Home » Governance » In Memory of the Life We Once Had [opinion]

The past 15 years have seen a steady decline in the economy and the quality of life standards in Zimbabwe. On the occasion of his birthday, Waza blogger, Jera, reflects on what his generation has lost.

It is my birthday this week. Hold the congratulations.

As a child, one measures one’s progress in physical growth. ‘Look mum. I can touch the door frame now.’ It’s a little different for grown-ups. Growth is measured in goals fulfilled and, frankly, I feel like a child. It’s not entirely my fault.

Happy memories

Once upon a time, I was a pinstriped banker, with stockbrokers, lawyers and a masseuse on speed dial.

I was hardly a Trump, but I lived in a quiet part of town, where, on the dappled pavements, lycra-clad joggers waved pleasantly at senior citizens walking their fencepost-sniffing Jack Russells.

Once a week, while I was negotiating mergers and IPOs, a cleaning lady would press the gate remote control and let herself into my flat.

Back at the office, lunchtime presented a daily quandary. With four restaurants on the company’s retainer, I often found myself struggling to pick one thing from the dizzying list of available dishes. In the end the choice of my sustenance was always down to a shut-eyed eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

I belonged to a group of five young upwardly-mobile professionals who met weekly, to unwind from their busy careers over pizza and drinks.

The turning tide

What I mean is that before 2000, life here was normal. Everybody had a job. You had to be either very unfortunate or very lazy not to have a job whose salary covered the basics rent, electricity, water, food and transport.

But, when the government of President Robert Mugabe undertook its violent and chaotic land redistribution program, the economy collapsed.

As the economic rot began, my contemporaries chose to relocate to places where running water and an uninterrupted supply of electricity is guaranteed.

They all left before Europe and America tightened immigration laws. ‘You’ll miss the immigration boat,’ they often said.

Jumping ship?

Three friends are overseas. From time to time they send photographs of their families and pets, the misty skied backdrops used to reassure me that I made the right decision in staying behind. They got the foggy skies, and I the power outages.

I have one friend who chose South Africa, preferring its unique mix of ‘first world’ service delivery and sunny skies. But for the immigrants, life across the Limpopo is hardly pap and vleis, to borrow a South African colloquialism. Four hundred Zimbabwean corpses are repatriated for burial each month: the majority of them die violently.

When I lost my job, after the bank retrenched to cut costs in an increasingly difficult business environment, I soon came to envy those that had made the move to colder climes.

Difficult choices

For a year, in which I tried desperately to find employment, I kept one eye on my phone – waiting on a job offer – and another on my fast dwindling bank balance.

When my savings finally ran out, I moved into the vacant worker’s quarters at my childhood home – the equivalent of my parents’ basement. For my mother, who has lost 5 of her adult children to the great migration, my homecoming was a happy occasion.

But for me, returning home is failure. Living in the cottage, rather than my old room, is some comfort. At least I can come and go as I please. But then again, I hardly go anywhere it costs money to sit at a table in a bar or restaurant.

Other than my livelihood, I feel as though I lost the most basic of human rights the right to procreate. Nothing is more emasculating than not having the means to pursue relations. A date costs money.

A generation lost

I am not entirely alone in this. Many of the people I knew in school – those that either missed the immigration boat, or lack the breaststroke technique to outswim the Limpopo crocodiles – are living with parents or sharing accommodation with strangers.

To people in normal countries, there is something seriously wrong with grown men and women having name tags on their food in the fridge.

It’s even stranger for a three-year-old child to overhear their parent receive car washing instructions from the grandparents – ‘And when you’re done taking out the garbage, water the vegetables!’

But Zimbabwe is hardly normal.

An atrophied economy

By the government’s own estimate, between 2011 and 2014, over 4600 companies have shut down and, as a result, 55 000 people have lost their jobs. Several well educated youths sell phone airtime or wash cars for a living. Their earnings are hardly sufficient to get them from one month to the next.

The long queues at Western Union and Moneygram tell a story of poverty and unemployment. Almost everyone looks to a cousin, sibling or child overseas for money to survive. According to the UNDP, in 2010, of 3 million Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora, only 7% did not have dependents back home. 72% had no less than 3 dependents.

Coping mechanisms

I’m a night owl. Mother, unaccustomed to my nocturnal timetable, often asks, ‘your lights were on all night, is everything okay?’

Night time is best for writing. There is healing in my writing.

I write to silence the demons. I write to drown the sound of chirping crickets. I write to vent my anger at a regime which, despite 15 years of failure, refuses to step down and pass the reigns to a more youthful leadership.

On my Facebook timeline, I might soon see balls of tumbleweed rolling past. I hardly post any pictures, because I have little to flaunt. I have concealed my birthday and hope that no one remembers.

On my last birthday, my younger brother – 9 years my junior – insolently remarked that there was more candle wax on my cake than actual cake.

This year I will hear none of his ‘old man’ jokes, nothing about too much candle wax. I am lighting only one candle in memory of the life I once had.

My pen is capped,


Waza is proud to feature as part of its content local bloggers who have a knack for expressing their unique perspectives, independent thoughts and engaging stories. The opinions expressed here are those of the author. Be sure to check out Waza blogger Tswarelo Mothobi’s opinion on churches taking over industries in Bulawayo, and don’t miss Jera’s other writing on Waza.

Source : Waza