by Fanuel Nsingo, Abahlali baseMjondolo
Zimbabwe, ……………..wait before you……………….!
Excitement gripped me when I was able to go back across the border to visit my family in Zimbabwe. Pleased as I was, I tried to ignore all the media reports on the country’s disregard of acceptable and proper treatment of human beings. Before going home, I braced myself for whatever the hell was to befall me! Imagine going back home to unpredictable situations, disastrous conditions, or even impending death – and when home is Zimbabwe this is no exaggeration. If you have been in South Africa you are immediately suspected of being MDC. Anyway, going home was the only way to please my mum!
From Johannesburg I boarded a bus directly to Harare, Zimbabwe. I paid 300 Rands for the trip and took at least seven hours to reach the Beitbridge Border Post. The border was highly-congested, with border officials dragging their feet at main checkpoints. My stay there was four hours. Later, the bus had to leave for Harare at around 5 o’clock in the morning. The bus took eight hours to reach Harare.
My arrival in the capital city was met by a great shock. There was no transport to ferry me to my small city of birth, Marondera. Familiar to my country’s economic woes, I immediately settled on the fuel disaster as the explanation. However, I waited by Fourth Street, just behind Roadport for any transport, and immediately arrived a smoking, dusty, ready-for-scrap Mazda T3500 lorry, and not wanting to miss it, I jostled alongside other stranded commuters onto its back. Along the way the driver demanded Z$500 million, as transport fares. He said this was to enable him to buy fuel.
As we drove past Ruwa, a small town just outside Harare, the black-marketeers of fuel waved down the driver. It was a clear signal that only Zimbabwe could run dry, but never the black-marketeers. Immediately, the driver parked by the roadside, but was told to restart and get fuelled in a small patch of thick bush, obviously to be hidden away from the raging battalion of the army or police. He complied. I tried to get as close to the black-marketeer as I could to grasp details of his conversation with the driver, but had to gather the two were arguing over the exact price of the ‘precious liquid’. It seemed the young man was attempting to refuel the lorry before settling on the actual price.
When I arrived in the newly-crowned city of Marondera[formerly a town, and recently given a city status], I just slept overnight, eager to catch the morning bus to my mother’s plot, that she was allocated by the ruling Zanu-PF party. The house in Marondera belongs to my grandfather, my mother’s stepfather. Currently, the four-bedroomed tiny property is home to my mother’s sister, together with her three children. Her first-born is a boy, who has two younger sisters as well. The next morning I took a lift to the Baker Plots that were grabbed from a Mr. Baker, a white farmer. Mr. Baker is one of the 4 000 white farmers whose farms were forcibly grabbed by the ruling government in 1997, under the influence of the late and former Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi.
I paid Z$200 million from Marondera to Baker’s. Initially, the driver of the small, out-of-date obsolete Datsun Pulsar had asked for Z$300 million, arguing that the exchange rate of the ZimDollar Versus the South African Rand was unpredictable, thus the need to cater for the unexpected devaluation of the dollar. True to his utterances, and as I had to experience for myself during my short stay in Zimbabwe, the Z$ keeps falling on an hourly basis. To stay on the safe side, one has to keep a close and tight guard on the ‘now indispensable’ Tito Mboweni product.
As I reached the place, I was greeted by a commotion of chants of slogans and shouts, by ruling party youths at the local shopping centre. Then there was another shocking horror, the shelves in one of the stores were the emptiest and grubbiest in the whole world! Immediately, I rushed for my mother’s plot, and when she saw me, she burst into tears, wondering how on earth God had spared me from the ‘Xenophobia Attacks’. We hugged and kissed, and I told her, ‘Give thanks to Abahlali baseMjondolo’, to which she, who has never lived in a shack, responded curtly, ‘Who the hell’s that?!’ I mumbled to answer her as I felt I would shock her in my struggle for land and housing as an ‘Umhlali.’
When we were seated, I began by narrating how good Abahlali had been to me and told her all about the red T-shirts – at the same time pulling out the colours with pride, and showcasing the movement logo, all to her surprise. ‘That’s politics, my son!’, worried my mother. I continued with the different marches that I had been part of, the camp meetings, the regular fortnightly meetings, office work, drinking and eating in the same plate with the President of Abahlali. I wondered if the same could be done with the ailing and wilting Bob. I wondered at the ease by which I was proud to wear the Abahlali red. I wondered how difficult and burdening it must be to have to wear the old dictator’s picture on a shirt. Free at last, ain’t I?
The one and only cock at our roots was made to suffer the consequences of my return , as is the African custom. It had to be sacrificed for my arrival. How good the meal was, as my sister’s authority and expertise over the rural pots proved itself! No spices, just the boiled chicken and a few grains of salt. Of course no cooking oil or any fatty additives whatsoever these days. But the meal was perfect.
The next day mother forced me to wear the ZANU-PF T-Shirt and to attend an everyday compulsory ZANU-PF meeting. She was very worried that I would be under suspicion after having been away. When we arrived at the meeting place I heard war veterans boasting that they had just acquired knew knobkerries to beat those who had absconded from the previous day’s meeting. At first I thought it was a joke, but was shocked to see a young man being dragged in front of everyone, and thereafter being severely beaten. A certain headman was also being accused of defecting to the opposition MDC. He however managed to save his skin because of his ill-health, otherwise he would have received the canning. But others have been ironed on their backs until they admit to being MDC and promise that they have seen the errors of their ways and that they will be loyal to ZANU-PF.
When I was to return, mother wrote a letter to the President of Abahlali, stating how grateful she was for my good upkeep. She further narrated how difficult it was to survive, mentioning the billions of ZimDollars-for-nothing needed to survive on a daily basis. To this day, I feel pity for her.
When I got to Beitbridge for my intended journey into South Africa, I overhead some youths openly debating on who the richest man in Zimbabwe was. All the tycoons and bigwigs mentioned in that debate are Zanu-PF loyalists. One talkative youth even got to the extent of boasting about Phillip Chiyangwa, nephew of Robert Mugabe and former MP for Chinhoyi West. The youth was saying Chiyangwa’s pair of shoes could cost approximately US$5 000.00. His car could talk, he had a machine to wash his teeth, six wardrobes of shoes – from his Bulawayo-based G & D Shoes Engineering, twenty wardrobes of suits and so on. For your own information, the fallen MP was also booted out of the ruling party for allegedly engaging in espionage, selling all the ‘top secrets’ to the then Tony Blair-led government in England.
My question is; if people spend government resources to enrich themselves, to the extent of living luxurious and flamboyant lives, whilst 90% of the population are suffering, even starving, what is the motive behind this? If a pair of shoes is worth a life, how come the leadership is failing to dish out its leftovers or excesses towards the livelihood of the poor? Does ZANU-PF care about ordinary Zimbabweans at all? What other assets are the ruling party cronies hiding throughout the world? We are told that there is a struggle between Zimbabwe and England but it feels like a struggle between the rich and the poor in Zimbabwe.
As the events further unfolded, some MDC youths arrived at the Beitbridge Rank, not knowing about the worse to come. Within ten minutes of their arrival, the police began chasing them away, accusing them of serving a puppet leader, and warning them of arrests. The opposition youths could do nothing but listen to Mugabe’s bees. Immediately, an old, forget-my-past Mazda 323 dragged itself towards the rank and out came the ugliest face I have ever seen, wailing a loudhailer that ‘Operation Mirai Zvakanaka’ was to start in ten minutes time, therefore every street-trader, and all the ladies by the vegetable market, should ‘shut down’ and attend an urgent meeting. ‘Operation Mirai Zvakanaka’ means ‘Operation Get Rightly Sorted Out’, literally, ‘Operation Know Your One and Only ZANU-PF Party.’ In Abahlali we come to a meeting with all our different ideas and experiences and discuss things together until we see a way forward together. We are free. In Zimbabwe ZANU-PF tells you want to think. If you don’t say publicly that think what you have been told to think you will be beaten, sometimes even killed.
After the ten minutes were over, the meeting was held, with youths ‘sorting-out’ everybody who they had seen walking around, without attending the urgent call. I felt pity for Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleagues. Surely, this wasn’t an atmosphere for free and fair elections. Surely, this wasn’t an atmosphere for people with their own ideas to be safe. There is no freedom here.
The army is also brutalizing the people, the police have become the opposite of real protectors, and everybody is scared. What will happen to me now that my mother has been Zanufied? How will she fare if the MDC wins the June 27th run-off elections? Will I be made to carry the burden that she put herself in? On the other hand, the 4 000 white farmers, whose farms were grabbed took their case to the SADC Tribunal. The question is: If Uncle Bob retains power, and the farmers win the case on the 20th July, is he[Uncle Bob] going to budge, and immediately trigger a war? If he gives in to the tribunal demands, where is my mother going to go at her current old age, together with my brother and three sisters? Or above all else, shouldn’t I start a political party as soon as possible? A political party that is for land and freedom? A political party based on the full involvement of the poor, the street-traders who have been chased away from their stalls, the shack dwellers whose homes have been destroyed, the people who have been beaten and tortured? A political party in which people like my mother will be able to speak freely and will know that they will not be old and without a place where they can live and look after their children?
Prepared by: Nsingo Fanuel