The
Zimbabwe
Letters

     
  "Happy" New Year!  (2006)  
     
 
Hello and Happy New Year!

There is good news and bad news from Zimbabwe. The good news is that we are having the most wonderful rainy season. It was a wet Christmas and a wet New Year and in Marondera we have now had over 18 inches of rain.

The bad news is that there is very little food in the ground being watered by these abundant rains and by all accounts Zimbabwe is heading for exceptionally hard times this year. Wishing people a Happy New Year has seemed a particularly inappropriate and hollow sentiment in Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2006.

There are no signs of growth or prosperity on our horizon. For most people there is little to be happy about and nothing but hardship to look forward to as the country hurtles backwards in time at a terrifying pace. I think the best way to describe this reversal in growth would be to give you a taste of life in Marondera in January 2006 - it's not very pleasant.

After 18 inches of rain in 8 weeks we have had no road repairs or maintenance done. The potholes are big, filled with muddy water and unavoidable. Vegetation growing on suburban road sides has not been cut at all for the past two months, weeds and grass are creeping unchecked into and under the tar. Storm drains, contours and road culverts have not been cleared and sand and silt run off our roads and lie in thick carpets at the bottom of slopes and on road sides. At all hours big rusty trucks without number plates come and harvest this sand to sell to the building industry. Some suburban roads have now deteriorated to such an extent as to require 4 wheel drive vehicles.

We have not had any garbage collection in suburban Marondera for 5 weeks. Desperate residents have taken to dumping household trash on roadsides, under trees and anywhere away from their own homes. Around urban cemeteries, in delicate wetlands and on immediate stream and river banks people are destroying every last shred of the environment as they cut trees and dig up the bush to plant little squares of food.

These are just some of the horrors that are there for all to see. What lies behind closed doors and locked gates is far worse as people desperately struggle to cope with the economic nightmare of life in Zimbabwe.

As we have stumbled into 2006 we have been hit with astronomical increases in school fees. Last January a small rural government school in Marondera charged a hundred a fifty thousand dollars a term. This January the same school wants 1.2 million dollars per child. This is one of the cheaper prices and just the beginning as the child must also come dressed in a full uniform with school shoes and provide all his own writing books. Undoubtedly many thousands of children will not be going back to school this new year. It is hard to believe that this is the same country, being ruled by the same man who twenty five years ago promised: "Education for All by 2000."

Even more frightening than crumbling roads, uncollected trash and unaffordable schools is the crisis in our health systems. In the first week of 2006 it was announced that doctors consultation fees have increased by 100 %. It will now costs 2.9 mill to see a doctor and for people, like teachers, who earn less than 5 million dollars a month, this is as good as a death sentence. Fourteen people died of cholera in Zimbabwe over Christmas. To stem the spread of cholera the state media are urging people not to travel (as if we had fuel - oh please!) and advising people to boil drinking water and use disinfectants. It's an easy statement to make but when the smallest possible bottle of disinfectant costs the same as six loaves of bread which are 50 thousand dollars a loaf!, I know what most people will be forced to choose. It is impossible to believe that this is the same country, being ruled by the same man who twenty five years ago promised: "Health for all by the year 2000."

Things are not looking good in Zimbabwe this January 2006. Those of us who can are helping the man, woman, child and animals next to us in whatever way we can. It is not much but is the best New Years Resolution I can think of for our desperate country in these dreadful times.