Impossible fees

"Bananas for school fees" - Newsletter from Zimbabwe by Cathy Buckle

30 January 2015

Dear Family and Friends

It’s the time of year when the chameleons are h-h-hesitating across the roads; when thin, agile, sports-model snakes slither at break neck speed up the trees and snatch fledgling birds from their nests and when the grass grows lush and thick and soft under your feet.

For much of 2014 we all kept saying that everything was six weeks late: the start of winter, the end of the Musasa pods and then the start of the rains. Male Weaver birds whose nests are normally subject to much critical scrutiny by their mates, have been even more frenetic than usual in the last few weeks. Three or four times they’ve made, moved in, shredded and re-made their nests while the flame lilies are only now in full bloom as nature’s late pattern continues into 2015.

The confusions in nature are being mimicked by the state of everything else in Zimbabwe. Since what’s been called the tsunami in Zanu PF before Christmas, the country came to a grinding halt. No one seems to know what’s going on: which MP’s are still MP’s, who’s expelled, who’s on the run, who’s in favour or who’s in disgrace in the ruling party. As has been the case countless times in the past 15 years, Zimbabwe is again completely paralyzed while the country’s leaders fight for their own political survival and positions of power.

Meanwhile for ordinary Zimbabweans January 2015 is harder than ever, particularly for parents trying to get their children back into school and meet the new punitive requirements. Children attending junior school for the first time are no longer allowed to buy their own school uniforms or shoes from affordable sources, now they are forced to buy them from the school. The same goes for their exercise books and other classroom equipment they require: all must be bought only from the school and the costs are included in the school fees.

First timers to junior school have to pay US$190 for the first term while new intake senior school children have to pay US$220 to be allowed in. The new regulation forcing parents to buy uniforms, shoes, books and equipment from the school only has, in a single move, eradicated free choice and fair competition. Thousands of men and women who made school uniforms for a living are now out business. Thousands who bulk buy exercise books to resell to school children are now out of business and hundreds of thousands of parents who until now had free choice and bought what they could afford and where they could afford it are prisoners to the new regulation. If they don’t pay their children don’t go to school.

To put this burden in perspective, the cheapest rent for two rooms in a high density suburb is US $100 a month. On top of that are the costs for water, electricity, food, transport, clothes, medicines and school fees. With 90% unemployment and low income workers taking home around US$ 200-250 a month, meeting the school fees is impossible. I don’t know how to put any of this into perspective for hundreds of thousands of Mums and Dads who sell airtime, fruit and vegetables on the road sides; how many thousands of bananas must a man have to sell to put one of his children into school this January?

To end on a positive note: a few years ago when inflation was in the thousands, a friend helped a man pay his daughter’s A level fees. This week the Good Samaritan heard that the girl is now a university graduate. This is how Zimbabweans are surviving, helping each other when we can. Until next time, thanks for reading this letter and supporting my books,

Love Cathy.

30th January 2015. Copyright © Cathy Buckle.

For information on my new book: “MILLIONS, BILLIONS, TRILLIONS,” or its predecessor: “CAN YOU HEAR THE DRUMS,” my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent Victims,” “African Tears,” “Beyond Tears” and “IMIRE,” or to subscribe/unsubscribe to this letter, please visit my website or contact To see pictures of images described in my letters go to: