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Indeed life was hard under colonialism but there were plenty of opportunities

23 May 2023 at 14:01hrs | Views
Over the weekend I drove my mother to her rural home in Rusape for an important family gathering.

To be expected, as soon as we hit familiar territory, which held significant memories for her - both good and bad - she was more than willing to share those stories with me.

Of course, there was never a shortage of such memories of her life as a child, mainly in the 1950s, when she was still a teenager.

The first was when we arrived in Harare, whereby she recalled her train travels to the capital (then Salisbury) on school holidays to visit her father.

He usually had brief stints in the high-density township of Mbare (then Harare) - where he performed some menial work to eked out a living - although he spent most of his time and life with his family back in Rusape.

These were somewhat pleasant recollections - what with the daze and amazement of the bright lights of the city - especially for someone who grew up in the rural areas.

However, when we reached Macheke, there was a significantly noticeable change in her anecdotes' tone.

Now, they had a more pronounced painful and sorrowful character - as she narrated her dire lack during her schooling years at the Roman Catholic Church-run Monte Cassino Mission.

She would tell of spending sleepless nights, trembling terribly, on account of biting wintery nights - as she only had one blanket to cover her small body.

That is the time when she made the firm determination never to suffer again, by making a success of her life - regardless of the fact that this was in a country still reeling under colonial rule, where racial segregation was the order of the day.

This already grave situation was further exacerbated by a deep gnawing hunger - due to the absence of adequate food - worsened by the fact that her hardworking, but severely impoverished, family could not afford to buy her much.

She had to make do with only a tiny amount of roasted peanuts and sugar - which they could muster, in spite of their sheer sweat and tears.

In fact, these miserable provisions were obviously never enough to last her an entire school term.

Therefore, her father was forced to undertake an 80-kilometre bicycle ride (since he could not afford train or bus fare) - from deep down rural Rusape to the school - in order to replenish her fast-dwindling peanuts and sugar stocks.

He made these extremely arduous, and even perilous journeys - which entailed traversing those intimidating mountains and immense forests - over a course of two days.

Due to this same poverty, she also told of how she would stay at the mission station during some school holidays - so as to perform ‘piece jobs', to help raise the money required for her fees.

Of course, what she managed to make was nowhere near what was required - which explains why she had to leave school after only reaching Standard Six.

She was encouraged by the Roman Catholic missionaries to study nursing - since there were no fees required - whereby, she subsequently moved to Silveira Mission in Bikita (Masvingo).

In hearing these heart-rending recollections - I could not help admire even more my mother's strength and determination to surpass all these seemingly insurmountable challenges - to become the person I have known, loved and admired so much.

In 1964, after completing her general nursing and midwifery studies, she found a job at the then iron and steel making giant RISCO (Rhodesia Iron and Steel Company) - later to be called ZISCOSTEEL, after Zimbabwe finally attained her independence in 1980.

At this juncture, that is where I get terribly aggrieved at how life in independent Zimbabwe has tragically betrayed the aspirations of the people of this country.

In looking at how truly tough life was for the ordinary citizenry during this colonial period - nonetheless, there were always opportunities for those who cared to work hard and make something out of themselves.

In spite of all the numerous odds, my mother broke free from those unbearable freezing winters and gnawing hunger - by finally having her own house, affording all the food she never knew even existed, and bought herself cars of her dreams.

As my mother was narrating these stories to me on our journey, I could not help draw contrasts and parallels to the situation presently prevailing in our independent Zimbabwe.

Although, our children who can now attend schools only a few kilometres (or even meters) from their homes - however, these still lack adequate learning material, with pupils having to share one torn textbook, and in most cases, in the absence of meaningful modern science and technology facilities.

43 years into breaking the shackles of colonialism, most of our children can expect to reach even higher levels of education - with thousands acquiring university degrees each year.

Yet, only a negligible percentage of these can ever hope to secure any gainful employment - thereby, forcing many into street vending, prostitution, robbery, or leaving the country for good.

As a matter of fact, when we arrived at my mother's rural home, we were shocked to learn of a vicious attack on our elderly uncle by a gang of young armed robbers - as they attempted to steal the local clinic's (where he works as a security guard) solar-power system batteries.

Furthermore, there were numerous other disturbing reports of daring housebreakings and murders - mostly at the hands of unemployed youth, roaming around with no hope - thereby, resorting to substance abuse.

As it turns out, due to the ever-soaring costs of education, which parents can no longer afford - quite a sizeable number of children are dropping out of school - further exacerbating an already horrible situation in Zimbabwe.

Then, I ask, "What manner of independence is this, when our children are robbed of their futures by a ruling elite that has failed to run the country?"

What real tangible development has our post-colonial government actually made, so as to give hope to the millions of young men and women, whose lives hang in the balance - with virtually no prospects for a bright future?

Yet, the lives of  those in power improved phenomenally from their miserable existence during the colonial era - whereby, today they live in vulgar opulence and extravagance, only comparable to Hollywood movie stars - through ill-gotten wealth mostly derived from the looting of our national resources.

Nonetheless, the people they claim to have ‘liberated' - after the protracted bloody armed struggle for independence - are now much worse off than they were before this uhuru.

At least, my mother - regardless of the torrid time she endured in her childhood - had a bright future awaiting her, through holding on to hope.

What hope can our youth today hold on to?

What is there for them to be excited about the future?

They are born in suffering, grow up in suffering, spend their entire adulthoods only knowing suffering, and dying still suffering (with quite a number passing away whilst still their prime).

Ever since Zimbabwe gained her independence, there has never been a shortage of promises by our leaders to make our lives ‘heaven on earth'.

Yet, except for the noticeable strides made in the first five or so years after 1980 - everything has, nonetheless, been downhill ever since.

Honestly, how can we expect to develop a country based on street vending, and so-called ‘projects' - in the absence of any real vibrant functional industry and commerce?

Instead of ensuing that our vast mineral resources are used in an equitable manner, which is beneficial to the entire population - these have, nevertheless, been transformed into Mafia gangs for those in power, who exploit unemployed youth, in unsafe working conditions, while getting nothing much in return.

We can fault our colonial past for the pain and suffering our parents encountered - but, if truth be told, they had hope for a bright future - since there were vast opportunities for them, even with very little schooling.

On the other hand, what we witness today in independent Zimbabwe is appalling and an utter disgrace.

Our children have absolutely nothing to look forward to, in a country unashamedly destroyed by a greedy, kleptomaniac oppressive ruling elite.

© Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice advocate and writer. Please visit his website/blog on, or join WhatsApp group on for regular articles

Source - Tendai Ruben Mbofana
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