Letter from Zimbabwe

Behind the church premises where I live, in a quiet back street, garbage is piling up. Often I see men, unkempt, in old rags, going through this waste material and picking out items that they let disappear in old fertiliser bags. Since this garbage is what people throw away that are barely surviving in their poverty, one would expect there is nothing of any use to anyone to be found. Not so. Even the smallest scrap of sadza is being picked up.

The City Council is evicting widows and their families from a block of flats — very crammed, dirty, overflowing with sewage — which is reserved for city police. Their husbands left work or died, so the dependents or widows have to leave. All very legal. But causing great hardship anyway.

Where are they supposed to go? This was the great problem of Mbare even before Independence. Life was very insecure then: once out of a job you also lost your house. For some life has not changed much since then.

'Housing for all by the year 2000'. The old advertising spot still echoes in my mind. Aren't the politicians who made these false promises feeling ashamed, and yet continue to make promises, promises? How can they live with themselves? Have they silenced, killed their consciences if they ever had any?

And those who have so little hope left cling to these promises, because no man can live without hope. 'Maybe there will be a unity government tomorrow, then things will improve ...' Poor fools. There is no hope as long as you put your hope in totally corrupted people. How many more times do you have to be fooled before you stop trusting these inveterate liars? There is no hope unless you give up all false hopes.

Today schools reopen, at least they are supposed to. In fact some do, some don't. The number of uneducated children will grow. A whole generation of frustrated, discontented youngsters will hang around our streets, ready to follow any big-mouth promising them food, beer and 'mbanje' (marijuana).

The great headmaster is not concerned. His children's education is guaranteed.

Parents lay siege to church schools to get their children in since government schools remain closed: no teachers. People think that if they can elbow their way in, the great calamity our country is in will not touch them.

A young man, well educated, with several diplomas in his pocket, stole my time by pestering me about getting funds for doing a course in South Africa. Not because he needs that course, but merely to get out of Zimbabwe. The rats are leaving the ship. Everyone is trying to jump overboard and land somewhere better.

Some 'are lucky', some are not, they drown. The leaders' selfishness is monstrous, and many follow their disastrous path.

This week our parish centre was all hustle and bustle. Two workshops ran parallel, both on how to give care to injured, sick people, one for youngsters, one for their mothers. Maybe some people do after all care about one another and show some compassion. Maybe.

This is an excerpt from the In Touch newsletter of Jesuit Communications Zimbabwe.

Oskar WermterFr Oskar Wermter SJ is Parish Priest of Mbare, Harare, and Director of Jesuit Communications in Zimbabwe.

Topic tags: oskar wermter, zimbabwe, mugabe, independence, politics



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