People who work outside the country are keeping our country alive, writes Cathy Buckle.
The milk in my fridge has a sign on it boasting that it is “Proudly South African.” The cheese, custard, butter, frozen vegetables, fruit juice and mayonnaise have the same sign. The cereals in the cupboard have labels announcing that they are “Proudly South African” so does the rice, coffee and biscuits. It’s the same in the pantry cupboard where the tins, soup, noodles, washing powder and cleaning products all say ‘Made in South Africa.’ This is how Zimbabwe greets 2015.
The sight of many hundreds of people standing in the cold, slanting rain on the road outside the passport office in my home town welcomed in the first week of 2015. For some unknown, bureaucratic reason people are still not allowed to queue inside the building, instead they must line up outside the gates exposed to all weathers, treated like livestock at a sale pen.
In the same week as the monster passport queues the rain had been coming down for days. Many of the roads through the town, so potholed and eroded after months without maintenance, had become almost impassable. Un-cleared storm drains, filled with sand and litter made the drainage problem much worse; uncollected garbage spills out onto roads and pavements, sodden and rotting and everywhere comes news of floods. Stories of flooded bridges and roads, houses falling down, people being swept away in swollen rivers and families having to move to higher ground.
Despite all this trouble at home which needs all hands on deck, still people queue up in their hundreds and thousands to renew their documents in order to get out of the country just a few days into the new year. They have to get back to work outside the country and nothing can delay their departures. These are the people keeping our country alive: Zimbabweans who go to work in South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Zambia and other countries. Month after month, year after year they’ve been sending money and goods back to Zimbabwe to keep their families alive, pay rent and bills and keep their children in school. Every year they hope they’ll be able to come home for good but every year nothing changes.
The latest statistics say it all: unemployment estimated at close to 90%; since 2011, 4,160 companies have closed and 55,443 jobs been lost. And worst of all we can’t even grow our own food anymore; in the first six months of 2014 we imported over US$400 million worth of groceries, most from South Africa.
In our population of 12.9 million people an estimated 3.5 million go backwards and forwards to work in the Diaspora. In the week before Christmas at least 20,000 people a day came in through the Beitbridge border post. They were Zimbabweans coming home for brief but precious family reunions, shocked at what they found at home, shaking their heads at how very, very long this sad situation has been going on. Until they can come home for good we keep the flag flying high as best we can.
After the horrific murder of journalists in Paris this week I join my voice with millions around the world sending heartfelt condolences and saying “Je Suis Charlie.” The pen is mightier than the sword.