Long Wait Taking a Toll in Zimbabwe

Grantham, Pa. Complaints about the seemingly endless presidential campaign of 2008 sound petty, almost childish, in the face of what the people of Zimbabwe, including the more than 30,000 Brethren in Christ in that country, are dealing with as they wait for resolution to the March 29 election.

Zimbabwe's economic collapse, for which Mugabe's critics blame his policies, has sent millions of refugees into neighboring countries to escape severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages and inflation of 165,000 percent – the highest in the world. And acts of intimidation and violence against ordinary citizens are being reports all across the country.

Two recent email messages from a Christian worker in Zimbabwe provide insight into everyday life in the beleaguered nation. The messages also come as reminder to BIC churches in North America to be in constant prayer for our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters.

April 25, 2008

A ship, docked in Durban, has been discovered to be loaded with military weapons. Destination Zimbabwe. From China. Obviously a Zanu PF order. 
Intrigue, intrigue, intrigue! Is this a regular shipment from there as part of simply maintaining their security arsenal?  Why is this, in fact, a news item? (I discovered later that the dock workers refused to unload it, that's why) Was it a release issued by Mugabe's outfit, radio and TV here being controlled presently by the military, as part of the psychological intimidation, no different than the riot police or military trucks loaded with soldiers driving around the streets of Harare or Bulawayo, as in "Behave yourself, or else?" Militarization, as a strategy, has been central to Mugabe's rule; indeed, his view of life. Force, force, force!   Manifest here in Zimbabwe is spelt maniFIST.

It again brings to mind the brief conversation I had with owner of an establishment in the city, several weeks ago. I forget how it was we got onto the topic (an army truck with soldiers just drove past; no canopy, soldiers well displayed), but his comment was akin to the following, adjectives precisely recalled: "You bloody Westerners don't know that the only things these people understand is the guy that swings the biggest club is in charge! They don't know a thing about democracy, wouldn't know what to do with it if they had it. Democracy is the white guy's invention."

This echoes the comment of a born white Zimbabwean who stated simply, "People here are not mature enough for democracy." 

Well, ultimately, that remains to be seen, but who really knows? Obviously Zimbabweans want to give it a try, and have stated so twice, in 2002 and on March 29. They have had Mugabe's version of "democracy.” Elections yes, followed immediately by perversions, and subsequent rule by de facto presidential decree, with the consequence being each year deeper in debt, deeper in want, and deeper in fear.

Maybe it really doesn't matter whether they "do not understand" nor whether they are not "mature enough.” Did any of us really understand marriage at the time? And were any of us "mature enough" at the time? Besides, democracy, Africa-style, can never ape, never mind mirror, democracy as the West knows it. Maybe the majority of Zimbabweans voted in 2002 and 2008 less for democracy as such, but more for the end of fear and brutality as well as hopeful end to daily queues. 

The increasing denigration of the people over the last 15 years has reached a breaking point where the people have walked to the polling booths and stood up and said, as did the owner of the bicycle shop where I go, "You are a liar, Mr. Mugabe. We don't believe you anymore. We are not afraid of you. We don't want to shoot you.  We just want you to go away."

These words, spoken Thursday, April 16, in his shop in the company of three other men, when I asked them, "Do you really think that the people here will face down Mugabe, his burning of homes, personal beatings, maybe  even killings?"

The younger of the three replied, "If there is a run-off he will lose even worse than he did on the first vote."

It is quite evident that in the minds of the people here there is no fanciful nor fear-based belief that the withholding of election results is anything but manipulative, even expected, on Mugabe's part to give his "experts" time to "adjust" the recount results, giving Zanu-PF the majority in Parliament.  And with the munitions-boat episode presently unfolding, clear proof that Mugabe is preparing for another "cleansing" of sorts. Violent retribution for "wrongful" voting is presently being carried out in former Zanu strongholds, but on March 29 lost to MDC, apparently of course. No results have been released as of April 23.
"We need now to be very careful," the shop owner stated, "not to give Mugabe reason to use his guns on us." The people's quietness, according to my friends at the bike shop, is a powerful resolve that they feel is stronger than the sound of Mugabe's voice and his guns, and grenades.

This quietness, to us westerners a docility and seeming lethargy, a quality we often find curious at best when you consider their powerful Zulu past and pitiable at worst. But this quietness may well turn out to be the very undoing of Mugabe. Even my third generation Boer acquaintance, having lived among them for 50 or so years, is mystified: "I don't understand these Ndebeelay", as he pronounced it. "They whipped the English, they whipped the Boers, their name means warrior, and Mugabe is still alive!"

And so we wait, and wait, and wait some more, at times at peace, at other times disturbed. And somehow in the midst of this day-in-day-out waiting, and through them, we are given peace with it, and think, maybe the outcome really doesn't matter that much. We desire an outcome different than the one we expect, and will likely get. He has done it before; he will likely do it again. This is in the minds of 99.999% of Zimbabweans. But will they be as passive after the results as they are now? THAT is THE question!!

When I sum up all that everybody has said on the matter, it is as if a loved one has left home, is expected back by a certain time, but is, by now, terribly late. And that someone is everybody here, the small people of this country. Of course life goes on, the sun rises and sets, and in between ordinary stuff is done, but it seems to be done with a detachment that is more substantive than a distraction. 

To us visiting westerners, it is truly mystifying and amazing, a kind of miracle of sorts, to be amidst a people who wait so much, so often; and now, actually constantly. Almost every day they wait, if not in a bank queue, then a bread queue; if not in a mealie-meal queue, then a petrol queue. They waited in a voting queue almost a month ago. Their episodic waiting has become a constant waiting. The spirit of these people defies belief; certainly understanding.
Monday, April 21--Downtown Bulawayo

I am in town on errands. My wife’s watch needs another Chinese battery. The one I bought seven days ago stopped working yesterday. Our handyman asked me to get a quote for asbestos roofing and a doorframe with door. No asbestos available in the three places I stopped at. I find a place that can scan a Shona tract to Florida for permission to make duplicates for Teen Missions.  Haven't found one in three days of looking. Order a pair of blue work pants from the professional tailor now selling Chinese trinkets.

Overhead a lone jet fighter skims past, headed towards the western suburbs. Five or so minutes later, the plane flies a return route. Obviously Mugabe's airborne "raised fist". Pedestrians continue their sauntering, several stop and look up. Mission accomplished: "We are here, and watching". In 20 minutes the fighter plane completes five figure eights of the city. And into my mind flashes the reality that silent, high-flying and low-flying small birds have brought down gigantic airliners by their simple presence—in a flock. Shrikes and doves abound here.
On the ground, reports of Zanu violence dominate the news—other than in the Chronicle and Herald, of course. "MDC Claims 10 Killed,” provides their names and locations. Five pictures of beaten up people, scars, swollen faces, and massive, black scabs, and smashed mouths.

"US Warns Nationals on Zim Travel" starts with  "the United States state department has warned its citizens not to travel to Zimbabwe, for safety and security concerns....  Security forces including some military and police are creating a climate of intimidation and fear across the country particularly in rural areas and high-density suburbs."

Overhead the lone fighter jets across downtown on its way to Pumula, Entumbane, Luveve and the others, the sound of it drowning out every-thing civil here on the ground.

"Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights says it has so far seen and treated 173 cases of injury resulting from organized violence and torture."

One of the houseworkers sent her daughter back to school at Mtshabezi yesterday. This morning she told us quite a number of parents are keeping their children home. "They are expecting war," she said. We told her, if we are still here when it comes to that, we will provide transport to retrieve her daught, a highly unlikely possibility; the school will surely have acted by then.

In case of need, we have contacted Menno Travel to prepare an alternate exit schedule. We are under sound advisement here, surrounded as we are by trustworthy, experienced, and wise people.

The Haefeli's cup of filter coffee is empty. There are some unfinished errands to tend to. The 1M per month allowance is presently worth 1/90 of a US dollar. Also there seems to be no mealie-meal in Bulawayo. The word is that it is being saved for strategic political delivery during the run-up to the anticipated run-off. Everyone, well, it seems that way, is asking us for mealie-meal.  They say they are hungry, haven't had any for two to three weeks. If they cannot get their staple food sadza made from mealie-meal they are hungry, nothing fills them up.

The weariness we experience is the kind that results in us being tired in the work here, but not of it.  And, we live by the words of the following song:

                                Day by day, and with each passing moment,
                                Strength I find to meet my trials here,
                                Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
                                I've no cause for worry or for fear.
                                He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
                                Gives unto each day what He deems best,
                                Lovingly it's part of pain and pleasure,
                                Mingling toil with peace and rest.


Life in the Far Side, April 30

"They made all the people they had rounded up take off their clothes and lie face down on the ground right next to each other.  Then they used the heavy-duty plastic bags reinforced with twine, lit them with matches and walked back and forth dropping the burning plastic onto the bodies.  They showed their bodies on ETV last night.  These are the Green Bombers.  The police have been instructed not to arrest them.  And any clinic in the area giving aid to the victims also faces retribution."

This was related to me by a man here in Bulawayo on April 25. He had seen it on a satellite channel, likely out S. Africa.  ZTV here in Zimbabwe, of course, would never show something planned and perpetrated by their bosses who also direct the content of the government TV channel, the only one in Zimbabwe.

I was in to pick-up the Isuzu after having new brakes installed. Across from me sat a woman who was writing out a receipt for almost 2 billion dollars.  After she handed me the receipt, she asked, "Have you seen the prophecy?”.

I replied that I had not, nor had I heard of it. 

Then she said," You know the ammunitions ship that has been turned away from Durban?  I really truly believe that that is the prophecy beginning to be fulfilled. I have it here somewhere on my desk."

She rummaged in several places but could not locate it.

"It states that there will be no war. We will come close to one, but no, we won't have one.  The prayers are beginning to be answered.  We have prayed; my, how we have prayed," she continued, a strength in her voice that I found genuinely uplifting.

This is the same lady whose family farm was occupied during the Matableleland Massacres (Gukurahundi) in the mid-eighties by 200 war vets and 5th Brigade soldiers. The family refused to leave, and, to their surprise, found not one of the invaders on their premises the next morning.

Sometime after, someone of her family encountered one of the soldiers, who asked him, "Where did you get all those white horses and who were all the riders that rode right through our camp that night?"

They had not organized anything and possessed no white horses.  A strong Christian family, they had prayed through the night.

This woman’s simple, deep faith and her buoyant spirit that morning in the company office last week helped to alleviate my revulsion and anger upon hearing accounts of torture presently being systematically carried out in the Mashonaland region.

This experience is an example of what we find the most difficult to accept, take in, process and respond to.

The magnitude of evil, its overt manifestation, its attendant sorrow and suffering, seemingly so pervasive it comes in the air, in the water, not just in the media and word-of mouth. It is as if those who still have hope are powerfully forced and then almost sedatively induced to embrace and succumb to despair. It is as if those who have faith in God are given, over and over, and over again opportunity to give it up, the lament being, "Where is He?  Where is He?"
The work, the struggle to remain hopeful, to stay faithful is, for these people, so umbilical, so primal, it defies understanding, at least it does for us, who consider suffering as not getting soon enough what we want, even what we feel we have a right to, or, suffering as someone not liking us enough to make us feel good, or suffering when our stocks drop, property depreciates, justice is too slow, or the price of bread doubles too quickly. (By the way, here the price of bread has increased 2000 percent in two months)

And still, the young dream and children do more than lead their blind fathers, uncles, handicapped grandmas along the Bulawayo sidewalks, one hand holding onto their disabled adult, the other either extended palm up to easily-recognizable-by now rich people. Children here also play, especially in the high-density suburbs, where they abound. Seeing them is one of the truly uplifting sights whenever we go there.  Our temporary gardener is not just dreaming of marrying, but he is actually working to bring it about. Every morning he gets onto his one-speed mountain bike, the rims irreparably bent seeing him on a flat surface reminds me of a circus clown I saw riding an oval-wheeled bike as a child in Germany. He can't afford derailers because he is saving for "ring money," the final stage in marriage preparation. The combi (van taxi) fare from the suburbs into town is 40,000,000: if he were to take the combi here, it would cost him $2.00US a day—out of this world for him.

We try not to think about their future. They are both solid Christians, and have been committed to each other for three years. We hope they won't live like other families, where the husband works here, while his wife and 10-year old daughter live in Lupane with his mother. To visit them cost him two months’ salary. If he were to visit them on his wife's salary it would cost him 1/2 month's salary. Both our helpers' salary increased 250 percent in March to April. Praise God and thank the Bishop!

Praise God, indeed!  And again I am compelled to simply state that in the extremity of life here, the Christians' faith, its expression and practice in every day life, is such that when in conversations with friends, acquaintances, and strangers, on sidewalks, in queues, in offices, out and about , the concluding comment is often, "Our only hope is Jesus."

But clearly, this month of April here has been as if we have collectively experienced a time of "constricted air,” like a lot of things here, the rationing of the freedom to breathe, think, and speak, by virtue of the hovering political cloud of uncertainty. 

Tomorrow, Thursday, May 1, we have been told (ZTV newscast) that the election results will be released, the recount completed. The phrase, "the second liberation of Zimbabwe starts May 1, 2008," has been heard in our neighborhood, spoken in hope, we believe, tinged, understandably with satire.


Here it is May 1—D Day as in Deliverance, for Zimbabweans. Or, will it be "D,” as in Delay?  At 2 o'clock we will receive, so we have been told on official TV, a definitive picture of the direction this "ship" is heading; staying the course or changing.

A young university student from Harare, here to try to put some order into his life because all university classrooms have remained closed since mid-March due to government fear of uprisings, told us all he had heard about today was that the governor of the Reserve Bank was going to announce a rise in the bank withdrawal limit from 1 Billion to 5 Billion (in US, $10 to $50).  Well, even that news will be a kind of liberation—fewer bank queues, a welcome change, indeed!
It’s now one hour before the "truth shall set us free".   I’ve just finished with a man from Lupane at our gate. He is a carver and craftsman who brings his wares to the low density suburbs and attempts to sell door-to-door. He has been here several times. We've bought a carved drummer as thanks for the money friends raised for us to come here.
He told me just now that the combi fare is now 80M per leg. His coming to town today cost him 160M; the return to Mpopoma another 160M for a total of 320 M. The mealie-meal we sold him was 300M. He was truly grateful. Someone else told us that the black-market meali-meal in the suburbs had been found to contain VIM, similar to COMET.  The carver told us that mealie-meail in Lupane is available only to those whose name is on the GMB (Grain Marketing Board) list, the Zanu-directed supplier of maize/mealie-meal.

It is 2:25pm. I’m outside, under the jacaranda trees with a grilled cheese sandwich, a writing pad next to Baldacci's "Split Second". It is 25 minutes past Zero hour. I went in to check the government channel, expecting the recount results. I found instead cartoons, this one set in outer space, and predictably, galactic warfare involving, of course, the good guys and the bad guys.

So what has happened? Do I have the wrong channel? Can't be, there is only one.  Are they avoiding TV as a medium? If so, why? Is it too humiliating to convey the truth that relegates the owners of said TV station to the sidelines? Who knows? Or, has there been another strategic postponement by Zanu/ZEC, to give Mugabe more time to prepare his exit? Who knows?

Or could it be that the inter-galactic warfare cartoon was, in fact, the ZEC recount results, in metaphorical terms, and I didn't watch long enough to see who won? We westerners are such literalists, still requiring actual numbers. How simplistic! Ineffectual!  Don't we know yet that numbers can lie!

Oh well, tomorrow morning we will ask our helpers. They have always given us the proven truth, "You have to wait until tomorrow, or maybe the next day, or....."

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