There’s nothing nicer than sitting outside these early mornings when it’s cool and quiet and the weavers are building, breaking and rebuilding their nests and hanging upside down flapping and quivering, trying to entice females to come and inspect their constructions. In the Mulberry tress the red winged louries (or turacos) are fidgeting and chattering as they feast on the last of the purple berries.
Outside already the human foot traffic has begun: the first sounds of people going looking for water after days with dry taps. Ironically the only wells left with water are at the illegal houses built on the wetlands here; we join the dots and keep waiting and waiting for action that never comes.
Zimbabwe’s Consumer Council recently said that the present low-income family budget needed for a month is Z$21 000 (US$260). It might not sound like a lot, but it’s the equivalent of six months of a civil servant’s salary.
Civil servants who were earning US$500 a month 18 months ago, are today earning the Zimbabwe dollar equivalent of around US$40 a month.
It’s a simple, horrifying reality that we keep on shaking our heads in disbelief at: our entire country lost 85% of their earning ability, pensions and savings when the Zimbabwe government converted all our US dollars to Zimbabwe dollars in March 2019.
The massive crisis this caused to everyone’s lives crippled the health sector first and now, as schools begin re-opening after Covid-19 lockdowns, education is in the spotlight.
School fees for a nearby urban government primary school have just been approved by the ministry; a boarding student will pay Z$25 000 (US$308) for the six weeks remaining in the current school year.
A little poppet walking home along a dusty roadside, where there are more potholes than tar, was in his school uniform (khaki shorts and shirt, white socks, black shoes and a bright blue jersey). The temperature was close to 30°C when we passed each other.
“Hello! How is school?” I asked
“Fine,” he replied, the one word answer familiar to any parent anywhere in the word.
“Are your exams OK?”
He shrugged and looked down at his feet, kicking dust.
His silence spoke volumes. Had he gone to school on an empty tummy I wondered? Was there anything in his lunch box?
He is one of the children who’ve gone back to school to write end-of-year exams – despite the fact that he’s been out of school since mid-March and hasn’t had a single day of teaching, learning or even reading since then.
I didn’t ask him why he was wearing his blue school jersey in the heat, because I knew the answer would be that his mum had told him he better make sure that he didn’t come home without his jersey and keeping it on was the only way to make sure he didn’t lose it. A school jersey for a primary school child is US$35, almost all of a civil servant’s entire monthly salary.
A dad I met told me his child’s rural school wanted US$20 school fees for his daughter for the coming six weeks, plus US$20 for the whole of last term when the school was closed, plus US$20 for ‘masks and hand sanitisers,’ plus items on a grocery list. He didn’t know how or if he should even try and send his daughter to school for the coming six weeks: there’s no water at the school so he wonders how it would even be possible for his child to wash her hands.
Since schools started reopening there have been widespread stay-aways of teachers who, like the doctors and nurses before them, say they are incapacitated and cannot afford to go to work while their salaries are only worth 15% of their former value. Schools without teachers, parents who can’t afford fees – which are ten times more than their monthly earnings – and children who’ve been playing in the streets, finding firewood and carrying water for half a year is a very sad state of affairs in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwe government announced this week that it would provide the Zimbabwe dollar equivalent of US$500 to the families of civil servants who die. The announcement was met with scorn and contempt; the Secretary General of the Progressive Teachers Union said : “It’s very unfortunate that the government is planning more on our funerals than our present conditions of living. True compassion will be seen when you start paying a living salary to our members.”
This weekend the Zimbabwe government is holding an Anti Sanctions Day, supported by countries in the SADC region, calling for the removal of targeted sanctions. There are only 141 individuals and companies on this targeted sanctions list. Last year the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols said: “They are on the list for good reason. These are people who have engaged in corruption, human rights abuses and undermined Zimbabwe’s democratic process.”
Sanctions on 141 individuals and companies pale into insignificance when an entire nation has been impoverished after our savings, pensions and salaries lost most of their value when the government converted our US dollars to Zimbabwe dollars.
Sanctions didn’t do that to us.
Cathy Buckle is a Zimbabwean writer and blogger living in Marondera, Zimbabwe.
Copyright © Cathy Buckle