Joram Nyathi Spectrum
Over the Easter holiday, while most good Christians were looking up in the sky, I went home in Mberengwa.
That journey would take me as far as Bulawayo, along the Beitbridge Highway, from the small town of West Nicholson, which used to be the heart of beef production in Matabeleland South.
Those who have used the Beitbridge-Bulawayo, or Beitbridge-Masvingo highway, will recall a common sight along those two roads. And sometimes the cause of many fatal accidents; donkeys. Either they are grazing by the roadside or they are “loitering” on the tarmac.
The donkey is one of the most stubborn animals. Scientists might help us here: often donkeys behave like they can’t hear the sound of a motor vehicle approaching, regardless of its size. The result is that they are often hit by huge haulage trucks, and we see their rotting carcasses by the roadside, especially us from the southern parts of the country.
Because much of the region is semi-arid, donkeys are highly prized. They are more drought-resistant than cattle. They provide draught power; we use then to carry bags of maize to the grinding mill or to pull the scotch cart, to fetch water and firewood or to ferry the sick to the nearest clinic or hospital.
Occasionally cattle herders still ride on donkeys. This beast of burden.
The scenes of dead donkeys by the roadside were no less on this particular trip. I can’t recall how many we observed as we drove to Bulawayo and back to Mberengwa, my nephew Elton and I. There were several of them, and we were talking about how people let their livestock wander along such a busy highway, and the losses people risked when their cattle or donkeys were killed by haulage trucks or caused road fatalities when they were hit by buses at night.
Elton used to work for a Boer orange farmer in the Beitbridge area. He is a mechanic.
This Boer farmer, he is late now, was as racist as they come. So he used to clash with Beitbridge East MP, Honourable Kembo Mohadi. Because of the way this Boer farmer, let’s call him Derick, I can’t remember his actual name, abused his black farm labourers; not workers.
Elton told me about Derick as we drove to Bulawayo and we were passing so many dead donkeys by the roadside. He said Derick was always cursing and wondering aloud why God created blacks. He said blacks were not human beings. So he had no problem unleashing his bulldogs on his workers at the slightest irritation. So this angered Mohadi, and they clashed, and wanted Government to take over his farm.
So one day as Elton and his Baas were driving along the Beitbridge-Bulawayo Highway, they observed a herd of cattle crossing the road. There was no herdboy in sight.
Derick shook his head, says Elton. He then stopped the truck. He asked Elton to count the number of cattle. “How many are they?” he asked. “Fifteen,” responded a bemused Elton. “And they look good. How much do you think one beast would cost?” asked Derick.
Elton was not so sure, had no clue where this interrogation was headed. So Derick helped out. “Let’s say each beast is worth $300. Multiply that by 15? That gives you $4 500,” said Derick, and Elton nodded in agreement. He was still unsure if Derick wanted to buy the cattle or just killing time as he drove with his nigger by the side.
Then a sudden burst from Derick; “That’s why I always say blacks are not human beings. I wonder why God created you,” he glared at a terrified Elton. “You see, if you went to the owner of these cattle right now, you will most likely find him sitting in his sooty hut, eyes teary, everything as poor as a typical villager. His children are probably poor, are hungry and not attending school. Yet this baboon leaves $4 500 unattended on the road,” hit out Derick. “I honestly don’t know why God created you people.”
Elton said it was the one occasion when Derick said a painful truth about black people. And as we saw more dead donkeys by the roadside, and a cow there, I began to gauge the scale of the loss. Nobody seemed to care.
But the villagers we passed by the roadside didn’t look some of the richest people by way of clothing. Yet daily, valuable livestock was being wasted. If one were to talk to them, they would vow they had no money. By which they meant they didn’t have American dollars.
They are not alone. Ask Education minister Lazarus Dokora.
The story of Dokora and the goats broke out while I was in Mberengwa.
I belong to the old school type. Our parents didn’t own much. So chickens, amacimbi, fried termites, mice, homebrewed beer or ithothotho, practically anything could be sold to pay school fees. Livestock was a last resort. When everything else had failed. When the next last alternative was to drop out of school because your parents could not afford school fees. Or your little sister was married off, which would be a reprieve for just a term because there were other demands to be met from amalobolo.
I was therefore, shocked that Dr Dokora’s goat story had become an instant, global bestseller, something bizarre. It was like he had discovered the root of a stone, or had done the unthinkable, the most ridiculous or outlandish. I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh at this generation born and suckled on the American currency they can’t generate.
The real problem with Zimbabweans is that we are too vain, especially the urbanites. We love Hollywood and want to live its fairytale in our poverty. Witness how even the poor of the poor will tell you they don’t watch ZBC TV, and will readily install a satellite dish on a shack resembling a village latrine.
We are obsessed with the Kardashians. Everyone wants to drive a car. Many are daily sinking into debt through consumptive borrowing from loan sharks so they keep up with the Kardashians. So the outside world must know we are more “civilised” than Dokora.
I am talking of people whose parents wake up before dawn every morning to go and order tomatoes and vegetables at Mbare Musika for resale to feed their families and send their children to school. They save part of the proceeds to pay the rentals and for the market stall.
It’s the same people pretending they can’t understand how a goat can be used to pay school fees as proposed by Dr Dokora! It’s these same vain people who, instead of buying vegetables or tomatoes from the old lady selling by the supermarket, would rather be seen inside, with the Kardashians, pushing huge trolleys up and down the aisle, only to emerge, surreptitiously 40 minutes later, clutching five leaves of rape worth 30 cents.
They can’t grow vegetables in their own small yard because neighbours will “think” they are poor, have no money. They laugh at carpenters who make furniture in the informal sector, who can secure orders of $2 000 from big retailers on a good day.
Zimbabwe did not invent barter trade and won’t be the last country to use it when necessary.
As I drove back home from Bulawayo, and I was thinking of my herd of cattle, I had a new appreciation of their value after listening to Boer Derick’s story.
I could use them, and my goats too, and chickens, to send my children to school. I don’t care whether they are bought for US dollars or bond notes. I earn more interest from them than I can ever dream of from a bank.