Sunday, November 23, 2008

A letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends,

Within half a kilometre of a main army barracks and in view of a steady
stream of traffic and hundreds of people, a man lay next to a main road
leading to the Harare airport this week. Barefoot, painfully thin and with
thick, unkempt hair the man lay unmoving on the verge, his feet protruding
into the busy road. Standing on the opposite side of the road four men in
army camouflage stood hitch-hiking, choosing not to see the man lying a few
steps away from them. Is this what Zimbabwean authorities did not want the
former UN Secretary General and former US President to see on a planned 2
day humanitarian assessment visit? Is this why these two respected Elders
were denied visas to enter Zimbabwe?

Outside banks, building societies and post offices the crowds of people
trying to withdraw their own money have grown to multiple thousands. Many
people have resorted to sleeping outside the banks in order to be near the
front of the queues where they can only withdraw five hundred thousand
dollars a day - enough to buy one mouthful of a single cornish pasty being
sold at a local bakery this week. Two and a half million dollars was the
price tag for this simple take away snack - five days of queuing at the bank
to buy one meal for one person. Is this what the authorities in Zimbabwe did
not want Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter to see? Is this why they were denied
visas to enter Zimbabwe?

On a seventy-kilometre stretch of road through what used to be prime
agricultural land on the way to the capital city, there is silence and
desolation as roadside farms lie unploughed and unplanted while the country
remains barren of seed and fertilizer. Even as the rains fall on the land
and the ground turns springy underfoot, the weeds are sprouting but not the
food. The lushest crop I saw in 70 kilometres was grass being carefully
manicured on a golf course. Is this what the authorities did not want Mr
Annan and Mr Carter to see and why they were denied visas?

In supermarkets, the majority of which are not allowed to trade in US
dollars, the shelves are empty. There are no staple goods, no dairy
products, no confectionary, no fast foods, no tinned or bottled products,
nothing to eat at all. From all over the country there are first-hand
reports of people barely surviving by eating roots, wild berries, beetles
and insects. Is this what the world's respected Elders were not supposed to
see and why they were denied visas to come into Zimbabwe?

Hospitals without disposable gloves, medicines, drips, bandages or
disinfectant. Nurses who cannot afford to come to work. Toilets and taps
without water. A growing cholera outbreak in all areas of the country with
300 people already dead. Raw sewage flowing in the streets of high density
areas. Dustbins which have not been collected in urban residential suburbs
since July in my home town. Men, women and children collecting water in
bowls and buckets from swampy streams and murky pools. No soap to buy in the shops so no chance of preventing the spread of cholera by washing your hands with soap and water. Is this what Mr Annan, Mr Carter and Mrs Machel might have seen had they been granted visas to see for themselves the humanitarian catastrophe now engulfing Zimbabwe?

We hope that the Elders will not give up on Zimbabwe, even though there is
no welcome mat at our doorstep.

Until next time, thanks for reading,
©Copyright cathy buckle 22 November 2008.

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