My Rainbow Nation

Inspired by some more crime to write this…

Her hands covered in blood,
The young without a voice,
The old without a weapon…
Her voice cries out:
“Where are you?
Police of our nation…
Government of our people…”
Abandoned.
Lost.
Afraid.
Raped.
Our nation is raped by those meant to protect her.
Cast aside.
Beaten.
Shaking from the blood that runs down her legs into the soil.
The soiled promises of a new democratic South Africa.
Listening.
Waiting.
They lure her in the dark.
To rob,
To kill.
She screams.
She fights.
She lives another day, begging on the streets:
“Do you see me?
No job,
No food,
Mother to a fatherless nation.”
Good night, sweet mother of all.

My heritage has no colour

VANESSA SMEETS

Just in time for Heritage Week in South Africa, a time when we come together to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness, I found myself in an unexpected racist spat on Facebook.

The Stellenbosch debate

The person involved had made a comment about Stellenbosch University being racist for not becoming anglicized. There are two sides to this debate: Yes, Stellenbosch University is trying to preserve its Afrikaans heritage and culture by remaining as Afrikaans as possible but it does try to accommodate English speaking students with the T-option (bilingualism) in certain broad under-grad modules and most of post-grad is English, as well as all the textbooks.

I admit that I made the fatal mistake of defending my old university first, instead of the angry person’s argument. I completed my Honours there and Afrikaans was probably my most dreaded subject at school. Being white does not mean I speak Afrikaans, just as much as being black does not mean you speak isiZulu. However, Stellenbosch was the only university that offered such a brilliant practical course in such a short time frame.
Yes, I struggled when the lecturers would accidentally slip into Afrikaans, but, one has to admit, it’s not such a difficult language… There are only three tenses, unlike English or French who have variants of past, present and future, depending on the context or even type of writing. French, for example, uses a fascinating tense of “simple past” reserved only for certain written texts.

White supremacist? No, idealist.
peopleAnyway, bringing this up only added fuel to the fire. This old school pal, then proceeded to tell me I should go back to Europe with my “white supremacy tendencies.” My blood, like most, is filled with exceptional love stories: the Jew who fell in love with a German, the Belgian with the Congolese, the Walloon with the Flemish (tribal ‘rivalries’ of Belgium)… Maybe only 20% of me actually belongs in Europe. Do not be fooled by my shell, because I am actually a product of the forbidden and I embrace it, because a lot of people went through hell to love the one they knew was meant for them.

Education as key

The thing is, a good teacher is one that does not see colour, gender or religion. Eight years of teaching have taught me this: every child is unique and parents are the biggest factors in determining how the child behaves or performs academically at school. It doesn’t matter whether the child is orange, pink or blue, if the mom and dad treat the child with equal amounts of attention, the child is at peace at school. If one of the parent is not part of the child’s life, the child does start to seek certain amounts of attention from the gender that is missing. Every child cries they same when he/ she is not invited to a certain party, to the jungle gym or when he/she falls off the swing. Every child smiles the same after seeing mommy or daddy after a long day of work. Every child is exceptionally proud when you say: “Keep up the great work!”

Children quote

Do they see colour or religion on the playground? Definitely not before the age of seven, unless parents have made a fuss of it at home. The only thing they do see at this age is gender:
“Boys? Oh gross, they are so dirty and rough!”
“Girls? I don’t want to be made the dad in that ‘house-house’ game all the time.”

At age seven, they enter primary school and are exposed to an even more diverse group of people. Teachers say things they shouldn’t necessarily say. They also converse or play with older children that have been exposed to more.

At age nine and ten, children don’t worry so much about the social aspects of school, but start a deep journey of self-analysis:
What do I like?
What are my needs?
Why am I feeling this way?

This, I believe is the time they are the most sensitive to topics like racism. Now that I’m teaching this age, I made it my duty to teach them “the rights of the child” first. At the end of their short presentations, I asked them the same question:
“Which to you is the most important?”

Every answer, from 27 different mouths: “To be loved.”
“Why?”
“Because if I do not feel loved, I cannot love others. I cannot accept them.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will always feel jealous of others.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will refuse to see anyone’s own point of view.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never experience peace.”
“If I do not feel loved, I will never feel secure with myself or others.”

This to me is the cure to racism: a simple yet over empowering act: to love selflessly, to see others’  point of view.
So, to that old school friend that has been tarnished by a certain person’s group or actions, I apologize – my heritage has no colour. It is a spectrum of experiences, of life lessons, of the desire to learn from our youngest yet purest minds.

“Oh great, you teach black children?! Get over your white saviour complex.”

Humans

To that school pal, I am not just a teacher… I am actually the one being taught every single day. You insulted my race and I felt nothing. You proceeded to call me “an embarrassment to my late grandmother” who is of mixed race, and I felt my blood boil, because it became personal. You then proceeded by insulting my life force, which is teaching.

If it were not for the children I teach every day, I would have probably become as bitter as you. But I have hope not only for South Africa, but for every adult. As adults, we need to keep quiet and let our children explain life… Because we have obviously forgotten what it feels like to be curious about others, to listen to their stories, to be proud of all diversity and most importantly to think before acting… And to love and accept others with our all.

heritage

heritage

Road tripping through South Africa

VANESSA SMEETS

The route

ADVENTURE: The route for an 11-day road trip (in June/ July) that changed my perspective on South Africa.

Have you lost faith in South Africa? Just take your car and drive… 
Drive to the lost and unseen parts…

You will be greeted by the most incredible sunrise, the yearning for random children to wave at you, the eager “Oom” or “Tannie” to feed you… 

South Africa, the way it was meant to be, a mosaic of mountains, bushveld, beach, winelands and beauty in her purest form. Here is about 4000 kilometres around this amazing country…

 

A Racing Miracle

VANESSA SMEETS

Peter Whyte (21) was flung against a tree from his motorbike at 160km/ hour last December at the Bulawayo 3-Hour Endurance Race in Zimbabwe, breaking his 9th vertebra. The 9th vertebra is one of the lowest positioned of the thoracic 12 (T12). Breaking it could have resulted in paralysis of the lower limbs, loss of control over the bladder and bowels.

Peter White_seated ball

DETERMINED: Peter Whyte’s recuperation programme was a lot of hard work. In only 6 months, he is walking and talking again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

He was in a deep coma for six weeks, leaving doctors convinced he would be brain dead. Today, he is walking and talking just like any other person his age. What makes him different? His extreme will and determination to survive and now recover completely.

Peter remembers nothing from that day, except driving to Bulawayo. His body is dotted in scars: a tracheotomy, an hour-long lung puncture to drain all the blood that had leaked into his right lung. His uncle saved his life through CPR and chest compressions.

Peter White_puncture far

BREATH OF LIFE: Peter shows off the puncture marks, where doctors had to drain his lung from blood. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Although he walks a bit like a robot, his mobility is improving daily and his speech is at 100%. A true miracle, he explains:

“I am alive to share my story, that’s for sure.”

Much to his parents’ disbelief, he is determined to get on a motorbike again. But his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, at the Sports Injuries Clinic in Harare disagrees: “One must realise your reflexes have to be 100% to participate in races like that. Next time, he may not be so lucky.”

Peter White_walk

HARD WORK: Peter and his physiotherapist, Didier Smeets, practised regularly for four months. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Didier helps him with stretches and exercises once a week, building up the muscles that were as strong as jelly only a few months ago. Didier has been working as a physiotherapist for over 30 years and cherishes this as one of his most special cases: “You get people who come here because they are forced by family or friends. Peter came here out of sheer will.

The recipe to success is: a good operation, good aftercare and a great support system. Much can be done daily. There is no limit to one’s will to get further.

Each case for me is a new challenge, where both the patient and I have to work on their flexibility, stability and places of attention.”

Peter’s eyes sparkle as I ask him why he keeps getting back on after every accident (in his last accident, he broke his shoulder): “There’s something incredible in driving a bike: the freedom, the glide, even the graze against your leg. Once I can, I will! This has only made me appreciate life even more.”

Peter White_foot

FOOTWORK: Peter shows his weekly progress, getting his feet at equal length again. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Another racer walks in the surgery and gives his support:

“Peter is a hero to us all. His will to survive is incredible. His will to recuperate even stronger. For those who don’t believe in miracles, just talk to Peter about his story.” 

Peter is currently back at work and has stopped his physiotherapy for now.

Watch the video here: 

Paradise Lost: Zimbabwe

A little bit of paradise lost found again…


South Africa’s people

VANESSA SMEETS

South Africa, a country once cursed and condemned by her racist past, is now flourishing with eleven different tribes and numerous cultures. Here is just a glimpse into the beauty of her rainbow nation

These photos were taken over the span of two years (2010-2012), from posh cities like Cape Town and Stellenbosch to the more desolate Sutherland and the forgotten parts of Stellenbosch.
I avoided captioning the pics, in fear of people stealing them.

Please do not use these pictures for your own use. They are all copyrighted and my testimonies… If you have any questions about any of them, please leave a comment below. I am happy to share the stories behind each one, from 40 years of friendship, to Gay Pride and unique art.
South Africa reawakens in her people’s journeys.

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To the moon and back

The South African music industry is bustling with talent, but what makes one musical artist stand out above the rest? VANESSA SMEETS examines Marcia Moon’s determination to stand ground in a world increasingly plagued by mental disorders.

Marcia Moon pain

SURVIVOR: Marcia Moon suffered a lot to reach a point of stability through her music. PHOTO: Margot Scholtz

“Obsession and fear seem to draw near to the place I call home, to the people I owe laughter to. Obsession and fear seem to interfere with my lifeline, my love, with the place I used to rest so. I forgive, I forgive, I forgive… Oh the anger side, visions in my mind…”

– Obsession and Fear, A Gradual Awakening

As a little girl, Marcia Scholtz would sing along to musicals, memorise jingles from television advertisements and fell in love with her parents’ collection of music. It was not a phase or childhood fantasy. Instead, it created a burning desire within her to perform.

Born in 1976 in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, she was born at the height of the Apartheid struggle and the birth of Black Consciousness. At the age of ten, her own musical consciousness emerged, when a family friend taught her how to play guitar. “He was blind and inspired me to see beyond; into the spiritual, ever moving world of music. It was magical,” she says, her blue-grey eyes glistening.

The musical artist “Marcia Moon” may have been born during the years she would serenade her friends at their windowsills, perform at shopping malls and in streets. People were attracted to her haunting velvet voice, not realising how a horrible breakdown had unleashed this creative energy.

“One day, like the moon has its phases, I died. It was dark then. But, I was re-born with an incredible sense of self,” she explains.“Moon” came from the symbol of the celestial body’s madness, yet mysticism and its ability to influence tides and moods.

Moon in phases

WAXING AND WANING: Just as the moon goes through phases, Marcia found a burning desire within her to perform.

Judged by her sexual orientation, Marcia suppressed a storm of emotions: “There was pressure to be heterosexual, feminine and ordinary. It eventually led to a nervous breakdown.”

Raised by Afrikaans parents, she describes her childhood as a constant struggle:

“I never felt male or female. I was someone in between: androgynous. My creativity came from a deep, psychological place. It was a very difficult and dark time.”

Although her first passion was music and she spent more time studying it than anything else, she did three years at the University of Pretoria doing her LLB (Bachelor of Law) in the late 1990s. Law has constantly followed her and she still wishes to pursue criminal law.

Law has also brought her a sense of stability: “It has taught me a lot about people, culture and politics. What makes us, us. Law continues to inspire ideas for songs.”

After living in Sunnyside, Pretoria, for a year, she decided to work in London for two years. There, she would keep busy doing odd jobs as a cook, factory worker, photographer, waitress and butter packer.

“There’s humility in working long hours for little pay,” she says, grinning, “You find yourself.”

She reluctantly returned to South Africa, singing in Cape Town and Stellenbosch. Her years as a modern-life gypsy allowed her music to be an interesting mix of soul, passion and desire. Her songs vary from ordinary, mundane topics like washing dishes to more complex philosophical subjects like same-sex relationships.

“I’m more interested in friendships, love stories and daily tales that I go through,” she explains, “I’m a gypsy through the boundaries I’ve created. You can be mentally unhealthy or suffer through unhealthy relationships, but you only grow once you stay grounded. Like a tree, you need those deep roots. I’ve learnt to have both: incredible experiences within boundaries.”

gradual awakening

AWAKEN: Her debut album is a symphony of symbolic elements.

Like her first album describes, it was a gradual awakening.

The CD cover is a network of symbols close to her. The butterfly symbolises the metamorphosis of rediscovering herself.
The spider symbolises the darkness she had to go through alone.
The subtle African print is proof of her love for Africa, its diverse cultures and people.
The dice on the corner symbolise luck by not always following the rules.
The pair of birds come from the nostalgia of watching David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as a teen.

She says, while fidgeting with the tablecloth: “Those birds in the opening of the first season were about mystery, obscurity. It was dream-like yet frightening. Part of who I am.”

Today, she describes herself as someone whose “intense, obsessed, searching, yet balanced.” Her eyes glisten now with tears: “It has been a long journey; one where I have deepened by finding more tools a long the way. These tools have allowed me to bask in spirituality.”

From the depths of despair, as she puts it, she has grown into four successful spheres: singer, performer, guitarist and songwriter.

Her voice is suddenly deeper and confident:

“I want to be one of South Africa’s best songwriters and performers.”

Marcia Moon

PENSIVE: Marcia Moon finds inspiration within the ordinary. PHOTO: Margot Scholtz

It shows. Marcia puts a lot of effort into every gig, capturing her audience not only with her voice, but her potent facial expressions. While watching her fans, it is clear the music speaks to them. Some even cry while singing along.

“I’m not just singing. It’s a performance. It’s theatre.It’s interacting with your audience. I want to take them into the mood. My music may not be political, but it is a form of activism.”

Marcia explains her views on the South African music scene: “In the last twenty years, we have been creating culture: cultivating and moulding it. I want to be part of that.”

Experience has taught her to be intrigued with daily experiences. Playing chords on her guitar inspire future ideas and words for songs: “Sometimes, it will take ages. But it often happens quickly. Like soft rain after a dry thunderstorm, everything just falls into place.”

Marcia believes there’s still a gap in the Afrikaans music scene, especially when it comes to song writing: “Most of them sing without much passion about what they say or feel. They are just words or nice tunes. I don’t want my words to make people dance, but help their souls take flight.”

Her debut Album A Gradual Awakening is available at PLUM CD in Rosebank Mall and Revolution Records in Observatory, Cape Town. She is currently recording a bilingual album and working on songs for a third one:

“People take the writing part for granted. If it sounds good, that’s often enough. I write for fans that want to experience and explore. It’s a psychological process. I see music as the other mind: a different, profound dimension.”

FACT BOX

  • Full name: Marcia Scholtz
  • Date of birth: 20 October 1976
  • Favourite colour: Blue
  • Favourite food: Mexican, Indian, exotic salads and comfort food
  • Favourite place to relax: forests, bushveld and mountains
  • Favourite countries: South Africa, Romania and America
  • Inspirations: mystery, awareness, darkness, dreams, spirituality, signs, love and difficulties
  • Hobbies: photography, hiking, travelling, law, psychology and writing
  • Movies: In God’s Hands, The Others, Mulholland Drive, Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Books: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernst Hemingway
  • Passions: my dog, family and friends
  • Favourite quote:

Buddha: “Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

  • Likes: animals, nature, politics, sports, culture, stories, history and being African
  • Dislikes: sloth, consumerism, over-indulgence, prejudice, conformity, greed, power and when people wear their sunglasses on their heads.

Happy 31st, Zimbabwe!

VANESSA SMEETS

bob marley rufaro

NO PROBLEMS, NO CRY: Bob Marley sings to a packed Rufaro Stadium during independence celebrations. PIC: Online

Independence Day

18 April, 1980. The ground shakes in Harare with stamping feet. Buildings tremble with jubilant voices. The crowds rush to see him speak. He is handsome, well educated and a great orator. A person for the people: calm and collected. Prime Minister Robert Mugabe is 56 years old when he is inaugurated, with Canaan Banana as president. But Mugabe is the stern favourite, speaking to the core of the masses.

“Long live our freedom!
Long live our sovereignty!
Long live our independence!”

Mugabe and Banana

CHEERS: Banana steps down as president in 1983, giving the reigns of power to Prime Minister Robert Mugabe. PIC: online

The Shona people claim Rhodesian soil is red with the bloodshed of civil war. They are tired of 16 years of fighting and tired of Ian Smith’s policies. Rufaro Stadium is packed to its maximum capacity. John Moyo*, a civil servant at the time, attended the celebrations. He claims the media went mad: “Long live Mugabe!” and “Good old Bob!” ran as headlines for days.  The Union Jack is lowered and the new Zimbabwean flag soars above the crowd. Zimbabwe means “house of stone” in Shona, with the bird representing a statuette found at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe.

rufaro stadium

PACKED: Rufaro Stadium in Harare is packed to its maximum capacity to celebrate Rhodesias transition into Zimbabwe. PIC: online

The atmosphere is electric. The new national anthem Ishe Komborere Afrika “God Bless Africa” echoes through the crowd, in homes and on television screens. Bob Marley sings as the crowd departs with eyes glistening with hope.Mugabe’s address to the nation on the eve of independence resounds today, thirty-one years later, as a haunting echo. Promises lay shattered besides potholes, beggars and hitch hikers. People are unable to read balanced stories, as the media today is constantly monitored by the government.

 Changing faces

From 1965 to 1980, there was a strong focus on the casualties of war, but those who reported on “classified information” had to face the Officials Secret Act and Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA) and twenty years of imprisonment. In 1980, Mugabe kept most of Ian Smith’s media policies, but added the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament Act, which made it illegal for the media to report on debates in parliament.

The Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) in 1981 aimed to “give back” the media to Zimbabweans, after being for years under foreign control.

Kariba

EMPTY PROMISES: Lake Kariba, once bustling with tourists, families and students, now stands most of the year empty. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Media and tourism

According to Cindy Hudson*, a travel agent in Harare, the tourism business is at its worst. She says:

“Thirty years ago, I would have told you all flights would be booked out to see the independence celebrations. Thirty years ago, I would have told you Zimbabwe would have been hosting the Soccer World Cup, not South Africa, its struggling neighbour. Thirty years ago, I would have told you Zimbabwe was a leading nation in African exports and imports. Today, I’m struggling to see the light.”

Embassies have closed down, yet Moyo claims things have improved since the US dollar was officially introduced in 2009. For two years, businesses were working in “units,” a code name for forex. But the cost of living has become very expensive. Petrol is now 1, 28 US$ a litre. The government has also changed the exchange rate at their leisure. 1 US$ = R10.

Empty promises

There are still water shortages and daily power cuts, with some people investing in generators. According to Moyo, Mugabe impressed the world with his “political maturity and statesmanship.”

If one looks back on his independence speech, the hopeful vision was potent: “Zimbabwe is now a free, independent and sovereign state, free to choose its own flight path and chart its own course to its chosen destiny.” Its destiny remains today in shackles, unable to perform with a lack of resources.

Mugabe continued:

“Tomorrow we are being born again; born again…as a viable nation of Zimbabweans. Tomorrow is thus our birthday, the birth of a great Zimbabwe, and the birth of its nation.”

Some will argue it was its death day. From 2000, when the ceasing of farms began and hundreds of farmers were massacred, the country began to fear and mistrust its media and government. Mugabe first turned the Shona people against the Ndebele and later white against black and black against white. So began the birth of a broken nation. In Mugabe’s haunting words: “An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or black against white.”

In the speech, he also said: “Everyone should be a new man, with a new mind, new heart and new spirit.” Today, the majority like Dr Ray Burger* (73), who left the country just before independence, sees this replaced by an old man with a bitter spirit. Suicide of the elderly is a daily occurrence. Pensioners realise years later the pension they worked hard for all their lives is completely worthless through inflation.

Promises of infrastructure have been replaced by the reality of potholes and vacant municipalities. A lack of medical care has killed innocent individuals. Mr George Witman* (62) died last year, because the only cancer specialist left in the country performed the wrong operation. The specialist is 82 years old and removed a chicken-sized tumour before trying to shrink it through chemotherapy.

For Dan Tim,* his best friend, the hardest part to forget is the bulging stomach of his friend, puss oozing from his belly button. He did not get a chance to see Zimbabwe rise to her feet again. The Oncology Centre in Harare claims the cancer rate has increased by 55% since 2001.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai

PARTNERS? Many Zimbabwean people have questioned the coalition government between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Is the power truly balanced or will there always be an obstacle between them? PIC: Online

Petty partners

According to Moyo, the coalition government is the weak partner in the “all inclusive government.” Just recently, Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai flew in separate planes to Tanzania. The information was leaked to international media, while national media led everyone to believe “the coalition is going strong.”

But, locals claim things have been rocky in the partnership since ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema publicly rebuked the MDC at a press conference in Luthuli House. He also congratulated Mugabe on his land reform policies saying: “In Zimbabwe, you are already very far. In South Africa, we are just starting.”

Moyo claims there is a definite increase of Chinese traders in the country, forcing local factories to close down. He also claims local taxes at borders (a Visa tax, entry tax for national parks, river usage, road tax, toll gates, tourism levy) make it very hard for tourists to travel. Some hotels still charge three times the rate to foreigners through the two-tier system.

The travel agency claims locals are coming back in small numbers, but the new law on indigenisation has caused financial stress in many local companies. Companies with an asset value higher than 51% have to have a majority black Zimbabwean ownership, hindering the revival of the economy.

Thirty-one years after independence, press freedom comes and goes, according to the government’s temperament. Today, the BBC and CNN can report in certain areas, but are constantly monitored. The Herald, known for its government propaganda, still remains the locals’ favourite. Yet, it hardly speaks about the MDC partnership. It speaks of hope for a new generation, includes articles on music and movies and even has entertaining obituaries. The obituary for musician Sam Mtukudzi (17 March 2010) read: “Sam’s father’s right hand has been amputated and it’s not an easy thing to forget a hand.”

Zambezi river

DIVIDED: As beautiful as Zimbabwe is, it has failed to attract tourists like in the past. This years elections will determine whether things have changed. PHOTO: Vanessa Smeets

Unwritten pages

In thirty-one years, locals have witnessed dozens of robberies and attacks on family members and friends. The media only reported on a small percentage. But, the media could not hide the facts: in July 2007, streets and shops stood empty. Harare became a ghost-town. Locals urged family members in South Africa to bring them food, but half the stock would be taken by police at the border. Still, local media reported on none of this.

Today, the country itself is hungry for change, for tourists and for action. According to Burger, it is an achievable dream:

“Once a Zimbabwean, always a Zimbabwean. The country has a special magic to it. It has the potential to be the best country in Africa, filled with a blessed climate, rich soil and natural wonders.”

Maybe one day the vision will return to a country blinded by bitter memories. The Shona people continue to pray for rain, believing it will wash away yesterday’s dried up hopes. The red dust settles at their ankles. For many, it stopped raining thirty-one years ago.


Current Zimbabwean flag

TALES OF COLOUR: The Rhodesian flag changed with political changes in the country. British colonial rule was extremely important in its founding years. In 1979, it adopted the Pan-African colours of white, red, black and green. In 1980, the Union Jack was lowered at the ceremony, replaced by the new Zimbabwean flag. PIC: Online

Tales of colour: Independence Flag

  • Yellow: the wealth of minerals in the country
  • Black: the heritage of the now combined Shona and Ndebele people
  • Green: the agriculture and rural areas of Zimbabwe
  • Red: the bloodshed during the first and second civilian wars
  • White triangle: peace
  • Zimbabwe Bird: the national symbol of Zimbabwe
  • Red Star: the nation’s hopes and aspirations for the future (as well as ZANU-PF’s socialist beliefs)

 Those who insult the flag face a fine of $1000 or two years imprisonment. 

SOURCES:

  • www.wikipedia.org
  • personal interviews
  • people from Human Rights Watch and ex-Zimbabwean journalists
  • Website: Lloyd Msipa’s blog (online Zimbabwean journalist)
  • Website: www.cpj.org – Committee for Protected Journalists

The value of LIFE in Zimbabwe

LESS THAN TOILET PAPER: In 2007, the Zimbabwean dollar was more worthless than toilet paper. Today, the American dollar is in use. COURTESY: online

VANESSA SMEETS

As a child, I valued all living things. I would collect crickets and dragonflies in the kitchen and set them free in the garden. As I grew up, those small things transformed into valuable assets: the values of patience, integrity, honesty, courage, kindness and forgiveness.

During the June holidays, I was on my way to Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, after living in South Africa for the last 20 years. It was time to go back to the garden filled with those noisy crickets.

Patience

The plane takes off from Johannesburg an hour late. My brother and I wait patiently, knowing our dad has been expecting us for the last three hours.

In Harare, we are greeted with sour faces: “Why are you here? What do you want?” At R300 or $30 US (the country has decided its own exchange rate), we finally get our Visas. I have to swallow my pride and smile gratefully for the tattered pink Visa in my passport. Welcome home.

COUNTRY IN DISTRESS: A collage of what once made up one of the most powerful countries in Africa. COURTESY: online

 

Integrity

At church, a farmer tells his incredible story of loss and betrayal. John Miller* almost lost his life after debating with ZANU-PF militants on his farm. The room fills up with tears.

He is the epitome of courage. “What man intends for evil, God intends for good,” he tells us. “You can choose to flee, forgive or forget.”

I decide to forgive the nasty people at the airport. I decide to forget my dad shouting at pedestrians, as we were late for church. I decide to flee my negative thoughts of my documentary not going as planned.

While my Journalism classmates are celebrating the festivities of the World Cup in South Africa, I wanted to focus on “life after independence” in a forgotten paradise.

There’s magic in Zimbabwe. Some describe it as extreme spirituality. The Shona people are known for praying for rain. It symbolizes hope. For many, the red dust of Zimbabwe settles at their ankles. It stopped raining thirty years ago. Their integrity and strength remain intact. It will rain again.

1980 was filled with the promises of a new government that would benefit all people. Today, Zimbabwe has no currency of its own, with thousands of people still struggling to buy food. The American dollar is a luxury few can afford.

Courage

John’s story inspires me to start working. A woman and her two children have been squatting outside my dad’s house on the street for the last month. I’m not sure how to approach her. My video camera is hidden in my coat’s pocket.

It takes a lot of courage for us to start talking. She stutters as I ask her name. I look deep into her eyes. Somewhere beyond the pain of raising four children on her own (two of them are home alone), I want to get to know her.

Esther is my age. But unlike me, she has never gone to school. She has never gone a day without being hungry. Instead, she fell pregnant at 15. She can’t work because her four-month old baby cries constantly. It has been sun burnt by weeks of standing on the side of the street attached to its nine-year old sister.

The little girl comforts the crying baby. She dances between the cars. Her mother doesn’t flinch. “Isn’t it dangerous?” I ask, pointing at a car hooting for them to get out of the way. “Yes,” she whispers, “But they know I have many mouths to feed.”

Honesty

VALUE OF MONEY: 100 billion dollars was equivalent to three eggs at a stage. COURTESY: online

I tell Esther I need to film her. At first, it is awkward. She can’t look at me in the eyes anymore. But, her child is fascinated with being on film. She smiles, laughs and shows off her pretty but dirty dress.

As the little girl walks away, another man appears. Edson is a street vendor and Esther’s friend. They met on the corner of the road. “If I have bread, I will share with her,” he tells me, “But life is hard. I cannot feed her every day. Business is slow.”

He disappears into the cars as the traffic increases. People are rushing home, but his colourful stock of balloons continues to hang on to his arms. He has incredible patience. A Mercedes stops and buys one. He smiles and waves at me.

His honesty is made apparent when he warns me: “The police are here. They saw you filming us.” I hide my camera. If Edson hadn’t warned me, the government’s police would have erased all my film. They hate journalists.

Kindness and forgiveness

In the house, I gather up avocadoes and juice for Esther and Edson. Their kindness has made me realize how insignificant my problems really are.

These people choose to endure, rather than fight. Every day is about survival of their families, not themselves. Life for them is not about the value of money, but the value of food.

Life for them is also not about the value of politics, but the value of listening. There is healing in listening to each other’s pain. We have all suffered under this regime.

There is value in forgiveness. There is value in hope.

John’s words haunt my mind: “I’d rather forgive than flee. You cannot flee your own hatred. Hatred is like drinking from a poisoned chalice hoping your enemy will suffer.”

Zimbabwe’s people have suffered enough. There is value in sharing their tale with all those who read this.

*name has been changed