via Cathy Buckle News from Zimbabwe November 30, 2013
Dear Family and Friends,
The large banking and enquiries hall of the local government owned telephone company was all but deserted on the second last day of the month. One man, a security guard, leant against the wall staring out the window, a glazed, bored look on his face. ‘Are you open?’ I asked, surprised that there wasn’t anyone either manning the counters or waiting to pay their bills in the middle of the morning at month end. The guard nodded so I waited. Just the day before three bills had arrived in my post box and I had come to pay my dues. Before long a counter assistant appeared and I handed over the statements and money for three telephone and broadband bills that needed to be paid. Only one payment, for the broadband, was accepted and I raised my eyebrows as the other two, and my bank notes, were handed back to me. On one account he had written : ‘Credit $ 277.55’ and on the other: ’Credit $ 241.27.’
This sudden credit to peoples bills is apparently going to cost the government owned telephone company 63 million US dollars and comes after President Mugabe’s pre-election, populist promise to bring relief to people who’ve been struggling to pay utility bills. As crazy as it may sound it didn’t feel good to not be paying my bills. I’d made the phone calls and used the telephone line and it’s only right I should pay for those services. By not paying what I owed I almost felt as if I was somehow guilty and had joined this great Zimbabwean epidemic of not being accountable for my actions. ‘How will you survive?’ I asked the counter clerk. He didn’t say a word, just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
Meanwhile outside in the burning sunshine, it wasn’t just telephone bills that were abnormal in Zimbabwe this week. In Bulawayo when women members of WOZA marched to present a petition to a local minister at least 50 were beaten with police baton sticks while others were run out of town, chased by policemen and leashed dogs while WOZA leaders were detained for three hours.
In the same week as women were being beaten and chased by dogs and for the first time in over four years there’s also suddenly a new banking crisis. They are calling it a liquidity crunch which in reality mean there’s not enough physical bank notes to meet people’s needs. Front page newspaper headlines described how hundreds of people queued for hours outside banks in Harare to make withdrawals. The accompanying photograph said it all and the paper revealed that banks were limiting withdrawals to between $200 and $1,000 per person per day. Instantly we were taken back into time to the horrors of 2007 and 8 when there was no money left to get out of the banks and when more than a dozen zeroes were removed from our accounts overnight. We don’t talk about this nightmare much anymore but we haven’t forgotten. The banks are as tight lipped now as they were then and one anonymous bank official was quoted this week as saying the press shouldn’t write negative reports about the latest ‘liquidity crunch’ as it would cause a ‘boomerang effect.’
The boomerang effect is an apt description of life in Zimbabwe at the moment as we continue to bounce backwards to where we came from at an alarming speed. Just 120 days after it ended it’s as if the four year unity government and the small gains it made had never existed. If silence could talk it would be tears running down our cheeks.
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.