Conversation with…Gloves for Zimbabwe – UK

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In March 2019, a group of UK-based Zimbabweans started an initiative called ‘Gloves for Zimbabwe’ to supply hospitals in Zimbabwe with gloves by April this year. This was in response to a call from doctors taking strike action to bring attention to hospitals that have essentially crumbled under a non-functioning healthcare system. One of the many images from the strike that hit hard was a doctor holding up a placard saying ‘PLEASE GIVE US GLOVES’ – hundreds of doctors and nurses have been working without basic supplies and medicines, and in some hospitals, that means that even babies are being delivered without gloves.

Currently, 115 men and women make up Gloves for Zimbabwe-UK which is coordinated by Miriam Hakata and Conciliate Mukandatsama. Here’s a conversation with Miriam about the initiative.

Call for Gloves as doctors striked in Harare, Zimbabwe – March 2019

Can you believe how far our health system has fallen?

I cannot believe it. Even though it has been bad for a long time, it’s shocking to me that our hospitals have been stripped down to nothing.

How did Gloves for Zimbabwe start?

Back in March when the doctors in Zimbabwe went on strike, I read a Facebook post by the journalist Hopewell Chin’ono about how bad things had become. He made an appeal for all Zimbabweans to support where they could through the Save Our Hospitals Zimbabwe initiative that he started with all the major hospitals.

I really had to do something and so did a friend of mine, Conciliate Mukandatsama. We decided to start a group to answer the call for help. During the doctor’s strike there was a picture of a woman holding up a sign that read ‘PLEASE GIVE US GLOVES.’ It was hard to imagine that something so simple and cheap and necessary was not even available. When I am at work here, I not only have to change gloves between patients, but sometimes with one patient, I will change my gloves three, four times! I couldn’t imagine how nurses could work without gloves? How can operations be done without gloves? What if my sister or your mother was being operated on without gloves? So, we decided to focus on getting as many gloves as we could to ship back home.

The first thing I did was buy 30 boxes of gloves. Conciliate found a supplier, Brosch Direct Ltd, that would sell us boxes of 200 gloves at a good rate. We were going to fund this ourselves and then see who else in our circle would want to take part.

I then told Hopewell about our plan, he did a post on his Facebook page which spread like wildfire, and we have ended up with over 200 men and women donating gloves or money.

Doctors on strike, Harare Zimbabwe, March 2019

Tell us a little about how the group works.

It’s happened so fast and we have been inundated with so many offers that we have had to get organised fast! Anyone who wants to donate gloves or money to buy gloves can. They post the gloves to me or donate money via Conciliate.

I had several conversations with the Save Our Hospitals Zimbabwe initiative and contacted the Deputy CEO of Harare Hospitals to inform him of our plans. We wanted to make sure that the gloves would get to where they needed to.

How much have you raised so far?

The response has been overwhelming. In less than a month over 200 people have donated gloves or money – and these are not just people in the group. At the end of March (2019), we shipped 230 boxes of gloves with 200 gloves in each box. In total, we received over £1900 that allowed us to buy the gloves, get them shipped and still have money left over.

What help did you get with shipping?

One company had offered us free shipping when we first started but it turned out that it wasn’t quite free, and it also meant that the gloves would only arrive in Zimbabwe in May. That was too long for us to wait because for us, this was an urgent need – now that we knew how bad things were, we wanted to act fast. And, we also wanted to respect and honour all those that had been so generous to donate.

So, we had to search for another shipper and fortunately found Morden Freight Services in Tooting, London who offered a discounted rate when we told them why we were shipping all these gloves. The gloves arrived in the first week of April, just as we wanted!

And are the gloves at the hospitals now?

They are being used in the wards right now! As we worked with Save Our Hospitals Zimbabwe, the gloves were cleared this week by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe and officially handed over to the Clinical Director at Harare Hospital. They were then shared between Harare, Parirenyatwa, Mpilo, UBH and Chitungwiza Hospitals.

Gloves for Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, April 2019

You’ve achieved the goal of Gloves for Zimbabwe by April. What’s next?

We definitely have to continue to answer the call. Right now, we have 200 boxes of gloves and donations are still coming. Our aim is to have 400 boxes at the end of April ready to ship and this time we want to ensure that gloves get to the smaller district hospitals too.

Even though the focus will remain on supplying gloves, we’ll think about including other essentials even though there are other groups out there. One group is focusing on donations for basic items such as painkillers, bandages and syringes. I was home just last week and was touched by the state of Kwekwe Hospital where I visited a friend. It was heart-breaking to see them without blankets and winter is coming soon so the need will be urgent. So, some of us have started an appeal for blankets for Kwekwe. There is so much to do but we want to try and remain focussed to make an impact.

If someone wants to donate, how can they do that?

They can contact any of us in the group and we’ll give them the information on how to donate or send gloves directly to us – £15 buys 3 boxes of gloves with 200 gloves per box. We have been contacted by people all over the world too – the US, Australia, Canada – and what we can say is do just what we did.

You have achieved so much in so little time!

It couldn’t have been done without everyone doing their part, dipping into their budgets to give and spreading the word. We’re so happy that the gloves have got to where they need to be and hope that donations keep coming in.

You can get more information on how to donate to Gloves for Zimbabwe-UK here:

Miriam Hakata: +44 (0) 07985 418603

Conciliate Mukandatsama: +44 (0) 7958 579193

For information on the Save Our Hospitals Zimbabwe initiative, go to: https://sohzim.com

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Conversation with…Tinashe Goronga, Junior Doctor in Zimbabwe

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Tinashe is a 29-year-old doctor at Binga District Hospital. He trained at the University of Zimbabwe and obtained his medical degree in 2016.

He has an interest in human rights including sexual rights and gender equality and serves on the board of The Sexual Rights Centre, a Bulawayo-based organisation that works with sex workers and sexual minorities. He is associated with the Social Medicine Consortium, a collective that fights for health equity with social medicine at its core. He serves on the global leadership of the SMC Global Campaign against racism.

Outside of the clinic, he is a member of the Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe Matebeleland Branch. He’s also a member of East Africa Rising, a collective of young professionals interested in pan-Africanism and development of the continent.

You qualified nearly 3 years ago. Is medicine anything like you thought it would be?

To be honest I didn’t have very high expectations of life after medical school. I thought it would be much easier than it is though, with less pressure and a bit more respect. I thought there’d be less studying, you’d know everything and could solve all problems. I guess it depends on the context in which you work.

I realised I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew! It’s one thing passing an exam but another thing working on the ground and having to solve real problems, especially after being in a system where it was about cramming the knowledge in and not necessarily applying it. Few patients come in with textbook symptoms. You must apply the knowledge, search and work things out.

What was most surprising for you?

I was surprised at how much work I had to put in after graduation. I still had to read just as much as I did to keep up with what’s happening and trying to discover what I was passionate about now that I was in the big, wide world.

It was like starting all over again to be honest!

Tell us about your current job?  

I work as a general medical officer, which is like a general practitioner, at a district hospital in a rural part of the country. Basically, I see all the cases that come in and have to decide if someone needs specialist care or if I can manage them as a general practitioner. I also work in surrounding clinics and do some administrative work mostlyaround planning.

What’s a typical day for you?

I get to the hospital around 8am then do my ward round checking on my new and old patients. Then I go to theatre and do minor procedures and if there is an elective caesarean case then I would do that. After theatre, I go to the out-patients department to review patients who need check-ups. I then wait for emergencies after that.

So, because of the staffing issue at my hospital, usually most of the time I’m the only doctor around so I end up having to cover everything meaning I’m on duty 24/7.

There are no fixed hours really. Some days I can finish duties at lunchtime then it’s just emergencies after that. Other days I might finish my duties at 6pm before I can even start on emergencies.

You obviously love what you do? What else keeps you going?

That’s a difficult one. What keeps me going is my interest in public health and in understanding and learning from my community. The struggles that people in this part of the country face challenge me to find ways to solve them. Sometimes there are moments that are really rewarding – like when you attend to a patient and they get better and you forget about them. Then you bump into them at the shops and they come up to you and tell you how much you helped them. Those moments of gratification sort of keep you going when things are hard, or you are about to burn out.

How did you get involved in these social care initiatives that you’re a part of?

I’ve always had diverse interests but was a bit disappointed in medical school as I had to give some of them up. I was always interested in human rights and environmental conservation; I served on a committee for wild-life conservation before.

In my 4th year or med school, I went for an elective course on social medicine in Uganda where we looked beyond the biological basis of disease. That turned out to be the most exciting part of my educational career up to that point and I knew this was for me.

The following year the Social Medicine Consortium was formed and that allowed me to remain plugged in and find opportunities where I could make a difference. One was the opportunity to serve on the board of an organisation that worked with sex workers and sexual minorities and I took it up because of my interest in human rights. Now with the SMC we are doing a lot of projects one of which is the global campaign against racism. These are some of the things that have kept me going and allowed me to balance my interests in clinical and non-clinical things that indirectly affect health.

We don’t see African men get involved in such initiatives. Is it really that they’re not interested or that we don’t see enough of them. Is it a stereotype? Is it generational? Help us understand!

Phew! Well yes…that’s very true that when you go into some spaces you don’t see a lot of guys involved especially when it comes to gender issues. When you start talking about gender issues, one thing that I’ve noticed is that it annoys a lot of my friends, my male friends – and even environmental issues. So, I guess a lot of it stems from socialisation in terms of how we are brought up. I don’t blame them in a way because I have seen many situations where you hear people imply to someone that they can’t do this because that’s not what’s expected of men.

Even in medical school, guys will opt for the surgical specialities as opposed to community medicine and public health and I think that’s based in some ways on expectations. Then there are gender stereotypes. The moment you start talking about women’s rights, the men look at you, wondering why you are talking about women’s rights and even start questioning your sexuality.

More women are comfortable talking about sexual rights and I guess because women gave been affected a lot more by issues of sexuality and sexual rights and have been victims by social construction, they easily take up these issues. As men, we have always enjoyed male privilege, so we are reluctant to get into these issues as that would mean breaking down systems that benefit us. So that’s my take on it.

What do you least like about what you do ?

What I like most, to be honest, is the travelling. I love travelling! It has exposed me to so much. I love interacting with people who are different to me. It’s boring to constantly be with people like you. I love the conversations that I have with all these great minds no matter where.

I also love the fact that I am doing work that can impact a community rather than just the individual

What do you least like about what you do?

I don’t like that whole sense of helplessness – especially as I myself have struggled with mild depression which can come with that feeling. I internalise a lot of things, so I often find myself feeling helpless a lot of the time –  when I cannot deliver what I know I can because the system doesn’t allow it. You feel powerless without the resources.  I really hate that feeling and often you carry it away from work to your family and friends.

I also end up taking time away from my family which is unhealthy. What happens is that when you have leave you end up using it to attend meetings or conferences meaning that is time not spent with family.

What are some of your other passions?

Art, books and theatre!

Can you share what vision you have for YOU and healthcare in Zimbabwe?

My personal vision really is aligned to social medicine. I’m very passionate about it as it integrates a lot of things – aspects of public health, human rights, environmental issues – a lot – and it offers an opportunity for a more sustainable approach to healthcare. That’s because you are dealing with structural causes that affect healthcare access and outcomes. So, I hope to remain in this field, teaching, contributing to medical education, policy reform and establishing systems. I see myself involved not only locally but on a national, regional and global level because we need more African voices in global health and initiatives that are led by us.

For Zimbabwe, my vision is for healthcare that is equitable especially with what I have seen in the rural areas. There are a lot of structures that need to be dismantled – some of them were inherited during the colonial times and they don’t work anymore. I want to see someone in Binga get the same care that someone in The Avenues or other private hospital gets. And for free. I believe in preferential options for the poor, the needy and the marginalised because these are the people in need.

What’s the mood in the medical community with the current state of the health system?

I can’t say we’re optimistic as things seem to be taking a downward turn. A lot of people are disgruntled and it’s not just doctors. A lot of attention is put on doctors but it’s all healthcare professionals that are frustrated. All of us cannot render basic care. In the lab, they can’t do the essential tests. Nurses can’t give even basic care as amongst lots of other reasons, the nurse-to-patient ratios are not met. Yet we have unemployed nurses…

We feel unappreciated and sadly a lot have and will leave the country. Honestly, it’s stressful. A lot of people are fatigued. Everyone has seen the video of the consultant who broke down on camera. A lot of people are like that – at the edge of a cliff. Keeping sane is tough because you are faced with hopeless eyes and you look back at them with your own hopeless eyes which is not what we trained to do. Seeing lives lost that could have been saved is devastating.

How do you think the current strike will change things? What do you think it will achieve?

The current strike is different though the grievances are the same. This time it has started with the senior consultants whereas before it was the junior doctors that went on strike. It has taken us juniors by surprise to see our seniors strike – it’s usually us that starts them. The reaction has been faster, maybe because they command more respect and also if they withdraw their skills the system will collapse in a day.

We hope this time we achieve more sustainable solutions because we are tired of having to go on strike. We don’t enjoy it. It’s stressful because you’re battling with your conscience, the ethics of it and the backlash from the community. We are definitely not comfortable striking, so we hope something meaningful comes out of it.

However, the real issues to change are the economy, the deprioritisation of health, the policies and structural blocks. Anything that doesn’t tackle these is just dealing with the symptoms and not the cause.

Tinashe, thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt thoughts. We are in awe of you and all healthcare professionals who have soldiered on to this point and know that you are appreciated and are supported!

Thank you! It’s an honour to be featured.

Really, we have so many great minds and I hope we can engage the government to come up with measures to relieve the pain we’re all feeling right now.

Zimbabwe: A Past and Present Future

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I am a pre-independence baby – 7 years old when Zimbabwe supposedly became independent. Yes, by that time my family, like thousands before and after had already left the country to roam as forever immigrants. And I haven’t spent more than four weeks at a time in my homeland on my trips over the years. But I’m not writing about life as an immigrant today…well not that aspect of immigrant life anyway.

This morning, I’m feeling pre-independence anxiety – PIA. Maybe it’s a kind of PTSD.  My medically-trained mind wants to classify it, to make sense of it. I honestly haven’t felt it for close to 40 years. Just that way back then, in the olden days as my child tells me, I couldn’t describe it – not in my native Shona, nor the little English I knew back then.

But I felt it then and I feel it now.

Let me try and describe it. Be my own therapist, because this $#yte in Zimbabwe looks like it’s about to get real. My cousin, my daughter in our Shona culture, now a grown and intuitive and super-smart woman – just told me to trust the body memory – so I will.

It’s a little lump in the chest and a subtle, low-grade churning in the tummy, masked, because on the outside life is pretty good.

I felt it then and I feel it now.

Then, it was a feeling that came with the carefree life of a 5-year-old in rural Zimbabwe that was punctuated with random invasions by unpredictable red-faced Rhodesian soldiers with big guns. A day of continuous play could randomly end with a night where guns were pointed at the heads and chests of those that were assigned to protect and care for me – the Mbuya and Sekuru who treasured their children’s children more than their own children; the maininis who stepped in for our mothers; the sekurus who entertained all of us wazukuru, in a way that no money could pay for today  – until would one day, they disappeared in the woods to fight ku hondo.

I feel this PIA, I suppose a kind of PTSD, as I follow the news feed coming out of our Zimbabwe.

I want to say beloved Zimbabwe but struggle to because a bunch of the worst kind of sociopaths have so disfigured the land, our hearts and our minds. Disfigured to the point where at times we hate our own country and perhaps ourselves so much that we have been known to declare ourselves as South African – when the South Africans themselves don’t even like us.

I tried it once, to be South African. I won’t lie. But it didn’t feel good. It was easy to pull it off though – my surname is classic Sotho as is my round face, fair complexion and solid butt. As I said ‘South…’ I immediately felt bad, really bad, like a traitor. Never did it again after that. Three years ago, I was reminded of how ridiculous my pathetic attempt at defection was when the security office at Oliver Thambo Airport in Jo’burg spoke to me in Sotho or Tswana – not sure which – for a good minute. I gave him a blank look, then he laughed, then I laughed as I proudly said I was Zimbabwean, after which he laughed even louder…with a twinkle in his eye though.

We have been so psychologically disfigured that we are locked in some sort of variant of Stockholm Syndrome. It’s a destructive variant too, because just over a year ago, many of us (not me though) celebrated the emergence of the masterminds behind 38 years of misery and misogyny who were supposedly freeing us from the dictator that was Robert Mugabe and his power-hungry wife. It’s twisted and warped and oh so messed up, but I digress.

Back to the newsfeed. Those of you following developments on ‘shosho’ media or Whatsapp or Al Jazeera will know what that feed looks like. The bitter icing on the cake is the now seventy-two-hour internet shutdown. Those of you who haven’t seen the newsfeed, go to Google and type in Zimbabwe.

I think the PIA stirred a day ago when I watched a video of state police, well let’s call them what they are: thugs, breaking into people’s homes, terrorising them and marching them out at gunpoint. A scene I remember so well. The only difference was back then, the thugs were big and white and very well fed instead of the skinny, black and very underfed brainwashed muppets of the military chiefs in that video. There’s another video circulating on Twitter, that of a boy, age unknown but probably about 9 or 10 years old:

I say age unknown as children in Zimbabwe, even from well-off homes, are small for their age because of malnutrition, plain and simple, after 38 years of misery and misogyny and let me add in ‘plunderation’ – just made that up – by the devils’ aides. Anyway, this boy vividly describes people he probably knows being humiliated and beaten by men with guns. The way he describes the beatings tells you that it’s vicious. I thought of how my young son was traumatised the other day when he saw our cat with its prey, and here you have a boy seeing another human being savaged…what does that do to him? Nothing good of course.

The stirred PIA then became anger and culminated in an overwhelming exhaustion. Later that day, at the office, I told my colleague how ‘mashed up’ I was. She replied, ‘In fact you do look really tired, a funny kind of tired, not like you at all.’ She didn’t know what was going on with the PIA, and quite frankly, neither did I, but it wasn’t right, so I was not like me at all. Or was I? Perhaps I was. Just the 7-year-old me in a 45-year old body.

This morning, PIA is in full swing. I am trying to get on with my day, in my comfortable, warm space tying up the straggly bits on my to do list and the emails that need some sort of closure before they spill into a new week. But the lump is clogging my throat and my tummy is doing backflips. There’s news of men and boys in rural areas being forced out of their homes to camp with soldiers. We can infer plenty when men and boys are taken from their homes; history clearly spells out what that means. The President is out of the country transported by multi-million-dollar jet, paid for with money meant to feed malnourished boys seeing their role models being violated. He’s consorting with Russia and China tweeting about this and that when the internet in his country has been shut down. Just before the 2017 coup that was not a coup the ‘leadership’ was also out and about consorting with other leaders of disrepute and look where we are now. Today, running the country in his absence is a military general who can barely string a sentence together because the only words he knows come out of the barrel of a gun. Then there comes word that these are all the ingredients for a heady cocktail…of war. And meanwhile, our Whatsapp groups, the preferred method of communication with family back home, remain silent.

No good for the PIA.

I wonder, if I feel like this, if we diasporeans feel like this, far away from the maddening crowd, how must those living it feel.

Let me just say it. Cry my beloved Zimbabwe.

Conversation With…Beritha Muzondo, Teacher and Founder of VOW/Women of Valiance

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Beritha

VOW/Women of Valiance was founded in 2017 by school-teacher, mother and wife, Beritha Muzondo, to bring women together to support education in Zimbabwe. In 2017, she hosted the 1st VOW High Tea at Woburn Sculpture Park, Bedfordshire which raised just over £1 400 for Kandava Primary School, Seke Rural, Zimbabwe.

This year, VOW will host another fundraiser, a Ladies Luncheon, on Saturday July 14th2018 at Whittleberry Hall, Towcester, Northampton.

 

 

What’s the inspiration behind VOW?

Well, over the past 4-5 years, I had always been sending school supplies, whenever I could, to Rakodzi High School in my home country Zimbabwe. One year, I collected and donated around 300 library books.

Believe me when I tell you that back in my day this school was one of the best schools there was. This was in Marondera, a high-density area. The head teacher was Australian, most of the teachers were ex-pats and it was well-resourced. But when I went back a few years ago, things were not the same, in fact far from it. I thought, if a school like this with so many donors is in this situation, what about a school with no donors.

A school that came to mind that I knew had little support was Kandava Primary School. One year, during a visit to my family homestead in the rural area, as I was driving through, I saw some children going to school without shoes or uniforms. I thought to myself that I could start with buying uniforms.

I decided to shelve Rakodzi as a lot of people were already supporting them, then focused on Kandava Primary. I asked Kandava if they had orphans and they gave me a list of 120 children. That was way too much for me, so, I asked them to prioritise the children in order of need and I went away and started thinking of ideas to fundraise.

What made you think of a high tea event?

I like to plan events and I plan them well. I bounced ideas from others and a high tea event came out on top.

The venue for last year’s event was exquisite! How did you find it?

I like nice things! And we all deserve nice things. What was important was to make the event memorable, so I wanted a venue that was different, unique, elegant and would allow people to dress up. I wanted people to feel that they were doing something truly wonderful and the surroundings had to inspire that feeling.

Last year’s event featured great speakers and that awesome auction! What can supporters and guests expect this year?

This year it  will again be an inspirational, dynamic and fun-filled event. People really enjoyed meeting each other so this year there will be more time for interaction and networking. There are going to be some dynamic speakers as there were last year and with more audience participation.

For you, what was great about the VOW2017 High Tea?

What was wonderful was that so many supported the event and were so generous with their donations. Tickets were sold out and in the end 196 guests attended. In fact, so far, a lot of last year’s guests already have tickets for this year’s event. The one thing they had to do was bring stationery, books and pens and everyone did. With the ticket sales and the luxury auction held on the day, we raised just over £1 400. This bought uniforms, shoes and paid school fees for 20 children at 2 schools – Kandava Primary and Muchakata Primary. Although the event was not formally sponsored, many gave cash donations.

Beritha Kids

The theme last year was ‘Stop Saying I Can’t and Start Saying I Will’. What’s the theme for this year’s event?

This year’s theme is ‘Starve Your Distractions and Feed Your Focus’. It’s important that guests come away feeling inspired in the same way they are inspiring our young people through their generosity.

What opportunities are there for people to get involved and contribute?

We do have sponsorship packages which include time for sponsors do a short presentation about their business. Sponsors can also be anonymous if they prefer!

What would you like guests to donate this year?

This year we ask guests to bring stationery and books again, as well as clothing which of course must be in good condition. We would also like people to sponsor a child which costs £100 per year. Imagine that £100 can support a child at school for a whole year including fees and uniforms. In fact, last year, one guest sponsored not just one child, but the entire family.

What’s the fundraising target amount for 2018?

This year we aim to raise £5 000 to build a borehole for Kandava Primary.

 

For more information on VOW Ladies Luncheon 2018, contact: info@valiant-women.co.uk

For tickets, contact 07979091582, 07850089572 or purchase via website at: http://valiant-women.co.uk/

Tickets cost £50pp and include a 3-course lunch with tea and coffee

Follow VOW Annual Ladies Luncheon on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/womenofvaliance/

If you are not able to attend but would like to donate to the cause, please contact: info@valiant-women.co.uk

 

 

Zimbabwe at 37: Independent We Are Not

On April 18th 1980 Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, marking the end of a brutally racist white regime and the return of African rule. All that was wrong with our country supposedly became right.

Happy-Independence-Day-2017-Zimbabwe-Images-Wallpapers-Photos-Pictures

Image from: http://independenceday2017images.com/happy-independence-day-2017-zimbabwe-images-wallpapers-photos-pictures.html

 

Today Zimbabwe celebrates 37 years of independent rule. This year more than any other, the proclamation rings hollow, because independent we are not and the only thing to celebrate is the bravery and boldness of those who sacrificed much in the run up to, and since 1980.

I remember independence year like it was yesteryear. My family was living in Jamaica at the time, alongside a whole load of other Zimbabwean expatriates, who had been flung to all corners of the earth by the oppressive and racist white regime of Ian Smith. We attended a ceremony to celebrate the occasion, and even as a 7-year-old, the significance of the moment was not lost on me. The adults were really serious, more serious than funeral serious as up until then, for me, funeral serious was the most serious anyone or anything could be. So this was big. When they sang the new national anthem, the pride in their voices was audible, and the emotion in their souls was palpable.

In my adult years, I came to know that many of the adults that day including my father, had left Zimbabwe when it was Rhodesia with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some had left part-way through a higher education that their uneducated parents had sacrificed much for them to gain. Others had left families, dead and alive. But none, including both my parents, had left without the hope that one day they could return home, free, to resume their interrupted lives, and rebuild the nation they had fought for.

The Pre-independence Years

In my adult years I think back to my childhood, my pre-independence childhood, in rural Rhodesia. In my little world, with my extended family, it was a happy and safe world. But, intriguingly, all the images and memories of that time are always covered in a grey cloud, literally. There is no colour. I figured out that this cloud represented the soldiers that lurked everywhere whenever we went into town. Big white soldiers, with red faces, dirty blond hair, mean mouths and big guns held up against their green army fatigues. They watched our every move and made sure we didn’t go into the stores we weren’t supposed to shop in or the restaurants we weren’t supposed to eat in. To this day I feel nauseous at the sight of anything, absolutely anything, with the pattern of those fatigues whether green, grey or blue.

In my adult years I think back to my uncle, my youngest maternal uncle, a true ‘army vet(eran).’ He ran away at 14-years old or so to join the freedom fighters. I now imagine how heartbroken my grandparents who raised me and numerous other cousins must have felt, not knowing the whereabouts of their youngest child. They never showed us that heartbreak, or even fear for that matter, not even on the night that the white soldiers burst into our kitchen, pointing their big guns at my grandmother, probably demanding that she tell them where her son was.

In my adult years, when you hear of the brutality of civil wars across the globe, I now know that we survived that time purely by grace, My uncle did come home. I have yet to hear the story of how he turned up, but though he must have seen some very ugly things he came back with more joie de vivre than I remember him disappearing with. I saw him every time I went back on vacation; every time until 1996. That was the last time I saw him alive. He had survived a brutal war only to die, one day before Zimbabwe turned 17, at the hands of a regime equally inhumane, an African-led government that failed to respond to the AIDS epidemic, waging war, this time against its own.

Modern-day Warfare

Today that war rages on with different rules of engagement, but a war nonetheless. The shops and restaurants may now be open to all, but far from all can pay for anything therein. The country has run out of money for the 2nd time in 10 years and this time round the government issues a worthless currency, saving the real money for themselves of course. No one who holds a decent job gets paid at the end of the month, any month in fact. To get paid you need to run a hustle or be connected to someone in power. And the icing on the cake, those same people in power say it’s okay to use goats – as in livestock goats – to pay for school fees, while they use the country’s money to fund their children’s education at elite schools around the world.

There is no infrastructure: if you have water and electricity at the same, by default you must be living in the presidential residence. The best roads are at the airport to impress visitors or in the president’s constituency. The capital city is a shadow of its former self. The offspring of the wealthy elite boast that they have never set foot in Harare – way below their worth to do so.

In 2017, any voice of dissent is shut down, imprisoned or disappears. Worse still, the masses are so broken that they have no faith in anyone who stands up to the regime. Where are the leaders in waiting? Not allowed and nowhere to be seen. When they do manage to rise, they somehow falter as there is no fertile ground for their growth.

Today, a Facebook friend posted a video of part of the Independence Day proceedings in Zimbabwe. A procession of middle-aged men, surrounding one very old man, shuffles along to the beat of a brass band playing what I call afro-imperialist music – dreary, overbearing, repetitive, with bars reminiscent of the old colonial days, trumpets on the verge of screeching and drums too loud. These are the ruling elite, Zimbabwe’s new oppressors. Fatigues have been replaced by suits and the weapon of choice is now the dollar. Their mouths remain mean but now their faces are black and their heads bald. There isn’t a woman or young person in sight. Everyone is serious, funeral serious, because this time round there is everything to mourn and nothing to be proud of.

Zimbabwe at 37 – independent she is not.

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Image from: http://www.heraldonline.com/news/business/article145176029.html

 

 

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In the week where the world remembered the mass kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria, as the savagery that is ISIS and the murderous tendencies of US police simmered on in the background, we were hit with a side-blow – xenophobia: South African style. I’m just going to think aloud on this one, as an outsider not privy to, or fully cognisant of the intricacies involved in the evolution of this nation:

We all like to think that when Nelson Mandela was freed in 1994, to declare SA a ‘rainbow nation’, all would surely be well. But in reality nearly 21 years later, South Africans, black, white and every shade in between, are basically just breaching through the perimeter of the misogynistic bubble that is apartheid. As xenophobia again rears its ugly head in SA,  the wide-reaching ramifications of this system again come centre-stage; this is just one of many chapters of the story of the rebirth of a broken nation.

When apartheid was ratified by law in the 1940’s, racial segregation was already woven tightly into the fabric of SA’s society. The Dutch had kicked it all off in the 1700s, with the British duly perfecting the regime in the 1800s. Legislation in 1948 was a mere formality for a totally irrational system where Filipinos were classified as black, because whites worked out that they were…well…black. And yet Malays were classified as ‘coloreds’. Television was only introduced in the 1970s, and when it was, it too was segregated. One cannot believe how ‘nuts’ that system was…and is.

Apartheid means literally ‘the state of being apart’ – and the system not only kept the races within SA apart from each other, but also kept South Africans, especially black South Africans apart from the rest of Africa and the rest of the world. The concept of pan-Africanism is foreign to a significant proportion of black South Africans. Apartheid led to the evolution of generations who knew and still know very little of the great continent to which they belong. My own experience is that this ignorance and insularity is not limited to black South Africans alone either. I have a vague recollection of a conversation with some white and ‘colored’ South Africans soon after 1994, during which it became apparent that these seemingly enlightened individuals couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of the countries neighboring theirs – not a thing. You could argue the same about a lot of other people, but at least Americans could tell you that some Canadians speak French, and the English could tell you that the Germans speak German, and Indians could tell you how Pakistan became separated from India. These South Africans were totally blank when it came to anything about neighboring Zimbabwe, Botswana or Mozambique.

I read somewhere that 65% of the black South African population, is between 15-65 years old. Many in this age bracket have grown up in a world no bigger than their townships, physically and mentally. And some of the harshest acts of mass violence against black South Africans was meted out in these same townships, when this group were children or young adults, a time when thought processes and reasoning are heavily influenced by one’s environment. And their parents also grew up in a world of violence and all sorts of other social injustices – substandard education, inadequate health services, broken family life, lack of cultural evolution. This mass chronic dehumanisation would surely have a disastrous psychological impact. And there are lots of studies about the way in which apartheid affected the mental health of black South African children – some of these same children who are now in that 15-65 age bracket. And forty percent (40%) of this group are unemployed, compared to, and get this, 8% of whites, 18% of Indians and 28% of coloureds. And that 40% unemployment rate eerily matches the 42% rate for education to high school level only.

Surely the great Madiba’s release in 1994 was going to relieve some of this misery. But really, can 300 years of brutality against the souls of a people be reversed by one man, in less than another 300 years? Especially when followed on by a government run by individuals, who despite putting on the right appearances, are products of the same system? I’m going to be controversial here, but this is where you can kind of see where the Castros of this world were coming from, in principle; after your country is liberated from oppressive rule and you inherit a glaringly unfair system where the disadvantaged tip the scales upside down, your first priority is to fix that imbalance pronto. Because isn’t that injustice the reason why you took up arms and got your butts exiled in the first place? So how can you now squander the opportunity to fix that which you fought for? The new SA government should have tackled inequality aggressively from the start. This was an opportunity to show us a new kind of African leadership. But I guess that would have come with too much sacrifice…of self-gratification, wealth and power.

So now you have a sizeable sector of the society that is frustrated and angry because there is no sign of any rainbow as far as they can see. Frustration and anger mixed in with all the other social and behavioural pathologies that apartheid created is a ticking time-bomb. Because SA is still so segregated along colour lines, most black immigrants, the majority of whom are from Zimbabwe, live side-by-side with black South Africans. These immigrants have left their homes with the sole purpose of making a better life for themselves and their families. No one leaves their homeland because they have nothing better to do; when they land wherever they land, they will work hard to fulfil that purpose. Right-wing rhetoric may have us believe the opposite – of course some do not abide by the law of the land and spiral into a treacherous underground of devious behaviour, but this is not representative of the majority.

The perpetrators of this current wave of xenophobic violence see these immigrants creating the life that they should have without realising that the ‘foreigners’ are using skills and education and drive that they, these black South Africans just never had the opportunity to develop. These immigrants never had their psyche bound by the chains of apartheid so they are not subject to the same limitations. Yes, they have their own problems in their own countries, but they are not fresh out of something as sinister as that regime was and continues to be. Unfortunately, living side-by-side means that the immigrants are right in the line of fire of all this pent-up resentment – a mild term for this in fact. The privileged, of all races, are too far away to target, because the type of perpetrator dishing out this violence doesn’t really venture out of ‘his’ immediate vicinity. No, their immigrant neighbor is easier to get to, a soft spot; and besides harsh lessons have been taught in the past about lashing out at the real oppressor: when you revolt against that system, what do you get – the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprisings…

Some have termed this brand of xenophobia, ‘afrophobia’ as a result. But you know, whatever we want to call it, it’s purely academic and just about semantics. What we are witnessing is just ugly and frightening and unbelievably tragic. Reactions have been largely based around calling out South Africans for being hypocritical, because many African countries took them in during their hour of need. That is true and we are free to point that out, but we cannot dwell on that because it will not stop the maddening crowd. The great majority of South Africans, black and white, do not support xenophobic crime – some may be racist, yes – but supporting these atrocious acts is another ball game altogether that they wouldn’t want to partake in.

Instead, it should be about calling out the current South African leadership to be aggressive in protecting the victims and anyone at risk, to bring the perpetrators to justice quickly so as to deter others from following suit; to speak responsibly and appropriately to their electorate so that there is no doubt as to where they stand on the issue of violence against ‘foreigners’; and to get pro-actively creative in addressing – no, fixing – the social and economic imbalance that is the root of this current evil. Apartheid and its creators are  where all this started – there is no denying that. But we cannot go back and undo history. Progress is about being focused on the now with a view to creating a new future that South Africa deserves…that Africa deserves.