By Chenayi Mutambasere
Zimbabwe being a Christian Country the festival of Christmas (with or without) has always been held with utmost importance. Growing up in Zimbabwe Christmas was a time for everyone – in the 80s everyone rich or poor partook in festive celebrations of some kind.
It was always a buzzing time and the one time young Chenayi extremely enjoyed the trips to the rural areas. Well enjoyed the trip I did but not much more than the trip in the week before where you went to Sales House or Edgars to buy your Christmas outfits.
These outfits would remain your Sunday Best for most of the coming new year. Infact on our return from the rural homestead that first Sunday School back saw every child from the neighbourhood in their Christmas new clothes.
The evidence being siblings would either be in exactly the same gear or some slight colour variant of exactly the same outfit. Not sure whether it was the clothing store that had limited range or some degree of lazy parenting 😊. That was Christmas.
On the actual day there were minimal chores for us children at the rural homestead anything that had to be done was done early morning so that most of the day was spent dancing and feasting.
The ‘varooras’ aka my mum and aunts would organise an efficient production line of cooking and preparing chicken, beef, salads and ofcourse RICE. You had to have rice at Christmas and if you were going to go all out then rice and potatoes but rice just had to be there.
My uncle would make his way to the bottle store to return with a truck load full of crates in the back of his blue Mazda B500. What a joy we would sit by the tree play music and devour the crates with great delight.
Today for my family those Christmases under the tree are but a distant memory existing mostly in our minds and some captured in family albums. The homestead is mostly lonely aside from its silent occupants who gather slowly but quickly under a different tree.
All my uncles and aunties since gone before us. Of course death comes to every family at some point but like many other Zimbabwean family with a life expectancy of c.60 years death’s sting comes but prematurely.
All have fallen long before they have had the honour befitted to their parents before them of experiencing the gift of grandchildren. What also seems most painful is a feeling of lack of access to a fighting chance to life.
Now that most of us have travelled and/or live abroad we are aware of how functioning health systems improve access to healthcare thus prolonging lives as much as there is no choice in death the thoughts of ‘What if’ never completely leave your mind.
What if the local doctor had been around instead of doing locums abroad, would he have diagnosed the condition and treated before it got worse?
What if there was a local cancer health service in Masvingo would diagnosis been quicker and life prolonged? What if there was access to state of the art hospital equipment in Zvishavane so one would not wait to be taken to Harare how would this have saved them? What if….
As we reflect on the loss of death we also reflect on the loss of family to opportunity. Growing up everyone seemed literally to be at arm’s length. Infact for this reason we cherish even the family disputes sisters fell out, brothers fell out , of course only briefly but it happened because they lived life together. They laughed together, cried together and argued together because they were in each other’s lives. The closest most Zimbabwean families now experience this is through the superficiality of whatsapp groups or other social media groups.
At most you will have one member dare to leave the social group to register their discontentment and resume when added back. In a family of 4 girls I can assure you we have broken up and reformed quite a number of groups of just the 4 of us.
But we can never experience life in the truest sense because we are all in long-distance relationships with each other, with our parents and any extended relatives. It’s a tough situation people you laughed with for most of your childhood you now probably speak to once or twice a year owing to time difference or just distance in general.
And the saddest part of course is the diaspora offspring who grow up with little or no appreciation of other relations outside of their siblings. Some may argue its by choice but I think when circumstance cause you to move in certain ways the element of choice is only but limited.
I recall all this to for a brief moment relive what it once was like to be Zimbabweans that which united us was far greater. I remember living in a small city and pretty much knowing or being known by everyone in that neighbourhood by name.
I daren’t do anything naughty in public as my parents would hear of it long before I could say Bob’s my uncle. Infact even turning up in certain shops you would hear the remark how are you Chenayi – How is your mum etc?
You never wondered about the stranger you just knew that they were a member of your community whom you may not have known by name but you would accord them some respect as a child and them an adult. That was the communion of being Zimbabwean.
Alas dzangova ndangariro, what would our fallen family heroes make of what we see now. This morning I was woken up with extracts from the local national paper citing deaths caused by Machete attacks over Christmas whereby an individual succumbed to the injuries caused.
This follows other video recordings in the month up to Christmas that I for one did not have the stomach to watch but instead read comments from others where civilians were being attacked by these machete wielding gangs. How have we come to this?
Most of the media entries do not immediately provide any names of the perpetrators infact it’s not particularly clear of their origins either. What has happened to our Zimbabwean Community spirit, how have we arrived here as a peace-loving nation?
I list 3 potential woes that might be contributing to this deeply disturbing and saddening crime.
- Rise and Rise of drug culture. There is a saying an idle mind is the devil’s playground, or indeed that the devil makes play of idle minds. There is a generation in Zimbabweans that are being churned out of school where they have made it to either A levels or O’ levels without any access to career or business opportunities. The same group are further increased by undergraduates who are also facing the same problems. Most of this generation are aged between 18-30. No career opportunities meaning the country cannot exhaust their potential. Instead we are these young adults turn to a life of drugs ultimately leading to crime.
The Zimbabwe Health Authority made a feeble attempt at banning Bronco which is a cough medicine, but this continues to be widely available on the streets. Because of Bronco many young adults especially male are estranged from their families, ‘because of the euphoric stupor’ this leads to turning to criminal activity in part for survival and diminished moral compass.
In 2018 it was highlighted that c.45% of mental health cases were drugs induced. In some of Zimbabwe’s populous suburbs haulage trucks are reportedly seen distributing the drug which is then sold in the street at a low value.
It is further reported the drug dealers make a near 100% profit on the sell of these. A quick scan indicates little if anything is being done by government to address this.
Research indicates that there is empirical evidence that drug culture increases gang crime with the severity of the crimes committed also related to the extent of poverty. Are these Machete gangs a product of an as yet uncapped drugs culture amongst the young male adults?
- Poverty and Crime. There is an old saying a hungry lion is an angry lion – as mum I can confirm the same applies to humans, if you have spent time with a hungry baby you will surely agree to this statement. Young people leaving school are immediately faced with the reality of unemployment which means they have limited access to income. According to the world bank stats, 74% of the population in Zimbabwe are living on less than $5.50 a day . The trade unions state that the jobless rate is as high as 90% in 2017. Has things have gotten worse one can hazard a guess that this has either stayed the same or worsened with the worsening economic crisis. Amongst this 90% are those who have never been able to secure employment and also those who were once gainfully employed but have been made redundant by their companies citing economic crisis.
Research suggests that being unemployed, or inactive has a large negative impact on one’s mental health with a larger impact being felt by man rather than women. It should not take much capacity to imagine the lows that come with having hopes and ambitions as a young person of school going to age only to the end of the line and there is nothing for you to do than to scrounge for menial opportunities such as working the mine shafts or being a lone gold panner.
Indeed some have taken to being adopted by the real crime masterminds to threaten or cause mayhem to those interrupting their corrupt profit gaining ways. For these young people it’s a matter of survival of the meanest. Their ‘State of Mind’ no doubt playing a contributing factor in them committing these heinous crimes.
It has been reported that some of these Machete gang crimes are aligned to the ‘Makorokoza’ aka gold panners where young men especially undertake small scale gold panning which they sell their minerals for low cost to middleman who represent the high-end profit seekers.
All these transactions are undertaken informally without any price controls, it’s a possibility that these wars emanate from pricing or market competition. These would not exist in a formal sector that ensure they were well rewarded for their efforts and were enabled to undertake their trade in a safe and equitable manner.
- Government Instigate Violence. In the last 2 years Zimbabwe has witnessed unprecendented levels of state violence on civilians. Whereby prior November -17 (now dubbed ‘Black November’) police would not hesitate to release tear gas or even use baton sticks on demonstrating With 2018’ August the first we witnessed soldiers/police open live ammunition on civilians killing 7 innocent lives. Less than a year later in January 2019 live ammunition was again used on civilians. The level of political violence incited by the state gives rise to a desensitisation toward the protection of human life or lack of it thereof. State has proven that life is not necessarily precious and can be taken at the behest of an irresponsible command from leadership. This meaning that the community spirit of we are one or indeed that we value each other’s lives is being eroded by these careless callous government displays.
As we bring 2019 to a close and enter Zimbabwe’s 40th year from independence we must re-ignite in all of us the togetherness we once knew. We can only plead with the incumbent government to at the very least respect human life so that that becomes a standard that every Zimbabwean rich or poor, young or old lives by. The degradation of social values as caused by the socio-economic and political crisis has reached such a low in 2019 one can only hope the only way is up from here.
Every Zimbabwean continues to have an inherent responsibility to play a part in the reformation, restoration and renewal of our beloved once upon a time peace-loving nation.
As we hang on to the hope of the promised land it seems befitting to say Happy New year folks see you in 2020!!!
Chenayi Mutambasere (Msc Development Economics and Policy) is the MDC UK and Ireland Province Secretary for Industry and Commerce. You can follow her on Twitter: @ChenayiM