I wonder how many Zimbabwean children have ever seen a train!

This morning I had a most interesting thought!

Tendai Ruben Mbofana

 

I am not exactly sure how and why, but it just came to me that, due to the horrendous destruction of our economy by the country’s ruling establishment – which has resulted in the disappearance of so many things that other citizens in foreign lands take for granted – most children in Zimbabwe have actually never seen something as simple as a train.

Where would they have seen it, when all those bellowing locomotives pulling their heavy-laden wagons, which we used to witness criss-crossing our towns and cities’ industrial areas – either delivering much-needed raw materials, or carrying finished goods ready for the market – have since vanished into thin air, after the mass collapse of our manufacturing sector due to economic meltdown, which made business unsustainable?

All we have left are old worn-out railway tracks – which have also long been buried under soil and tall grass, because of disuse.

This is not to mention our passenger service that ceased effective operations eons ago – with the few remaining trains not only being ramshackle eyesores, but a real danger to public safety, as they appear as if they could just dismantle mid-trip, or the floor simply collapsing from underneath travellers.

I began wondering how our children – and by children, I am being extremely liberal with the term, as this can go up to twenty something year olds – would react, if they were to travel to a neighbouring country like South Africa, and see the Gautrain, for instance.

Would their excitement not be as someone who has just been to paradise, and seen the angles of God themselves?

This reminded me of my own little experience decades ago, when I was chosen to represent Zimbabwe and the southern African region, at a Boy Scout Jamboree in Australia, in 1988 – when I was in form two.

On my return, after a two-month stay, I was so over the moon such that, when my parents, uncle, and cousins fetched me at the then Harare International Airport, and we were now driving home – one of the first things I enthusiastically told them about Australia, was the presence of little buttons on traffic lights (robots), which pedestrians could press, should they want vehicles to stop, so as to make way for them to cross the street.

I was so shocked, or should I say humiliated, when – at one of our own robot-controlled intersections in Harare – my uncle pointed to the same button…right here in Zimbabwe!

Well, for a boy born and bred in the small town of Redcliff – which not only did not have (and still does not have) any traffic lights, with our neighboring city of Kwekwe only having one robot-controlled intersection (in 1988 it had none) – it was not particularly surprising that my knowledge of this technological feat was somehow sketchy.

However, today – whereby an entire country has become worse than some small town – I can just imagine the plethora of developments that our children have never laid eyes on.

What about a real manufacturing company – whereby, goods such as motor vehicles, and large equipment are produced at industrial scale?

How many Zimbabwean children can say they had seen these?

When we were growing up, we had our own local ZISCOSTEEL – which, at its peak in 1990, produced about 1 million tonnes of steel, whilst employing over 8,000 workers.

Who can forget those school trips to this regional iron and steel making giant – where we were all mesmerized by the massive blast furnaces, sweltering coke ovens, and those hardworking employees dangerously, but most skillfully, catching red hot iron with their tongs, as it was thinned to the desired size?

Sadly, ZISCOSTEEL, which was government-owned, collapsed in 2010 – primarily due to rampant high-level corruption, and gross mismanagement.

Yet today, our children have been deprived of the opportunity to even visit a car assembly plant – as the country’s biggest assembler, Willowvale Mazda Motor Company (WMMC), which once produced over 18,000 vehicles per annum at its peak in 1997, soon plunged to 4,000 just before shutting down it assembly line in 2012.

All they have to see are huge empty dilapidated buildings – whose purpose, I am sure, never ceases to baffle them, majestically standing in areas that show that something big used to take place…but, what!

As for ZISCOSTEEL – this has been turned into a comfortable home by troops of local baboons and monkeys!

In fact, as much as the country’s land reform program has been touted as a resounding success by its proponents – it would not be surprising if most of our children, especially from urban areas, have also never seen a functional and successful farm.

Why?

Well, when we were children ourselves, the road linking Kwekwe and Harare was strewn with one huge farm after another – which were filled with such crops as wheat, cotton, tobacco, and maize – that we used to enjoy admiring on our family travels.

However, on my recent trip to Rusape with my beloved mother, we could not help watching in utter dismay at the barrenness of this entire regions between Kwekwe and Harare – which made me sarcastically comment that, all those trees growing (that appeared no older than twenty years, and standing out sparingly in the midst of shorter grass, which clearly used to be agricultural land) were actually “Mugabe’s trees”, as they are as a result of his chaotic and violent fast track land acquisition program.

Let me not even go into tap water – since, it would not shock me at all, if some urban children, particularly in parts of Harare and nearby Chitungwiza have never experienced the joys of a shower, as nothing has ever come out of their home taps in decades.

The only life they know is that, water is fetched, in large heavy containers, from far-off boreholes – where they have to queue up for hours on end.

Could this generation be more disadvantaged, and denied the benefits that other children in the southern African region, and even abroad, enjoy?

It is truly tragic!

How will they react on their first visits to countries as South Africa, Botswana, or Zambia?

Will they be overly-excited as happened to me when I first gleened those traffic lights, with their cool pedestrian buttons in Australia?

As least, it turned out that we actually had the same in our bigger cities – however, for our sad children today, there is nowhere else in Zimbabwe to search.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, and social commentator. Please feel free to contact him on WhatsApp/Call: +263715667700 / +263782283975, or Calls Only: +263788897936 / +263733399640, or email: [email protected]

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