By Cathy Buckle
Standing on the pavement waiting for a friend outside a shop this week, I noticed a tall barefoot woman holding the hand of a little boy who was maybe three or four years old. Both the woman and the child looked to be in a bad way: dirty, dishevelled and gaunt. It was a scorching day, the heat was beating down and in the shadow cast by the buildings another young woman sat on a cloth she had laid out on the pavement. Next to her she had a bucket filled with plastic frozen tubes filled with coloured soft drink called Freezits. This is how hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans are making their living: sitting on pavements selling things because there are no jobs anywhere for 80% of our population who are estimated to be unemployed. Three months after elections won by a party whose slogan was ‘indigenise, empower, develop, employ,’ more and more companies are in trouble.
Between September and October alone, nine companies went into liquidation and twelve others were placed under judicial management.
Industries are shrinking at an alarming rate and almost every day there are reports of retrenchments and redundancies with numbers of people losing their jobs running into the thousands.
The tall woman and her child stopped in front of the bucket of Freezits and the little boy stared longingly at the bright coloured frozen drinks. ‘Five for a dollar ,’ said the pavement vendor but the mother had nothing except a look of despair in her eyes. She caught my eye but said nothing. No words were needed because once a Mum, always a Mum. I remembered how much my son used to love the sweet, icy Freezits in summer and how many thousands I used to sell from our little farm store before land invasions. We used to call the frozen drinks cent-a-cools and before that penny cools and there can’t be many Zimbabweans who didn’t grow up sucking on icy, plastic bags.
I pulled a dollar out of my pocket. The child chose a green Freezit while his barefoot Mum took another four and dropped them into the empty plastic bag she was carrying. She looked at me, clapped her hands in thanks and said quietly: ‘Four children at home but no work. Can you give me a job?’ ‘Sorry,’ I said, shaking my head and watched as she reached down for her son’s hand and they walked on, the boy sucking on his tube of frozen sugary drink. I can hardly bear to think what will become of so many unemployed, hungry Mums and their children in the times ahead. After the horrors of hunger in 2006, 7 and 8, we thought we would never have to see such despair and desperation again but already it is casting shadows on our streets.
Until the next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.