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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

One of Cathy's letters from Zimbabwe, please don't read it if you weep easily at others' misfortunes.

Every now and again I get a newsletter from Cathy in Zimbabwe but it is never happy reading, anyway you can see for yourself:

Dear Family and Friends,

Walking out in the early mornings there are two things you can almost guarantee this winter. One is the delicate, rosy-pink glow at sunrise, announced by the voices of scores of roosters all over the neighbourhood. The other is the thin blue spirals of wood smoke that rise from cooking fires in all directions and fill the dawn air. 
       
Yet again winter has bought gruelling power-cuts back to Zimbabwe making marathons out of the smallest of chores. It’s always the Mum’s that carry the heaviest burden and you don’t have to go far to see the proof. 

Looking out of a small prefabricated wooden cabin I caught a glimpse of a young teenage girl and her Mum one morning this week. It was a cold morning and a thick blanket of white mist was lying in the nearby vlei and across the grassland, waiting to be dissolved by the sun. Through the open door of the cabin I could see that the place was full of smoke and Mum was bending into the flames stirring the contents of a pot. The door and walls of the cabin were covered in black soot and the girl emerged from the smoke to pick up a few branches of firewood that were stacked in a pile outside. It was a little after six in the morning but already the girl was dressed for school, a bright green uniform, brown shoes and a thin green jersey.
 
After breakfast, cooked on a smoky little fire eaten in a smoke filled room, she would set out on her walk to school and later, when she got home, she would undoubtedly have to go and help her Mum collect more firewood and carry it home.
Every afternoon lines of women and girls trudge out of the bush with huge piles of sticks and branches on their heads, balanced on a small cloth ring. It’s not from choice they do this but from necessity.
 
From little wooden cabins to big brick houses and blocks of high density flats – all have the same struggle with cooking food and heating water. Visiting a friend in an upmarket Clinic in Harare this week, I noticed a sign stuck onto the silver doors of the lift. “Due to erratic power supply, we advise you not to use the lifts to avoid the risk of getting stuck.”
When a couple of thousand women in Bulawayo tried to protest to electricity supplier ZESA , they were met with a brutal response from riot police. WOZA estimated that 40 women, unarmed and singing, were beaten by riot police when they tried to present a yellow card (a football warning) to ZESA and tell them to improve their services.
 
WOZA were asking for fair load shedding, an end to 18 power cuts, transparent billing and pre-paid meters. ‘ No more luxury cars, we need transformers ‘ they said. Undaunted by the truncheons of police whose wives, mothers and daughters also go out and collect firewood and cook over smoky fires, WOZA have promised to continue their campaign until their demands are met. The main one being: “ZERO service, ZERO bill.” A slogan that could as well apply to any number of other parastatals and municipal councils around the country. 
Until next time, thanks for reading,

love

Cathy.

You can subscribe to her newsletter directly if you like at http://www.sokwanele.com/thisiszimbabwe/ 

My wife gets very embarrassed when I read Cathy's letters as she hates to see an old 72 year old weeping. Abut I have to admit, I feel so much for these lovely gentle people.

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