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The many faces of Zimbabwe

The poor are paying the price of Zimbabwe’s nouveau riche in so many ways.

What a strange, tangled web Zimbabwe weaves this August. On a political level is the meteoric rise of the President’s wife who, in a single month, has gone from having no political standing at all to being nominated to take over as the head of Zanu PF Women’s League and on the Zanu PF Central Committee by year end. Sixty-seater buses overtake you perilously on the highways at vast speed, their sides and backs plastered with Mrs Mugabe’s face.

On an everyday level we’ve got wealth beyond imagining in upmarket suburbs of Harare where car parks bulge with top of the range vehicles. You suck in your breath and almost feel ashamed to park your twenty year old car between the Mercedes and the Prada, Pajero or black Hummer with its tinted windows. Meanwhile in other urban areas, out of sight and out of mind, there are people living in dark prefabricated wooden cabins and plastic shacks, where garbage rots in mounds along the roadsides and sewage flows on eroded, pot holed roads.

In a single week a patchwork of images provide the face of Zimbabwe. In an urban area a woman in a tight leopard print mini skirt and even tighter black top, wearing thin stemmed high heels, carries a 10 kilogram bag of maize meal on her head; on her back, wrapped in a striped towel, is a baby.

On a dusty detour approaching the capital city a ten tonne truck piled with skulls, cattle skulls, is exposed for all to see, many still with scraps of flesh and smears of blood on them. Along the road a man walks, carrying a plastic bag with a live chicken in it, its head sticking out the top.

Under a tree on the highway stand three policemen, one counting a thick wad of bank notes, keenly watched by the other two.

In a communal land, children play on the rusty metal left behind from yet another car wreck. Goats dawdle across the road; blue frayed string, the remnants of their tethers, dragging behind them. Grass is grazed down to the dust and maize leaves and stalks (mashanga) piled high on wooden stands, rationed out to livestock until the rain returns. Newly fired bricks unloaded from home made kilns are stacked up ready for building; piles of newly cut thatching grass are stacked and waiting to go on roofs before the rains. Neat orderly homesteads, swept clean, plates upside down, drying in the sun on crooked home-made wooden stands.

Passing commercial farms seized over a decade ago, the grass is tall and ungrazed; roads overgrown; fences gone; big herds of dairy and beef cattle long gone. An occasional mud walled, grass thatched hut and an acre or two of maize stubble but not a man or beast to be seen.

Lastly there is the encounter at the Harare international airport. ‘The systems are down’ you are finally told in passing after standing, queuing for two hours to get to the check in counter. With at least thirty people still behind you and departure time just five minutes away you know there isn’t a hope of getting to your destination in time, let alone catching connecting flights.

Marrying all the images is impossible and for me the sight of two young Egret birds standing in a pile of roadside litter pecking at a dumped disposable nappy says it all. The poor are paying the price of Zimbabwe’s nouveau riche in so many ways.

Copyright © Cathy Buckle. www.cathybuckle.com

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