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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On line letters in the absence of independent media

. An interview with Catherine Buckle by Zara Majidpour
In 1965, the white minority government of Rhodesia declared its independence from Great Britain and 5 years later the prime minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, declared his country a republic. In 1979, the white rule came to an end and the following year Robert Mugabe took over the leadership of the country and the name changed to Zimbabwe. By the late 1990’s, white farmers still owned 70% of farming land and Mugabe highlighted the issue of black land ownership. In 2000 Mugabe started his land reform and most white Zimbabwean farmers lost their land. The disastrous land reform changed the country from being the “bread basket of Africa” to a country with food shortage. "Cathy Buckle" bought her farm in 1990, ten years after Zimbabwe’s independence and only after having offered it to the Government, as required by law at the time.
Her farm was not an inherited colonial property. In 2000 she lost her farm, but she did not emigrate like many others. Her weekly letters published on her website reflects the situation in her country like a mirror and people around the world can read what is happening. Freedom of speech is non-existent and journalists are often arrested and interrogated. Despite her weekly letters she also released several books like “African Tears” and “Beyond Tears”.

Her latest book” Innocent Victims” was published recently. Although she is a very busy writer, she put aside time for me to interview her.

I asked her the following questions:

Q: Cathy, in the absence of independent media and journalists in Zimbabwe, you are writing a weekly letter and informing the world on the dire situation in your country under the name of Cathy Buckle. How do you describe yourself?

- I am a mother, a Zimbabwean and a writer. Before the state's closure of the Daily News I used to write a weekly op/ed leader page article so my letter to Family and Friends is an alternate outlet where the voice of an ordinary Zimbabwean can be expressed.

- Ten years ago after the start of Mugabe’s land reform, you lost everything. Why have you decided to stay put and start writing under seemingly dangerous conditions in Zimbabwe instead of migrating like so many others?

- I didn’t start writing in 2000 when my farm was seized by the Zimbabwe government but merely continued something I had been doing since the early 1980's. At the time of land seizures I had 4 novels in print, a weekly column in the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper and regularly produced articles for local magazines. Migrating has never been a choice for me. Zimbabwe is my home, my son was born and educated here and we have never known any other country. I already had a voice through my writing and when the invaders arrived on my farm in 2000, I knew the real facts of the events had to be exposed. From then on, telling the story of Zimbabwe has become the focus of my life.

- In one of your weekly letters you mentioned that you have daily power failures of up to 15 hours and for days at a time in the countryside. Do people still have access to the internet under these conditions?

- Very few people have broadband internet connections and most have only a dial-up connection in order to access email servers. In many areas, mine included, electricity is not the only problem. The telephone connections are extremely poor, the lines are crossed and very noisy so accessing the internet is virtually impossible.

- Thirty years ago Mugabe was a hero in Africa and you supported his freedom struggle. Thirty years later he became one of Africa’s infamous dictators. What caused this change?

- Staying in power for too long; not allowing any real opposition and needing the protection of being in power in order to avoid being held to account for crimes against humanity, human rights abuses and massive corruption.

- Do you think that without Mugabe the ruling party will be able to rule the country? - No, not democratically.

- Zimbabwe was the bread basket of Africa, but during the recent presidential elections we saw empty shelves in supermarkets and food shortages. Has the situation improved after Morgan Tsangirai became prime minster?

- When Morgan Tsvangirai appointed Tendai Biti as the Minister of Finance, there was a dramatic improvement in the food availability situation. In Feb 2009 Minster Biti suspending use of the Zimbabwe dollar, legalized trade in US dollars and almost overnight the black market crashed completely, currency dealers disappeared and hyperinflation in the billions of percentage points stopped. Supermarkets which had been cavernous empty buildings selling a handful of condoms or yellowing cabbages, had full shelves in less than a month thanks to the MDC Finance Minister. This said, however, approximately 95% of the food now in our supermarkets is imported - a tragedy for the country known as the 'bread basket' of Africa which used to export food just a decade ago.

- The world leaders are aware of the situation in Zimbabwe especially regarding starvation and the lack of human rights. Why do you think world leaders and especially African leaders are remaining silent?

- I think world leaders in Europe, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have spoken out very strongly against the oppressive conditions and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe over the last nine years. Their voices are growing quieter now as they wait and see if this interim unity government can work. The majority of African countries have remained silent for a number of reasons - their own democracies are fragile, their elections full of inconsistencies, their leaders have themselves been in power for repeated terms. Then there are the issues of race, similar past colonial histories and cultural norms which frown upon criticising elders - particularly in public.

- Despite the poverty in Zimbabwe, the First Lady Grace Mugabe loves shopping. What is your opinion of her?

- As a mother, I find it hard to accept that any mother, particularly the first Lady of the country, would buy clothes and jewellery for herself and decorate her home in an ornate style when the majority of the population are homeless hungry, unemployed or suffering many many deprivations.

- What is you view of the future of Zimbabwe?

- If Zimbabwe can have a free and fair election with international supervision of everything from the voters roll to the collation and announcement of results, then the country will go forward. The desire for full democracy and real change is overwhelming in the country. The population have a very strong desire to see the perpetrators of human rights abuses and a multitude of crimes be held to account for their actions which until now have gone unpunished, excused as being political.

This interview was translated into Persian(Farsi) and published in Shahrzadnews website