Philip Barclay and Grace Mutandwa

Zimbabwe

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Wednesday 17 March, 2010

A journey well travelled – farewell

This will be my farewell blog. For the past three years I have written about matters close to my heart and I have engaged people from all over the world on issues ranging from the arms treaty, to world politics and preserving the environment.

I joined the British High Commission seven years ago in the then Press and Public Affairs. In 2003 the high commission became an embassy following Zimbabwe’s renunciation of its membership to the Commonwealth.  Public Affairs is now Communications. There have been several changes at work and in the country. I have had an interesting seven years. I worked under four  ambassadors, four deputy heads of mission and three first secretaries.
 
At the end of March I leave the employ of the embassy to re-focus my energies on other things. It has been a journey of self-discovery, a riveting trip down the international relations road but more importantly it brought me together with an amazing array of people. It also paved the way for me to create new friends at British Council and the Department for International Development.

When I started work at the embassy, the offices where in the city centre. I leave when the embassy has moved to its new home in the low-density suburb of  Mount Pleasant. Landscaping is taking shape and somewhere in the long grass around the property, a leopard and its cub have established a home. A duiker and some guinea fowl have also graced us with their presence. A month or so ago a huge snake was sighted on the property.

The presence of all this wildlife has become a subject of intense discussion between embassy staff and our neighbours in the European Union building. We are considering co-ownership rights.

When I have not been distracted by wildlife issues I have found time to blog about life in Zimbabwe. Some readers of my blog have asked me why I am still in Zimbabwe and if it is safe for them to visit.

I am still here because this is HOME and because I am a believer. I believe that my country will rise once again and take its place in the company of fellow great nations. I believe more than ever that the dark cloud we were under is passing and the sun will shine again. We will laugh again. In God’s time we will dance again.

Of course Zimbabwe has its fair share of crime but I personally consider Zimbabwe a safe tourist destination. The economic degeneration of the past few years have seen craters develop on our roads. So if you can brave that and the frequent power and water cuts, then you can visit. Most Zimbabweans are friendly and fun-loving, so yes, this is a place worth a visit or two.

The economy needs to get back on track. The politics of the country is still befuddled but one day we will get it right. That, is what keeps me here and that, is what makes me determined to help rebuild my country.

And when, South African President Jacob Zuma says it is up to Zimbabweans to make things right, he is right. It is our responsibility. We owe it to our children and future generations to find it in our hearts to do what is right for our country. We need more reflection and less fighting. We need more positive action and less bickering.

This is farewell on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office blogging site but I will blog again from another forum so until you find me again keep the faith.
 

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Wednesday 10 February, 2010

You be the change you want to see

Embassy Queens, HarareThe past year was politically confusing but economically more bearable because of  the country’s switch to the use of more sensible multi-currencies.

I must admit that although towards the end of the year I felt spiritually exhausted, I was still hopeful and one of the social projects carried out by the embassy just before Christmas helped reinvigorate me.

The embassy sponsored a women’s soccer tournament driven by People Living with HIV/AIDS. More than 500 people living with HIV/AIDS used the tournament to launch the Positive Initiative Trust at Zimbabwe Grounds, in one of Harare’s oldest high-density suburbs, Highfiled.

The enthusiasm exhibited by members of PIT was contagious. Closer to the date of the tournament our office was abuzz with excitement. Female members of staff wanted to participate in the soccer competition but numbers were not on their side.

Second Secretary Catherine Carr is a keen soccer player and Blessing Seke from our small projects section worked hard to get a team of sorts. Their efforts paid off. They were joined by our human resources manager, Cynthia Ncube, Debra “Maradona” Sithole from estates, Vielly Bafana from the consular section and management section’s Herfie Magwenzi.

They needed to get more players so children, sisters and wives of colleagues were roped in. Debra’s sister Ivy and her daughter Rumbi  joined the team and so did my daughter Tendai, who fortunately plays college soccer. Our colleague Munyaradzi Korovedzai happily encouraged his wife Rachel to join the team and from our sister organisation DFID we had Neil Satchwell-Smith’s wife Pippa.

Finally a team was made, now officially named the Embassy Queens, the girls were raring to show off their skills. They did not win the trophy but they played their hearts out. A good time was had by all. I was just the official photographer but I had just as much fun.

At times when we are going through difficult times we forget the small things that make all the difference. We forget the seemingly insignificant things that not only make us happy but also bring light to other people’s lives. We forget to count our blessings.

For Blessing and Catherine this was work and play. They do not get to do both often. They are an enthusiastic team. Their commitment and hard work is rarely witnessed by colleagues but from what I have seen on the ground it is immensely appreciated by the beneficiaries.

The embassy awarded PIT a $25,000 grant to kick-start HIV/AIDS activities across the 13 districts of Harare Province. The Initiative has also given birth to 16 women’s soccer teams.

We do not often make the time to come together as a team but the few times that we have done so we have proved that we can make a difference.

Political and survival worries will always be there but this year we must make ourselves a promise: “To be the change we would like to see in others and take a more positive outlook towards life.”

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Thursday 15 October, 2009

Blog Action Day 2009 Climate Change: We care about the climate subconsciously

Constantly immersed in our political problems, we never seem to have any time for climate change issues in Zimbabwe.  Climate matters only occur to us as a blur when we are expecting rain and none seems to be on the horizon.

But even as we go about our daily routines with not much said or done about climate change, we blindly help reduce our carbon footprints.  Zimbabweans recycle religiously.  Poverty has made us innovative.

Old jam jars are re-used to store various foods.  Ice cream and yoghurt containers also have an extended shelf life.  Go into any Zimbabwean kitchen and you will find a stash of clean, neatly packed bottles, tins or plastic containers that are constantly put to use as pickling jars or for freezing leftovers.

Old plastic bags are used to make candles and floor polish, while old newspapers will find a new lease of life lining cupboards or used for wrapping goods by vegetable vendors.  When the vegetables are unwrapped, the paper finds its way into the toilet as loo paper. Severe power cuts have also forced people to use electricity responsibly.  At the office we switch off lights and turn of printers and fans as our contribution towards reducing carbon footprints. 

We have also started an enthusiastic Greening Team.The team is advocating the use of energy saving light bulbs at both the office and the embassy residences, establishing recycling bins at the office and at home.  They also have plans to harvest rain water for irrigating the embassy gardens. There is only one paper recycling company in the country which the team will have to work with.  The team is still trying to find partners for recycling bottles, cans, plastic bags and bottles.

Since the move to the new embassy, efforts have been made to plant several trees and savannah style grass.  These are little steps that we hope with the buy-in of all staff will grow into something highly significant.

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Wednesday 02 September, 2009

A dash of serenity and buckets of madness

Over our Heroes holidays, a few weeks ago, my partner and I drove to the Vumba in Zimbabwe's scenic eastern highlands.

I needed a break and so did my partner. After the break my partner was facing the possibility of winding down business at his media monitoring organisation. Like a few other media organisations, they were in financial distress.

So we certainly needed to go away somewhere tranquil. I felt for him. In 1999 he had had to stop publishing his investigative magazine because lawsuits from politicians had bled the magazine dry. His heart was broken.

We needed to be somewhere where we could relax and put things into perspective. A trip to the Vumba was just what the doctor ordered. We booked ourselves into a cottage at Seldom Seen.

The weather was quite warm during the day so we went for long walks, took pictures, and at the end of each day visited Tony's for his decadent famous cakes.

The evenings found us relaxing in front of a blazing fire in our cottage. There was no radio and no television to disrupt our break from city life. We played board games, read or simply talked.

Seldom Seen has views that are truly, seldom seen throughtout Zimbabwe. It has some cottagesthat overlook valleys and mountains into Mozambique. The plant life is amazing. I saw azeleas that were neatly trimmed into hedges. In Harare azeleas grow but they are usuallystruggling stunted plants. The cool moist conditions in the Vumba encourages the health growth of azaleas and other exotic plants.

While in the Vumba we thought we would pay a hotel there a visit for lunch. We went to its golf clubhouse where we had to ask a waiter three times to clear the available table on the veranda. He grabbed the dirty paper serviettes and plastic drinking straws, crumbled them and threw them right over my shoulder into the flowerbed behind me.

We were speechless. He then came back with drinks which he was about to put on the dirty table. We asked him to wipe the table, which he did grudgingly. We ordered but werenow quite certain the kitchen where the food was going to emerge was most likely a health hazard - but we were hungry.

My partner's chicken burger tasted anything but a chicken burger. My steak roll was a sickly thin piece of "carpet". It was the toughest and tasteless steak roll I have ever had the misfortune to partake of.

The following day we visited a lodge that we really like because of its scenic views, very different from those at Seldom Seen. After a long leisurely walk in the lodge's woods, we were ready for a light meal.

Getting drinks at that lodge took us 20 minutes and our orders for food took almost two hours. When we went to the reception to cancel our food order we tired of waiting. The waiter told us the food would be ready in 15 minutes. We did wait, had the food which was nothing to write home about.

The manager of the place suddenly materialised apologising profusely. I couldn't help but point out to him that they were in the wrong business. They could not entertain guests. It wasn't as if the place was teeming with guests waiting to be served. Apart from us there was one other couple.

Apart from Tony's and one or two other places, the Vumba needs a real shake-up. Service provision has gone out of the window. Even small guesthouses in South Africa knowhow to look after guests, not so in the Vumba. Maybe it is a good thing we do not have hoardes of tourists, otherwise we would be embarrassed no end.

People in the Vumba are generally friendly and gentle. Save for a few mad drivers on the road, driving back was uneventful. We both felt rested and I was ready for work while my partner was ready to deal with the pain of winding down business and giving the bad news to his staff.

I came back to be attacked in a violent smash and grab. Just a week ago, driving out for dinner our car had its front passenger window shattered. Some huge thug grabbed my bagwhich was wedged between my thighs. I had the strap in my left hand and was not about tolet go.

I told my partner to increase speed and when he did I yanked the bag out of the thief's hand. He stumbled and almost fell across the road. I had cuts on my fingers, was bleeding heavily but I had my bag. Our chief of security Dave Wells is always telling us to be careful and not to fight off thugs - very sound advice. If I was anyone else I would have screamed and let go of the bag but I refuse to be a victim.

In 2000, in broad daylight while covering parliamentary elections I was held by four thugs at knifepoint. I let them take my tape recorder and mobile phone but after that day I also vowed anyone who dared attack me again would have a hell of a fight on their hands.

A group of middle-aged women in Kenya are taking self defence lessons because they are sick and tired of being raped and assaulted by thugs. You get to a stage where you say enough is enough. And I have reached that stage. Do not take my advice - but I will fight back.

Harare is getting too violent, increasing house break ins and car jackings do not make it an attractive city.I am already yearning for the tranquil of the Vumba.

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Tuesday 01 September, 2009

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We want to know what you like and dislike about our blogs, what you’d like to see our bloggers writing about, and how you feel about the style of our articles.

To get your feedback we’ve created a short survey. It should only take a few minutes to complete and it will really help us to understand your thoughts and feelings.

Please help us to make this blog better and take the survey.

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Friday 17 July, 2009

We do have some happy occasions

Over the past few months, some people have asked me if life is always as grim as I paint it in my blogs. "Are all Zimbabweans drowning in sorrow,?" they ask.

We do live  a confused and at times chaotic life but we also have some happy occasions. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year and Easter. We also go to fairs.

In the past four weeks I have attended the first ever  Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) sports day, a suburban fair and a fundraising fair for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). I have also watched rugby, tennis and cricket on television. Yes in the midst of all the chaos, we manage to sneak in some normal and fun days.

I also watched the whole two hours of the American pop star Michael Jackson's memorial. My teenage daughter was amused by the overwhelming emotions I displayed during the specialbroadcast. When tears rolled down my cheeks as the king of pop's daughter spoke, my daughter shook her head in disbelief. Michael was an institution, an amazing entertainer.

Earlier last month seeing Zimbabwe's terrorised civil society get together for a day offun and games was quite emotional for me. It made me realise just how much fun life could be if we lived in a normal country. Yes there is an inclusive government in place but most of the time we the common people, are left confused about just how inclusive the government
is willing to be.

Zimbabweans are a resilient people. We get trampled on by our political leadership and groan, nurse our aches, get up, dust ourselves and get on with the business of survival. When a small window of opportunity presents itself to relax we seize on it with gusto.

Most Zimbabweans love entertaining. When money permits there are parties galore and barbecues are a special favourite. In summer we like to invite friends over for drinks and a barbecue. We love life.

Over the past month I have noticed that we have also become "war weary" and the revolution is no longer the main subject of discussion at gatherings. We have started talking about plants, going on holidays and dancing again. We are slowly beginning to reclaim a bit of our lives before the political brutality since 2000.

Musical bands have started drawing huge crowds of revellers once again.The arts world is slowly awakening. Every week now there are venues hosting poetry slams or offering budding artists the opportunity to showcase their varied talent.

We still do not know what tomorrow holds for us but we all know that we certainly can not afford to go back to the way things were last June. We know that even as we fight and differon the constitution we would like to have, we have no choice but make life better for ourchildren and grandchildren. We have to get the spark back into our lives again.

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Friday 12 June, 2009

Arms Trade Treaty: Arms in the wrong hands can wipe out a nation

More than a decade ago driving to and from work actually used to be a pleasure. Today you thank your lucky stars if you arrive to your destination without a major incident.

High unemployment and poverty has created a huge band of armed robbers and car jackers. Zimbabwe, like most African countries believes it is safe from its own citizens if it is armed to the teeth, so the defence budget will always surpass even that of health.

The result of our governments' paranoia is that we end up with small arms in the  wrong hands. Although Zimbabwe's cases of gun totting robbers is not as high as in  neighbouringSouth Africa, the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate.

The political and economic decline has also seen a large number of defene forces deserting and taking up crime.  We have read several stories of policemen or  soldiers absconding with guns and the weapons later being used in robberies.

In the past year some of those small arms were also used by people linked to the then ruling party, ZANU PF to intimidate and attack opposition supporters. Press reports revealed that some members of the army and police had during that period used small arms to beat the opposition into submission.

Securing a robust Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) should be high priority for every country that values rule of law, human rights and democracy. The ATT should be a legally  binding agreement between States that should be used to assess whether or not to  exportconventional arms. Every government owes it to its nationals to ensure that  the globalarms market is regulated to prevent weapons landing in the hands of human
rights abusers, terrorists and insurgents.

Last year Zimbabwe experienced a tense moment when a ship docked in Durban, South Africa ready to offload arms shipped from China, at a time when political violence in the country had reached unprecedented levels. Human rights activists worked tirelessly to ensure the arms would not find their way into Zimbabwe. Worries were that the arms would be used against civillians seen as enemies of the State.

It is sad to note that on 31 October 2008, at the United Nations General Assembly Zimbabwe and the United States voted against a resolution towards the establishment of  an ATT while 147 countries voted in favour and 18 abstained.

Any government that believes in unfettered access to arms must know that one day those very same arms might be turned against it - Africa bears massive evidence of this.  Irresponsible trade in arms threatens any efforts towards world peace and sustainable development.

A group of 150 students will on 15 June visit the Foreign Office to start what is a  week of action to support moves towards an Arms Trade Treaty. The United Kingdom needs other nations to help make the arms market safe.

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Friday 05 June, 2009

Zimbabwe must embrace change to survive

When Ambassador Andrew Pocock presented his credentials to President Robert Mugabe on February 16, three years ago, he noted that the country was at a crossroads. He pointed out that if the prevailing political situation continued, the country could find itself beyond rescue.

Zimbabwe, he pointed out, had a choice. It could change track, change policies and give its people the life, prospects and future they deserved. The Zimbabwean government could make that choice.

At the end of this month Ambassador Pocock leaves Zimbabwe after having experienced first hand the ruinous policies of the ZANU PF government. He leaves when an inclusive government is in place but with not much change on the ground. Morgan Tsvangirai and his opposition colleagues would like to make this new government work. But their political willpower to do good is not positively matched by their counterparts in ZANU PF.

You have Tsvangirai and his compatriots insisting that Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana must be relieved of their duties. Mugabe and his war veterans on the other hand insist Gono must stay. A senior airforce chief has also joined the fray. It leaves you with no doubt that ZANU PF has no intention of being party to sensible change.

You have one group of ZANU PF politicians moaning about how the image of the country needs to be cleansed. At the same time you have state newspapers publishing insulting and demeaning letters and and opinion pieces about top American and British diplomats.

You have Tsvangirai telling journalists that media reforms are already there for them to enjoy. The minister of information Webster Shamu and presidential spokesman George Charamba both tell us nothing has changed. As far as the two are concerned journalists still need the state's blessing to do their work.

ZANU PF's John Nkomo and MDC's Sekai Holland among others all tell us that in the spirit of inclusiveness we must develop "national alzheimer and forgiveness" and promote national healing! We need a major miracle.

In the coming weeks, Tsvangirai embarks on a working tour of Europe. He must convince the world that its taxpayers money will be put to good use and accounted for. He must leave no doubt in the minds of the political, development and business leaders he will meet that what Zimbabwe is embarking on is real and meaningful change and not just essence of change.

While he engages the international community, Tsvangirai must be honest enough to accept that there are major hurdles ahead. As he he tours Europe he must keep the faith with the people who still need jobs, food, shelter and education.

During his European tour, Tsvangirai must remain alert to the fact that behind the facade of the inclusive government, lurk the same people that threatened war in the elections last year and beat the nation to a pulp. He must realise that there can not be any real change until these people genuinely start to share power.

And as Ambassador Pocock said when he arrived three years ago, "Around us is a competitive and globalising world, and a modernising Africa. Can Zimbabwe position itself to become part of that?"


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Thursday 14 May, 2009

One hundred days of more of the same

This week the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) marked their first 100 days in an inclusive government with ZANU PF.

This was a union of convenience, most people agreed, and a lot more people had no faith in the whole Global Political Agreement (GPA) that saw the birth of this inclusive government.

The sense of hope that came with Morgan Tsvangirai's promise that the era of impunity was over has been erased by the events that have taken place since the "new" government started working.

There is total confusion. We have no idea where we are headed. The only people who probably know what they intend to achieve are the ZANU PF politicians and their leader. They continue to do everything in their power to ensure that this arrangement fails.

Outstanding issues on the Global Political Agreement remain sticking points. The appointments of permanant secretaries, provincial governors and ambassadors remain on the discussion table. The man Tsvangirai chose to be his deputy agricultural minister, Roy Bennett, has still not been sworn in. Political and human rights activists and a freelance journalist are still in detention. Harrasssment of journalists continues unabated.

The unilateral re-appointments of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana are still a major area of political battle.

The telecommunications ministry led by MDC's Nelson Chamisa has had its main role stripped. It is now a theoretical ministry while the real functions lie within a ministry led by ZANU PF. Taking a firm grip of the country's communications gives ZANU PF the capacity to snoop into our communication through the Interception of Communications Act. Chamisa has been left with the technical bits, ensuring infrastructure works but having no control on how it is used.

In the past three months we have seen the Parliamentary Standing Committee establish commissions: the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the Constitutional Reform and Humanrights Commission. All have been dogged by controversy.

Farm invasions and theft of crops from the few remaining productive commercial farms goes unchecked. In fact, impunity reigns even more than before.

While the winds of hope that swept in with Tsvangirai saw schools and major hospitals re-open, the sense and feeling of a better tomorrow around the corner has evaporated. No-one including the politicians can honestly tell where exactly we are headed.

This week the inclusive government was expected to announce progress on the outstanding issues around the GPA but this has been postponed. A meeting that should have come up with decisions on the various points failed to take place early in the week. Reports from Tsvangirai's office say that the meeting failed to take place because President Robert Mugabe was hosting a delegation from the People's Republic of Korea.

If you ask me, our future is more important than playing host to a group of people whom we only know through their link with one of Zimbabwe's political parties. We could have told the Koreans we had better things to do or if we were inclined to be polite we could have told them we needed to clean up our house first before we could receive guests. I am sure the Koreans would have understood that the business before our political leaders is more important to the people of Zimbabwe than their visit.

If we succeed in solving the problems around the various GPA issues it will be easier for us to play host to all our friends from the East, West, North or South. We will in fact be better hosts as we will not struggle to explain away human rights abuses although I am sure some of our guests are not squemish about various abuses.

The MDC leadership is still hopeful and maintains it is in this strange relationship for the long haul. Civil servants are trying to crumble the US$100 allowance they get into sensible amounts that can pay their piling bills. The job market is still dry and the food situation on the farms is not looking very encouraging.

For us, the ruled, this has been one nerve-wrecking 100 days. We do not know if what we at times see as a faraway light signifies help on the way or a high speed train coming to crash us. The next 100 days will just be more of the same non-stop nightmares.

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Tuesday 28 April, 2009

If you want to survive you make a plan Zimbabwe style

What does a man who for more than three decades has drawn his livlihood from the soil, suddenly finds himself deprived of that soil do?

If you are Eric Harrison, you resist for a while and then pack whatever you can of your belongings that you are allowed to take, record whatever remains and take as many pictures as you can as evidence and move on.

Turfed off his citrus and sugarcane farm in Zimbabwe's Mkwasine, south-east of the country in 2004, Eric was heartbroken but he refused to let go of hope. He fought in courts,lost, appealed in vain and then sat down to write a book, Jambanja (Shona for chaos). The book details what he went through with his farm workers when his farm was invaded by a school head and some law enforcement agents.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a day with Eric to find out what a former commercial farmer's options of a new way of survival are. For a 70 year old, he is still very energetic and brimming with ideas of sustainable agriculture.

I accompanied him to a place where with a group of colleagues who also lost their farms, he has started a compost and worm farming venture. A small team of enthusiastic young men help with the project.

Eric and his team have come up with a way of making highly nutritious compost for crops. Introducing some earth worms into the compost gives it more nutrients.They also make a compost tea that can be used as a fertiliser. He works with rural communal farmers encouraging them to depend more on compost than artificial fertilisers.

In the capital, Eric has helped residents of the low density suburb of Monavale to start a compost making venture at the Monavale vlei. The Conservation Society of Monavale is made up of home owners and workers who through financial support from the UNDP are working flat out to protect the rare species of birds and small creatures found in the vlei.

Eric lost his farm and amazingly he is not a bitter man. He has moved on and is giving back to society in a way many in his position would find difficult to do. At the height of the government sponsored land invasions, many farmers like Eric found themselves homeless and with no means of income. Some left the country but others started buying and selling goods in short supply while others made and sold furniture.

Today the farm invasions have come back as strong and violent as ever. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai seems unable to stop them. He has appointed a task force led by Deputy Prime Minister, Arthur Mutambara who with a group of ministers from both MDC and Zanu PF visited the farms currently under siege.

At one of the farms the team saw tens of thousands of kilogrammes of fruit for export rotting. The farmer, Ben Freeth has been prevented from entering his packing shed in the past few weeks because of the ongoing invasion. His entire property has become a looting ground and campsite for the invaders.

Mutambara told the invaders to leave and allow Freeth, his family and workers carry on with the business of farming. As soon as Mutambara turned his back, the invaders were back and chasing away workers.

Away from Freeth another farm is also under siege. This is despite the fact that the farm is supposed to be "protected" by a Bi-lateral Investment Protection Agreement. Court orders to uphold the agreement have been ignored.

Farmers and their employees have no protection under the country's laws. If they dare to report to the police, they risk being jailed under trumped up charges as the guilty go scot-free to continue with their looting and persecution of farmers.

As the lawlessness on the farms escalates, we have the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and our political leaders calling on the international community to come to the rescue of Zimbabwe.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick recently told reporters that; "Zimbabwe is at a very sensitive point and we want it to succeed. But it is going to require steps by all the members of Zimbabwe's institutions to restore democracy and human rights."

At the Bank's forthcoming Spring meetings, it is hard to think Zimbabwe will have taken any steps to re-introduce the rule of law, respect of property rights and other basic human rights.

Politicians in ZANU PF claim they want this country to prosper. They believe the only way to do so is through taking from one group to give another. At independence in 1980, this country might not have had equitable land distribution but it could feed and create employment for its people.

Today white farmers are criminalised. We want to become wealthy by reaping where we did not sow. During the liberation struggle, combatants had a song that encouraged people to pay for whatever they took. It was a song urging strong values. Today that song has been turned on its head.

Commander of ZANU PF's military wing the late Josiah Magama Tongogara must be turning in his grave. For him, yes, the war had been about equitable land redistribution and also about eradicating a racial system.

We have not learnt from our past. Blacks were subjected to untold racism. In their own country they became second class citizens, with no rights. Today our leaders who once earned international accolades by espousing the spirit of reconciliation, are subjecting their own citizens to the same oppressive system.

We have white Zimbabweans who have this country as their only home. They have put their love and sweat into the soil. They toiled to help get the country into the shape it was at independence but now they are treated as outcasts. One is in the slammer right now and some of his farm workers are lying in hospital nursing wounds from police guns.

The world unfortunately is watching as all this goes on. The world might hold itstongue but it will not open its bank vaults to people who believe they are not accountable to anyone.

Our politicians have to start facing up to their short-comings. They should take responsibility for what is going on on the farms. They should accept that not everyone they are trying to pay off with this or that farm is a farmer. Farms mean a lot of commitment and hardwork. They are not weekend getaways or family holiday resorts.

People like Harrison and Freeth invested all they had to turn their farms into what they had become before the looting began.

Having an inclusive government will not automatically encourage the international community to mobilise money for Zimbabwe.

By preaching one thing and doing exactly the opposite our political leaders are only ensuring that no country with a conscience will come to our rescue. Our democracy, human rights and good governance balance sheet is in the red. No outsider is responsible for the mess the country is in. We brought it on ourselves.

Our politicians should realise that they can not demand to have their travel restrictions lifted when they have outlawed basic human rights. They can not demand help from free-thinking nations when they refuse to nurture diversity, freedom of expression and freedom of association.

No group of people must feel demonised. No section of the community must live in fear of being assaulted, falsely imprisoned or refused the right to earn a living honestly. No Zimbabwean must e above the law. All citizens must be protected irrespective of thei rrace, colour or political persuasion. Farmers must be allowed to do what they know best - producing for the nation and export markets.

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Tuesday 21 April, 2009

Only politicians find something to celebrate

On Saturday the 18th of April, Zimbabwe celebrated 29 years of self-rule. Politicians made a big deal of their newly found "inclusiveness".

To show that the Global Political Agreement between ZANU PF and the two MDCs was alive and well, we had various government ministers and officials bombard us on radio about the importance of us all celebrating our independence anniversary together as a people.

For the past 28 years, ZANU PF has commandeered national events and most Zimbabweans have stayed away because they felt unwanted and demonised. Now we are suddenly told we should all pretend we are one big happy family!

We had MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister, his two deputies and  ministers attending the main independence day celebrations alongside Robert Mugabe. The whole thing was simply a charade. It remained the ZANU PF leader's event. Tsvangirai was not even given the opportunity to address the people.

Twenty-nine years after attainment of majority rule, most Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty, unemployment continues to soar and basic human rights are trampled on.

A day before the celebrations, a journalist and two members of the main MDC were released from prison. They are being accused of banditry. I guess their release was something to celebrate.

In 1980 we gained independence from Britain. There was so much hope. We had such high expectations. We believed in our political leadership. There was so much goodwill and we believed nothing could go wrong. But we were wrong, we were so wrong.

We had a "people's government" and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Our government brooked no disagreement. Criticism was not tolerated. Refusing to be a  member of the ruling party meant your safety and freedoms were not guaranteed. Political detentions and persecution of the private media took a more sinister form. The people's government fought against its own people.

The shaky arrangement we have now does not inspire confidence in many people. And those  people are right to be skeptical. There is no evidence of genuine goodwill on the part of  ZANU PF. Agreements are not respected or honoured.

Zimbabweans are tired of empty promises. They are tired of listening to pompous politicians who think the world owes them a living. Independence is not just about raising a flag or singing a national anthem. It is not about a bunch of politicians agreeing to sit together for once. It should mean much more than that.

It should mean better education and health for all. It should mean employment opportunities. It should enable us to create opportunities for the whole nation and not just a select few. It should mean the respect of property and individual rights irrespective of race, colour or creed.

During the war of liberation we were told independence would bring milk and honey. To most Zimbabweans it has only brought pain and suffering. Politicians must be told that watching your people suffer is not a virtue, giving people a better life is. No one  should be proud of the fact that Zimbabweans have shown resilience in their day to day survival.

Leadership in this makeshift outfit that we call an inclusive government must be told that people cannot be taken for granted forever. The politicians must act in accordance  with expected norms of democracy and good governance. They must be told that there will be no free lunches. The international community will not give its money to people who do not respect their own nationals' property rights. No sane country will give money to a country that does not uphold the rule of law. You have to have a hole in the head to invest in a country where there are no guarantees and impunity is the order of the day.

We need the world. We cannot go it alone without the international community. Our politicians need to grow up and start proving that they are serious about getting this country working again. Beating our chests about our sovereignty will not create jobs or set our economy straight.

If we do not act in good faith, we will be celebrating our 30th independence  anniversary next year as a real failed state and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

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Wednesday 15 April, 2009

Cruelty and Kindness

The Foreign Office is cruel. I was posted to Zimbabwe despite its awful reputation. I stepped off the plane anxiously, expecting to be butchered at once and fed to lions. That didn’t happen, but I have suffered a greater pain - falling in love with this beautiful, cursed nation and now, after more than three years, having to leave.

You may wonder how I have come to love this country after witnessing so much horror here. After all, I have seen Masvingo’s rich soil stained red with the blood of those who dared to vote the wrong way. I have spoken to a man six hours after he was set alight and left for dead by the cruel war vets. I have seen too many of the one million young people, who have been wasted by HIV infection during my time here.

But amidst all this suffering, there is a grace. The grace of trade union leader Raymond Majongwe, still sticking up for teachers despite the terrible abuse he and his profession have received; the grace of apostolic worshippers processing along Sunday streets in gleaming white robes; the grace of the rural donkey, stoically pulling his heavy load up the hill.  

There is also beauty: a rural woman walking economically and upright - a child strapped to her back, a heavy load on her head; the rocky, forested kopjes of the Great Dike – perfect hideouts for shy but deadly leopards; the sun catching the ripples of Lake Kariba’s endless waters.

Despite all the efforts of Zimbabwe’s cruel men, I will take from the country memories that are good. The grace, the beauty, the courage and the strength have outweighed and outlasted all that has been vile.

Perhaps because of this excess of goodness, the country is trying to plot its route away from desperate 2008 into new years of hope. So far concrete signs of recovery are few, but signs of the uplift in people’s expectations are everywhere. Here’s one from Harare this week: a petrol pump attendant buying an ice cream for himself on a hot day – a sight not seen in Zimbabwe since poverty and cash shortages started to bite.

If I am – as I hope - leaving a different Zimbabwe, the country has changed me too. I arrived an arrogant and complacent British diplomat. I hope I have learned to be humble in the face of others’ superior qualities and to understand how lucky I am to have grown up surrounded by tolerance, liberty and plenty. 

Until today, I had not realised how much I am feeling about leaving Zimbabwe. But now, Easter Monday, the day before I leave for good, I find myself crying tears for the sweet friends and the soul-expanding life I have to leave behind. I know I signed up for a job that makes me move country every three or four years, but I didn’t know it would be as hard as this.

So yes, the Foreign Office is cruel. My brain must go on to some other job, while my heart stays in Zimbabwe. How cruel to be dragged away just as recovery might begin. But I am forever grateful that I have had the chance to come here and see things good and evil, which will temper the way I live the rest of my life. I have never had a more worthwhile job. 

Thank you for reading my blog. The incomparable Grace Mutandwa will keep you informed about Zimbabwe in the future. And others may take it up too. The word processor is mightier than the sword!

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Monday 16 March, 2009

Out of tragedy emerges national hope

In 1999 when I interviewed Susan Tsvangirai for a profile for a weekly independent paper, I was struck by how warm and easy to talk to she was.

Her husband, Morgan had just announced the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). All the urban areas had been lit up in new hope, hope for a freer and democratic Zimbabwe. There was a possibility that she could become the country's next first lady and we were all curious about her.

I went to their humble home then in Harare's middle density suburb of Ashdown Park. She exuded motherly charm, had an enchanting smile and spoke lovingly of her children and husband. She was acutely aware of the fact that their lives would never be the same again because they would now be viewed as enemies of the ruling party and government.

When on Friday the 6th of March I heard she had died, I was shocked and for a very long time sat in a numbed state.

After that interview in 1999, I had seen and spoken to Susan on several occasions. Every time I saw her I came away thinking how lucky Morgan and his children were to havethis diamond in their lives. Even when her husband was being tried for treason or had been beaten up for standing up to the government, Susan had remained Morgan's greatest supporter and his rock of Gibraltar.

Even in death Susan proved beyond doubt that she was a remarkable woman. Thousands of people thronged her memorial service in Harare and a day later her burial ceremony at her husband's country home in Buhera. Susan was a humble and strong African woman who had a very strong sense of wrong and right. She was blessed with empathy, a value that is increasingly missing in some of our leaders.

Zimbabweans from all walks of life trudged on foot, some travelled on the back of old lorries, the latest vehicle models or on buses new and old. Diplomats came, so did cabinet ministers from Southern Africa, the civil society and the churches. The ceremony in Buhera was a celebration of the life of a woman described by leader of the smaller formation of the MDC, Arthur Mutambara, as the people's heroine and the mother of the nation.

A minister from Botswana speaking on behalf of her president, said this was not a moment for tears but one for strength. In a strong emotion filled voice, she said Susan's death should not be in vain but should be the foundation upon which reconciliation,economic and political recovery should be built.

The previous day at the church ceremony President Robert Mugabe had surprised many when he spoke like a father grieving with the whole nation.

Maybe out of this tragedy Zimbabwe will rise and be great again. Maybe the motherly spirit of Susan Tsvangirai will prove that with love and tolerance Zimbabweans have a future. Out of this tragedy that brought together people of different political persuasions, one could not help but sense an emergence of hope.

Susan's dedication to freedom and justice and a Zimbabwe that we can all be proud of, reflect the aspirations of all Zimbabweans.

She was not just the wife of a politician but a mother, sister, friend and activist who sacrificed her freedom by remaining at the side of a man once reviled by the ZANU PF government.

May the spirit of the mother of the nation rest in peace.

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Tuesday 03 March, 2009

Fifty dollar shopping spree

Last week my sister-in-law was thrilled when she phoned to tell me she had received
five vouchers amounting to 100 American dollars. She had also just opened a foreign
currency denominated account with her bank of three decades.

Her excitement was contagious so I suggested we go shopping on her first foreign
currency earnings.

My sister-in-law has worked as a primary school teacher for 30 years. Her husband
who is my brother was laid off work almost two decades ago. For years she has been
the sole and consistent bread winner, looking after her husband and three children.

My brother has remained sane by growing strawberries and vegetables for sale. He has
also become a self-taught tailor of note. But economic instability has seen my brother's
income eroded. His wife has over the past two years earned money that could not pay
the local high school and university fees for their two children in school.

In our culture, if one member of the family is in trouble you step in. Not only did I
have to worry about my own three children in university but I now had my brother's
family to look after.

From earning less than one American dollar, my sister-in-law from this month, now
receives $100.

My brother and his wife are lucky to own their home. From her new income my sister-in
law pays a total of $30 for rates, water and lights. We immediately deducted the $30 for
utilities, $20 for emergencies and went shopping with $50. Fortunately too, no one in the
family has to pay for public transport to get to and from work or school.

With $50 she bought, 25kgs of maize meal which is our staple, four kgs of flour, six
kgs of sugar, two litres of cooking oil, two bars of laundry soap, 500g of powdered
milk and two litres of a concentrate orange juice.

Across the same high density suburb of Chitungwiza, a group of other civil servants
were making bulk purchases and singing the praises of new Prime Minister, leader of
the opposition MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, whom they credited with awarding the foreign
currency earnings.  

My sister-in-law had been on strike for most of last year but heeded the call by
the new inclusive government to go back to work. Teachers' Unions were negotiating
for salaries of US$2,300 but a $100 allowance each for civil servants has breathed
new life into them.

Yes, I still have to help my brother and sister-in-law but it was good to see her
regain her dignity. I cried when she said to me, "I feel like a complete woman
again, a proper mother and wife. My shoulders are no longer drooping. I am ecstatic!"

Keeping my family alive is a major personal goal. I worry about poverty everyday. I
worry too about the orphans and children living on the streets that I try to help
whenever I can. I am one of the lucky six percent of the population that are employed.
I have food on my table, a roof over my head, can afford to look after my children and
my brother's family. My family is healthy. I am luckier than most people and for that
I will forever be grateful.

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Monday 16 February, 2009

We will rise and be great again - insha'Allah

The mood was electrifying. The setting was Harare's Glamis stadium, once popular in the early 80s for horse riding/jumping shows. Crowds had started gathering in the early hours of Wednesday 11 February to witness Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), leader Morgan Richard Tsvangirai's inauguration speech.

On the other side of the capital at the residence of the state president, a smaller group of prominent people and diplomats was also gathering for the swearing in ceremony, that was initially slated for 11am but only happened much later. This was a by invitation only ceremony.

I watched the proceedings from the office television set. Both Tsvangirai and Mugabe looked tense and like they had been dragged screaming and kicking to the ceremony. The MDC leader took his oaths of office followed by the leader of the other faction of the  MDC, Arthur Mutambara who smiled and looked more at home with Mugabe as they bantered amicably. Next was Tsvangirai's deputy Thokozani Khupe who has now become one of the two deputy prime ministers.

The ceremony was dry and lacked the excitement expected at such occasions. For the first time in many years, western diplomats normally shunned and vilified were invited to state house. This was indeed turning out to be an important day - a day on the political calendar remembered as the day South Africa's Nelson Mandela was freed from prison over a decade ago.

Back at the stadium crowds continued pouring in. Accompanied by colleagues, I went to join the crowds and witness the closest Zimbabwe could hope to get to a "Barack Obama" moment.

By mid-day it was getting hot and sticky but more and more people were determined to bear witness to the new political dispensation. They thronged the stadium, stood  or sat patiently while others danced to the blaring music.

Even when it started raining, they waited patiently for their leader. A few colourful umbrellas popped open and those without shared with fellow supporters. Others just remained standing or sitting in the downpour.

Sitting in the shade I was amazed at their resilience. Still the music continued and the dancing carried on. I have not seen so many happy faces in one place for a very long time. It was moving. Black and white people sat and chatted animatedlywith a touching comaraderie.

When MDC secretary general Tendai Biti (tipped to be next finance minister) arrived at  the stadium, the crowd erupted, waving their hands they chanted Gono, Gono, in reference to the central bank governor, whom people blame for the country's economic malaise andexpect MDC to get rid of. The party spokesman, the youthful Nelson Chamisa also sent the supporters wild.

The arrival of the man himself, Tsvangirai was a moment to behold. The crowd that had earlier endured the heat and later the rain was ecstatic. Emotions ran high. Journalists normally unseen in this country where journalism was almost barred, scrambled to take a peak and photographers jostled to get the best picture.

And when he stood to speak, Tsvangirai was a far cry from the man who took the first steps towards change in September 1999. He was confident and spoke eloquently about the challenges ahead.

"To my fellow African leaders, there can be no turning back on the political agreement, which each party has signed, knowing this is not a perfect agreement, buta workable one, an agreement that, if implemented with good faith, will deliver a peaceful way forward - towards a stable economy, new constitution and free and fair elections," he told the crowd.

As prime minister, he promised to help restore the rule of law, respect of human rights. In the heat of the moment  apart from promising an independent media, the new prime minister promised Zimbabwe's workforce foreign currency denominated salaries.

Politicians have a tendency to get carried away. Unless Tsvangirai is privy tosomething we are not aware of, I am quite convinced in this instance he got drunk on the adoration of his supporters and promised an undeliverable. Unless he has his own foreign currency printing press, I do not know where he will get the money.

He raised people's hopes and my sincere hope is that he will deliver for his own sake and more importantly for the sake of all Zimbabweans who stood by the MDC through thick and thin. Political prisoners still locked behind bars will also hold him to his promise. Wherever this new road takes him, may the force be with him.

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