Last week I visited my elderly uncle and aunt in Kadoma, the Gold City. In their part of town, it is all dirt roads. It is no surprise to turn a corner and find oncoming traffic, on your side of the road, as everybody attempts to negotiate the gullies and craters. Only those perched in four-by-fours race through the potholes, leaving those less empowered to fan the plumes of dust from their faces.
On my first morning, I woke up to hear sounds that were incompatible to the urban environment. For a moment I thought I was dreaming. The dogs were yelping madly and above their barking I heard ‘Champion! Komhu, komhu! Champion! Muforo!’
Those who have ever been to the rural areas of Zimbabwe will immediately recognise that to be the commands of a man leading a team of oxen as they plough a field. Pulling the curtains apart, I found – sure as my passport is green – two men, one at the handles of a plough and the other brandishing a cattle whip. Ahead of the plough were four head of cattle, yoked in pairs and feverishly tilling the land of one of the neighbours.
Incredible! The owner of the property supervised from beneath the shade thrown by his half-built house. In the background, vehicles, most of them three-tonne lorries, went by raising clouds of dust. Industry is dead in this town (remember David Whitehead) and a lot of the residents survive on haphazardly burrowing for gold behind any likely bush – that is if they are not living off the oil and gears of their trucking businesses, which are all run from home, disregarding city zoning laws.
Two hours later, the entire plot was tilled and the plough team was on its way. The whip-man directed Champion and the other three mombes onto the street and led them towards the main road.
‘Won’t the plough damage the road?’ I asked.
‘Well, there is no tarmac to damage.’ Aunt calmly replied.
Soon after, another typical rural activity was presented before my sight. Across the street, at another neighbour’s home, I saw a young woman of about 20 lowering a bucket at the end of a rope into a well. A moment later she hauled it out and emptied the water into another bucket. Even from this distance, the murky brown colour was apparent, matching the dust rising from the road. She coiled a java wrap into a thick cushion and set it on her head. Bending her knees she lifted the bucket full of water and placed it on her head. Auntie grabbed the opportunity to bring up a perennial subject:
‘You know nephew. The sight of cattle – idzo dzinotsika – reminds me that we still wait to see our muroora.’ ‘In due time, Auntie.’ I replied.
But she refused to be dismissed. She pointed to the girl in flaming red hipsters and wrap-around dark glasses, totally incongruous with the bucket on her head.
‘What about that one. She works very hard. Every hour you see her at that well fetching water. We haven’t seen tap water since 2004 so everybody here has a well. If you marry her she will fetch water for me.’
My phone rang. ‘Auntie, I must meet someone in town. I’ll be back at lunch.’
Literally saved by the bell, I left my auntie’s home and followed the trail left by the plough, a deep gash which, aided by the wheels of ubiquitous lorries, will create even deeper gulleys once the rain begins to fall in earnest, come November. Flies frenziedly buzzed about over the dollops of cow dung left in their slipstream. As the town centre loomed, I saw some of the more fastidious townsfolk stooping to wipe the dust off their shoes and ankles.
Nearing the city’s sole traffic light – which has not worked since 2000 – I found myself revisiting the previous night’s chat with my uncle.
Uncle was a rabid Dembare fan in the old days. Once he took me to Rufaro Stadium. In the Vietnam stand, each time Moses Chunga raided down the wing, the spectators whistled and shouted ‘mombe mumunda!’
I don’t think this was what they meant.
Last night uncle took me down the conflicted road of the pre-independence era.
‘We couldn’t just wander about town without reason. The British South Africa Police would have said, “Hey boy. Hini wena funa? Ipi loPass?” In our own country we couldn’t travel freely. We needed to carry passes as if we were crossing borders. Now we are free. But the freedom came at a price.’
I was very young at the time and did not witness the pass laws first hand. However I did see the final years of Rhodesia. It was an oppressive government but boy were they efficient. But if you ask me which I prefer, Zimbabwe now or Rhodesia back then, I will say neither. I prefer the Zimbabwe of 1980-1985. Beyond the 80s, the rot had begun. I don’t pine for Rhodesia, an era when one group oppressed and systematically excluded another. I long for the Zimbabwe where urban laws were respected and where the system functioned. I yearn for the 80s, when chirping crickets lulled me to sleep and I woke up to birdsong, rather than the drone of electric generators. In that pleasant bygone era it was milk bottles that we found on our doorsteps, rather than blobs of wet steamy cow dung.
Those that bury their heads in the sand see things differently:
‘That’s bull dust! Cattle manure! Look at me. I own a mine, I own a farm. Things are better now. You are a puppet of the West. Zimbabwe will NEVER be a colony again, until the cows come home!’
Well now. The cows have come home. Perhaps it is time to look beyond ownership of our country and focus instead on making it work and flourish once again. – My pen is capped. Jerà. feedback: [email protected]Post published in: Opinions & Analysis