By Cathy Buckle
Despite the mayhem with soldiers trying to take over our census and the brewing storm over our proposed draft constitution, all eyes turned south this week.
With an estimated three million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa, both legally and illegally, for many people our southern neighbour has become a second home.
We all have friends, family and relations living in South Africa; we have their currency in our pockets and ninety percent of the food we eat is imported from South Africa because we still haven’t worked out how to grow our own food on all the government’s seized farms.
It’s not hard for us to follow events over the border because so many Zimbabweans have resorted to satellite dishes and decoders enabling them to receive television channels from South Africa and Botswana.
Our one and only local TV station has such poor programming and is so bombarded with political propaganda that most people just can’t stand watching it anymore. We could be forgiven for at first thinking that what we were seeing on South African news channels was happening in Zimbabwe.
Situations of police using force, usually with baton sticks and tear gas, have become commonplace in Zimbabwe in the last twelve years but we haven’t become immune to the horror of it by any means.
Appalled we watched South African news channels broadcasting film footage of scores of police opening fire on striking mine workers. The police were not wearing tear gas masks, were not wearing helmets and visors and were not holding riot shields to protect themselves.
Instead live bullets poured out of their automatic weapons; the dust rose and a police member wearing a blue beret raised his arm, flinched from bullets flying from behind and alongside him, and with a clenched fist he shouted out twice: ‘Cease Fire.’ When the dust settled many bodies lay on the ground.
South African news channels described a ‘media blackout’ and hospital ‘lock down’ that followed. No one was talking, not miners, not police not hospitals and not family members. It was only at lunch time on the following day, that the police finally held a press conference.
Thirty four miners lay dead and seventy nine injured at the end of what the South African Police called ‘self defence’ and South African media called the Marikana Massacre.
Suddenly the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of South Africa being shocked and appalled about events in Zimbabwe, we looked with anguish and horror at what was happening there.
How could this be happening in South Africa we asked? The most progressive, prosperous country on the continent. The country which boasts the most enlightened constitution in the world and yet police used live ammunition against striking miners and used it to kill.
Since February 2000 countless ordinary South African citizens, churches, civic society organizations and NGO’s have been tireless friends of Zimbabwe. They’ve taken us in when we were on the run, protected us when we were scared, fed us when we were starving, shouted out for us when we’ve been silenced, tended our wounds when we’ve been beaten.
They’ve sent food parcels, blankets and medicines and for years churches and others have continued to fill boxes with groceries for people in Zimbabwe. What can we say to our neighbours now except we are sorry, saddened and shocked. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.