All shapes and sizes

I will call him Tawanda. That's not the name he told me, and I'd bet US$1,000 the name he told me is not the one his mother gave him, so his identity is safe.

You have probably met him. If you ever catch a bus at Mbare Musika, he and his colleagues (or competitors) will have tried to hustle you on to a bus to Masvingo when you wanted to go to Karoi, or as you dismounted from a bus with luggage you could carry better without help, he may have rushed up with a handcart.

He is trying to help – and to make a few dollars for himself in a harsh economic environment. He and his friends (or competitors) are friendly, helpful people. But my dutiful daughter, Mai Panashe, is not happy to see me chatting with Tawanda and his friends (or competitors). “Those guys are dangerous,” she says.

But surely anyone who is friendly deserves a friendly reply? Of course, they will often ask for something to drink or smoke, and if I have something less dangerous than Zed or their favourite weed, I will oblige. But I won't give them money. If they have had a good day, they will quite likely offer to share what they are smoking or drinking.

One day recently, I needed a smoke after a hard day, bought two cigarettes for a rand, and then I met Tawanda. He asked for the last puff on my cigarette. I gave him the second cigarette, and his gratitude was boundless. I seemed to have made him my friend for life. Then I remembered Mai Panashe's warning.

These guys are not only bus touts and luggage porters. They are the first candidates for employment when the local warriors of the third, fourth, fifth or whatever Chimurenga want a bit of jambanja. I asked myself how much they would pay him if they wanted me dead.

I asked one or two friends. None of us could imagine a price higher than a packet of cigarettes or a small handful of mbanje.

Now don't get me wrong. Tawanda really is a friendly character. Left to himself, he'd rather offer you his bottle to empty than smash the bottle in your face. But he's not left to himself. Those guys know how to approach him when he's had a bad day, and they won't waste resources by offering him any more than the minimum price.

I know all this. I knew it when Mai Panashe was not even a twinkle in her mother's eye, so I know Tawanda may be as much a victim as anyone he beats up. If I offer him a cigarette or a share of a scud, that's not a bribe. There are days when a few friendly words from someone who doesn't despise him mean more to him than enough mbanje to keep him stoned for a week. Maybe I help him to think. I wish I could do more to get him out of the trap he is in.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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