Notes From Bulawayo December 2011

As I approached the man at the gate he started pleading. “Sorry, I am very sorry but please, please just listen to me.” So I did.

His feet were bursting out of torn, much too small shoes. His tight trousers, for want of a better word, were ripped over both knees and his shirt too, was frayed. His greying hair needed cutting and shaving and he was in tears.

Lovemore Sibanda is one of hundreds, he said thousands, of Zimbabweans being deported from Botswana. He was working in a garden outside his employer’s gate when he saw the soldiers coming. Too late to hide, he was asked for his identity documents which were out of date. “Time for you to go”, said one of the soldiers and, not allowed to inform anyone or to collect any belongings, he was taken to “the stocks” where he spent two weeks. I didn’t ask how he got to Bulawayo. He said he was now on his way to Gweru. Someone had given him one dollar and he needed another four to pay the transport. “I am very sorry, but please can you help me …….” He was going to his mother, a very old and poor lady he said, who would be expecting him to bring her something but he had been working for only a month and hadn’t been paid.

I left him at the gate with coke and biscuits while I thought what to do. He looked so desperate that it might be difficult to get a lift. Maybe, if it seemed as though he had some luggage, his chances would improve. So I packed a green Pick ‘N Pay bag with a few essentials – a cake of soap, a box of matches, a roll of toilet paper, a couple of disposable razors, some nuts and biscuits, a loaf of bread, a box of fruit juice and an old money purse holding some dollars and rands. I couldn’t help with clothes or shoes but I gave him my SALO card which has my contact details.

Friends traveling to Johannesburg through Bulawayo last Sunday after a week on a boat on Lake Kariba left me many delicious left-overs from their trip, some of which Lovemore Sibanda benefited from yesterday. On Monday I took them to the site of Rhodes’ grave in the Matopos resplendent after rain which held off long enough for us to climb up past the inscription

THIS GROUND IS CONSECRATED
AND SET APART FOR EVER TO BE
THE RESTING PLACE OF THOSE WHO
HAVE DESERVED WELL OF THEIR COUNTRY

to Rhodes’ grave and back to the car.

Someone, perhaps during the recent ZANU PF conference held in Bulawayo, has scratched MUGABE IS RIGHT over the words HERE LIE THE REMAINS OF CECIL JOHN RHODES engraved on the simple brass plaque.

During the Zanu PF Conference I was half-expecting to be contacted by certain Zanu PF friends I have recently made during the Great Zimbabwe Scenario meetings but another friend, also attending the conference, said the atmosphere was such that people may be scared to contact me. “They fear that if they were seen with you they would be skinned alive”.

Annie, 19 year old daughter of the domestic workers next door, comprehensively failed her O Level exams last year. Some time later she came to me saying her heart was pained. Her father had arranged for her to be taken to South Africa on some one else’s passport and she was scared. I said she had every reason to be scared and managed to see her mother who was also scared. When the car arrived to collect Annie, she wasn’t there. Her father was initially furious but eventually cooled down. He was placated by the assurance that Annie would now start the moves to get a passport so she can go to SA legally. As a mutual acquaintance said, had Annie gone illegally, “she would have had to pay for everything by her body”.

The first step was to get her national identity card which she did but, before long, said she regretted having done so. She has been told that everyone whose identity is registered with the State will be forced to vote in forthcoming elections. She says she doesn’t want to vote for someone who doesn’t know who she is, how she looks, what she eats and how she lives but she knows that if she doesn’t vote she may be killed. Practicing her English, she says that “elections are leading to the diminution of the population of Zimbabwe”.

Judith Todd
Bulawayo, Friday 16 December 2011