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Below is a “Letter from Zimbabwe,” describing a chance encounter with nine young men washing mud off their legs and piling into a Honda Fit, which is a common mode of transportation in the country. Writer, Cathy Buckle also discusses the issue of land barons and corruption in Zimbabwe, as well as a recent high-profile case involving a gold smuggler. Buckle infuses the piece with humour and wry observations, while also expressing sorrow for recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Find Cathy’s letter below.
Red Mud and Gold Bars
By Cathy Buckle
Dear Family and Friends,
Nine young guys came running fast along a narrow path through the long grass which was as high as their shoulders. When they were almost at the road they all stopped and bent down and I wondered what was going on: had they seen something, caught something there in the long grass? For a moment my heart ticked faster as they bobbed up and down in the long, wet grass and then I smiled when I realized what was going on, they were washing the mud off their legs in a big puddle of rainwater.
Less than a minute later a Honda Fit tore down the road and stopped a few meters in front of me. The Honda Fit, a fast, economical little car which can weave in out of traffic, along verges, on pavements, paths and kerbs and runs on the smell of an oil rag, has become the all-purpose people carrier in Zimbabwe. The Honda Fit which can carry a driver and three passengers has defied all manufacturers’ specifications and Zimbabweans have perfected the art of carrying up to a dozen people at a time.
Again my heart ticked a bit faster as the Honda Fit stopped in the middle of the road and the nine guys boiled out of the long grass. The car was covered in mud, on its front and back windscreens, on the roof, doors and windows. It must have gone through a massive puddle or pothole or, most likely, done some serious off-road dodging of a police roadblock. And then in front of my disbelieving eyes nine passengers piled into the Honda Fit: two in the front passenger seat, one sitting on the others lap, four in the back squashed onto two seats and then the boot was popped open and the last three guys jumped into the boot, facing backwards, feet hanging out, and off they roared, lid up, squashed in like sardines a tin. I fell in a few metres behind them and they stopped on a corner to pick up a passenger who literally lay sideways across the laps of all the guys in the back. I could hear their shouts of laughter and went past them. For a while we were going in the same direction, they overtook me I smiled and lifted my hands, shaking my head in disbelief at the three in the boot and the guy lying across the middle and their huge smiles and waves came back at me. Aaah Zimbabwe! Every detail in this little story conceals a story in itself; a story of survival and struggle, of no jobs for hundreds of thousands of young school leavers, of a return to the days of harrowing heavy-handed police roadblocks, of illegality and negligence. But everywhere there is this little twinkle of humour and we have mastered the art of being able to laugh at ourselves.
Thinking about this little encounter which so perfectly describes everyday life in our very wet and muddy Zimbabwe, I was catching up on the news and came across the story of President Mnangagwa opening a new housing development area in Harare. He said that the top government officials he sends to solve the issue of ‘land barons’ are actually the criminals themselves. “They cannot arrest themselves because they are the thieves,” Mr Mnangagwa said. These land barons sell little plots on state land that doesn’t belong to them. Charging five to fifteen thousand US dollars cash deposits for 380 square meters of land that doesn’t belong to them they then disappear back into the long grass. They sell plots in wetlands and green belts, on land that’s already been sold to someone else, land reserved for schools or clinics and in little squares on what they call ‘housing estates.’ The bizarre part of this story came when the President said: “I have seen some of these settlements when I am flying out of the country…” How strange that the President sees them when he’s ‘flying out of Zimbabwe’ when all the time they are in plain sight right here, inside Zimbabwe, you can’t miss them in any direction you travel in. These are the same ‘settlements’ where countless thousands of people wait everyday for the knock on the door which tells them they are evicted because they are living on land that belongs to someone else.
But I can’t end this letter in a time of pounding, incessant rain and mud everywhere without some wry humour so here it is. This week a top National Prosecuting Authority official (charged with combating crime and corruption) said there wasn’t enough evidence to secure a conviction against gold smuggler Henrietta Rushwaya. Ms Rushawaya was caught red-handed with 6.9kgs of gold bars in her hand luggage at Harare airport in October 2020. Red-handed, gold bars in her handbag but not enough evidence, are you serious.
This letter now goes to people in 67 countries around the world, including in Turkey and I send them and people in Syria a message of heartfelt sorrow after the devastating earthquakes which have shattered their lives. You are ever in our thoughts.
There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.
Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)
Copyright © Cathy Buckle https://cathybuckle.co.zw/
All my books are now available on Amazon, Kindle and Lulu with my Beautiful Zimbabwe 2023 Calendar and the hardback version of my evocative Photo-books “Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty” (the 2021 and 2022 collections) on high gloss paper available exclusively on LULU. Visit my website for full details www.cathybuckle.co.zw or click here: www.lulu.com/spotlight/cathybuckle2018
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