Zimbabwe fast retreating into the dark ages

By Cathy Buckle

A CANADIAN friend and passionate believer in democracy recently gave me a subscription to the Guardian Weekly and what a delight it is to be able to read “real news” from the “real world” eve

ry week. Recently there was a report on how the lives of subsistence farmers in Kenya are being dramatically improved thanks to research into how chemical signals from different grasses attract parasitic wasps.


The wasps then eat maize borer moths and the result is a dramatic increase in crop yields. The added bonus comes from the grasses which started the process as they then provide lush grazing for dairy cows which produce more and better milk. Reports such as this one shouldn’t bring tears to my eyes but they do because with every passing day Zimbabwe is not only being left behind but is also racing back to the dark ages.


Just three years and ten months ago, before our political madness began, Zimbabwe was also involved in amazing research which was going to change the face of agriculture and dramatically improve lives. Companion growing and intercropping was becoming a widespread practice. Massive field trials were being conducted into minimum or zero tillage to improve yields and boost soil quality.


Farmers were growing huge fields of flowers for their essential, healing and aromatic oils. Others were growing crops like castor beans whose oil is used in the chemical and plastics industries and others a bushy shrub whose oil was set to replace diesel as a fuel source for motor vehicles. All of this has now gone.


The farmers are forbidden from the lands on which the crops were grown and the specialists, scientists, engineers and technicians have left or are leaving the country as the entire economic structure of Zimbabwe falls apart. Decades of painstaking research and huge advances in agricultural diversity have now been completely destroyed and largely replaced by primitive scratch farming which is now almost the only thing to see on Zimbabwe’s looted and seized farms.


Agriculture is not the only thing going backwards in Zimbabwe and lately the march into the past seems to have accelerated into almost every aspect of day to day living. We now have a huge crisis with water in some of our towns and cities. Last week our one and only propaganda radio station read out a list of suburbs in the capital city which are going to be subjected to regular 24-hour periods without water because there isn’t enough clean water to meet demand.


In Marondera our water in the last fortnight has alternated between clear, milky and dark brown and there is no one in authority to offer an explanation or solution. Night after night our town is being hit by men who go street by street disconnecting and stealing water meters. On the night mine was stolen, 12 others in surrounding streets also went. The roads were awash with broken pipes and over a month later our town council has still done nothing whatsoever to even effect temporary repairs. Our mains water pipes are still joined together by desperate householders with bits of garden hosepipe and rubber strapping.


The veneer of normalcy hanging over Zimbabwe is rapidly disintegrating. We now have money which has an expiry date! Ours must be the only country in the world which runs a jingle every 30 minutes advertising its own money! You cannot get an ambulance or hearse unless you provide the petrol. There are no public telephone boxes any more because none of our coins are of a high enough value to make a phone call!


One day a loaf of bread is $1 400, the next it is $2 200 and the next it is $2 400. The only medicine you can usually get at a government clinic is Paracetemol which is used to treat everything from diarrhoea to malaria. Doctors are on strike demanding $30 million a month, university lecturers are still on strike and nurses were again threatening to strike.


The telephone company is on a go slow and it takes 20 attempts to send one single email and 40 minutes to download that most infuriating of things – an unwanted email with an unasked for attachment.


And throughout this daily mayhem our president last week announced that all schools should have computers because we are being left behind in the IT world. How schools which are having to raise their fees every six weeks just to cope with inflation are going to afford computers is a complete mystery.


President Robert Mugabe also announced last week that one million houses are to be built to address the massive housing backlog in the country.


Cement is usually only available on the black market, trucks only move with black market fuel and building is now the preserve of multimillionaires.

Meanwhile the Minister of Information lashed out at the UK, Australia, America and New Zealand accusing them of being the ones that are stealing our foreign and local currency and trying to “unseat” the government! Oh dear, another scapegoat!


* Cathy Buckle is an author and human rights activist based in Marondera.

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