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Grace Mugabe and the fallacy of joyful impoverishment

27 Aug 2017 at 08:44hrs | Views
I did not ask Uncle Bernard if he was a happy man in his living years. I loved him so much but could never quite connect with him on the fatherly level I should have. Yet I always watched him carefully and wondered what exactly made him happy when he had no money and no job and no property in his mid-40s.

He had spent his whole life working as a mine labourer and had nothing but a small shabby place of residence in rural Manicaland to show for it. He had spent his entire adulthood away from home and away from his family and when life could have rewarded him with a loving family and extended happiness: he fell terminally ill.

Uncle Bernard and I would habitually share a laugh and a warm moment in his trying times. But he remained very ill and absolutely anxious for miraculous energy and priceless life. I could see the mental anguish congregate on his face when we had meals together. I could see wrinkly frustration coalesce around his eyes when he could not do the things he wanted to. I could appreciate his humanly fears when his small and slender form could not match the illness that had consumed him.

I could feel his simmering annoyance release real rough energy when he could not break free from the illness that had afflicted him. I felt for him. The doctors could not do anything for him. The medication did not help much and I could not do anything for him. Neither could his elder brothers or wife: she had left their matrimonial home and returned to live among her relatives.

So this colourless situation became loaded with broken dreams and lost hopes and the illness he had formed one small measure of an extremely painful matrix that had overwhelmed him and crushed his once-fun-loving spirit into a heap of fearful and ailing rubble. He had arrived home very ill and lacking full mobility and beleaguered by socio-economic complications and needs. His marital and monetary misfortunes had been passed on to his children and that had evolved into an excruciatingly slow-moving catastrophe: only one child did well in school.

The other children laboured endlessly and hopelessly through high school but failed Ordinary Level examinations rather dismally and casually drifted from the wider family. A lesser being would have poured scorn on Uncle Bernard and blamed his multidimensional demise on the conceivably questionable choices that he had made in life but that would have been awful and harsh and imprecise.

Uncle Bernard had worked hard for the nation as a low paid miner and common worker. Yet he had nothing to show for his strenuous and selfless efforts. Perhaps he had a few old colourful photographs of himself and a shortwave radio and a small bed and cheap blankets. Yet he really had nothing. His earthly belongings would hardly have occupied the back of a small truck. So he clearly had very few worldly possessions and limited options in life.   

He could not sit on a wooden chair and desk and apply for work: he had no employable competence for the wider commercial world. So nothingness consumed his long and uncertain days and nights and the powerful medication he survived on wore him down and exacerbated his mental impoverishment.

The small pension he had earned from the mine had hardly lasted long. Yet the mining industry had made millions of dollars in profit on the back of his hard labour and that of thousands of low ranked miners around the country – and the socialist state that has ruled Zimbabwe since day one of independence had happily collected millions of dollars in taxes from large scale mining operations.

That money hardly helped Uncle Bernard when he needed social and medical assistance the most. The best doctors in the land had left Zimbabwe and the stable deterioration in health care had begun. But the sloganeering comrades remained relaxed as medical experts emigrated in massive numbers. Even Eddison Zvobgo sought medical care in South Africa when he fell seriously ill in 2003. So lowly Uncle Bernard never stood a chance of prolonging his life amid incredibly difficult circumstances: neither he nor the nation had the means to alleviate his unfathomable pain and mammoth anguish. However: he deserved better.

He had not squandered a national fortune on bad economic policy and impoverished an entire nation. He drank alcohol though: but sparingly. His single vice had been the titanic faith he placed in traditional healers who often blamed close relatives and colleagues for the ceaseless woes he had encountered in life. So although Uncle Bernard had unwillingly relinquished his being to illness – an inadequate social assistance structure and an unbalanced and discriminating monetary dispensation had annihilated his lifelong hopes. The nation has never really cared for poor people beyond enthusiastic public pretentiousness when elections loom large on the horizon.

Uncle Bernard could barely speak after illness had ravaged his physicality. But nobody lent him the platform him to speak when he had dark red life flowing through his veins. He had no say in the social and economic affairs of the country beyond the vote he cast every four years. So Uncle Bernard never had a chance of rising above the profitable hardships sculpted by an egocentric and dishonest capitalist state since the dawn of our African Uhuru. So while the politicians feign empathy with all and sundry on public podiums: people do truly perish because of a multitude of social and economic shortfalls.

Zimbabwe has no honourable social safety net for the benefit of marginalised sections of society, such as the social welfare system South Africa has in place: people who earn less than R3 500 per month and have never owned a home qualify for cheap and subsidised housing. This is in addition to a praiseworthy bouquet of social welfare payments that include financial support for disadvantaged children and elderly folks. (South Africa is rich in mineral and natural resources. And, so is Zimbabwe.)

I once visited a rural homestead in Murehwa for a brand research exercise and came eye to eye with frightening and unquantifiable destitution. A frail looking woman welcomed me into her humble household for half a day. My lone takeaway from that leisurely and warm-hearted experience was profound bitterness at how substantial and debilitating poverty has become in Zimbabwe. Perhaps this seemingly institutionalised deficiency is larger than politics? What kind of civilisation have we built so far when a few distinguished people have so much property and money and the majority have inconsequential material and monetary assets?

Zimbabwe has not established ample skills training facilities and occupations for the less intellectually skilled among us. Zimbabwe has not cared for the underprivileged as well as the nation should have since our first Independence Day. But the comrades like General Chiwenga have become increasingly richer and richer with time. Maybe Uncle Bernard simply did not do enough to improve his lot. But I had another uncle whose trajectory and fall followed an eerily similar and destructive path.

So common neediness is hardly worth celebratory defiance on an international platform like the World Economic Forum held in Durban last May. Zimbabwe may be more sophisticated than Malawi and Mali and DR Congo combined - nonetheless: that is cold comfort for the millions of people who cannot afford three basic meals a day and decent accommodation and education.

Zimbabwe may have superior infrastructure to Senegal and Liberia and Equatorial Guinea combined - however: infrastructure alone does not secure foreign investment and sustain a national currency. And although Zimbabwe had larger dreams than Mozambique and Angola at Independence - still: those embryonic hopes and erstwhile socialist moralities remain raw recollections.

And the circle of scarceness that spun an ugly web around Uncle Bernard and tied him down knows no boundaries: I look at his children now and understand that they hardly stood a reasonable chance of making it in life without external help. Many rural schools simply lack books and facilities and equipment and specialised mentors and socialist interventions that can prop up pupils from poor households.

And everybody - teachers and headmasters included - has problems of their own to grapple with after school hours. So this unhealthy situation is a far cry from the reckless optimism of the last century when our shared morality championed commendable intent and equality and excellent quality of life for all citizens.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that serious social and economic challenges for nearly a decade have shaped an uncontrollable decline in the quality of health care services and infrastructure for the whole population. So Uncle Bernard cannot be the only person who perished in an unbearably unprofessional hotchpotch of substandard health care.

Parents should bequeath love and possibly cash and property to their children and not pass on huge and close-fitting shackles of manufactured impoverishment and cumbersome despair. The economic and social revolution anticipated through the constitution of Zimbabwe is well and truly dead when Grace Mugabe has seemingly bought herself a R45-million mansion in Johannesburg but common Zimbabweans cannot simply live happily and die with dignity.

Source - Tafi Mhaka
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