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By Cathy Buckle

Moneyweb: Independent Writing and Editing Professional


Life in Zimbabwe: If only we would speak out and stand together

Need to go to the bank? I don’t think so, not today – in fact not any day between about the 20th of one month and the sixth of the next.


It’s been a long time since I described what everyday Zimbabwe looks like. Come, walk in my shoes, have a look. Our economy and our life is on the pavements, at the intersections, on the roadsides, under the trees.

Need toilet paper? There’s a guy on the corner of those two streets. Buckets, mops, brooms? Go to the lady under the tree near the deserted factory. Shoes, socks, tights? The woman with the toddler near the government offices has a big selection. Need a new pillow? There’s a man in a red car at the roundabout and he’s got beautiful duvets and blankets, too.

Fruit and veg? It’s everywhere: on pavements, under trees, in city centres and suburbs, at stop streets and traffic lights, at taxi ranks, outside hospitals. Phew! This is easy-peasy shopping – no tax, no trolleys, no queues, smiling people so grateful for your patronage.

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How about lunch? Doughnuts on that corner, boiled eggs and buns under that tree, a guy roasting corn on an open fire near the hospital. Sausages and chicken pieces from a lady over there. Salt in a little twist of newspaper; hot “piri-piri” squirted out of a little bottle.

Roasted peanuts sold by the handful. A stick of sugar cane if your teeth are up to it: bite, grip, pull, spit, chew, juicy, divine!

This is the face of Zimbabwe 43 years after independence and six years after the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe (the coup they said wasn’t a coup, that is).

There are still no jobs and to survive everyone is “at work” under the trees, on the pavements, sitting in the dust in the sun or wind, day after day. Miss a day and they can’t meet their rent, pay school fees, buy their meds.

Let’s go to the Bend Over Bazaar. Sounds exotic doesn’t it? An intriguing name. There it is, along the path by the railway line. Mountains of clothes, tops, dresses, jackets, jeans – you name it, they’ve got it.

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You bend over and choose what you want, try it on right there in the sun, in the open, pull it on over your clothes or hold it up to your top or your waist.

Slip your shoes off and try a pair from that pile there, or there, or there. Competition is fierce at the Bend Over Bazaar but still the ladies call to each other – “Anyone got a size 12, blue?” They are all looking out for each other; this is how Zimbabwe survives.

Need to go to the bank? I don’t think so, not today – in fact not any day between about the 20th of one month and the sixth of the next. Hundreds wait in line, for hours at a time, to redeem cash sent to them from relations in the diaspora, to withdraw their pay, to try and get their pensions. It’s too depressing.

Let’s take a little drive. A few blocks off the centre of the capital Harare, a guy in his mid-20s gets to the middle of a chaotic intersection. Chaotic because the traffic lights aren’t working, as usual. Chaotic because no-one gives way, traffic pushes forward, vehicles cut you off, crowd you out.

Quick, push, squeeze, slam on brakes, get stuck in the gridlock, hope no-one hits you. Aaaah, nightmare.

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But then comes this young guy, dark green shorts, black T-shirt, green woolly hat. A small rucksack on his back, he fearlessly makes his way to the middle of the intersection and starts to direct traffic. It’s a sight to behold, one unemployed young guy calming the mayhem.

He pivots on his toes, swings from one direction to the other, whistling, pointing, stopping vehicles on that side, gesturing others to go from the other side. Amazingly, people follow his signals and, in a few minutes, he’s cracked it and we’re moving again. I smile and wave as I get through, he nods in acknowledgement and turns back to the task.

If it’s this easy to resolve chaos, where are our leaders?

Let’s head into the suburbs. You can get anything here – a blast from a compressor, shoe repairs, a mechanic or a hairdresser. On every piece of open ground someone’s grown a crop of maize and people are reaping everywhere. A bucket full, sack full, wheelbarrow full. Brown, dry, curled leaves lift up into the wind.

Men, women and children are picking and throwing cobs onto piles, toddlers sit on their moms’ colourful wraps in the dust. Small street cars – Honda, Nissan, Toyota – are all out there, lurching over contours, driving through the stubble to their self-apportioned squares of land, boot open, doors open, maize cobs thrown in until it reaches the ceilings.

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When the burnt caramel sky has slipped away and the halfmoon is up in the inky darkness, come outside with me. It’s cool but you don’t need a jacket. Take your shoes off, feel the cooling earth under your feet.

Look up, watch for shooting stars, listen for the calls of nightjars, let the light of the pale yellow moon fill your heart, feel its pulse moving your feet.

This is our beautiful, fragile, harsh Zimbabwe. Every day, these special encounters are there to see if only we let ourselves come out of the bubble and look.

We know the overwhelming burdens people carry and every day, every step of the way, we try and help each other. We know everything’s in a mess but we could fix it, if only we would speak out and stand together.

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Emmerson Mnangagwa Zimbabwe