On the dusty highway, kids sit on the roadside alongside the potholes. It’s sugarcane-cutting time in the lowveld and the enormous trucks are hugely overloaded with blackened sugarcane sticks being taken from the fields to the processing plants.
As you get closer to the town it’s not just kids sitting by the potholes, but also teenagers and young men with ox carts and donkey carts. As the overloaded trucks go through each pothole some of the sugarcane gets dislodged and falls to the tarmac, where it is hotly pursued by the youngsters. Free sugarcane, hungry stomachs – or both, I asked myself.
The answer came a few bumpy potholes later as kids darted dangerously in front of traffic to grab a stick or two of blackened sugarcane.
Three young boys, out of school for half a year now, thin and barefoot, grabbed the fallen sugarcane and threw it up onto a cart being pulled by four donkeys. Jumping up onto the cart they gestured to their open mouths, asking for food but I had nothing so just waved and called out: “How are you?”
Shouts of laughter rang out and they echoed my question, waving back, their smiles wider than their bellies and warmer than their bare feet.
A teenager with a spiky hairstyle driving a cane-filled cart pulled by a pair of oxen raised his hand in response to my greeting but his eyes told a thousand stories of boredom, missing school and learning, and living a life of grinding toil.
Seeing children using the effects of potholes to get food and driving donkey and ox carts feels like a forgotten era, a lost generation, a world away from the ongoing trauma in Zimbabwe where nothing is normal or predictable in these frightening times.
Five weeks after he was arrested, award-winning corruption-exposing journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was still incarcerated. He was denied bail three times and his internationally-acclaimed human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was banned from visiting or representing her client.
UPDATE: Chin’ono and political activist Jacob Ngarivhume, were granted bail on September 2.
Others who had called for people to join a protest against corruption in July – a protest that never happened – also remain incarcerated, with bail repeatedly denied.
Meanwhile the economic crisis continues unabated in Zimbabwe.
The government rate for US dollars was last week pegged at Z$83 for one US dollar, leaving the many without access to US dollars in a state of penury.
Pensioners who had been living on pensions of US$500 a month – which were converted to Zimbabwe dollars by the government 19 months ago – are now getting the equivalent of US$6, or six loaves of bread, a month.
The inflation rate is now being officially quoted at 837%.
A recent report by Bloomberg says that “should government fail to bring inflation under control, bread will cost at least Z$600 by this time next year”.
And according to the World Food Programme, 60% of Zimbabweans – that’s 8.6 million people – will be “food insecure” by December.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) described the dire situation in a pastoral letter: “Some of our people continue to live in hideouts, with some incarcerated while others are on the run. Fear runs down the spine of many of our people today.
“Our government automatically labels anyone thinking differently as an enemy of the country.”
The Minister of Information, Monica Mutsvangwa, responded by saying the ZCBC pastoral letter had been written under the “evil-minded” leadership of Archbishop Robert Ndlovu, who she said was “fanning the psychosis of tribal victimisation”.
Mutsvangwa said Ndlovu “is inching to lead the Zimbabwe Catholic congregations into the darkest dungeons of the Rwanda-type genocide”.
Chilling words for Zimbabweans to hear 40 years after the massacre of 20 000 people in Matabelelend, for which no one has yet been held to account.
Chilling words that we hope little boys on a donkey cart loaded with sugarcane never have to hear or understand.
Cathy Buckle is a Zimbabwean writer and blogger living in Marondera, Zimbabwe.
Copyright © Cathy Buckle