over our lives, claimed the farm field by field, destroyed our business, livelihood and pension and finally chased us out of our home. For a long time I have been very glad that
Richard does not remember that frightening, horrible time but that all changed this week when I phoned him one morning. Richie said he couldn’t talk just then because he was on his way to help a friend who was being evicted from his farm and had been given until 3 that afternoon to get out.

My heart was in my mouth at the thought of another family going through the devastating anguish of being forced out of their home. With just hours in which to pack and move a home and business of a lifetime, I knew that this Mother and her son would need all the help they could get. Before long, like Richard, I was rushing to help and it took me back in time to that bad place that holds only fear and painful memories. Just a few kilometres out of Marondera town, down a bumpy, winding, dust road through the most magnificent Msasa woodland adorned in glorious spring leaves, I followed my son’s vehicle. We travelled for a dozen kilometres and saw no one and nothing: no ploughed fields, no sheep or cattle, no crops or greenhouses. A line of fence posts caught my eye: standing in a perfectly straight line they had once been a paddock or a boundary but the wire was all gone and the poles stood as lonely sentinels watching over these deserted, seized farms.

Arriving at the farm of my son’s friend, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as soon as I stepped out of my vehicle. Sitting on stumps and broken plastic chairs under a covered carport a few metres from the house were the land invaders. A tatty rabble they were. Half a dozen of them, mostly youngsters and openly drinking at 11 in the morning; one swigging from a $4 bottle of Vladinoff Vodka, others drinking beer out of cut off plastic bottles. One was drumming and they were singing crude versions of Chimurenga songs whose lyrics had been changed to: They are coming to move you out. By 3 this
afternoon this will be our house. We are happy you are going. We are getting our land. I recognized one of the men, a scruffy layabout with dreadlocks who hangs around car parks. And these were to be our farmers, I thought with contempt. I did not meet their eyes or respond to their begging calls for cigarettes.

I hugged the woman who was losing her home today but we did not talk, there are no words. All day we worked removing curtains and pictures, emptying drawers and cupboards, loading our vehicles with another destroyed life. Eight years ago half this farm was given to the Zimbabwe government but bit by bit they took more and now this bunch outside wanted it all. Wearing broken green plastic flip flops and woolly hats even in the 25 degree heat, they were determined they were going to have this house, and they were going to have it today.

The Police did not come, would not come, because this, they said, was political, not criminal. As 3pm came and went, tempers flared and the invaders moved into the garden and then some even into the living room. The farmer’s dogs, chained under a shady tree whined and whimpered as they couldn’t protect their owners. A beautiful brown and white cat lay on the floor in the bedroom surrounded by boxes, piles, suitcases, coat hangers.

As the shadows lengthened and with the red setting sun in our eyes I followed my son’s vehicle away from his friend’s farm for the last time. The dust was thick and choking and I felt tears burning my eyes. How can this be? 10 years after it happened to us, it is still going on. Nothing has changed; no attempt to stop the destruction of agriculture; no response from the Police; no respect for Title Deeds, property rights or even a family’s private home.

Who in their right mind would dream of investing in Zimbabwe when a bunch of arbitrary drunken thugs can get away with something like this because it is political. Is this Zanu PF politics or Unity Government politics? Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.

Zimbabwe – 30 years of Independence

Cathy Buckle’s most recent letter.

Three months before Zimbabwe’s 30th anniversary of Independence I happened to get lost in the vast urban sprawl that characterises the outskirts of the capital city, Harare. A huge shanty town lay on both sides of the road and stretched as far as the eye could see. Shacks and shelters made of tin and plastic were surrounded by mounds of rotting garbage which had even been scraped into contours in an attempt to demarcate little vegetable plots. Stinking streams of sewage ran right outside people’s shacks and children ran barefoot through the waste and the filth. Hand painted signs were everywhere, on pieces of battered, rusty tin and written in charcoal on strips of warped cardboard: ‘Floor polish,’ ‘Cement,’ ‘Tyres,’ ‘Abattoir.’ One sign said: ‘Hot Recharge’ and a line of people with cellphones in their hands stood waiting for their turn to plug onto a car battery and get a precious top up of electrical power into their telephones. A near naked man with no legs was dragging himself by his hands along the road and I looked away but his image has stayed with me. How can this be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence, I keep asking myself.

Two months before Zimbabwe’s 30th anniversary of Independence I went to the local electricity supply office to hand in an up to date reading of my electricity meter. I needed to bring accuracy to the wild guesstimates they kept making on my monthly bills and the even wilder amounts they were charging. The man at the desk was eating a sausage and when I told him I had a reading I would like entered into the computer record, he looked wildly around at the piles of papers covering every inch of his desk. Eventually he chose one pile and placed the sausage on top of the papers. He looked at his greasy fingers for a moment, picked up a piece of paper from another pile on
his desk, wiped his fingers on the paper and entered my figures into his computer. Can this really be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence?

Last month I went with a friend who needed to have fingerprints taken at a government office. One by one each finger is squashed into the black ink pad and the digit then rolled onto the paper record. ‘Wait for your form,’ the government official announces and you stare at the filth on your hands and look around – no taps, no water, no
cloth, nowhere to remove the ink all over your hands. When you ask if there is a public toilet you can use, the official mutters angrily that they are locked, they don’t work anymore. People wipe their inky hands in their hair or in the sand. Can this be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence?

Last week a friend got a quote for a new garden tap but decided against installing it because they get stolen so regularly. Stolen to be melted down and made into coffin handles. Talking about coffins, I attended a funeral a few days ago and was reminded that you have to dig your own graves now as municipal workers don’t, or won’t do it
anymore.

Can this really be Zimbabwe 30 years after Independence? Can this really be a free and independent country when unarmed women are arrested and held in Police custody for handing out yellow cards in protest over electricity prices. Happy birthday Zimbabwe.