Walking out in the neighbourhood early in the morning it’s a strange sight we see in small town Zimbabwe. 90% of people are unemployed, money flow is exceedingly tight and everywhere people are readying for another day of making a living on the roadside. For some it’s a few rocks, lumps of concrete, or chunks of rubble that support planks, boxes or pieces of tin on which they display their goods for sale. Others have got umbrellas, poles, plastic roofs and fold up tables for their goods. These are Zimbabwe’s ‘tuck shops’ and they are on almost every road in residential neighbourhoods and peri-urban areas.
Before the sun comes over the horizon a delivery truck from the local bakery stops on a dusty, potholed road. People emerge from all over and line up to buy a few dozen loaves of bread at wholesale prices which they will then sell at their ‘tuck shops,’ making a few cents on each loaf. Also in their ‘tuck shops’ you can be sure to find eggs, biscuits, fruit and veg, sweets, cigarettes, bottled drinks, basic groceries, telephone air time and more, depending on the size of their display tables and the dollars in their pockets.
Every morning from just after sunrise Zimbabwe’s tuck shop operators load their tables and sit out in the elements waiting for customers. When it’s sunny they get hot; when it rains they get wet and when a car roars past they get covered in dust while their toddlers play in the dirt nearby. If you go past at eight, nine, even ten at night, many of them are still there, their shacks illuminated by solar lamps as they wait for the last customer to go past.
As your morning walk continues the contrasts between the grit, determination and endlessly hard work of ordinary people and the neglect, deterioration and decay of the state’s urban and residential infrastructure is dramatic. Local council employees whose wages and salaries are paid by our rates are invisible around here. Roads are a maze of deep potholes; grass as high as a man lines uncut verges; dumped litter gathers under trees. Garbage is uncollected for weeks at a time in low density areas and months at a time in high density areas. Street lights haven’t worked for over a decade and the town’s only fire engine regularly roars past carrying firewood on its roof.
Further on in your early morning walk the contrast is different again. A hammerkop stands in a mud filled pothole waiting for the frog that must be under there somewhere while all around houses are rising from the foundations. Fat cats on government fiddles or Double D’s (Diaspora Dollars) you wonder? If it’s the fat cats the houses go up in quick time but if it’s Diaspora Dollars the constructions take months and even years as the money is slowly sent back home. The majority of Zimbabweans have survived for fifteen years on the millions of Diaspora Dollars being sent home by more than a quarter of our population who’ve been forced to go to work outside our borders. Our Central Bank Governor said this week that Zimbabwe received US$840 million in remittances from the Diaspora in 2014. That represents a staggering 2.3 million US dollars being sent home every single day from the Diaspora , an increase of fifty million dollars from the previous year. In 2013 US$790 million in Diaspora remittances was recorded, a clear indication that the situation is not improving in Zimbabwe.
Aside from this vast fortune being sent home by individuals every day, there are also the legions of people known as cross border traders. Men and women who go shopping to South Africa and other neighbouring countries and bring goods back to resell in Zimbabwe.
“When the history of Zimbabwe is written, these guys will be remembered for keeping the country afloat” one man wrote beneath a Facebook picture I shared of a hugely overloaded vehicle bringing goods back to Zimbabwe. The Diaspora dollars, roadside tuck shops and cross border traders have kept almost all ordinary families alive through Zimbabwe’s 15 year collapse and deserve recognition for their years of toil and hard work to make sure we’ve all been able to keep going.
Copyright © Cathy Buckle.