The rains have arrived in Zimbabwe, the first storms coming with hail and violent winds that blew roofs off houses, felled trees, stripped fruit from branches and shredded new young crops.
The only happy faces in my garden after a violent hailstorm were mousebirds feasting on the fruit of a collapsed banana tree.
The smiles ended there. With less than a month until Christmas Zimbabweans have received a holiday hamper of horrors from the government in the past fortnight.
Junior hospital doctors have been on strike for 86 days. In response to their plea for a living wage, a safe working environment and the equipment they need to do their jobs, the government has continued to fire them.
As I write (on December 1), 435 of Zimbabwe’s 524 junior doctors have been fired. Just 89 remain.
Last week senior doctors joined their junior colleagues in staying away from work, saying they would no longer offer emergency support “until all the fired doctors are reinstated and there is adequate redress of their incapacitation”.
Zimbabwe has fewer than 1 600 doctors, composed of 524 junior doctors, 818 middle-level doctors, and 220 consultants. Junior doctors are currently earning the equivalent of less than US$80 (R1 172) a month. With only one hospital doctor for every 8 000 to 10 000 people in the country, every doctor fired rushes us ever closer to a national emergency.
The dire situation that has been prevailing in our government hospitals for many months is now finally starting to be publicly exposed by our doctors.
In a damning document released last week, the Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) described how in March there were no bandages, gloves or syringes in hospitals. They exposed the real facts behind the government’s claim in July of a huge ‘procurement’ of medical supplies from India.
“There was much fanfare and ribbon cutting, and images of warehouses full of drugs, which turned out to be cartons of fluids.
“Out of an inventory list of 2 000 items, only about 60 had been purchased … The vast majority of the equipment which was released was completely unusable,” the SHDA said.
Senior doctors describe how, right now, disciplinary letters are being handed out to them by the authorities.
In this deeply shocking sentence, the SHDA expose the true nature of Zimbabwe’s current leadership: “The authorities are so vindictive that they went to [a] theatre to hand a letter to a doctor who was finishing up an emergency operation.”
In the face of this horror, the SHDA says: “This is not about money … We are not slaves. We are not greedy mercenaries. We deserve proper tools of the trade, a living wage and a safe working environment.”
While this is going on in our hospitals, vice president Constantine Chiwenga returned home after four months of medical treatment and hospitalisation in China.
Every day the classic line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm hits us in the face: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
Looking for hope, finding horror
The next horror in the holiday hamper came with the brutal attack on Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters and bystanders who had gathered in the centre of Harare to hear MDC leader Nelson Chamisa’s Hope for the Nation address.
Yet again we witnessed shocking scenes of police kicking, hitting and whipping peaceful unarmed citizens. Broken limbs, head wounds, bleeding, traumatised people attacked for wanting to listen to a message of hope.
A few days later human rights lawyer Doug Coltart was assaulted by police when he took food to police cells for the client he was seeing. Coltart was then himself held in custody for two nights.
Then came the food horror part of the Christmas hamper
The government announced the removal of subsidies on grain purchased by millers and manufacturers from the state’s Grain Marketing Board (GMB). Since June the GMB has had the sole monopoly on all grain purchases and sales.
The immediate response to the removal of the subsidy was an 80% increase in the price of maize meal.
In March, 10kg of maize meal was Z$8. By October it was Z$60. It is now close to Z$110. A family of six needs 10kg of maize meal a week. A standard wage is around Z$400 a month.
It’s not hard to do the sums and realise that we are facing a huge humanitarian crisis.
The increase in maize meal prices will undoubtedly mean a dramatic increase in the number of people in deep trouble all around Zimbabwe.
International donors are already distributing food aid to over six million people in rural and urban areas every week.
Cathy Buckle is a Zimbabwean writer, photographer and blogger living in Marondera, Zimbabwe.
This article was originally published here.