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PosOnderwerp: ZIMBABWE- A COUNTRY BROKEN   Fri May 21, 2010 11:49 pm


Tales from a broken country

(an essay from a black woman activist fighting the oppressive black Mugabe Regime, - the same terrorist Mugabe who was supported, put in power and trumpeted out as God’s gift to earth, the glorious liberator from the evil Rhodesian whites, by the same leftist media now suddenly demonising him as if he had ever been anything else but a terrorist….)

by Thandi Chiweshe

“My son is not coming home for his vacation. The major told him so. All leave was cancelled so that the army could “quell the riots”. I am upset. So is my son. This is the third time in as many months this has happened. I regret sending my young son into the army. But what other options are there for a young man without any “connections” in the right places? It was either the army or adding to my list of dependants.

I had watched my son’s “growth” in the army with trepidation at first, but now with anger, sadness, amusement and sometimes guilt. His first assignment was to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was very excited about this. Lots of United States dollars (in his young mind). After a year, he had saved enough to buy a little two-roomed house in the townships. His loyalty to President Robert Mugabe grew. We quarrelled many times. He didn’t understand why so many of my friends and I are active in civil society (which, he was told, is the same as the opposition) or why I didn’t read the state-controlled Herald .

It is not easy to describe life in Zimbabwe today. I have several, sometimes conflicting, identities. The vastly different worlds that I inhabit in any one week make my life a mosaic.

The foray into the Congo is over. My son is back to earning peanuts. Just like all other ordinary Zimbabweans. The ambitious little house extension project has been stalled. At roof level. He has been to his army superiors’ farms to do all sorts of menial jobs — dipping the cattle, slaughtering the pigs and repairing fences. He has seen their wealth and comforts. The majors’ and the colonels’ houses are growing in size and in numbers. My son’s eyes have been opened. Thanks to own goals by the regime. He now reads the Daily News and the Zimbabwe Independent. I am actively aiding and abetting this transformation. I have taken over the house extension.

I am an NGO worker for most of the day and, during the other part, a foreign-currency dealer. On occasion I deal in petrol too. That is where the proceeds to extend my son’s house will come from. Like a privileged few, I earn my salary in British pounds. “What is the rate this week?” seems to be the main concern of my peers in the international NGO community. We are occasionally worried about the price of food or the scarcity of bank notes.

We are irritated by the amount of time we spend in the queue at our “diplomatic garage”. But it’s only an irritation because we know we will get it before the day is over. Many of us with access to forex can afford to buy our own fuel from the many garages that import fuel on our behalf. It’s overpriced, but at least it’s better than the stuff mixed with water that you buy from some ruling party functionary, or what the police “liberate” and sell at roadblocks. Some with forex resell what they buy from garages. After paying US$1 a litre, you can resell at US$2!

None of this makes me a millionaire. It only makes me a one-woman donor agency. Mother Bountiful. An aunt across town needs Z$5 000 to go to a doctor. A sister in another town needs anti-retrovirals. And the one I have been supporting for a while is out of immune-boosting vitamins. The reality of HIV/Aids is still part of the national crisis. But these days it has been forgotten, as they focus only on the politics. Saying hello to a doctor now costs Z$5 000. If she gives you a prescription you can expect to pay nothing less than Z$8 000 for basic painkillers. I have postponed seeing a doctor for the skin rash I have. My health seems to be a small concern compared to what others have to deal with.

I shell out school fees, bus fares and rent for nieces, nephews, distant cousins and Lord knows who else’s relatives. By the time I have paid for complete strangers’ groceries, paid visa fees for a desperate friend of a friend’s cousin who needed to flee, and listened to everyone’s tales of woe I am exhausted. I go round with a wad of cash. Just in case I bump into yet another long sad story. I keep more wads in the linen cupboard. By the end of the week I can’t account for Z$300 000.

My friend calls to say she needs help dealing with the “refugees” at her house. About a dozen women who were displaced from the township after last month’s mass action. Clothes, food, medicines or whatever we can give. The women are traumatised. Several were raped. They want to tell me their stories. I drop off the food and money and disappear. Afraid to embrace their pain.

Guilty that this is a product of my son and his troop’s “quelling mass action”. I am still dealing with the horror I saw at a clinic last week. Burnt arms, singed hair, scarred buttocks, lacerated vaginas. I can’t sleep without taking tablets anymore. When the pain is too much I avoid answering the phone. Tell the kids to say I am not around. How long does it take before one becomes a basket case?

Standing in a supermarket queue in Mount Pleasant just before the Movement for Democratic Change’s “final push”, I was struck by the differences in shopping baskets. In front of me was a gardener’s small family. Huddled around a basket with three items in it: the smallest tube of toothpaste, the smallest bar of soap and the smallest bottle of cooking oil. They argued about whether to buy sugar beans or dry kapenta. In the end they could not afford either. Behind me, two funkily dressed young women and their over-dressed but well-heeled male partners. You can always smell them from a mile off, these nouveau riche. They have too many cellphones, make deals loudly on them so that we can all hear about the millions they are making and their clothing definitely shows they have failed to buy class. These four had among them five trolleys carrying imported wines, crates of beer, tonnes of meats of all kinds, cakes to die for and enough Italian bread rolls to feed a small regiment. They argued over chicken or fish. “We need more foam bath. Take some of those apples they look delish … Oh in case this stayaway lasts longer shouldn’t we get more wine?”

Blessed are they who live in this rarefied stratosphere. It is easy to stay cocooned in this stratosphere. I tried to tell an office colleague about some of the things I have seen in my after-hours role. His eyes glazed over. Disbelief? Fear? Nonchalance? This side of Samora Machel Avenue, the horror stories of our national crisis are best left in the newspaper pages.

However, Zanu-PF’s madness now knows no bounds. Ugly reality has begun to penetrate every strata of Zimbabwean society. An international aid worker was butted on the head with a rifle for smiling “cheekily” at a police officer at a roadblock in the leafy suburb of Borrowdale. A business executive relative was made to sit on the ground and sing “I will never go round without my national ID again”. And of course good old Jonathan Moyo assaults our eyes and ears on the national airwaves each day. Dreadful as it sounds, I am glad the smell has now hit suburbia.

Keeping one’s head down is the worst thing to do in Zimbabwe. Either leave the country, or you stay and fight. Even if you don’t go looking for trouble, it will come looking for you. I have been heartened by my son’s transformation. He hasn’t led a mutiny yet, but I know he is not following orders blindly anymore either. I have been encouraged by the young women I saw lying in hospital — raped, beaten. “We are just waiting for this to heal so we can get out and organise some more actions. We won’t rest until Mugabe has gone,” they told me. I have been inspired by the erstwhile “non-political” mothers’ union in my church, praying to God to “remove this pharaoh from our land. Help us to be strong like David as he faced Goliath.”

As I dance to the very meaningless but melodious Rambai Makashinga (Stay Strong — a ruling party-sponsored jingle played every 30 minutes on all radio stations), I am energised and glad to be part of the rewriting of Zimbabwe’s history.”

Thandi Chiweshe is a Harare-based feminist activist
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