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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 11:56 GMT
Bleak Christmas in Zimbabwe
Zimbabweans queue for food outside a store in Harare
In towns, people now queue daily for basic food
BBC News Online publishes a letter from Harare resident Jonah Gokova to his brother in the UK, in which he describes his Christmas preparations.

Dear Fungai,

As we approach Christmas I know you are full of anxieties about spending your first Christmas away from home.

Without the family, I hope you will still have a wonderful Christmas in the UK.

For us in Zimbabwe, this will probably the worst Christmas since we achieved our national independence 22 years ago.

I have promised many friends and relatives that they can expect a loaf of bread from me as a Christmas present

Our traditional understanding of Christmas is that it is an occasion when we think of the Lord Jesus Christ and how through him, humanity has experienced the greatest gift of all.

It is through Jesus Christ that we have experienced life in its fullness.

I am afraid that the message of "fullness of life" does not make sense for us in Zimbabwe today.

Let me share with you how I am preparing to spend Christmas without you.

First of all, I have to prepare a shopping list of things that are essential to Christmas.

Christmas walk

I am mindful of the over-commercialisation of Christmas and my preparations for Christmas have always been modest.

The current level of inflation (at 175.5%) has already made life unbearable for many people in this country even before we talk about Christmas.

Schoolchildren getting food aid
In rural areas, people queue for food aid

A high level of inflation is one thing but the real problem is that basic commodities are just not available.

Long queues are now the order of the day.

We spend long hours queuing for bread, salt, sugar, soft drinks, paraffin, petrol, diesel etc.

Only two days ago I joined a petrol queue at 9:45pm and only got to the pump at 5:30am.

At least I left with a full tank to justify my absence from home for the whole night.

And if this full tank runs out, I might be forced to walk 14km to church on Christmas Day.

Not 'merry'

We have not had bread at home for the last week.

I stopped taking sugar many years ago but those who must have their tea with sugar are in trouble.

Robert Mugabe
Mugabe blames colonialism for Zimbabwe's problems

There is no sugar in the shops.

One has to be prepared to join the queue and that might mean spending many hours under the hot sun.

I have promised many friends and relatives that they can expect a loaf of bread from me as a Christmas present.

The scarcity of bread has made this commodity so valuable to qualify for a Christmas present.

The many relatives and friends you know who always spend Christmas at their rural homes will not be able to enjoy that pleasure this Christmas.

Fuel is in serious short supply, constantly forcing travel costs upwards.

Mother, brother and sisters are doing well under the conditions.

But for all of us, this is just Christmas. It will not be a "merry" Christmas.


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10 Dec 02 | Africa
28 Nov 02 | Africa
13 Mar 02 | Africa
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