Cathy Buckle: Zimbabwe teetering on the edge – patriotism versus popcorn as crisis deepens

In a heartfelt letter from Zimbabwe, Cathy Buckle paints a vivid picture of a nation on the brink. With staggering numbers showcasing a plunging economy and escalating political tensions, the signs of a country in distress are all too apparent. As Zimbabwe’s currency crashes, inflation skyrockets, and Russian helicopters arrive ahead of the next general election, the government introduces the controversial Patriot Bill, inviting fears of further suppression. Amidst these dire circumstances, a peculiar indicator emerges—the sudden prevalence of popcorn, a symbol of affordability amidst scarcity. Cathy’s poignant question lingers: How much longer can Zimbabwe endure this struggle between patriotism and the struggle for survival?

By Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,

How do you know when Zimbabwe is teetering at the cliff edge? After nearly three decades of turmoil it’s hard for outsiders to see the signs that are the big red flags to people living in Zimbabwe. We don’t really need the numbers to tell us, but here they are. We are now all busy practicing our 4900 times-tables, well we were a few days ago, now we’re all learning our 6000 times-tables and writing out our 7000 times tables in preparation for what seems inevitable. Why? Well this is how many Zimbabwe Dollars you need to buy ONE single US dollar. In other words, the Zim dollar is crashing faster than we can keep up. We’re back at the stage where we go into shops and pick things up and put them back when we realise they’ve suddenly become luxuries.

Here’s some other numbers:
791% – that’s the inflation rate.
23 August 2023 – that’s the date of our next general election.
70% – that’s how much the value of the Zimbabwe dollar has fallen since January.
10% – that’s how much the all-share index jumped by on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange one day this week, so much that they suspended trading for a while to allow the market to ‘cool off.’
18 – that’s how many Russian helicopters just arrived in Zimbabwe, three months before elections, for “policing, wildlife management and disaster management.’
14 – that’s how many more Russian helicopters are still to come.
US$400,000 – that’s how much judges have each just been given (three months before elections) as ‘housing loans.’
US$500,000 – that’s how much Cabinet Ministers were each given in December as ‘housing loans.’
US$40,000 – that’s how much MPs were each given in December as ‘housing loans.’
US$350,000 – that’s how much CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) directors were each given in January as ‘housing loans.’
I leave readers to join the dots and draw their own conclusions.

Then, while we’re all busy worrying about the numbers and about survival, came the Patriot Bill, now passed by the House of Assembly and the Senate and just awaiting the signature of the President. Also known as the Criminal Law Amendment Bill the Patriot Bill will create the crime of ‘willfully damaging the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.’ This will apply to any citizen or permanent resident taking part in a meeting involving or convened by a foreign government to consider or plan armed intervention, subvert or overthrow the Zimbabwe government, to consider implement or extend sanctions or trade boycotts against Zimbabwe or an individual or official. The penalties range from a fine to imprisonment for 10 to 20 years and even the death sentence.

Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights said the Patriot Bill is “unclear, ambiguous, imprecise and likely to be misused by the law enforcement.” ZLHR said: “We are deeply concerned about the harsh penalties for deliberately injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe, which include the death penalty, long imprisonment, loss of citizenship, ban from registering or voting as a voter for at least five years.” ZLHR said that the death penalty in the Patriot Bill violates section 48 of our Constitution.

So, with all of this happening, how do we, the long, long suffering Zimbabweans really know we are actually teetering on the edge again? That’s simple: POPCORN ! Supermarkets are suddenly full of shelves and shelves of popcorn known here as maputi. Its sun-dried maize (corn) exploded into popcorn using a pressure gun. This week it’s almost the only affordable thing in supermarkets and is selling at Z#399.99 for a 50g bag. As it was in 2005 and for many years afterwards, maputi has become the staple diet again; it’s in lunch boxes, sold on roadsides, outside hospitals, at bus stops. We’ve become the maputi nation again, thanks to the Min of Fin.

So, while some of us are worrying about what we can say, who we can talk to, what we can write and if we’ve censored ourselves enough, others are just worrying about how to survive this and what’s for supper.  Patriotism versus Popcorn, says it all doesn’t it? How much longer Zimbabwe?

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website.

Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.
Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend).

Love Cathy 9th June 2023.

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Copyright © Cathy Buckle
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