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Page last updated at 00:49 GMT, Thursday, 5 June 2008 01:49 UK

Harare diary: Jingles ring hollow

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe adresses a speech during three-day summit on food security at UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome on June 3,

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 watched excerpts of President Robert Mugabe's speech at the United Nations food summit in Rome.

We all know he hates 'Britain and its allies' with a passion, but I really did not expect him to launch such an attack at a forum called to discuss soaring food prices.

It was a bit embarrassing to watch to be honest.

But then again what could he do? It is his first such public appearance since losing parliamentary, council, senatorial and presidential elections.

He had to save face somehow, and that was his way of doing it.

Back home, college students at a certain teachers' college have been asked to bring their own food supplies to stock up the institution's kitchen.

Campaign poster of Robert Mugabe
Campaign jingles are back, but only for Zanu-PF

I saw a list from a student sent to their guardian - specific quantities of maize meal, sugar, salt and cooking oil, all of which are almost exclusively available on the black market.

One does not hear people talking politics that much in public these days, I guess we have all seen the pictures of victims of violence from the rural areas, and no-one wants to end up like that.

No ordinary person that is - broadcasting your political views has once again become the preserve of activists.

Campaign jingles are back on air, only this time Zanu-PF ones only.

Rumour has it the government has declared that no opposition MDC campaign material will be broadcast in state media - print or electronic.

I am not sure where people heard this, but it certainly seems true.

The jingles I have heard on radio are all for the ruling party and I have seen a number of Mugabe's posters in the state newspaper, but none of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

For the 29 March election, I remember marvelling at the fact that state media were broadcasting MDC material.

Maybe they think that had a lot to do with the opposition victory.

The atmosphere is different from last time - there is no excitement.

Maybe it is just that we are not talking about how we are going to vote.

Or maybe it is because the official inflation rate is running at 165,000% (unofficially it's been estimated at 1.7m%) and we can all feel it.


Esther answers your questions

Q: If the MDC wins the re-run of the elections, will the ruling Zanu-PF accept the results? What is your comment Esther?
Chrispin, Lusaka, Zambia

A: Will they have a choice? The first lady has already declared that there is no way Mugabe will leave office for Tsvangirai, but that's what Smith said of Mugabe. If we vote a person out of power, that's it. He cannot be more important than the votes of millions of Zimbabweans. I am not naive, I know he does not want to leave office, and the army chiefs do not want him to, but I still think they have no choice but to allow the will of the people to prevail.

Q: I really sympathize with the people of Zimbabwe. I cannot imagine spending billons of 'dollars' on a loaf of bread. I would like to know the state of Zimbabwe's educational sector at the moment.
Vincent, Agba, Nigeria

A: Our education system has suffered greatly from the economic situation. Teachers are just not motivated to work. So many kids have to attend 'extra lessons' - tutorials with these same teachers outside of school hours where the teacher can charge what he/she feels is adequate compensation. To compound this, teachers in rural areas have borne the brunt of post-election violence, and fled their homes, and thus their schools.

Q: Esther, I am a Zimbo living outside the country, my questions are: 1.Do you think if Simba Makoni had not joined the race Morgan would have won? Or Simba or no Simba ZEC was going to be forced to release engineered results. 2. Why don't people boycott the Mbare Msika (large vegetable market) stalls, so that they also can feel the pinch of Bob's rule.
Tendai, Eldorado, South Africa

A: 1. Simba Makoni only got about 8% of the vote. That might have taken Morgan Tsvangirai to over 51% but then again maybe they would have voted for Mugabe, who knows? The results were a bit difficult to engineer, with results outside polling stations. I believe the whole ZEC delay was about "How do we admit ZANU-PF lost?" for lose they did. 2. Well, people are struggling to make ends meet, and you know how cheap everything is at Mbare Msika.

Q: Esther, you are doing a very excellent job in updating us about Zimbabwe. What do you think will happen to Zimbabwe if Mugabe wins again (God forbid)? The situation in Zimbabwe is also worrying me as it used to be the pearl of southern Africa. We used to flood there every weekend from Botswana for Nandos which was cheaper and very tasty! I also want to know if Zimbabweans are going to accept the results and move on?
Primrose, Manama, Bahrain

A: Zimbabwe as we know it, will be no more. The only thing that is keeping it going now is the hope offered by June 27. A few weeks ago I was talking about the USD hitting 450 million ZWD, today we are talking 1 billion ZWD. We have a 50 billion dollar note in circulation. This administration has failed us. If they are allowed to stay, they will decimate us. So they have laid a stage where the only acceptable result is one which ushers in change. That is the only way we can move on.

Q: Esther, I visited your country 25 years ago and was overwhelmed by the beauty of the country and its people. I hope to return someday soon. Once Mugabe has been defeated in the run off election do you see a future for whites in the new Zimbabwe? Will the defeated Zanu-PF use whites as a wedge and fear issue to cause problems down the road?
Andrew, Malibu, California, USA

A: Race was never an issue until ZANU made it one just because commercial farmers showed support for the newly founded MDC in 2000. So I do think oppurtunities will exist for any displaced Zimbawean who wants to come and help rebuild the new Zimbabwe.

Q: Esther, is there any situation imaginable where Zimbabwean society will rise up in mass action to overthrow the current government? Why is this not happening? Is the opposition divided or badly organized? Are people too scared or is the situation not that bad?
Wouter, Amsterdam

A: The only uprising I can see happening is one led by the foot soldiers and the police. We all know they are on standby to quash any uprisings, and they will be none until people know they will not be massacred on the streets. Things are that bad, but not bad enough to allow people to cast aside their fear of the security forces.

Q: Esther, thank you for your diary and the insight that it gives into life in the country. A parishioner of ours has told us that a Zimbabwean lady that we had helped recently with funding for a project in Zimbabwe has made contact stating that Chinese troops are in the country supporting the Mugabe regime and intimidating people. Are you aware of any evidence that supports this statement as if true it is a worrying escalation?
Steve, Bordon, UK

A: I know we have top ranking Chinese officers in our army, but I have not heard of them being involved in beatings in the rural areas. I think the fact of their involvement would have really stood out in the reports coming in from the rural areas.

Q: Esther, your entries are so poignant and resonate deeply with me. As a senior in high school embarking on to college next fall, I feel completely powerless when I read world news of the desperate situations in places like Burma and Zimbabwe. I am not sure what I can do as a teenage girl right now, but putting a face on the situation in Zimbabwe has only further inspired me to follow a major in International Relations and a career with some place like Amnesty International, Oxfam or Human Rights Watch. Thank you for so bravely telling your story. I will work my hardest throughout my life to help change the world in a positive way.
Kristin Hoppe, Lakewood, Colorado USA

A: And I am moved that this weekly email should move you so. Thank you.


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