via Cathy Buckle News from Zimbabwe January 17, 2014
There’s nothing quite like five days without electricity to remind us how hard our lives were during the first decade of the 21st century and to warn us how tenuous our grip on normality is. The prolonged power cut in my neighbourhood left a fridge full of mould and fruit flies, all the food on the compost heap and tempers frayed to breaking point. Add a couple of days without water to this picture and then decide whether to laugh or cry when you read the message that comes in on the cell phone from the Ministry of Health. ‘Prevent diarrhoea this season,’ it says, ‘ wash your hands with soap or ash under safe running water before eating or preparing food and after visiting the toilet.’ Safe running water is a joke when you haven’t had any water for a couple of days; safe food is absurd after five days without electricity and a fridge alive with mould.
As each month passes since the July 2013 elections it seems we could so easily slide back to the way things were a decade ago and every day the press reports back up our fears. A Ministry of Health whose hospitals owe US$36 million to suppliers and yet who’ve only been allocated US$23 million in this year’s budget. A Ministry of Education which needs US$73 million to help educate disadvantaged and vulnerable children but have only been allocated US$15 million for the program.
Meanwhile the 51% compulsory indigenisation of privately owned businesses remains a looming threat and there is no relief or clarity offered by authorities. The uncertainty has left no one spending money, companies shrinking and more and more workers being laid off. Fear of being targeted in the indigenisation issue has left most affected people not prepared to speak out, and not even prepared to publicise the absurd amounts of money they’re being told to pay. Some of these amounts include US$20 to submit the mandatory indigenisation forms and then US$500 for born and resident Zimbabweans or US$5,000 for ‘foreigners’ to get a ‘compliance certificate.’ It’s not clear what any of this money is for, where it goes to, if it’s a fee for not being black or if it’s going to prevent you from giving up 51% of your own company. It seems beyond belief that people are being made to pay for the bureaucracy that will facilitate them losing 51% of their own companies because of the colour of their skin. Some ‘indigenous’ Zimbabweans seem to think that the mandatory handing over of a 51% shareholding of a private company is OK because they say the shares will be paid for. But does that make it right you ask; being forced to cede the majority shareholding of your own work? They have conveniently forgotten that farmers who bought their farms after Independence and then had them seized by the government, because of the colour of their skin, were promised compensation for fixed assets but fourteen years later 95% of us haven’t ever received a single dollar for the expropriation of our homes, businesses and life’s work.
Trying to make sense of it all I stood outside under a stormy night sky looking for answers. Clouds boiled overhead but every now and again the moon broke through. Almost full, it shed its light on the branches of a big Musasa tree, exposing for a moment a little grey owl. Querulous and quavering were the best words I could find to describe its strange, haunting call. It sounded so far away and was almost inaudible over the voices of a million crickets but in fact the little owl was immediately overhead. I couldn’t resist a quick flash of the torch to see the little grey bird with its big round eyes staring down at me, its tail flicking in surprise, alarm or maybe just annoyance. Our lives and future in Zimbabwe feel very much like those adjectives: querulous and quavering. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.