By Elliot Ziwira
Determination is the word that immediately comes up when one reflects on the story of scores of Zimbabweans, who, on March 29, 2019, set base at the “doorsteps” of the imposing Embassy of the United States of America in Westgate, Harare, vowing to remain put until Washington rescinds its decision to impose sanctions on their country, which have brought untold suffering to ordinary citizens.
The group, under the auspices of Broad Alliance Against Sanctions, a coalition of churches from different denominations, African religions, the Islamic community, six political parties, small-scale farmers, informal traders, the academic fraternity and organisations representing people living with disabilities, has been camping at the US Embassy for 210 days when The Herald visited their camp yesterday.
Each member had a different story to tell, but everything summed up to suffering, death of dreams and a desire to see Zimbabweans coming together as a nation, and speak with one voice against sanctions, which have crippled the nation state.
We share some of their individual stories here:
Wengisai Imbayago (36)
Hunger knows no boundaries, that is why we decided to join hands with fellow Zimbabweans from across the political divide and religious affiliations to form Broad Alliance Against Sanctions.
I am from Mberengwa, but have been trying to hustle for a living here in Harare as an informal trader. I used to sell second-hand clothes, and for a while I could realise a profit to keep the family going, but now it has become difficult to rely on the trade. It’s a dog eat dog situation now, because of the sanctions imposed on our country by America; the reason why we are camped here.
When we arrived here on March 29, many people were hostile to us, saying we were taking issues too far. On the fifth day, we met representatives from the US Embassy, who wanted to know why we decided to camp here. We impressed on them that it was because of the sanctions their country imposed on Zimbabwe, which were causing us hardships. They understood our position and let us be, without harm.
Then, on the 118th day US Ambassador Brian Nichols gave us audience. I was among the four members who met him at his office. The others are Calvern Chitsunge (chairperson of the alliance), Rosa Musonza and Sally Ngoni (public relations officer). The ambassador indicated that we were giving him a torrid time with our camping at the Embassy, but we told him that there was no other way for us to express our displeasure. We had a good dialogue, though nothing tangible came out. We expect to meet him again next week or early November, otherwise we are not going anywhere until the sanctions are removed unconditionally.
Ellis Mukumbachaza (51)
I come from Rusape and have been here since March 29. As a mother to three children and a grandmother to four others, I have was so burdened by suffering that I decided to join others here in the fight against sanctions.
None of my children is working, and my husband is unemployed, so for us, living is a struggle. Day in, day out, the song is the same — struggle.
My appeal to fellow Zimbabweans is that we should speak with one voice if we are to win the fight against sanctions.
Matirasa Savieri (48)
Shanty dwellings at Belapaise Estate near Epworth, are what we call home. I have four children and four grandchildren. Only one of my children, a daughter, who eloped with her boyfriend, does not stay with us. We cannot afford rentals anywhere else. My husband, sons and son-in-law have never worked formally in their life’s journeys so far. Living is a vending struggle for us.
As a woman I am touched by the situation at our hospitals. They are death-traps, because of lack of medicines and other medical provisions; and this pains me. Zimbabwe is the only country I know; it is our country, so I wonder why another country could make us suffer like this because of our land. Yes, there may be other issues, as they say, but the main issue is about our land; how we took it from the whites. Mt Darwin is my home area, but I have not been there in a while now. We are struggling.
Evelin Muhomba (62)
If all was well, at my age, I really wouldn’t be here. Frail as I am, I have limited options, if they exist at all. I sent my four children to school, but none of them is working. Instead of me relying on them for a livelihood, it is the other way round.
One of my two daughters, who was married, is now back at home with her two children, because she was always fighting with her unemployed husband over issues to do with money. My two sons are also back home, having failed to hold on to their marriages in the face of financial challenges. My husband is late, so you can imagine what it is like to be living with four adult children and four grandchildren at a rural homestead. Life is difficult for us.
I was once hospitalised in Mutoko, where I come from, but the situation at the hospital was unbearable. Without medicines and doctors, it was terrible, so I asked to be discharged having realised that I probably was better off at home. I have always known that our country was under sanctions, so when I heard about the call to camp against sanctions, I decided to join. I have been here for 210 days now, and I am not leaving until the sanctions are removed. They have destroyed families, because marriages are breaking down. It it means dying here, then, let it be so. What is the difference anyway?
Rosa Musonza (50)
I am a market trader from Chitungwiza. I have six children born between 1986 and 2001, and none of them is in school. My husband and children are not formally employed, so they have joined me in market trading. We sell vegetables at our stall in Chitungwiza to survive in these harsh times, but we barely make enough to sustain ourselves.
We are suffering, because each day things get worse, instead of getting better.
I am one of those who met Ambassador Brian Nichols. We do not have problems with him and his staff at the American Embassy. They do not bother us either. All that we want is for Americans to let us run our affairs freely without their interference through sanctions. We do not want a piece of America, no! We only want to be allowed to exercise our human right to freedom of choice; and live normal lives, like fellow global citizens.
What bothers us is that there are some of us Zimbabweans, who are benefiting from these sanctions. They are riding on them politically, yet the majority of us are suffering.
Jesca Vhiyai (55)
I am from Mangundu Village in the Chief Nemaushe area of Chivi, but I live in Epworth with my family. I have five children — three girls and two boys — and the last born is six years old. I am a market trader.
All my children, save for the lastborn, are school dropouts. My daughter, who is the first born, dropped out of school in Form Two and eloped with the man who had impregnated her. The second dropped out of school in Form One; the third and fourth could not go beyond Grade Seven. My husband, who is a bricklayer, and I, could not afford the fees.
It is my fervent call that Zimbabweans unite against sanctions, because we are suffering. Industry has died. Our husbands and children are not working. As a bricklayer, my husband could fend for us, had it not been for these sanctions. Our children are now resorting to drugs, and other intoxicating substances to escape the hard times they have to endure on a daily basis.
But we know there are some people benefiting from these sanctions. There should be a law to kill political careers of such malcontents instigating sanctions. The fight against sanctions is not a political party issue. Therefore, sanctions should be removed first for the playing field to be even.
Camping here comes with challenges of its own. There is no water here. Since yesterday (Wednesday) there has not been any water here, because the stream we rely on has dried up.
For other provisions, we allow some of us to go home and bring us some; whatever they can lay their hands on. We are grateful, however, to fellow Zimbabweans, who have been sparing a thought for us by providing us with food.
Beatrice Kasayira (52)
I live in Epworth with my three children; a girl and two boys. My husband died in 2005. Since my husband’s death things have been difficult for us. Despite the challenges, I managed to put my children through school, up to Form Four. Although my first-born son did well at Ordinary Level, I could not afford the fees for Advanced Level, or beyond. At 29, he is old enough to start his own family, but he is at home. He is still to work formally, so he hustles here and there for a living; otherwise he, like his brother, my last-born, relies on my vending to keep body and soul together.
My last-born son is in Form Four, but as issues stand, I know he cannot go beyond that. Although he is bright in school, the future looks bleak for him. That is why I am here. We want these sanctions to be removed; for our children. Our future is in our children, yet their own future is doomed.
Paul Majarira (32)
Nyanga is my home area, but I eke out a living in Harare through vending. My father died in 1993 when I was about six years old, and my mother passed on in 1998. I have not gone far in terms of school.
I dropped out at Grade Seven, because my mother could not afford the fees for my education. Since then life has been a huge struggle.
Today marks my 210th day here because there is nothing to go home for. Our future as young people has been destroyed. Living itself is a challenge. There are no jobs.
Because of dearth of opportunities, most of us young people are into drugs, crime, prostitution and all other vices that come with lack. We cannot afford legal alcoholic beverages, so we resort to cheaper illicit ones, which in the end destroy us. There is no future for us; everything is just bleak.
It is pointless to go home, so tonight we have a vigil here. We have brought our drums. We will sing and dance away the night, and in the morning we will join the rest of Zimbabwe and the SADC region in the anti-sanctions march. Afterwards, we will come back here. As long as the sanctions are still in place, we remain here. Aluta continua!
Calvern Chitsunge (38)
I was born in Bulawayo, and I am the chairperson of Broad Alliance Against Sanctions. I was among the representatives who dialogued with US Ambassador Brian Nichols.
The idea of a non-political, non-religious alliance against sanctions came in November 2018.
We started as Smart Youths Strategic Development Trust, which advocated for young people’s rights, especially in view of drug and substance abuse. We wanted to give youths a chance, because we realised that drugs and alcoholic substances were their default modes. We realised, however, that we could not do much in an environment of sanctions. For us to achieve our goals, we have to fight sanctions collectively first.
On our 118th day here, we met Ambassador Nichols, who outlined that the sanctions were targeted at corrupt individuals, not ordinary people. He spoke about, corruption, the land issue, human rights abuses, rule of law, democracy and electoral reforms. Basically, he outlined conditions outlined in the ZIDERA. We impressed on him that as Zimbabweans, the land is close to our hearts; it is ours. We do not own land in America, so we do not need foreign formulas on the issue of land.
We also told him that the said targeted sanctions were hurting ordinary Zimbabweans. On the issue of democracy, we highlighted that Zimbabweans voted for leaders they wanted, so it was not up to America to decide for them.
On corruption we agreed that Government should take a firm stance, so that those implicated are brought to book. Although we had a good dialogue, he seemed to have no answers. He kept on saying that he would take the issue with the US President Donald Trump. We expect to meet him next week or in the first week of November.
Sally Ngoni (33)
I am from Bulawayo, although am now based in Zvishavane. I am the co-founder and public relations officer of Broad Alliance Against Sanctions.
Sanctions have destroyed livelihoods of ordinary citizens in Zimbabwe. As a citizen, I have not been spared.
I call upon all Zimbabweans to come together in the fight against sanctions. If we speak as a united voice, we will go a long way in building our country. We do not want external interference. What is causing us continued hardships is speaking with a discordant voice. Bad publicity, fake abductions and outright lies by media outlets and some Zimbabweans, all aggravate the problems we are facing as a nation.
Without external forces interfering in our affairs, there would not be violence. There will be peace. Those Zimbabweans, who speak ill about their country for political mileage should be prosecuted, and if found guilty should be jailed. Sanctions must not be used as launchpads for political careers.
To that end, as Broad Alliance Against Sanctions, we have drafted a petition for a proposed Zimbabwe Patriotic Act.
Yesterday (Wednesday), we sent the petition to the Parliament of Zimbabwe through the Clerk of Parliament, and the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ziyambi Ziyambi. Saboteurs should be brought to book.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank organisations like Coalition Against Sanctions, which has been with us for the past 23 days in our sit-in against sanctions; in our own small way. Am grateful, also, to fellow Zimbabweans, who have been with us in this cause. Let us all march against sanctions.
Together we can do more. Zimbabwe is our country!