Thursday, December 15, 2005

a bleak Christmas


In the old days, that is until about five years ago, families in the rural areas anticipated the return of fathers and uncles from work in the cities with bags full of goodies. Every child would get new clothes - colourful frocks for the girls, trousers and T-shirts for the boys - and a pair of trainers.You were a king if you received a pair of black BATA Tenderfoot trainers.

The atmosphere would be taut with anticipation. On Christmas Eve, the children would scrub themselves clean in the river and the soles of their feet would be cleared of the calluses from their long barefoot journeys to school.

In my village, welcoming father back home at Christmas was something akin to a celebration of manhood. Besides the clothes, there would be plenty of biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks and the latest music cassettes.

On Christmas Day, we children would wake early and clean the yard before rushing to the river for another bath, while mother prepared tea in bucketfuls, with fresh milk from the cows in the pen and cupfuls of sugar. Everything would be plentiful on that day. Thick slices of bread, buttercup yellow with margarine and scarlet red with Sun Jam would be eaten as if there were no tomorrow. A goat and some chickens would be slaughtered, and both meat and rice – a luxury - would be plentiful. Then would follow the pilgrimage to neighbours to show off the new clothes. Guests would drop in and we would sing and dance until beyond New Year's Day.

In towns, the story was much the same, but perhaps with richer and more exotic fare than the bread and rice that meant so much to my family.

Not this year. Most of the 11.5 million Zimbabweans still in the country - some 3.5 million others have fled abroad - will sleep on empty stomachs this Christmas night.

The harsh impact of a crumbling economy, meagre salaries and food shortages will combine to ensure that Zimbabweans have the most miserable Christmas ever. Unemployment is approaching 90 per cent and inflation has topped 500 per cent, and there are now so many zeros on most price tags that calculators, designed for only eight digits, are useless for our daily calculations. Pickpocketing, once almost a national pastime, has gone out of fashion, as stealing a full purse will not buy you a single sweet or cigarette, and you need a carrier bag full of Zimbabwe dollars to buy a bottle of beer.

At the Christmas of 1980, the first after independence from Britain, a top-of-the-range shirt would have cost five Zimbabwean dollars. Now the cheapest costs in excess of 1.2 million. In just over six years, our currency has lost 99.9 per cent of its value. ....

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