I have journeyed a thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard

July 2, 2009

My journey to Zimbabwe this Christmas has revealed to me the crisis that does not make the headlines. I have encountered the desperate faces of the hungry, I have waited in long queues to withdraw my own money from the bank, I have sat in darkness during power cuts and I have had to fetch water from the well because the running water simply does not come out of the taps or even when it does it is far too dangerous to drink. As I am writing this I have just heard news that the cholera outbreak has claimed 21 more lives and 1000 new infections have been reported. In spite of all of these things I have also relished the taste of home-cooked sadza, I have seen the faces of those I love and I have embraced those who I had longed to see. In as much as one is aware of the difficulties of the day, I am so glad to be able to say that I am home.

When I set out to come home I spoke to a friend and let him know that I was intending to come and record exactly what is going on and set the record straight, at least to the limited audience that I have. In this series I have entitled “letters from my home” I am going to highlight many different aspects of life as it is in this present dispensation. This initial letter serves as an introduction to the land that I call home, what I remember it to be when I left 14 months ago for the UK and what has taken place in that time. One cannot understate the level of transformation that has taken place from bad to worse for the average Zimbabwean. In the time that I have been away the structures for sustainable development that were struggling but still functional have now all but given up the ghost. As it stands Zimbabwean schools are not going to open as normal on the 13th of January as is the norm, the government has made an announcement that the opening of schools has been delayed by two weeks but the prevailing wisdom on the street tells me that they are trying hard to buy more time to try and come up with a form of compensation the teachers are willing to accept in order to enter into the classrooms and teach. The teachers are unwilling to teach because currently they are being paid in the redundant local currency which has become useless. The average salary for a teacher is approximately 30billion Zimbabwe dollars, but as is shown in the photograph below, that is only enough to buy 3 kilograms of meat, if the shop accepts local currency in the first place. The health sector is another part of these structures that has now failed at the hand of the current regime. The cholera epidemic that has gripped the country not only serves as an indicator of the inability of the government to protect its most vulnerable citizens from perfectly curable illnesses but also shows the entire international community that the health delivery systems in Zimbabwe have in fact collapsed. Many fellow Zimbabweans are against the publishing of these facts as they see it as demonizing the country and selling out to the enemies of the state, but these are the same Zimbabweans who cannot buy anything in the currency they earn, neither can they can afford to fall sick or educate their children. In light of those revelations one would expect a change in the minds of the people and some sort of revolution against a junta that oppresses, starves and kills needlessly but as I am quickly coming to discover, revolution is far from the minds of the citizens of this country.

As startling as the realization is, the fact that people are willing to live under such horrid conditions in such difficult times makes you wonder why that is the case. The answer to that question is immediately evident as soon as you enter the city, policemen are everywhere. They do not seem to be doing much but their presence is enough to remind you that if you step out of line or try anything that may be viewed as “conduct which may cause public unrest” you are sure to receive your just punishment. I, of course being unaware that taking photographs of officers in the street is considered to be “conduct” as it is affectionately known, was briefly detained for doing just that as the police officer explained to me that I was likely to present his photographs to CNN and get him into some kind of trouble with his superiors.

The presence of these police officers also serves as a reminder; I am reliably informed, of the unthinkable acts of violence that took place in the days before the so called June 27th run-off vote for the presidency. One gentleman who declined to be named told me that in a certain part of the country militias were moving around with dead bodies in vehicles and would force civilians to come and see what the ruling party does to this who vote for the opposition. The story sounded far fetched until I was told of further accounts of unthinkable acts of violence, abductions and senseless killings that took place without remorse. When one puts these factors into the picture one can see why a peace-loving people are so terrified to revolt or speak out against their oppressors.

As one drives through the high density suburbs in the big cities, one is confronted with the foul stench of raw sewage flowing through the streets. The sewage is garnished by piles of garbage that haven’t been collected in ages. One is not surprised that cholera has claimed so many lives when one looks at the conditions in which people are living. I am startled at the level of complacency that the rubbish is greeted with. As I walk through this one particular township, my uncle tells me that the failure of the council to collect rubbish is the least of their problems. He says the situation has been like this for ages and there is no immediate plan of action to see the situation improved. This raw sewage then makes its way into the water reservoirs of the city and is in turn sent back to households through the water delivery network, the tragedy however is that the water will not be treated for diseases or potentially harmful chemicals because the government simply does not have the capacity to purchase chemicals to purify water for its citizens. I find this very difficult to grasp, especially since his wife has just given me a jug of water to wash my hands before the afternoon meal, but she assures me that they have boiled and treated it themselves.

In writing these letters I intend to play my part as a citizen of this great land. My father constantly reminds me that you can never recover form any fall unless you are sure of your current coordinates. My role as I see it is to define where Zimbabwe stands as I have seen it. To give an account of what is actually going on on the ground because it is only once we have taken stock of where we are that we can effectively plan and implement plans for structural and sustainable development. The refusal by the current administration to admit the existence of the cholera epidemic, to ignore the fact that schools have not been functional since mid last year and that hospitals are unable to care for dead bodies properly let alone those who are actually in need of medical attention is one of the reasons why it is difficult to effectively address problematic issues or know the extent of the problems we are trying to tackle.

I must also in my introductory work highlight that I have also seen the other side of Zimbabwe that not many are familiar with anymore. A decade ago Zimbabwe was a prime tourist destination. Our rich culture and historical heritage was a sight to behold for those beckoning from lands far and wide. We are home to one of the natural wonders of the world are proud to feature all of the big five in our wildlife sanctuaries. I was privileged during my stay here this Christmas to be able to see the wonderful Victoria Falls and the breathtaking views of the Matopo Hills. It was in fact this part of my visit that most inspired me to write a full account of what I have witnessed here.

My hope is that through these letters we can all be able to see that Zimbabweans at this time are in need of help. It remains my belief that one would be heartless to stand by and see his fellow man suffer needlessly if it were possible to help. I am looking to those who are impregnated with an inner desire to see freedom and prosperity return to our once thriving land and to ease the pain and suffering of the sons and daughters of this country. Zimbabwe is not in a permanent state of despair but it will take great willpower and resolve to weather the storms of oppression and political divide in order to see and an end that will benefit those Zimbabweans who trust others to look after their welfare and govern their land. My name is Munyaradzi Hoto and I am a Zimbabwean.

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