Zimbabweans in Zambia: Life goes on…

ZIMBABWE’S President Robert Mugabe presides over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare. PICTURE: AP

IT IS Thursday morning, a day after the army took over control in Zimbabwe and placed the long-serving President Robert Mugabe under house arrest, and Nelson Dube (not real name) is sitting beside his luggage at Inter-city Bus Terminus in Lusaka waiting to board a bus back to his country.

Nelson is surrounded by scores of his countrymen and women, all waiting to return home.
“I’m a little scared. I don’t know what will happen on the streets when I arrive in Harare, but I’m going home,” says Nelson.
Despite the unfolding political situation in their country that has captured the attention of the world media and was still unfolding by press time, many of the Zimbabweans I met were determined to board the buses and travel back home.
Most of them are small-time cross border traders aching a hard living.
The economic crisis that hit Zimbabwe back in 2008 forced many of its citizens to get involved in cross border trading, while hundreds others are involved in small-time trading, hawking sweets and biscuits on the streets of Lusaka.
Nelson travels about once a week to Zambia to buy second-hand clothes, which he sells back home.
But he says the money he makes is not enough to support his family.
Nelson refuses to take sides on the political drama back home.
“If you talk anyhow, you can get into trouble,” he tells me, and makes it clear we must end the discussion.
At 35, Nelson has only known one leader all his life – Robert Mugabe, who started out as Prime Minister until 1987.
Asked about the change he wanted to see in Zimbabwe, Nelson says he wants the economy to change.
“I want jobs and a strong currency,” he says.
Nelson has never been employed since he graduated from high school over 10 years ago.
“There are no jobs in Zimbabwe,” he says.
Zimbabwe is said to be grappling with unemployment rate as high as 90 percent.
Although the developing situation in Zimbabwe has become the talking point internationally, the Zimbabweans I met at the bustling Inter-city almost seem disaffected. They shy away from the subject, some out of fear of the unknown.
“I’m just a driver, I drive this bus and arrive in Harare in the night, and sleep throughout the day, so I don’t know anything,” a man told me.
Amai Charai sells facial powders at the bus terminus. Her only worry was that the border might be closed and that she may not be able to go back to her family in Harare.
Amai Charai has many unanswered questions about the situation in her country.
“I don’t know what will happen, I just leave everything in the hands of God,” she says.
“It is God who appoints leaders, even presidents, and it is only God who can remove Mugabe. If He decides that he will die as President, he will die as President.”
When asked if she is happy living under President Mugabe, Amai Charai breaks into laughter.
“That is a very difficult question, I can’t answer it,” she says.
But one man says he has suffered enough.
Limbikani Limbikani is 62 years old. After working for many years as an electrician, he retired and was paid trillions of Zimbabwean dollars in pension, not a lot of money in a country which at the time was suffering from hyper-inflation.
“That money finished within a short time, and I was forced to sell on the streets to support my family,” he told me.
Mr Limbikani got a job with another company, but it soon closed down, he was thrown onto the streets, in a country with over 90 percent of unemployment rate.
“It’s hard my friend. I come here and buy second-hand clothes and go back to Zimbabwe and resell them. The money I’m earning here is nothing – it’s peanuts, but I still have to do it. But one day when I get sick, then that is the end of it,” he says.
When asked about the military take-over, Mr Limbikani responds: “I’m happy 100 percent.”
“I just wish my father and my mother, or even my brother who passed away two days ago were alive to see this,” he says. “It’s unbelievable. We have been waiting for this day for too long.”
But President Mugabe’s looming shadow on Zimbabwe and the globe seems far from fading.
On Friday morning, President Mugabe made his first public appearance since the military took control of the country, when he attended a graduation ceremony at Harare’s Open University.
The 93-year-old, perhaps in an apparent display of defiance, arrived at the ceremony on Friday morning dressed in a blue academic gown and tasselled hat.
As Mr Mugabe and other dignitaries entered a tent set up for the event, several thousand graduates of the Zimbabwe Open University and guests stood. And once on the podium, Mr Mugabe joined the crowd in singing Zimbabwe’s national anthem. He announced the opening of the graduation ceremony, which the crowd applauded.

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