Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Harsh Realities of Daily Life
Thomas Zhuwao is one of the many people whose lives have been shattered by Mugabe’s policies. In an interview with this reporter, he explained how he survives under the gruelling conditions that Zimbabweans have become accustomed to in the past five years, each of which has seen an absolute decline in the country’s gross domestic product.
IWPR: How old are you and where do you live?
Zhuwao: I’m 57 years old and I live in Epworth (A squatter camp about 50 kilometres southeast of Harare). I am married with three children.
IWPR: Your house in Epworth, was it demolished under the government’s Operation Murambatsvina [Operation Drive Out the Rubbish], which was launched last June?
Zhuwao: Yes, I had three rooms but the police condemned it saying it was an illegal structure, so they razed it with a bulldozer. They left one room for me where I now stay with my family. I took out the roofing sheets for the destroyed rooms and piled them in the yard but they were stolen the same night.
IWPR: Is there running water and a toilet at your house?
Zhuwao: There is no water. I used to have a well but it has dried up. I get water from neighbours. I have a pit latrine. I wanted to connect potable water but I can’t afford to do so anymore. I don’t think I will ever again afford to do that.
IWPR: And your children, do they go to school?
Zhuwao: My first-born son is 24 years old. He stays with me because he can’t get a job. [Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate is about 80 per cent]. The second one is a girl and she is 16. She dropped out of school because I could not afford to keep her there. The youngest is 12. I’m not sure whether she will finish school because as it stands we are struggling with school fees.
IWPR: When did you come to Harare?
Zhuwao: I came from Mozambique in 1965 and started working as a gardener in Marlborough [a Harare upmarket suburb] until 1973. I later went to work in Borrowdale [another upmarket suburb], again as a gardener until I retired in 1999.
IWPR: Did you get a pension?
Zhuwao: No I got nothing.
IWPR: So how do you survive now without a pension?
Zhuwao: I work at night as a guard and then during day I sell cigarettes and sweets in town.
IWPR: But vending is illegal. Do the police arrest you?
Zhuwao: Yes, we are arrested every day. Sometimes, we bribe the police to release us before we reach the charge office. Sometimes, they take everything you have and then let you go. The cheeky ones would give you a few slaps before they take your things. But most of the time we just bribe them and they leave us alone.
IWPR: How much do you pay them?
Zhuwao: The last time they caught me I paid 60,000 Zimbabwe dollars (enough to buy two loaves of bread). Sometimes they demand more, but we stand our ground because we know they are also desperate for whatever bribe they can lay their hands on.
IWPR: How many meals does your family eat each day?
Zhuwao: It depends if I have money, but on a good day they have two meals, although we can’t afford bread. Instead of having breakfast in the morning, we save money for lunch and sometimes for supper.
IWPR: You have lived under Ian Smith’s colonial government and then after Independence you have lived under President Robert Mugabe. Which era would you say was better in terms of quality of life?
Zhuwao: Well, under Smith there was racism and segregation. But to be honest I think the quality of life was better. As a gardener I used to eat bread every day. But under Mugabe things are really bad. I can't afford to buy bread. This shirt I have was a uniform at my last work place where I was a tea boy. Since then, six years ago, I have not bought a shirt. Under Smith prices did not change drastically as they do now. If I had 50 pence I knew that would buy the same thing I used to buy last week. Now I am not sure whether 50,000 Zimbabwe dollars in my pocket today will buy the same things tomorrow.
IWPR: Which one would you say was the hardest year in your life?
Zhuwao: 2005. This is the worst year in my entire life. Things are going up in price every week and my house was destroyed.
IWPR: Where do you think you will be three years from now?
Zhuwao: I don’t know. I just hope things will be better then, but what I see is that things might get worse. I pray that things will be better. I just pray because this is not life we are living.
IWPR: But why don’t you go back to Mozambique? I hear things are better there.
Zhuwao: I have been thinking of that but I now have a big family here and I don’t think I would manage. Even if I wanted to go back, after forty years here, I don’t have any money to travel or start a new life there.
IWPR: And what are you going to have for lunch today?
Zhuwao: A bun. I survived the police today.
Dzikamai Chiyausiku is the pseudonym used by an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.
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