With the recent electricity cuts in Zimbabwe and our successful solar lamp drive, I got a sense of what Florence Nightingale may have felt as she traipsed around the Crimean hospital wards 160 years ago, bringing light to those in darkness, tending to the wounded. Our Zim Pensioners are in darkness and they’re also wounded. They are emotionally, economically, physically and mentally wounded and exhausted with their plight as old folk in Zimbabwe. Many of those I spoke to on this trip are just done with it all. When I asked a fellow in Harare (a successful non- Pensioner), who is normally upbeat and optimistic about the country, how he was? He said, simply “I am tired....”
They’re all tired now. These strong, resilient, positive, beautiful people are worn down and trapped in an unthinkable mess. The electricity cuts have been the final straw for many ordinary folk and more so for the Pensioners.
We (Elza) have family ancestors that were transport riders from Lydenberg S.A. to Zim (Rhodesia) in the 1800’s. They would have had fire lamps and coal irons. They would have cooked in the outdoors and carried & stored their water in buckets and barrels. Many would have traded in a cashless way, bartering and exchanging goods and services along the way. They would have learnt and improvised dramatically with every ride and they would have been proud of their progress. They would never have guessed that 150 years later their country will have reverted to the same; a cashless, electrically starved, waterless, bartering society that we see in Zimbabwe today. I travel a similar route as our ancestors would have back then and, along the way, I can’t help thinking how utterly disappointed they would have been.
I normally steer clear of politics in my reports because we’re in the business of charity and no more, but I’m really angry after this trip. I’m p.....d because I see the pain of these Grandies; their dreams and hopes are gone; their efforts are futile, their days are long and their nights even longer. I’m angry because it was all avoidable and unnecessary and I’m angry because no one seems to have a solution.
Hannes was ahead of the pack this year when he realised that the old folk really could’t operate in the darkness that Zimbabwe has now so liberally supplied. Darkness comes with unimaginable danger and difficulty for these old folk. There’s barely money for food, let alone torches and batteries. We’ve supplied candles over the years but those too come with great peril and bother. When you’re elderly and needing to pee, or move around in the night you can’t be holding a light too. The lamps that Hannes came up with are solar powered, can be hand held and have additional little lights that can be spread about the room. They can even charge a cell phone (for those oldies that are lucky enough to have one)
With the great kindness of so many donors throughout the world the fund managed to buy 723 units that I was privileged enough to deliver to each pensioner on this trip. The joy and gratitude was overwhelming at times bringing tears to many, including myself. I felt like a right cry baby by the end of 10 days! One only understands the greatness of this small gift when you hear the comments and conversations that go with the receiving of them. They talk of the prolonged loneliness as they lie in darkness for hours. Without the distraction of radios and televisions, snacks or books their minds wander too far from comfort and their reality and sadness is profound. Thanks many, many millions to everyone who gave to this special fundraiser. Thanks too to Linda, at the Malelane office, for putting the whole project together. You’ve all spread so much comfort and joy. Bless you all!
I left Malelane on 29 July and headed for Musina where I spent the night with friends at Bush babies lodge outside the town. I was well pleased that the new owner/ manager there was the daughter of my old school friend, Patty Bristow (Cawood). I had a relaxing evening there in anticipation of the dreaded border post the next day. (Do stay at this spot if you’re passing through to Zim. It’s close to the border, excellent value and really friendly. Super nice!)
My Tuesday morning border crossing wasn’t too bad. There was a glitch on the S.A. side, with their systems (again) and the trucks were jammed into the post parking like fallen Jenga blocks... a right shambles. With some shifty moves (not bribes!! ever!) and a kindly Customs dude I got out of there in four hours and made off for Bulawayo. I think I got to Bulawayo at about 15h30 pm and spent some time chatting to Hannes while we loaded the truck for the trip. Angela, her sister and their team were super fast and I was on my way to Gweru in about two hours. The truck was too loaded with food and lamps so Hannes had done a lamp drop as far as Kadoma in the days before. I was to do the rest with the truck. I got to Boggies trust in Gweru at about 20h00 where Bruce Chilcott and some of the residents were waiting for me. They had, again, booked my room for me at the cottages and Aunty Ivy Davy had made me a special Boerie roll. I felt like a King. Thanks to all at Boggies that show me so much love and kindness. You guys are flippen great!
We offloaded the Boggies boxes in the early morning. I gave a Grandies an eyeful this morning. My trusty Thabile had washed and ironed some shorts, a while ago, with the crotch all but missing and had packed them back in my cupboard. Well today I donned those without looking down to see how they fitted. I would have been more appropriate on a pole in Bangkok than on a truck in Gweru when Aunty Ivy pointed out my ventilation. I won’t repeat here some of the remarks...... Zim Humour is too good!
I handed out some beautiful knee blankets to the Boggies folk. Each of these are specially crocheted, knitted and stitched for the Pensioners by Juliet Grey and her friends in Howick, KZN. They’ve donated these on several trips and the excitement and gratitude has been brilliant to watch.
At Huisvergesig, across town, I did my second delivery and met with the new Vice Chairman of the board here. It was pleasing to hear of the many changes they have in store for this home. It’s been a particularly sad place, for me, in all these years, and we’re excited to see what the changes bring. It was here this morning that I heard of a Shurugwe Brahman farm that also lies in tatters after being “resettled”. The livestock on this farm were from a gene pool and time when the whole bull had to be brought in, from the USA, by ship to Durban and by train to Shurugwe; Not just a gene specimen or cup of “strong swimmers” in an overnight bag; the whole animal! In another case of absolute mismanagement and waste this herd is now no more. Gone with the stroke of a pen............
My next stop, Redcliff, or as it’s now known, “Deadcliff” my spirits were hardly lifted. This former industrial hub is a wasteland of nothingness. A few leftover souls wander here for want of a better home. I’m always sad here. I noticed a particular chap at this home had lost a fair bit of weight and asked another about his health. He’s in perfect health I was told but he had “decided to lose some weight”. I gathered, and suspect, from the conversation that followed that “deciding to lose weight” in Zimbabwe, for a Pensioner, could mean something very different. When your meal portions are halved, there’s no afternoon snack, Jam on bread (if you can get it) is a mere wipe, and your Mazoe is replaced with a glass of water and a twist of lemon, you’re bound to lose weight whether you “ decided” to or not. I left Redcliff with a heavy heart, only guessing what would become of these folk when their final pennies run out? How does one prepare for this horrible fate? A fate imposed on you by the greed of others.
I forgot to thank Bruce Chilcott earlier for the spray of Q20 lubricant under my seat. My seat squeak disappeared after Redcliff and my sanity was restored. Thanks Dear Bruce!
At Lynbrook home, in KweKwe, I was met as usual; by (just about) all the residents and some “outsiders” (These are folk that are still in their own homes). Man, how I love the ballies at this place. There’s great warmth and kindness here and I had to fight off the “padkos” that they insisted I take. There’s always a juice, a cup of tea and a laugh at Lynbrook. I also had to “fight off” Ken Connolly who wanted me to stay the night. If I hadn’t an appointment in Harare that night I might have taken him up on the offer knowing well that I would suffer the same fate as Hannes did a night or two before. A merry time was had, I understand...... Thanks for your kind offer Ken. I’ll do a stop-over on a future trip.
I must say another huge thank you here, to all the brilliant friends, throughout Zimbabwe, that offer me/us accommodation and more. I do love you guys’ maningi but I’m always dashing to get back to my business in Durban. Patty and Paul Bristow, my cousins; the Strauss’s and the Extons, Billy Mitchell, Shar & Chris Richmond at Marondera, Corrie & Rene Odendaal, my Aunty Lulu McKenzie, Rob & Moira Cunningham in Masvingo and many more; you guys are super special. I’m going to do a long trip sometime and I’ll take you all up on offers. Thank you!
My next stop was at Westview in Kadoma. Clive & Estelle O Reilly and Del Parkin, on clipboard, were there to meet me. We offloaded their boxes quite quickly today because of my appointment in Harare and I must say that I missed the customary lunch that they always provide for me (and the beer!) These guys are stalwarts in this community and we’re so grateful to them for all they do for the old folk.
My last delivery for the day was at Sunningdale in Chinoyi. I say this in every report; but I love these people too! They come from far and wide to welcome the trucks arrival and are so massively grateful for their goody boxes. They line up their little old bakkies and each help the other to get packed up and on their way. Know that these people are eternally thankful for your givings.
I got to Harare in the early evening and parked the truck for the night. We’re very thankful to Charlie & Glynis Piers for the use of their property. Parking the truck anywhere is always an issue for us and it’s an enormous bonus that you can help us. Thanks Guys...
I also needed to park myself and I’m always very thankful to my special friend, Pushkin Style, for putting me up in her home. You’re a star Push. Thank you!
I met tonight with a few really interesting folk that I had pre- arranged via friends in Harare. A Durban mate was chaperoning a Norwegian Dude that‘s researching the true and honest history and goings on in Southern Africa. His aim was to speak to balanced and genuine people throughout the region who have been profoundly affected by the farm occupations, land invasions, displacements, replacements, migrations and injustices, on all sides. He’ll use this information in publications throughout Europe to bring awareness and perspective to the people there. I’m very grateful to him and I’m grateful to the people that spoke about their own painful circumstances from which others could learn. I believe much good will come from his publications. Many thanks to John, Chris, Pushkin, Pat and those at “Tin”. We really do need to be creative in getting the best help for our beloved country. (Chris, The Norwegian, loved the evening and Zimbabweans so much that he’s back there, lapping up the awesome hospitality.)
On Thursday morning I delivered to Mike and Marion Futter again. Mike & Marion are a massive help to us in and around Harare. At their own expense and time they deliver and administer all the boxes for that region; SOAP, Harare Outsiders, the CFU, Mazoe Valley Trust and more recently Kariba too. The savings for the fund are huge and were so thankful to them.
We can’t thank enough, Vic Bongiovanni, at Concrete Structures, my next stop, for the invaluable fuel donation that he gives us on every trip. It goes without saying that for every drop of fuel that we save we can supply many more boxes of food. We thank you deeply Vic for your special kindness and care for the old folk. You’re a great man.
Paul & Michelle de Klerk are still delivering our Chivu boxes for us. I left their boxes with them later in the morning. I’m helleva! grateful to them because it saves me a huge round trip through the gamadoolas of Buhera and Dorowa to get to Chivu on the crappiest road in Zimbabwe.
I left Harare and stopped briefly at Marondera and then did my delivery at Resthaven in Rusape. This is another of my favourite homes. These good people are always up for a laugh and I’ve inserted another short video clip to show the spirit and gratefulness of the residents here.
In the late afternoon I got to Mutare where Des & Sally Becker fed, watered and pampered me again, in their home. It’s always a huge pleasure to spend time with such good people but tonight came with some solid truths about their community. The collapse of medical Aids in Zim, a dire shortage of funding and no chemicals for the X-Ray and Dialysis machines at the clinic, adjacent to Murambi, has left a serious threat of closure of that facility. The implications of that are just too horrid to contemplate. The old folk and many others throughout that district will be left at the mercy of the State facilities which are massively overburdened and under supplied. A local nurse went public recently to say she had to set a baby aside because she didn’t have a syringe to administer an injection for the poor little thing. I never learnt of its fate? We must pray earnestly and deeply for the rescue of this unit. A donor/ sponsor or solution must be found and I pray that it is sooner than later.
We spent much of the night chatting, about hurricane Itai, which devastated Chimanimani earlier this year. The destruction was unthinkable and, I was left thinking “Thank you God for good people like the Bekkers and their friends” who offer so much to Mutare and the surrounding communities. These little pockets of good, unaffected and solid people are what keep Zimbabwe going.
I was away early on Friday morning. Des offered, once again, to do all the deliveries through the Eastern Highlands, in his own time, at his own expense. Murambi, Park Cottages, Soap Mutare, Strickland lodge, Nyanga and Chipinge; a huge area! The savings for the fund is great and very welcomed.
I got to a spot just beyond Birchenough Bridge on this morning that reminded me so much of my home area, in the Lowveld, that I had to stop and walk awhile into the bush. I wanted to crunch the dry Mopani leaves. I wanted to poke a cow patty to let the evocative smell out. I welcomed those little midges that fly about your head and into your eye! I listened to the silence and welcomed the flies buzzing around. I sat on rock for a beautiful 45 minutes. I was happy but sad and angry. I thought about my childhood in Zim and what might have been. I thought about my family. Should we stay on this continent that we love so much or are we prolonging the inevitable in South Africa. The big wussie Whenwe that I am, I shed more tears. A bunch of self pity tears this time.
Aaaand we’re moving on........
When I got to Masvingo a little later, Val Hundermark, Johnny Nel and their team were waiting to offload at Pioneer cottages. This is my school town so I particularly enjoy this stop. The names on my list are all people I know from way back and it’s always good to catch up. I found Rob & Moira Cunningham there again?? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they are always at the old age home. I rather think that they do a whole lot more helping there than they admit to; another fine example of good people holding these communities together.
It was great chatting for a while and I got on my way again to Zvishavane. Lynne and John D’Ewes always offer some respite on my trips. They feed me sweet tea and pancakes, we laugh and we gossip. It’s great! There aren’t many of our Pensioners left in the town now but the D’Ewes do a great job in caring for them and we’re very grateful for their help. I could have spent the evening nattering but I had to move along to Shurugwe for my final delivery.
As always, the folk at Muus lodge were waiting for their boxes with their wheelbarrows in a row. I offloaded and spent more time chatting and listening to their stories. What a tragedy is this once beautiful little town. With its mixture of newfound miners and hustlers, yelling at me as I drive through, it’s the only place in Zim where I feel threatened and unsafe. It’s now a cesspool of iniquity that I imagine the old time gold rush towns might have been like. The place is squalid and unsavoury, especially on a Friday night. I’m happy to get out of there. Our Pensioners aren’t as lucky to get out if they chose to...
Back at Boggies Trust I was again given my special room with the very many blankets on the bed that guarantee me a warm night. I was well happy with a visit from my cousins, the Strauss’! We tucked into my last bottle of red wine (I sneak a few along) for the trip and all was good.
On Sunday morning I collected the empty boxes around town and got back to Bulawayo by mid morning. Angela was waiting to take off all my empty boxes and I was good to head for the border by midday. My final stop was for another fuel donation at Colbro. We cannot thank these guys enough for the financial pressure they take off the fund with these fuel donations!
The border was a breeze going out four hours later and I was back in S.A. by the early evening. I normally head straight for Malelene but I ran out of steam at Louis Trichardt (Mikado) and decided to stay over at the old Lalapansi hotel; another source of great memories. What a surprise when the receptionist told me that the hotel owner had seen me pull up in the marked truck and had phoned through to say I could stay for half price!! Thank you Mr Lalapansi Hotel. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t get his name but I will make it my business. Travelling Zimbabweans; please use this hotel. He’s kind.
I was quite bugg....red but made it through dinner. I don’t know if I ate alone because on my table was the hugest candelabra that I’ve ever seen! There may well have been someone eating opposite me? I was too tired to peep around.
I wanted to make it all the way back to Durban on Monday so I left especially early but that wasn’t to be.
My trip back to Malelene was uneventful until I got within ten minutes of my final destination with the truck. (I was to collect my car and head for Durban.) Outside Malelene some Protesters had pulled a tanker across the road and run off with the keys!! Small cars could just get by but Lorries were stuck and piling up. I’m grumpy as hell when I get to day nine of these trips and I was ready for a fight! My fearless ranting was ignored by the police and the protesters alike (as I should have expected) and I was shooed back to my truck where I was stuck for over four hours while the tow truck company (Note; not the Police) arranged for Scania to come and decode the truck ignition. I didn’t know how long that would take and I wanted to go home!
I eventually decided to drive the further 180 + Km’s, back to Nelspruit and out via Barberton to arrive, over two hours later, to a point a kilometre from where I started. Fortunately, for my sanity, the blockade was still in place. I never did find out how much longer it took to clear.
I decided to stay in Malelane for the night and headed home on Tuesday. A bit weary.....
I’ve come to the end of my ramblings but I can’t go without another desperate appeal for your prayers and /or your kind donations. The situation in Zim is chronic guys. Not just for the Pensioners this time, but for everybody. It’s a time reminiscent of 2008 except that this time there are goods on the shelves but people can’t afford them. Many or most people don’t have cash and those that have small reserves in the bank are finding it more difficult to keep up with the daily inflation. Most of our Pensioners simply have no money at all left and are dependent on the small boxes that we give them every few weeks. There is hunger amongst our own in Zimbabwe. Please don’t abandon them? I appeal again to those who have parents in Zimbabwe. I’d be a smarty pants to say this but please be sure that your parents back home are not fibbing to you about their conditions. We constantly come across these old guys that are proud and don’t want to bother their children. They won’t ask for more from them, despite their suffering. They may get the rent and utilities paid but many are on the breadline and living off morsels. Sorry to be presumptuous but it really is a reality. Please kutarisira Vanhu vakuru (look after the old people)
And finally; the hugest of ‘Thanks” to the donors of this fund; the joy and relief you all bring to these people is immeasurable. They are proud, decent, beautiful people that cry out in gratitude for every crumb that you give them. Thank you a million times! God Bless Zimbabwe?
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