It has often been stated that Zimbabweans are friendly people and as warm as the southern African climate. They are generally accommodating, polite, well mannered and generous. And I have generally found this to be true. Only on a couple of occasions have I had to doubt this. One time when I was walking around Harare centre, when a young man shouted out “Hey, Murungu give me your money.” But even then, he was laughing and I realised he was drunk and joking. Just as well, as had he been a Tsotsi, he would have been out of luck, as I never carry anything of value on me and I haven’t got much worth stealing anyway.
The other occasion was when I was stopped by the police driving in Harare’s city centre. I was just heading down Kenneth Kaunda Avenue, looking to turn right into the road that runs up towards Meikles Hotel, when I realised I was in the wrong lane. I stopped at the robots and signalled to the driver on my inside that I needed to pull across him when the lights changed, which he waved and smiled that he was happy to allow me to go first. However, the policeman standing just inside the turn was not as happy.
He stepped out and waved me over to the side of the road. He wasn’t smiling and it was obvious that he had an attitude, as he scowled at me. He checked my license and then informed that I had made an illegal manoeuvre and that this constituted a $10 dollar fine. And did I accept this and acknowledge and respect his superior position of authority?
DRIVERS LICENSE PLEASE
Obviously not; I argued with him and stated my case which was totally reasonable. But obviously not to him, as he informed me that the fine had now gone up to $20. Mercy, my partner and always the voice of common sense, now intervened and persuaded me to pay the fine before it went up again to $40 or even higher. Had I been a tourist or on a one time business trip, this would have been a negative experience which may have stained my opinion of my visit. But as it was, I know that this is not uncommon and just has to be faced as a fact of life here. Mercy was once stopped at a police road block, when the officer went all around the vehicle and struggled to find anything amiss. Eventually, out of desperation he warned her that her back light reflector was faded. Hey, crime of the century, officer?
Police roadblocks force people to wait in line for an officer to decide whose vehicle should be inspected. Generally the queues move quite quickly, as most are waved through, but it can be frustrating. For a while things improved and there appeared to be less of them. But, they appear to be back again. I have been on a mere hour long journey and have gone through four police road blocks and a tollgate.
Ah, tollgates; where you can often find even longer queues, especially if the swipe machines are playing up. And does everyone wait patiently in line? Well yes, generally they do. All except for some Kombi drivers who sail all the way past everyone and then try to force their way in close to the front. I’ve seen Kombi drivers push too hard and too close, which has resulted in the inevitable crunch of metal. And predictably this has caused even longer queues.
Personally, it is one of my missions in life never to let them in, at risk of being verbally abused. In fact on one occasion, I had a mature African lady in the back of my car, giving her a lift home, when the Kombi driver who was trying to cut in, insulted not just me, but also my passenger. He called her: Musikana webasa,” insinuating that she was just a house girl, having to ride in the back. No respect. But he looked a little sheepish when the lady launched into him with some uncompromising abuse of her own. Had I had a more comprehensive knowledge of Shona, I’m certain that I would have been shocked and probably blushed. And just as frustrating as the Kombi drivers are the privileged elite (full of their own self importance) who appear to have their own lane and just go straight through.
People have to wait in line in many circumstances, including at the local council offices, post offices and especially at banks and the ATM machines. And when its time, having to queue up to vote. But by far, the queues for fuel are the award winners. I’ve sat in them for several hours myself; but I had the time. It’s astonishing how committed the locals are, virtually taking up residency at their spot. Generally there is camaraderie among them, and as a chorus they will curse the same privileged few who abuse their position at the tollgates and go straight to the front of the queue for their fuel.
There is a shortage of fuel and other things, but no shortage of frustration and dissatisfaction at the situation for the general populace. It is expected and accepted, so no one really complains, or dares to for fear of retribution and punishment. Despite Zimbabwe’s recent political past, current predicament and the many challenges it faces, its people have displayed a resilience and reserve that the rest of the world have found incredulous. They have had to put up and shut up for far too long and that resilience is been strained to breaking point. They will wait in line, but ultimately they are waiting for a change to come.