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Harare diary: New abductions

Zanu-PF militia beat unidentified people

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, describes how the daily struggle to survive carries on with no end in sight.

We were discussing our illusive government of national unity at work the other day and one of the ladies, voicing her opinions, said how obviously it's not working and the only way forward is by holding new elections.

Then the topic turned to the recent abductions; and whether or not the rumours about the renewed violence are true; and if it has actually started again.

You used to have to be very secretive - hiding in your car, and what-what, going undercover. Not any more

One of my colleagues confirmed it was true - people in the rural areas are disappearing in the night, she told us.

She had travelled to her family rural area over the weekend and said everyone was talking about it. She said it is becoming a real worry for the rural folk once more and if we were to have new elections, then how much worse could things get.

I was talking about it to my cousin, who is a human rights activist, to find out if it was true. He also said it was, further confirming my fears.

Cashier contrast

The latest change in our lives is the presence of different tills for different currencies in some of the shops - tills for Zimbabwean dollars and tills for foreign currency; and since this has come about, the supermarkets who are trading in foreign currency are doing a very brisk trade.

People queuing to pay in a Zimbabwean supermarket
Only bread, meat and vegetables can be paid for in local currency

We have not seen supermarket shelves this full since June last year.

The only items you can pay for in Zimbabwean dollars are bread, meat and vegetables. For everything else, you have to pay in foreign currency.

When you look at the cashiers - you should see the contrast - the ones at the local currency tills are just sitting there while the foreign exchange cashiers are overwhelmingly busy.

It makes it look like everyone has foreign currency.

So blatant

But it makes you question whether people do actually have the money or if it is because they have no other choice?

Basically if you want to buy something then you have to find yourself some US dollars. You have no option.

Zimbabwean woman weeps at funeral for her niece and unborn child, victims of a cholera outbreak
I hate to wonder how the poor are going to get medical attention, especially when major hospitals are closing down in the midst of an epidemic

The only way of getting foreign currency these days is on the black market. You cannot go to a bank any more.

It is not hard to get US dollars though.

The black market guys used to be very subtle but nowadays they are everywhere. A lot of them hang out at the Eastgate shopping centre and so I tend to go there.

You just walk up to some of them, ask for the going rates, choose who you want to do business with and then exchange and that's it.

It is so blatant.

You used to have to be very secretive - hiding in your car, and what-what, going undercover. Not any more.

Now it is right out there in the open and even if a policeman walks by he won't even give you a second glance.

Midst of an epidemic

On Friday I went to one of the 'foreign-currency-supermarkets-with-full shelves' because I needed to buy milk, pasta, salt and some flour. It came to about $16.

The equivalent in a supermarket in Johannesburg would cost about 60 rand which is about $6 - and so, you see, you do have to pay a lot more.

Prices are really inflated, and it is not down to import taxes because they are supposed to have been removed.

It must just be because the shopkeepers know that you need it and so you will pay whatever they mark it as. All these supermarkets charge the same too so there's no such thing as shopping around.

The supermarkets in poor areas still only sell in Zimbabwean dollars but they don't have to anything to buy - their shelves are still empty.

Empty beds at Harare Central Hospital
The stark reality is that they will be coming to hospital to die, because there is nobody to care for anyone
Dr Malvern Nyamutora
Junior Doctors' Association

We are on the brink of a cholera epidemic.

The reported cases in the newspapers and on TV seem to be shockingly understated - very moderate figures compared to what people are saying.

I hate to wonder how the poor are going to get medical attention, especially when major hospitals are closing down in the midst of an epidemic and when GPs ask to paid in foreign currency.

There seems to be a feeling around - resignation might be a good way to explain it.

People just keep carrying on, like no-one knows anything but struggle.


Esther answered some of your questions:

Q: Do people in Harare believe that Western sanctions are harming ordinary people in Zimbabwe? Do they say what those sanctions are?
Philippa, United Kingdom

A: I suppose there is a mixed reaction, some people believe it, others do not. And you'll find the separation is almost always along party lines. Most people know the sanctions are targeted and person specific.

Q: Hello Esther, very interesting (and depressing) to read your latest comments. What do you sense is the general feeling by Zimbabweans (in Harare at least) about the influence of Britain and the West in general as a cause of the terrifying economic disaster in your country? I hope you can reply, Esther? Many thanks - and good fortune one day soon!!
Lewis, Bath, England

A: Britain and the West in general are the cause of all our economic woes. I mean, how often does our president have to say this before someone hears him and gets it?! OK, enough of that. Look, there is always stuff happening behind the political scenes that we do not know about. But Zimbabweans, at least the ones I've talked to, place the blame squarely on the shoulders of our government for all the questionable, ill advised populist decisions and policies over the years, and no one else. And I for one would love to hear them apologise to us for all the deprivations and shortages. Just once, to take even 5% of the responsibility for this mess.

Q: I find it very interesting reading your blog and hope everything in your country stabilises so you can enjoy life a little better enjoy your trip to South Africa. Regards,
Dennis Sutherland, UK

A: Thank you.

Q: Hello Esther, I am a Zimbabwean - born and bred... I miss my home very much and hope to return soon. I am trying to support as many charities as I can and hope that Zim will stabilize again. It is the most beautiful country and my true home. I read your diary always and hope that you are keeping safe. I want to thank you for letting the rest of the Zimbos around the world know what is actually going on and how life is for you over there. Hope you enjoy South Africa and have a good time. Lots of love and best wishes,
Corunna Lucassen, Ashbourne, UK

A: Thank you, and we are all waiting for that turn around!

Q: Esther's story is not from a Zimbabwean from the way its written. How can one think of a pizza when there are other pressuring issues like cooking oil, sugar ,school fees. This is not fiction - only imagination.
C Maton

A: Why should I be reduced to thinking of cooking oil and sugar, even pizza at that. What an insult! It enrages me to have to travel to SA for these basic things. I'm young, successful, and yet to start my own family. My trip to SA should have been about going down to Durban or Cape Town to see the ocean - not about buying basic groceries! And rather than worry about fees, I should be wondering who to approach for a mortgage for my second or third house, and which car I want to upgrade to. Don't you want this life for yourself as a Zimbabwean? Or do you seriously want this drudgery forever?

Q: My sister I know the pain you are going through and I can't imagine how worse it has become. I left my dear country in July because the situation was bad. My only concern is about the food - how are people surviving, especially the poor and homeless and those in the rural areas. Is there any hope that Sekuru [the old man] will give up and give the power to Tsvangirai. Take heart,
Varaidzo Mudada, UK

A: One always does wonder, if I'm facing these challenges, what are the poor going through? It does not bear thinking about. Sekuru is struggling to share power, so I doubt he'll be giving it up any time soon.

Q: The scene in Zimbabwe is really disturbing. I was wondering what is the future of the children there? Are they attending schools anymore? Secondly, i want to ask if any world body like UN is coming to rescue in Zimbabwe? Not on paper, but real help?
Viresh Sharma, India

A: Kids may go to school but there is no learning going on, at least not in government schools because there are no teachers - they are on a semi-permanent strike. All state-run universities and a number of colleges failed to open for the current semester, and students have been asked to check in January. And no, I don't think they'll be any help coming from anywhere, we are prisoners of our independence, our sovereignty.

Q: Are electricity cuts as bad as before or is power stabilizing. Has fuel availability improved?
Paula Taylor, Carbondale, Colorado, USA

A: Power supply is basically about the area in which you stay, for some people its as bad as ever, for others there is an almost constant supply. Fuel is all over, as long as you have the cash to pay for it!

Q: My wife's grandmother stays in Harare and we speak to her as much as possible, she says that sometimes they turn off the power for days. Is this happening all over Harare or is it just certain parts?
Tony, Luton, England

A: Just some parts.

Q: First of all, I want to thank you for your courage and writing. I'd like to know how artistic expressions in Harare have been influenced by the dire political and economic conditions over the years? And just being me, I want to know how is the nightlife in Harare?
Yoye, Abidjan

A: Wrong person to answer that sorry, I'm not a night person.

Q: I am a Zimbabwean living in London and i visited my home country a month ago. I totally agree, according to my experience during my visit, that it is the small things that have become luxuries to people in Harare. I really struggled to get by, even though i noticed some of my friends who have never left that country seemed frustrated but okay. Okay in that they had nothing to compare their present daily struggles to , such that the struggling has become somewhat normal. One of my friends works for a bank in Harare and he earns less than he needs for his bus fare while another offend an IT office but was always phoning me to ask for money to pay his rent. I also noticed how everyone has lost weight and yet they don't really see it themselves. Or maybe they do but why bother talking about something you do not have the power to change. I really hope things will get better soon and my relatives and friends can live normal lives again, and I hope Mugabe wont last much longer.
John Dadirai, London, UK

A: You see, this is what pains me, that we've come to accept our lot, and seem to be getting by, but are we really? At least people coming out of war get trauma counselling because its as plain as day they've been to hell and back. I think Zimbabweans are a traumatised lot but its not glaringly so because on the surface, life goes on as before and people are coping. But what if you peel back the surface and take a closer look? What will you find? I don't think there is any need in replacing or sharing power with Mugabe. He will NEVER leave the throne because of his past mistakes and corruption. Above all, at his age, his days are numbered.

Q: Do you see any serious changes happening, politically and financially any time soon. If you do not know what is happening outside Harare, does it mean that you have no access to newspapers or the media in general? Do you think that the MDC has a future as the next party to win the presidency? We are praying for you guys.
Pulane Mahase, Maseru, Lesotho

A: I just choose not to read the state run newspaper or to listen to state news broadcasts.

Q: You mentioned in your article that you couldn't wait to have pizza again. Are Pizza Inn and Debonairs no longer in business? Have things become that bad?
Raphael Babadam, Montreal, Canada

A: Sorry about that, I realise it was misleading. I just find it more affordable in SA.

Q: If people are so poor and have no money, then how come on a daily basis, planefuls and bus-loads of people go to South Africa, Zambia, etc on shopping trips? Contradiction or what!
Maria D, UK

A: I think people get confused on this issue, you may have money in your bank, but you can only get a designated amount out every day. That's what we say is barely enough for commuting. And we call them shopping trips, but its not about going out there and hitting the designer shops, its about getting the groceries that you can not get here.

Q: Where are you getting all this money for your luxuries in SA, if times are so difficult or are you one of the parallel market dealers? You are a bit ironic don't you think?
Tipah Tony, London, UK

A: It took me a year to save for this trip, and if pizza and groceries count as luxuries, then I'm a high roller for sure!

Q: Are Zimbabweans more united by their predicament or is there a lot of blame between tribal and race lines.
Kent Raines, Johannesburg South Africa

A: I've always maintained this - from what I've seen, race & tribe issues just do not exist in Zimbabwe.

Q: Hi Esther whose name isn't Esther. Come on BBC. How much longer are you going to keep this propaganda up? There are nasty enough things going on in Zimbabwe without you having to make this garbage up. Go to St Elmo's pizzeria in Avondale, Harare. You can get your pizza there, and it'll cost you $4. It's wood fired, delicious pizza that's better than anything you're going to get in South Africa's border towns, and cheaper. But no, this Esther woman is going to spend the money on a bus ticket to buy a pizza that costs twice what it does at home? As if. Please do your REAL jobs and report EVENTS rather than just publishing propaganda pieces. It makes you no better than the other side.
Edward T, Harare, Zimbabwe

A: $4 pizza in Avondale, and at St Elmo's? Try $11, unless there's a special going on there I did not hear about. And no, I did not go to SA for the pizza. That was a side kick. It was for the flour, baked beans, cereal, cooking oil, new bedding, toilet tissue and so on. (I could write out my entire shopping list but it's just too long!)

Q: How do you adjust to hyper-inflation on a day to day basis? As in when new banknotes are issued - how do you adjust? Do you have your former banknotes converted over at the bank or do you live off a heavy loss? Do you have to hoard foreign currency to make ends meet when you have it?
Jonathan Burns, Coronado, California, USA

A: You adjust by not getting shell-shocked when you find that the bus fare doubled in between your coming into town for work in the morning and your going bank to work at the end of the day; and by buying in bulk when you can. As for the bank notes, by the time a new set is introduced, the ones in use before will be virtually worthless so the loss while there is minimal and nothing to cry over.

Q: Hi Esther. If you can barely get enough cash to ride the bus to work and back, how do you get by with daily expenses, such as food, groceries, etc? It so hard to imagine life in Zimbabwe from where I sit. I would love to read a blog about how people manage to go about their daily lives. Sorry if it seems a naive question. Jeremy, New York

A: People use their debit cards to pay for groceries and so on in shops that have 'swipe' machines. And now we have shops that sell in foreign currency so that's another option for those with it. Failing that you just have to go without.

Q: I hope you enjoy your pizza! :-)
Keith , Bridgetown, Barbados

A: I think I gained 5kg. It was great!

Q: Esther, sometimes you don't say the truth about what is going on in H-town. Am afraid you are giving our brothers and sisters and everyone else a wrong picture. Pizza is all over town....what are you talking about? Do you live in Zim or somewhere in Luton, UK?
Charles Hamadziripi, Mbare, Harare

A: It is, but I can't afford it. You need $15 - 20 to be able to eat pizza in Harare.

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