By Cathy Buckle
I am writing today in recognition of you, the people out there who care about Zimbabwe and what happens here and who are as stunned as we are about what went on in the August election.
A quietness has descended over our dust-swept country. The September winds and whirlwinds are here; do you remember them? The hot, dusty, thick winds with pieces of grass, leaves, and grit in them rushing across the open plains, cavorting on our roofs, shaking the old leaves off the trees, and allowing space for the glorious spring colours.
As I write, most foreign number plates have gone, and the vehicles and their Zimbabwean occupants from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi and Mozambique have gone home.
Zimbabweans in the diaspora came home in big numbers for the election.
They saw what we see, felt what we feel and were left as disbelieving as we are. Already, we miss them – their fresh faces, open minds, ideas, outrage, and hope. They have seen for themselves now, seen exactly what life is like in Zimbabwe, how easy it is to become smothered by it.
They have seen the illusion of normal that we live in, and they have also seen the reality that lies under the dust. One man wrote to me last week when he returned to his life in the diaspora after staying in Zimbabwe for two months, his longest visit. He told me he had left, by necessity, not choice, nearly two decades ago.
His brief words said it all: “I don’t know how you are surviving.”
It’s a question so many people on the outside ask: how do we survive? The honest answer is that without families in the diaspora sending money to their families here, people would not be surviving. The longest queues you see these days are outside the money transfer agencies: Mukuru, Western Union, World Remit and others. From 6am, people start lining up, waiting for the agencies to open so they can collect the 20, 50, or 100 US dollars sent to them.
Without access to US dollars, people simply can’t survive here. They can’t survive the collapsed currency, the 641% inflation rate, and the 95% unemployment rate.
The other question people ask is: what’s the truth about poverty in Zimbabwe? They see images of luxury lodges and tourist resorts, sparkling swimming pools and big slabs of meat sizzling on barbecues.
They say it’s not right that there is such luxury in a country so full of squalor. The fact is, though, most of those tourist resorts are saving Zimbabwe.
They bring jobs and keep surrounding communities afloat; they repair roads and bridges, help schools and clinics, protect wild places, and support local businesses.
Despite how they may look to outsiders, many of these resorts are hanging on by their fingertips: huge government taxes, levies, fees, corrupt officials at every turn, and inflation that erodes profit and leaves them barely covering costs.
I end this column with thanks to Zimbabweans in the diaspora who came home to vote, who send money home to support their families, who support sick or elderly family members who need help with medication, food and living expenses – and thank you to everyone who sends messages of support, empathy and encouragement.
It matters to us that you care about us and what happens to our country. We don’t want to be refugees and migrants in foreign countries, and if we end up there, it is by necessity, not choice.