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No comfort for SA in Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe apocalypse

CAPE TOWN — To Zimbabweans who for whatever reason have stuck around through Bob Mugabe’s nation-wrecking and quasi-ideological nepotism and corruption, what long-standing local author Cathy Buckle describes below has become the norm. But as she so eloquently points out in her graphic word-sketch of life in Harare, none of the activities are normal in any civilised society with a modicum of functional government or service delivery. The city has turned into a giant market where anything and everything is hawked on the streets. A single sale can mean the difference between going hungry for yet another day or putting a meagre slice of bread on the table. From children to pensioners, all are involved in highly inappropriate activities driven by poverty – with not even basic sanitation or shelter in sight. From pavement tuck shops and clothes-sellers to currency exchange dealers idling in post offices while day-long queues wilt outside banks in the mid-day sun, it’s an almost apocalyptic vista. If you think President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reconstruction and making up of SA’s national bed to enable us all to sleep easier at night is difficult, imagine the task Zimbabwe’s next elected president faces. – Chris Bateman

By Cathy Buckle*

I write this letter for posterity, to record exactly what life looks like in my home town today, four days before elections, knowing that this may be the last letter to come from a Zimbabwe run by Zanu PF, hoping that in years to come life in Zimbabwe will not be like this.

Cathy Buckle

The chill of winter is still in the air; frost lies in icy patches on the golden grass in the mornings and our  neighbourhoods wake to the “hoop hoop” calls of African Hoopoes and the bright red wings of the purple crested Turaco’s (Loeries) add colour to the dry winter bush. Every morning, all around our town, are strewn the remnants of Zimbabwe’s 2018 election campaign. Every day the election posters are renewed, tied onto trees, stuck onto posts and taped to the poles of street lights that haven’t worked in many neighbourhoods for 15 years. Every night the posters are torn off again. MDC Alliance posters last an hour or two, Zanu PF posters a day or two.

On every street corner in residential areas there is a shack, shelter or table under a tree. Called tuck shops they consist of home-made tables piled high with bread, sweets, snacks, cigarettes, vegetables, eggs. Protected from the weather by plastic, tin, old fertiliser bags or thatching grass, this is how hundreds of thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans survive. It’s not normal to live like this.

Outside countless homes on the verge are piles of old clothes laid out on plastic or cloth on the ground. Women and their children sit there from morning to night hoping to sell an item or two. It’s not normal for people to have to resort to this.

File Image: Robert Mugabe, Former President of Zimbabwe.

In town along and across the main railway line near a busy intersection a hundred or more men, women and children have established a clothes market. Every morning they come carrying bags, boxes and suitcases stuffed with second hand clothes, shoes, handbags, rucksacks. Items are laid out for sale on plastic on the ground. There is no water, toilets or protection from the weather. Children sit out there with their Mums and Dads all day. It’s not normal for children to grow up like this.

Read also: Life after Mugabe: Zim opposition makes 10 key demands for credible election

In the central shopping area of the town, outside every shop women and children sit on the pavements selling socks, shoes, belts, clothes fruit, vegetables. On another street men sit on the pavements selling cell phones, batteries, watches and electronic items. Territory is fiercely guarded. This is how many hundreds of thousands of ordinary people are surviving. They are friendly, well spoken, educated people with no jobs. They go to work on the pavement every day, not from choice but from necessity. It’s not normal to have to make a living  like this.

Outside the banks big crowds of people wait, desperate to withdraw their own money. If they are lucky they may get a bag of coins worth ten or twenty dollars after waiting a few hours; if they are very lucky they may get $20 in green Bond notes or four, purple $5 Bond notes. Bank queues have become a full time occupation in Zimbabwe, the cost to our economy and the lost working hours is incalculable. It’s not normal for a country’s economy to be like this or for people to struggle so hard to get their own money out of the bank.

Read also: Gilding Zimbabwe’s electoral lily – Mnangagwa’s freer election

It’s a wild ride to the Post Office which is located in the old Rugby Club Bar in the Marondera Club. In the two blocks from the main road to the Post Office, hundreds of people are milling around: waiting for kombis, buying and selling at roadside stalls, trying to make a dollar or two to survive. Turning off on the dust road to go the two hundred metres to the Club/Post Office it’s a mass of deep potholes, humps and gullies which you must navigate with extreme care for fear of hitting one of the scores of people milling around. Out of the corner of your eye you see a woman sitting on a broken chair in the dust having her hair braided; on a piece of tin roof sheet a hand painted notice reads: ‘Car wash’ and a yellow arrow points to a patch of dust next to a tree and a bucket of water. Inside the Post Office, sitting on a hard bench along the wall there are always half a dozen old men and women waiting for someone to pay for anything in cash so that they may then do a cash back exchange. It’s not normal for pensioners to have to like this.

This is the legacy left to us after 38 years of Zanu PF. Everyone knows it wasn’t just Robert Mugabe that reduced us to this, it was the people and policies of a party too long in power, too riddled with greed and corruption, too used to no accountability. Everyone knows that most of those same people are still in Zanu PF despite the charm offensive of President Mnangagwa and their election campaign. It’s time for change and we dare to hope that people in Zimbabwe won’t have to live like this anymore.

  • Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at cathybuckle.com.
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