The Sunday Times, UK. March 26, 2006
Christina Lamb, Bulawayo
IN ONE hand Frank Wiggill holds his monthly
pension statement and in the other a 500 gram packet of salt. It is the only
thing in the supermarket that his pension will buy, unless he prefers to
splash out on two eggs.
When Wiggill retired after 38 years as an
engine driver on the Zimbabwean railways, he looked forward to enjoying his
twilight years in comfort. Instead he and his wife Jeanette depend on
monthly food parcels from well-wishers and handouts from their son in South
Africa. The collapsing currency combined with the world's highest
inflation - estimated at more than 1,000% a year - has cut their pension to
13p a month.
"It's embarrassing," said Wiggill, 79. "I
worked all my life and here I am living on food parcels of milk powder and
toilet paper." His monthly pension of Z$49,000 is less than the cost of a
newspaper (Z$50,000) or a loaf of bread (Z$70,000). It would take him two
months to buy a pint of milk (Z$89,000) and nine months to afford the
cheapest pack of four toilet rolls (Z$440,000).
"The pension is a laugh," he said. "It must
cost them Z$25,000 to post the statement." This month the Wiggills received
nothing. Deductions for three items on prescription (Z$30,000 a time) after
Wiggill cut down a cactus and got poisonous sap in his eye left him Z$41,000
in debt to the pension company.
At the same time the monthly rates on his
bungalow have increased to Z$679,124. Water and electricity are extra.
Like most Zimbabwean pensioners, the only way
the Wiggills can survive is by selling their possessions. First they sold
their Ford Cortina. Then Frank's beloved piano and Jeanette's sewing
machine. Next to go will be the precious Royal Doulton plates commemorating
the centenary of Cecil Rhodes's founding of Rhodesia.
They placed the proceeds from the car with a
lump sum from their son in an investment fund from which they received a
monthly income. But two months ago the fund was suspended, leaving them with
no income apart from the pension.
"We'll keep selling more and more till
eventually we'll have nothing left," Jeanette said.
After learning from auctioneers that
pensioners were selling their furniture to buy food, people in the community
set up the Bulawayo Help Network. Three groups formed. One, which helps to
pay rates and rent, is funded by a benefactor; one donates medicines; and
the other provides food parcels for 200 pensioners.
All the organisations asked not to be named,
fearing that President Robert Mugabe would close them and arrest their
That helping pensioners is a clandestine
activity in Zimbabwe illustrates just how repressive the Mugabe regime has
become. Many of the pensioners say they would die of hunger were it not for
the volunteers. The Wiggills' case is typical. According to one of the
distributors of the food parcels, some receive as little as $4,000 - less
"I've come across some so desperate that they
are living on blackjacks (seeds)," he said. "My own mother-in-law receives
just Z$4,000 and she is a diabetic whose drugs cost at least $4.5m a month."
Yet they are well aware that in their pleasant
homes with crocheted seat covers and proper beds, they are still better off
than millions of black Zimbabweans, many of whom had their homes demolished
last year in Operation Murambatswina, Mugabe's clean-up campaign, and are
now living in makeshift shelters of plastic sheets and scrap metal.
After comfortable middle-class lives, sending
children to good schools and employing maids and gardeners, the white
pensioners find it difficult to get used to charity. "They've turned us into
welfare cases which is not a nice feeling when you've worked all your life,"
said Val Goodes, whose husband John worked for 36 years as an auditor for
the railway company and has a pension of Z$129,000 (about 30p).
Like the Wiggills, the couple are sent money
by their children. "You just scrape by," said Goodes. "We long ago stopped
buying dairy products or fruit. When the kettle blew up, we found an old
pot. When the iron went, we stopped ironing things. Now the element has gone
in the oven so I can't bake."
Their biggest fear is falling ill. The public health
system is in such a state of collapse that hospitals do not have sterile
gloves or hand-wash solution. Private hospitals demand money up front. "As
for dentists, well I will just have to die with the broken teeth I have,"
"It's very stressful," Wiggill agreed. "I lay awake at
night worrying about the situation, which doesn't help the health." Finding
himself almost destitute is not easy for a proud man who worked throughout
the bush war in the 1970s when his trains carried armed guards and had three
steel trucks on the front in case they hit landmines.
"I feel so isolated," he said. "I used to go with friends
to the pub for a beer or fishing but now cannot go anywhere, so I don't know
what's going on."
The couple's television and hi-fi blew up in a lightning
storm. Their only source of entertainment is a transistor radio.
It is too far to walk into town and there is no bus
service. The few old people who go to a supermarket often stare dumbfounded
at the million-dollar prices and leave with a single egg or a bread roll. To
buy this may mean queueing for an hour as shoppers count out stacks of
The last official inflation figure was 782% in February,
but most businesses estimate that it is well over 1,000%. University
students recently went on strike in protest at astronomical fee increases.
Arts and humanities courses rose from Z$3m to Z$30m a year and medical
courses from Z$4m to Z$60m.
Mugabe said recently that the solution to the economic
crisis was printing more money. The dollar is now worth so little that some
people use petrol vouchers as currency.
Most shops have counting machines or scales but some have
stopped counting, preferring to compare the heights of bundles of notes. "I
just let people pay in bricks," said the owner of an upmarket Harare
restaurant where bills often reach Z$50m-Z$60m.
Christina Lamb will be talking about her new book on
Zimbabwe at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival on Tuesday at 12.30pm
Dear Family and Friends,
Almost every night now the electricity goes off for at least two hours and
that's if we are lucky. In the last week the daily power cuts have ranged
to 6 hours at a time and they almost always coincide with the main evening
news bulletin. In these circumstances it is very hard to keep track of what
happening in the country - both news and propaganda. Frankly most people
rather not know anymore as it's all just too shameful. On the one evening
both electricity and news were on at the same time this week, I watched a
of agricultural experts presenting the facts and figures about the imminent
winter wheat crop. It made me feel very afraid for Zimbabwe.
According to the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture,
is planning to plant one hundred and ten thousand hectares of wheat this
If everything was as it should be, this hectarage would yield four hundred
thousand tonnes of wheat - this, coincidentally, is almost exactly how much
wheat the country needs for a year. According to the agricultural experts
though, this 110 000 hectares is unrealistic in the extreme and three main
farming unions said that at best they would only be able to plant 45 000
hectares this winter. The reasons were glaringly obvious. A shortage of
for ploughing was one reason, no fuel was another and then there were the
gritty's like money, pesticides, fertilizer and irrigation. A pesticide
said there are currently only enough chemicals in stock to treat thirty
hectares of wheat - just over a quarter of the government planned crop.
Referring to crippling controlled prices imposed by the state, the
representative said that unless government allowed them to charge viable
they would go out of business. The expert didn't give figures but said there
currently "hardly any fertilizer in the country" and that 72 000 tonnes
be needed for the wheat crop. The final "challenge" to the winter wheat crop
apparently going to be ZESA . (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) The
experts pointed out that wheat is dependant on irrigation and said that any
periods of "outage would derail the crop." Outages, in ordinary English, are
power cuts and the acronym ZESA, it is now joked, stands for Zimbabwe
Electricity Sometimes Available.
In March 2005 a loaf of bread was four thousand eight hundred dollars. In
2006 that same loaf is sixty six thousand dollars. Unless something dramatic
happens in the next few weeks and assuming prices continue to rise at their
present rate, a loaf of bread in March 2007 will be nine hundred and eight
thousand dollars. Imagine, almost a million dollars for a loaf, what shame
Zimbabwe. It is impossible to believe that just six years ago we were called
"Breadbasket of Africa". Until next week, love cathy. Copyright cathy buckle
March 2006 http://africantears.netfirms.com
Saturday, March 25 2006 @ 09:04 PM GMT
Contributed by: correspondent
THE opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has equated
the damage done to Zimbabwe's economic fabric through mismanagement by the
Zanu PF government, to a post-war situation in which immediate
reconstruction is usually needed by the administration coming into power.
Tendai Biti, the party's secretary general and also shadow minister for
economic affairs, told Zimdaily that the dislocation of economic
fundamentals in Zimbabwe mirrored that of a war-ravaged economy.
This situation, Biti said, had compelled the economic affairs
committee he heads in the MDC, to draw up an "Audit and Options" paper to
carry out an audit of the national economy as it stands right now. The
party's Strategy, is an economic recovery and stabilisation plan aimed at
ending the vicious cycle of poverty and job insecurity, among its other
The audit and options paper will be presented to the party's
national executive, he said. "Our economy is actually rapidly sinking into a
scenario found only in countries that have gone through war...The situation
we are witnessing right now is akin to the one that existed in Europe after
the Second World War," said Biti. "You can't stabilise a situation whereby
the per-capita income of a Zimbabwean is less than US$40, compared to that
of a Tswana whose per-capita income is US$2 000. This is the real problem we
face as an incoming government," said Biti.
Tapiwa Mashakada, the party's shadow minister of finance, added:
"You can't look at orthodox economic measures alone because they can't
adequately redress the structural distress." Although the Confederation of
Zimbabwe Industries (CZI) is carrying out an audit of the manufacturing
sector, preliminary reports say more than 500 companies have closed shop
during the last two years. Formal sector employment has declined by more
than 25% over the past two years with informal sector opportunities
declining even faster. This has been reflected in the loss of more than 400
000 jobs. Domestic and foreign debt continues to balloon and some
multilateral lenders such as the International Monetary Fund are now even
considering firing Zimbabwe.
Foreign currency inflows have dwindled to a trickle as exports
have decreased substantially due to many big companies relocating to
neighbouring countries or closing shop as a result of the harsh operating
Saturday, March 25 2006 @ 09:03 PM GMT
Contributed by: correspondent
THE government is developing cold feet over another fuel price
increase that could push the price of leaded petrol to around $180 000 a
litre. Zimdaily has it on good authority that government and some members of
the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) are now thinking twice about a third
round of fuel price increases, fearing ugly protests. Government, in
particular, is concerned about the impact of further mass actions on the
economy and its political future. The increases would put the price of
diesel at around $155 000 a litre.
Mike Nyambuya, the Minister of Energy and Power Development,
ducked questions by Zimdaily yesterday saying he has addressed the issues
before. Sources, however, said another fuel price increase can only come
after the implementation of a *censored*tail of measures agreed by members
of the TNF. ZCTU has threatened to pull out of the TNF, throwing into doubt
the future of the New Economic Recovery Programme. Government is being
accused of making unilateral decisions violating the principles of the TNF
to which it is part.
"The issue of another fuel price increase is a hot potato at the
moment, given the resistance put up by the ZCTU. "If the issue is to be
considered at all, it would be after taking into consideration views from
other members of the TNF," a senior government official said. As government
dithers on the way forward, the situation at the National Oil Company of
Zimbabwe (Noczim) is getting desperate. As long as the fuel prices remain at
current levels, Noczim will continue to incur loses.
The fuel procurer is said to have run out of the cash to
purchase foreign currency required to import fuel resulting in the
appointment of Syfrets Merchant Bank (Sybank) to head a team of financial
advisors to raise $6 trillion on behalf of Noczim.
Saturday, March 25 2006 @ 08:50 PM GMT
Contributed by: correspondent
President Mugabe, under heavy local and international pressure
to step down, has called for a constitutional amendment that will allow an
interim President to be appointed by his Zanu PF party and pave the way for
fresh elections for a new government. Official sources said this was the
message that had been communicated to President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa,
who is seen as a key player in delicate manoeuvres towards a transition from
a dictatorship to democratic rule in Zimbabwe.
It is understood that Mugabe wants his hand picked successor
Joice Mujuru, to be the interim President, although this could not be
confirmed. Mbeki, who recently met UN secretary general Kofi Annan over the
issue, is scheduled to lead a three-member, high-powered team to Harare
within the next two months to iron out Mugabe's proposed exit plan,
according to the sources. Zimdaily heard that Annan told Mbeki to keep the
momentum going following Mugabe's positive signals in a birthday interview
on ZTV last month.
In the interview, Mugabe hinted that he was considering stepping
down as land redistribution that he had so much wanted to see implemented
had been addressed. Mbeki is expected to work out a safe exit plan for
Mugabe that will make him immune from prosecution for human rights abuses
committed during his 26-year rule. Mugabe is particularly worried about the
Matabeleland and Midlands massacres of the mid-1980s after he unleashed the
Korean-trained 5 Brigade, led by the now Air Force of Zimbabwe boss, Perence
Shiri, on the people of those provinces in suppressing an armed dissident
Thousands of innocent civilians died in what is now referred to
as the Gukurahundi atrocities. Mugabe has not apologised officially to the
people of Matabeleland and Midlands for the atrocities, although he
expressed regret for "the madness" at Vice-President Joshua Nkomo's burial
in 1999. Official sources told Zimdaily that Mugabe is concerned about "the
future of his family and property, his party's simmering succession
problems, a possible power vacuum after his departure and subsequent
infighting within Zanu PF".
The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, a key player in any power
transition, is on record as saying that Mugabe's security after he steps
down will only be guaranteed in the context of a negotiated settlement of
the current Zimbabwe crisis. Mugabe has stated that he is prepared to talk
to the opposition leader if he drops his election results court challenge
and recognises him as the legitimate President of Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai has
flatly refused to agree to those conditions. Mugabe won the presidential
election in 2002 in controversial circumstances. The poll was condemned
internationally as being fraught with irregularities and glaring rigging.