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Zimbabwe - Empty Stores
From Cathy Buckle

Dear Family and Friends,
I don't know what the colour of sadness is, but this October 2007 I think it must be purple. The streets in our suburbs, towns and cities are lined with Jacaranda trees and they are in full blossom, carpeting the roadsides with soft purple flowers. The Bougainvilleas are covered in flowers too - mauve, lilac and bright purple. It's hard to believe that with such tropical brilliance all around us this hot October, there is such sadness too. For three months or more everyone's been talking about the fact that there's no food in the shops because the government ordered prices to be cut to below production costs. Most of us have been so busy trying to find enough food to survive and support our families that we haven't really been looking at how other businesses are coping with absurdly low controlled prices. Well, to put it simply, they're not.
I took a walk around my home town this week and was shocked at what I found. Two big clothes department stores have closed down in the last month. These weren't little family shops but big outlets stocking clothes, shoes and accessories for men, women and children. Their huge glass display windows stretching for more than half a block along the pavement are completely empty. Peering in, you can see nothing except vast expanses of grey concrete floor. Carpets have been removed, naked wires hang from ceilings, light fittings have gone, clothes racks are cleared, shelving has been taken off the walls and the employees are all gone. Where are they now, I wondered and how are they surviving. A great sadness welled up inside me; home is dying a slow and tortuous death.
I wandered into a bookshop which is all but empty and into two clothes shops which have almost nothing left to sell. All tell the same story: they cannot sell goods for less than they have paid for them. Shop owners look gaunt, exhausted and desperate, they say they cannot sleep at night and that their stomachs are in tight knots: they are watching their work and investments of a life time just ebb away. I went into another shop which has been in the town since the 1960's. Their doors are still open but its as good as pointless.
Three smartly dressed salesmen wearing name tags stood against the wall talking to each other. There are perhaps fifty items left to sell in this branch of a shop which has outlets all over the country. The teller sat counting wads of dirty almost useless money - bank notes which have expiry dates on them and which we've been warned may be changed at any time in the next few days or weeks. I asked the teller if the shop was closing down. 'No,' he replied, 'if we do then they (the government) will just take us over.' I asked him how they could stay open and he just shook his head sadly. 'We are broken,' he said; 'we are just waiting for whenever the last day comes.' I didn't know what to say but then the man looked around to see if anyone was listening before he said : 'It's political you know.'
That little phrase slammed me back in time instantly to the day when the war veterans were shouting at me through the farm gate. Threatening to shoot me, armed with a pistol, one had bragged that he could "drop me at ten, twenty, even forty meters." This is my farm he had screamed at me, my house, my fields, my cattle and then later, when the Police finally came, they said they could do nothing because :"it was political."
I stared at the teller with his empty shop and filthy money and his eyes were filled with despair. 'Where will I go,' he said; 'what will I do?' I had no answers and could just say: I am so sorry, so very sorry. As I left and the trees dripped their purple flowers at my feet the tears were in my eyes. We are a nation traumatized, regardless of our age or sex, the colour of our skin or our profession and yes, it is all political.
Until next time, thanks for reading,
love cathy.
Copyright cathy buckle 13 October 2007. www.cathybuckle.com My books: "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears" are available in South Africa from: <mailto:books@clarkesbooks.co.za>books@clarkesbooks.co.za and in the UK from: <mailto:orders@africabookcentre.com>orders@africabookcentre.com


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