OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: A letter from the diaspora

handwriting_200_132It was impossible to watch the rescue of Los 33 with dry eyes. Even hardened cynical journalists, and there were some 200 of them from all over the world, had tears in their eyes as they watched the unbelievably moving scenes in the Chilean desert as one by one the miners were brought to the surface from their entombment and reunited with their lov

The youngest miner was 19 years old and the oldest was 63; he had been a miner since he was 12 years old and his first act was to kneel and give thanks for his rescue. The last man out was the mine foreman and it was he who had kept the groups morale and discipline together. He spoke about the first 17 days before contact was made with the outside world; they all thought they were going to die. It was only hope that kept them going he said. And the camp the families set up was named Camp Esperanza, a new baby, born while her father was incarcerated was also named Esperanza: Hope. For 68 days these 33 brave men had survived on hope and solidarity as Chile and the whole world watched on their TV screens as first the rescue shaft was drilled down through the rock taking the trapped men a communication cable, then water and small quantities of food. By Wednesday 4 of the men were out and yesterday, Thursday, the last man emerged from the narrow capsule that had carried them up from death to life.

What was it that gave this story its universal appeal? I believe it was the message of hope and the solidarity of the people, from the president of Chile down to the tiniest child that was so inspirational. Miraculous was how some people described it but the miracle was the skill and expertise of the Chilean engineers who had first told the world that it might be as long as Christmas before they could get the men out and always there was the danger that there would be another rock fall and the shaft itself would collapse. That did not happen and all 33 men are now safe and recovering from their ordeal as the trucks and camper vans leave the desert to the dust and wind.

I wonder if ordinary Zimbabweans back at home, those without satellite dishes, got the opportunity through ZBC to see these powerful images that so moved the whole world. The sight of the Chilean president and top ministers mixing freely with the people at Camp Esperanza was a reminder for Zimbabweans of how rarely we see our own politicians interacting so freely with the people, in solidarity with them, sharing their joys and sorrows. I wonder too what the Zimbabwean Minister of Mines has to say about the report on Thursday that child labour is increasingly being used in Zimbabwes mines because families can no longer support their children. Chile and Zimbabwe may be on opposite sides of the globe but the Chilean story has much to teach us about our common humanity. The comment of a new mine owner in the Mazoe district sums up precisely the indifference of so many power-hungry politicians and greedy businessmen to the suffering of the ordinary folk whose children bear the full brunt of poverty. The issue of child labour is neither here nor there, he said, If these children didnt come and work for us their families will have no money for school fees and food. One 15 year old boy told how he earns $10 for every ton he moves on a Chinese-run mine in Shurugwi and it takes him three days to move that ton. Compare that with the pay rise just awarded to chiefs riding around in their new double-cabs. Despite the fact that civil servants had earlier been told there was no more money for them because the Marange diamond mines had not reaped as much cash for the government as was expected, the chiefs allowances have risen from $200 to 300 a month. Reports of fresh diamond finds in Zimbabwe this week suggest there will be more opportunities in future for ruthless mine owners to exploit children while police and fat cat politicians look the other way and the country gears up for elections, empowered by all this new diamond wealth. Hope and solidarity Chilean style are in pretty short supply in Zimbabwe these days.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH. aka Pauline Henson.

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