The red msasas and the crisis that isnt a crisis

Dear Family and Friends,

Under the beautiful red Msasa trees a woman sits on the ground, her precious wares fidgeting in front of her. Balanced across a wheelbarrow is a home-made cage filled with live chickens; chicken dinner is the intention but business is slow, very slow. “How much,” I ask; “Five usa,” she replies, usa is the Zimbabwean short cut word for US dollars. Five usa today is worth five hundred Zimbabwe dollars, a staggering price for a chicken dinner considering a whole frozen chicken was eight Zimbabwe dollars in February 2019 when the Zimbabwe government converted all our US dollars to Zimbabwe Bond dollars. That’s what 833% inflation feels like and so people stand in the shade of the red trees and look at the wheelbarrow load of chickens, chat for a bit and leave empty handed: beauty and reality side by side.

It’s very beautiful in Zimbabwe in mid September, the trees are shaking off their dusty old leaves and bursting into gorgeous spring colours, good for our souls but making the reality of every day even more painful.

Chatting to a lecturer this week, he has only worked for one week in the past six months, the institution closed completely during Covid lockdowns and online learning simply non-existent: students with limited electricity, no laptops, no internet connections and no money to buy data. The lecturer is fearful for what’s going to happen when students come back to write their exams in a couple of weeks time; fearful for them because they haven’t received any tuition and fearful for himself with grossly inadequate protection from the invisible virus. Asking how he was coping, the lecturer said he’d been receiving his pay, Zim $4000 a month, worth just US$40,not even enough for basic food for himself and his family of four; “and I pray every day because there’s never even a dollar left if anyone gets sick with Covid,” he said.

Crisis? What crisis  our government keep saying, hollow words that belie the realities of everyday life here. For the second time South Africa has just sent a delegation to Zimbabwe to help “mediate an end to the nation’s escalating economic and political crisis.”  Zanu PF said: “This visit is taking place against the backdrop of false claims of a nation in crisis,” and the South African delegates came and went but did not get to meet anyone except Zanu PF. The South African delegation said the talks were “very frank, open and robust” and they would arrange to come back to meet the opposition, human rights defenders, the American Ambassador and “other stakeholders.”  Zanu PF’s  Secretary for Information, Obert Mpofu, took a different slant on the talks and said: “We discussed the issue of fugitives who seem to be behind some of the misinformation being peddled. We also tried to avoid using the word crisis because there is no crisis in Zimbabwe.” The language is all very reminiscent of the crisis that wasn’t a crisis in 2008/9 that saw the MDC and Zanu PF  being persuaded into an unhappy GNU (Government of National Unity) and of the coup that wasn’t a coup that saw the exit of Robert Mugabe in 2017.

Meanwhile a few days earlier Zimbabwe’s Deputy Defence Minister Victor Matemadanda said: “Sell-outs will be dealt with and If you are a sell out …  you will disappear without anyone touching you …this country will deal with you mysteriously…. “ Chilling words in a country where abduction, disappearance, torture and dumping has become a real fear for people who dare to differ.

Freelance, corruption exposing journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was finally given bail after 45 days of incarceration and his description of conditions at Chikurubi  prison were damning and graphically simple: “The situation there is terrible. Inmates are served with boiled beans and cabbage once a day all year round. If you fall sick, there is no medication. Those who test positive to Covid 19 are given hot water [to drink] as a remedy, to help them lessen the pain and impact of the dreaded disease.”

Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s new Minister of Health, Vice President Chiwenga, who took numerous trips outside the country for medical treatment last year, has this week banned Zimbabwean doctors from referring patients to institutions outside the country. “The export bill was too high,” he said, presumably referring to the cost to taxpayers of countless government members who get medical treatment everywhere except in Zimbabwe.  

And so we look out at the beautiful spring colours this September and let the beauty revive us, ever hopeful that soon an end will come to this crisis that isn’t a crisis. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe, now in its 20th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting, love cathy. 11th September 2020. Copyright © Cathy Buckle.

For information on my books about Zimbabwe and to read previous Letters from Zimbabwe or to subscribe to these Letters, please visit my website