We are expecting a flurry of activity from usually invisible Municipal workers who will suddenly start filling potholes, cutting roadside grass and putting up bunting in advance of next weekend. It’s the same every year: whenever government VIP’s are expected in town the carpets of illusion are rolled out and usually apathetic local authorities pretend to be doing a good job.
In a few days time it is Heroes Day in Zimbabwe. Government VIP’s will descend on our towns and cities and brag about how many schools and hospitals have been built, how many school and university graduates we have every year and how this year this has been a bumper harvest. They will not mention 90% unemployment, 3-4 million of our citizens in the Diaspora or banks without money and a collapsed economy. Heroes Day is a long standing partisan event and one at which Zimbabwe’s real heroes, the long suffering ordinary people, are neither mentioned nor acknowledged. These are some of them:
An old woman with home-made walking stick, grey curls and sunken eyes waits, for hours at a time, for the chance to withdraw her government service pension from the Post Office Savings Bank. As time passes she spreads her wrap out on the dusty ground and sits down until finally they tell her: “no cash coming today.” Shaking the dust off her wrap she hobbles away and will try again tomorrow. There is no one to tell, no one who can help her and a government that doesn’t care.
Across the road an elderly man waits for hours outside Western Union to try and collect the $100 his son sent him from the Diaspora. Impeccably dressed in suit, tie and soft grey hat, he leans against the wall; his back is sore and his knees ache but still he waits. After some hours he learns that his wait is also in vain: they have received the transfer but have no cash. Everyone in the queue is in the same boat as him: families split apart and banks with no money.
Alongside the railway line scores of people gather every day. They arrive early in the morning with bags, boxes and cases full of clothes, shoes and other goods for sale. Most of them have endured long and grueling bus journeys across our borders to the south, north and west to buy things to resell back in Zimbabwe. This is what survival has come to for hundreds of thousands of people and yet just fifty metres away the big cars with tinted windows and government number plates swish past ; do they even see the toil of so many?
At a pedestrian crossing on the main highway two women sit on plastic crates on the verge selling tomatoes. When I pass at 8 in the morning they are there and at 6pm that night they are still there, still trying to sell the last of their tomatoes. Across the road in doorways people will settle in for the night, lying on cardboard in shop doorways, their goods piled up behind them, ready to get prime selling positions the next day and because they can’t afford to go home until their goods are all sold.
At the main provincial government hospital a man arrives at the emergency department at 2am. He has been bitten by a dog. The medical staff do nothing; they send him away, telling him to buy the items on a list and then they will treat him: antiseptic, antibiotic, bandages, painkillers. The man limps away; infection is inevitable, treatment impossible. “Health For All” by the year 2000 was the much repeated government promise but it is a far cry from the reality on the ground right now in Zimbabwe. No wonder government leaders seek treatment in Singapore.
The ordinary people are Zimbabwe’s real heroes in 2017, there for all to see, if only you dare to look. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. 4th August 2017.