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Page last updated at 01:47 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 02:47 UK

Harare diary: Costly freedom

MDC supporters celebrate the unity government
The unity government sparked celebrations, but has it delivered?

Esther (not her real name), 29, is a professional living and working in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

She describes how her life has changed during the first 100 days of the Government of National Unity (GNU).

President Robert Mugabe's ZANU PF and Prime Minister Tsvangirai's MDC began their power-sharing alliance in January.

Below, Esther asks her fellow Zimbabweans whether they feel the unity government has delivered on its promises.


Our unity government has hit 100 days in office. Wow!

I think there are people out there who did not expect it to last that long, without the cracks really beginning to show.

How would I rate their performance? I'd give them four out of 10, based on the promises they made to us.

Police officer, Zimbabwe
The one good thing is that we feel more free... there are no longer riot police on every corner
'Esther', Harare

And that is me being very kind!

Our hospitals are still not functioning - they are without medication.

Our schools are still not working properly.

Many teachers are still not going to work because nobody wants to work for $100 a month.

And there are still land invasions taking place.

The one good thing, is that we feel more free.

There used to be police officers in full riot gear on every street corner. It was in your face.

But the coming of the unity government has meant the disappearance of those policemen.

I feel excited to see people walking around in t-shirts for MDC. T-shirts which commemorate Susan Tsvangirai.

You could never have done that last year.

Every day I used to pass a bunch of police in full riot gear, on my way to work.

It was very unpleasant. It even made me angry - those people were threatening.

They were promising that if they didn't like the way you were talking about the government, they would unleash violence.

Or if you made a joke they didn't understand, they were going to beat you up.

It was really upsetting. Scary even.

But now we feel free to be ourselves. That is a huge point, after everything we went through last year.

Maximum security

But as for the political prisoners, I am very disappointed.

The opposition had said they would work within the system to get them free.

Well, only high-profile cases have been released, such as Jestina Mukoko and Roy Bennett, who was arrested after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.

I have a cousin whose husband was arrested for allegedly taking part in "plotting a coup" two years ago.

Hospital, Harare
Hospitals are still short of medication

He has never been tried, and he is still in a maximum security prison.

I'm disappointed. The unity government fought very hard for our freedom.

But what about the guys sitting in jail? They are the guys who really really fought behind the headlines.

Tighten your belt

Financially, life is getting much harder. You can buy food now - everything is available.

But everything is more expensive because we can only buy in US dollars.

Armed men ask farmers to leave
Farms are still being seized

Life is a lot tighter. Before, I could survive comfortably on $50 a month, even $20.

Now I need more like $200, just for food and transport. It's painful to adjust to the lower standard of life.

Where do I find the extra money? Well that's the big problem - I can't.

I used to be able to wheel and deal - sell a few fuel coupons and groceries.

But now I can't because these commodities are freely available.

I have to cut back on my lifestyle instead. For example, I can no longer afford meat every day.

The meat is the most expensive thing on the grocery list.

I miss those chicken steaks! And going out for pizza. I miss things like that.

Ghost towns

The MDC wanted to revive the economy, but I think the best they can do is stabilise it, so that we can have a free and fair election.

Roy Bennett
Roy Bennett was freed but many political prisoners remain jailed
I think our economy will only stabilise when we have right of ownership over property, and the rule of law.

I don't think that can happen while Zanu-PF are in the government.

Our heavy industry areas are still more like ghost towns.

Can the companies that once operated there dare to come back, when the Zanu-PF part of government is talking of going forward with the scheme where locals should own 51% of any company operating here?

Who wants to come here only to give up a huge chunk of their shareholding?

Early days

Maybe we need to apply the litmus test after a bit more time.

After all, what administration can truly change the way things were done before in just 100 days?

In six months maybe they will have more to show.

So we will be patient.

Lord knows patience is one thing Zimbabweans have in abundance!



Esther asked some Zimbabweans for their thoughts on the unity government's first 100 days. She can't disclose their names.

NGO WORKER

I am full of hope! Things look like they are turning around.

Credit lines are coming back - a certain clothing shop called me to say they would fast-track the opening of an account if I wanted one.

I was quite amazed. Food is expensive considering people's incomes, but at least it's available.

I remember a time when you had to go abroad for toilet paper, cooking oil, sugar and so on.

And you know what - I can't recall the last time I saw a police officer in full riot gear.

It had gotten to a point where they were at every street corner, every single day.

I feel like we have started afresh. I hope people give the GNU time to work even more changes.

Just this week the president's spokesman said the BBC, CNN & Sky News were welcome here!


CHILD CARER

I am one very bitter person.

This understanding that there would be no criminal prosecutions for atrocities committed in the run-up to, and after the March 29 election, is wrong.

I lost relatives, and was myself beaten for supporting the opposition.

There is no way I will ever see any good in this union, no way.


RURAL TEACHER

While "dollarisation" has meant a wider availability of goods, it has also made life tougher.

The US$ is very difficult to come by. School fees are killing - $250 per term for my sister in boarding school!

In addition to that the school sends a list of groceries without which she will not be admitted - this system was adopted during the time of shortages and I do not see why it persists.

The schools can as well purchase their own groceries! Maybe they are using some of the groceries as incentives for the teaching staff - who knows?

You end up just accepting it, as long as my sister is getting an education.


DOMESTIC WORKER

After the PM in the inclusive government begged us to go back to work, I did so.

After all, salaries were to be paid in foreign exchange.

I have since decided to continue informal trading (I raise and sell goats), I can not sustain my family on $100 a month.

The challenge is that people do not have much money, and I often have to extend credit or accept produce such as grain as payment.

This means I do not give out as much homework as I should.

To be honest with you, if you have kids in government schools it's a good idea to enroll them in extra lessons.




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