Page last updated at 08:30 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 09:30 UK

Harare diary: Lean times for meat eaters

A woman passes posters of Zimbabwean presidential candidates Robert Mugabe, Simba Makoni and Morgan Tsvangirai on April 27 in Harare

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, is writing a regular diary on the challenges of leading a normal life.

Zimbabwe is suffering from an acute economic crisis. The country has the world's highest rate of annual inflation and just one in five has an official job.

I am still living at home, with my parents and siblings.

We are four working adults, but after church and a late breakfast on Sunday, we were discussing cutting down on meat consumption.

Not for health reasons, but because of the incredible expense - having meat for supper every night, as we did when we were growing up, now costs Z$ 8-10bn per month.

Converted to hard currency it is not much - about 50 US cents. But that is one person's entire monthly salary!

So it looks like I am going to become a part-time vegetarian.

Not a pleasant thought, as I love my meat. And Sunday breakfast used to consist of eggs, sausages or bacon, baked beans, nice crusty bread and creamy coffee.

Now it is tea with lemon or powdered milk, eggs and stale bread.

Well these times will certainly leave us leaner and healthier!

Zimbabwe"s opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, supporters are taken by police from outside the Harvest House, the headquarters of the MDC, in Harare, Zimbabwe, Friday April 25, 2008
MDC supporters face continual harrassment

I heard on the news (a foreign news bulletin) that our ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) will be through with whatever they have been doing this past month today.

I would call it verification, but they say that is the process they will be starting today.

Hmmmm, interesting. I would like to nominate them for a prize. Their thoroughness is quite beyond belief.

We are still waiting for the results, but the excitement is gone.

Besides, it seems obvious who won as Zanu-PF is not crowing from the rooftops.

It was a fairly quiet week, although of course one keeps hearing of people being beaten up.

I have heard people actually boast of how in their rural home area opposition youths avenged beatings so thoroughly that it has become a no-go area for the ruling party militia.

Revenge rampage

The story is that the police no longer investigate cases of political beatings in the rural areas but just ask the complainants to sort it out for themselves.

So now the youth from the avenged faction tend to go on a rampage of revenge.

If these stories are true, then chaos is reigning out there - total anarchy.

One of the reasons people gave for not believing Simba Makoni was a genuine opposition candidate in the presidential election, was that he had never been locked up for no reason and beaten to within an inch of his life.

I think people have developed a kind of outer body experience concerning brutality.

It is too painful to contemplate seriously that our police and army would rather do this than protect civilians.

So there is a kind of distance in the mind, it is happening, and it is horrid, but it carries on.

Esther answers your questions

Q: Where do RG Mugabe and his cronies get their food and drink from as they all look healthy and well fed, while the people continue to suffer? All the people I know feel as helpless as you do, we can all see what is going on but all we hear are words from the politicians. Nobody seems prepared to intervene to help the people in your country.
David, Leamington Spa, UK

A: Most people here do their shopping in neighbouring South Africa, Botswana or Mozambique. It is not even about being affluent, it is necessary because as you know, our shops are poorly stocked, and have been for more than six months now. Yes we have all given up on that dream, there will be no intervention.

Q: I wrote my graduate thesis on the 1980 transition. Was life better for black people overall under Ian Smith or Robert Mugabe? What happened to Joshua Nkomo? Is there any chance for Zimbabwe to become a real democracy? What changes would have to take place for that to happen?
Jim, Guangzhou, China

A: That is always a minefield, you have to appreciate that life for the black person under Ian Smith had great restrictions, black people were basically second class citizens. That fact alone makes such a comparison difficult for any black person to make. Joshua Nkomo's party formed a government of national unity with Mugabe around 1990 and then he disappeared from the political scene. He passed away about three 3 years ago. Yes there is a chance for the country to become a democracy. All we need is for the government of R G Mugabe to allow it to happen. It will be a struggle as the entire structure - army, police, prisons is nauseatingly partisan, but I believe it can be done.

Q: Do people still regard Mugabe as father of the nation?
Kyaruzi, Tanzania

A: I am sure some people still do. But most of us do not. Not the young people, who cannot buy a car, a house, and so on. Not the middle aged, whose grandkids are growing up abroad so as to get a shot at a better life. Not the old people, who have had to become parents again due to a raging AIDS pandemic coupled with poor diets and limited medication.

Q: Do Zimbabweans think that Tsvingirai is a puppet, or a saviour, or do they just want a new face to take over the country?
Andy, Baltimore, USA

A: I take great offence to him being labelled a puppet. Zimbabweans do not need a foreigner to tell them how bad the situation is. We have to live this life - in fact we are the ones who tell people how bad things are, not the other way round. So no, he is not a stooge, a puppet or whatever, He is the one presidential candidate with a viable plan for economic recovery. But he is not a saviour. Viewing him like that would only turn him into another R G Mugabe 30 years from now.

Q: Why can't people in Zimbabwe gang up and force Mugabe out of power? Why can't the MDC mobilize people to take up guns against Mugabe? This is a wonderful opportunity. If it is missed, democracy will be missed again
Chisale, Lilongwe, Malawi

A: You just need to see the heavy police presence on our city streets to answer that. There is no hint of an uprising, but they are already there, fully armed, waiting. So it would be foolhardy to rise up. Besides, we need democracy, not war.

Q: How did people react when the South African President Thabo Mbeki said there was no crisis in Zimbabwe during the SADC meeting?
John, Lusaka, Zambia

A: That was a sign that nothing would come out of the SADC summit. It was disappointing, to say the least.

Q: Do people still go to the movies when they are dating? Do they meet at KFC for lunch, do people still go to Les Brown swimming pool or Harare Gardens for long afternoon strolls. Are people still meeting up for big family braai's (barbecues)? Are people still going to church and praying fervently like they always did, are they still believing that there will come a time when Zimbabwe will truly be free?
Lynette, UK

A: Yes we still go out. It was hard initially after elections because of the curfew rumours but we have slowly gone back to normal. The big braais are not happening so much. It is just too expensive. And we pray more fervently than before, as God is our only remaining hope.

Q: What you say in your diary is absolute rubbish. None of what you saying happens in Zimbabwe. I am always in Zimbabwe every month and none of this happens. I have a major contract with GMB and what you said about them closing down is nonsense. I do not think you real Esther, you are either a puppet of the MDC or you just doing this for fun.
Graham, London, UK

A: Your comment is quite normal for someone who comes to visit, probably stays in a five star hotel the entire time, or is put up by friends who are well off, and well connected. You get to see life on the surface, and never have time to look beneath that. I would have to be a novelist to come up with this stuff, but I am not. I am just a girl telling a story of the Zimbabwe I live in as I see it. I am sure not everyone sees it like I do, we all different!

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