Give a loaf to a stranger

Dear Family and Friends,

In our beautiful wide blue skies of early May, winter warned us she was near and sent a cold wind, grey sky and unexpected rain this week. Temperatures overnight plunged into single digits and during the day into the low teens. Zimbabwe got out her blankets and put on her wooly hats. Half an inch (12mm) of rain gave us a welcome top up of water as we prepare to go into the next six months of dry. On the kopjes the curled clumps of tussock grass which had already dried up, revived briefly and were tinged with a beautiful orange flush and in our gardens the aloes are covered in orange flowers and alive with sunbirds.

Winter 2021 in Zimbabwe looks to again be a time of beauty, hardship and ever more corruption which now seems to be the national pastime. In the past fortnight the latest corruption scandal has been exposed and we have followed it with gritted teeth and clenched knuckles as we slam into potholes, zig zag around gullies, tip sideways on steep eroded road edges and sit at endlessly slow queues at toll gates on the highways. The latest corruption is at ZINARA (Zimbabwe National Road Authority) and was exposed in parliament by the Auditor General’s reports for 2017 and 2019.  ZINARA collects fuel levies, vehicle licence and registration fees and toll gate fees and pays them into a Road Fund which it administers and allocates to road maintenance. After the audit it didn’t take us long to understand why our roads are in such a diabolical state, as if we didn’t know already.

In the 57 page report the irregularities in ZINARA for just two years included how in 2018 each ZINARA board member received a Christmas hamper worth US$9600. (That’s a LOT of money in a country where the average civil servants monthly salary is less than US$200). The Christmas hampers were accounted for by ZINARA as expenditure for ‘office supplies.’ There were two contracts for the supply of graders, the second one wasn’t tendered or even put in writing. To buy the graders ZINARA paid Univern US$17.3 million, an overpayment of US$1.2 million. To maintain the graders ZINARA paid Univern US$5.2 million, an amount not tendered for and not even due because the graders were under warranty. (Veritas “The Road to ruin”) When the graders arrived in Zimbabwe there were “lavish ceremonies.” A ‘handover’ lunch held at the Rainbow Towers Hotel cost almost US$16 thousand. A second function held at the Holiday Inn with a photo shoot of the graders cost over US$2000. People brought in for these ceremonies were accommodated at the Rainbow Towers and that bill was almost US$12 thousand. The promotional material for grader commissioning cost almost US$23 thousand dollars, equivalent to an average civil servants salary for nine and half years. 57 pages of shame also included stories of gym equipment and hairdo’s, software and non-existent projects; undoubtedly the tip of the ZINARA corruption iceberg funded by all Zimbabweans, by our road levies, licences and toll gate fees.

While the ZINARA looting was being exposed the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) president Peter Mutasa spoke on May Day, his words exposing the huge contrast between the fat cats and ordinary Zimbabweans. Mutasa said:  “…we took a wrong turn in November 2017 when we supported the coup hoping that there will be progress. We jumped from the frying pan right into the fire and we have no one else to rescue us than ourselves… all our constitutional rights and freedoms are suspended … our hospitals have become death traps  … roads are also in a pathetic condition…. Our transport system is pathetic… people are forced to stand in queues for hours to board the few available ZUPCO buses… over 83% of urban dwellers are not able to buy basic foods like bread, cooking oil and mealie meal. Over 70% are in poverty and 40% in extreme poverty… The majority in poverty are workers whose salaries have been eroded due to fascist government policies. The set minimum wage is still at ZWL$2500 against a Poverty Datum Line of ZWL$28362 …. farm workers and domestic workers earnings cannot buy a loaf of bread a day for the whole month. …Workers are enslaved and starving…”

Now, as we prepare for winter, we pull our blankets up, watch the sunbirds sipping on nectar and give a spare loaf of bread to a friend or stranger when we have an extra hundred dollars. It’s always the small things that make such a huge difference and who knows, one day we may walk in their shoes. There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe, now in its 21st year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting, love cathy 7th May 2021. Copyright © Cathy Buckle.