Sitting under the shade of a big sausage tree I looked out into the 37°C heat that characterised many parts of Zimbabwe this Christmas and New Year.
A mirage was running across my view and I alternately cursed and smiled at the vervet monkey that sat in a tree nearby, eating the avocado it had just stolen off the table. Delicately peeling the avocado with its teeth, spitting the skin out bit by bit, the little monkey ate the entire fruit and then licked each of its fingers one by one. I closed my eyes to imprint the memory, hoped one of the giant sausages in the tree above wouldn’t fall on me and thought about how this beautiful place and our desperate people were going to survive another year of Zimbabwe’s crisis situation.
So many Zimbabweans who came home for Christmas from the diaspora saw for themselves the dire state we are in, heard the strange, unrealistic statements from government leaders and listened to the desperate stories told by their families who are trying to survive the collapse of our country for the second time in a decade.
They heard the words of Zimbabwe’s president last week. Speaking to residents in Harare’s high-density suburb of Kuwadzana, he created a storm of criticism when people asked him about the unaffordable price of meat.
The president told them they should eat vegetables instead of meat, because his doctor had told him that vegetables are good for you.
Meanwhile this week a 1.5kg chicken is priced at Z$104 and a single kilogram of locally grown carrots, in an unmarked, unlabelled plastic bag in a major supermarket was priced at Z$53.99.
For countless Zimbabweans earning less than Z$500 a month, even a single bag of carrots has become a luxury in January 2020.
Perhaps the president or his ‘Political Actors Dialogue’ advisors (who are now asking for all-terrain vehicles) haven’t been into the supermarkets themselves lately, or perhaps they’ve forgotten what it’s like to earn the equivalent of US$28 a month, less than a dollar a day.
Zimbabweans home for Christmas heard about the imminent crisis in our education system. In a few days’ time the new school year starts here, but teacher unions are saying their members aren’t going to work unless their salaries are at least equivalent to what they were this time last year.
Teachers are currently earning around Z$1 000 a month before deductions, leaving them going home with the equivalent of US$40-60 a month. This time last year they were earning in US dollars and taking home US$450-500. If teachers’ salaries were pegged to the same US dollar amount they were earning last year, they should be taking home around Z$8 000 a month. To put these figures in perspective, the recently released poverty datum line for a family of five is Z$3 700; teachers are currently earning a quarter of that.
It is a dire situation and as diabolical for teachers as it is for parents, who are trying to get their children ready for school next week.
These are the current costs for a 13-year-old boy starting his senior schooling at a government school in my home town this month:
- Fees: Z$950 for one term
- Uniform consisting of one shirt, one pair of shorts, one tie, one jersey, one blazer and one pair of shoes: Z$1 341
- Sports kit comprising one T-shirt, one pair of shorts and one pair of tennis shoes: Z$500
- Exercise books (for 20): Z$400
Total so far: Z$3 191
There is no room to buy a single change of clothes, a satchel, pens and pencils, a lunch box, drink bottle, rain coat, calculator, dictionary or any of the other extras needed.
This boy’s mother earns Z$400 a month, so all of it is out of reach for her.
And the insult on top of this? The teacher tells the parent: “For us to ‘teach nicely’ your child can give us US$10.” As I sat under the sausage tree thinking about the teacher’s words, I understood the tragic irony here:
… desperate teachers soliciting bribes from desperate parents aren’t even earning enough to educate their own children.
Meanwhile, a week into 2020 multiple hundreds of people are queuing for travel documents to get out of Zimbabwe and go to neighbouring countries, where they hope to get jobs and send money home to keep their families alive.
In my home town there were so many people trying to get travel documents they had to queue in a dusty open space across the road from the passport complex, waiting in lines four-deep. Waiting to get out; waiting for a normal life.
From the Beitbridge border we heard that Zimbabweans going back to South Africa, back to their jobs, were stuck in 2km-long vehicle queues and when they got to the front they waited on foot for eight to 12 hours to get their passports stamped. Officials said that 35 000 people crossed the border legally in one day last week and we wonder how many thousands more crawled under and over the fences and razor wire to get away from Zimbabwe, our beautiful, broken country.
As troubled as we are in Zimbabwe, our hearts go out to all our friends and family in Australia suffering in the devastating fires ravaging the country. You are part of our disapora and not forgotten. And to all our family and friends from the diaspora who came home this Christmas, gave moral support and words of comfort, or sent goods and treats home for their families – thank you.
Cathy Buckle is a Zimbabwean writer and blogger living in Marondera, Zimbabwe.