Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Harare diary: 'Too much to take'

Zimbabweans queue to get water

Esther (not her real name), 28, a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, describes how the daily struggle to survive is reaching a point of desperation.

We have been very patient, waiting all this time for a peaceful solution. It is getting to be too much now.

It is beyond what anyone can face; what an individual can take.

The cutting off of the city's water when there's a cholera outbreak, the cash withdrawal limit and now the security forces becoming undisciplined.

We deserve a better life. We are not a country at war but look at the kind of life we are living. What on earth is going on?

Order of the day

People are dying in great numbers and there is no treatment because like I told you last time, Harare's two main hospitals are closed.

Zimbabwean soldier walks past a looted shop
We had always thought that the soldiers here in Zimbabwe were puppets of the state

It is so difficult because even the smaller local clinics are closed.

In some parts of town there is raw sewage running down streets.

But you should know that some people in the poor, poor parts of the high density areas have had to live with this every day for five years now. It is just that now pictures are circulating because of the cholera crisis.

Where I stay, we had water problems even before this complete city shut-down. It was becoming the order of the day - sometimes water would run from the tap but normally, not a drop.

Now all we can do is go over to a neighbour who has a borehole.


I don't think there's a living soul in Harare who trusts the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) to provide water that is fit for human consumption.

Zimbabweans take to the streets in search of water
Most of Zimbabwe's capital has been without water since Sunday

Absolutely everyone is boiling all their water. And because there's no power we have to make a fire to do so.

I am astounded at the people who work for Zinwa - these are people who actually get paid every month to do their job and yet they have been unable to sort out our city's water supply.

It is unacceptable.

I don't know any other country in the world where people can just come out and say they were unaware that they were running out of water purification chemicals.

It is a total lack of responsibility; like no-one even cares. I am so emotional about it. Really, it boggles the mind.

On my way home from work yesterday, everyone in the commuter omnibus I was in was shocked at the sight in town.

Many, many people walking round the city centre - carrying buckets and jerry cans, empty juice and milk bottles - trying to find water to take back to their homes; everyone going around looking for a business that has a borehole and asking if they can get water.

Puppets of the state?

When it gets it to this stage, it is unbelievable but everyone in the city is helping one another out. Everyone except Zinwa that is.

You would think that by this stage it would be normal for riots to break out. But normal is not normal in Zimbabwe; and the sight of soldiers rioting, ransacking and looting would be considered implausible...

But finally, no, it actually really, really happened.

People are so shocked that some soldiers did. I missed the greater part of the action because I work a bit out of town but by the time I got into the centre there were broken windows and looted shop fronts, although I'm not certain if the shops were looted or if shop owners emptied their shelves for safety.

The talk of the town is amazement - we had always thought that the soldiers here in Zimbabwe were puppets of the state and so this was in effect a demonstration against the state.

Some people believe it is a good thing and they weren't just ordinary citizens.

Long, expensive holiday

I heard that the first riot police who arrived on the scene yesterday afternoon were not stopping the soldiers or even the people the soldiers had encouraged to join in. People told me it was like they were smiling at the soldiers.

Zimbabwean woman weeps at funeral for her niece and unborn child, victims of a cholera outbreak
Almost 500 people so far are known to have died from cholera

It is these cash withdrawal limits that have done this. The daily limit is 500,000 Zimbabwean dollars and it affects us all whether we are a soldier or a struggling citizen. That amount cannot even buy you a loaf of bread, not even a packet of chips. It is nothing.

Your money is sitting in your bank account but you cannot reach it and what then what really rubs salt into your wound is the fact that the black market dealers carry at least 100m Zimbabwean dollars just on their person on the street, which is the daily withdrawal limit for 200 people.

But you can't get cash from them unless you have foreign currency to sell.

By the time I get into town at 0700 hours [local time/0500 GMT] the queues of people lining up outside the banks are already winding; and they queue all day - in the rain and in the hot sun - and at 1700 hours which is two hours after the banks' official closing time, the queues are still winding.

It is like they [the government] keep poking you and poking you and poking you and poking you and poking you, daring us to do something to them. It's starting to feel like that.

We have become a very angry people.

A certain teacher told me the other day that students only went to school for 23 days this year - it's too much. They have been sitting at home on one very long and expensive holiday for a whole year.

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