Zimbabwe is broken and may feel hopeless but it’s ours and we have a responsibility to create a future.
Zimbabwe hasn’t exactly inspired much hope in anyone over the past decade or so, least of all young people who have found themselves out of school and jobless in a country where unemployment among the youth currently stands at around 90%. We are a highly literate, qualified and jobless bunch.
The youth of Zimbabwe and by youth I mean individuals aged between 16 to around 30, not the broad definition used by the Government which includes individuals well into their 40. Then again in a country where the president is practically an ancestor at 93, forty can reasonably be regarded as youthful. Anyway I digress, the youth of Zimbabwe has undoubtedly been the greatest casualty of the incumbent regime, the endemic poor governance, mismanagement of resources has left young people vulnerable, disempowered and open for exploitation. It’s little wonder why so many young people have lost hope in the country and are so desperately trying to jump ship, in order to seek greener pastures.
But among the hopeless, there are those you meet and they inspire you and fill you with hope; they are Zimbabwe’s unexpected advocates and see a silver lining even in the bleakest of situations. Yes, they are struggling, but they are fighting for survival and not letting the system get the better off them. For those not fortunate enough to cross the border into neighbouring countries or have a generous relative overseas who can help them escape, they are forced to contend with the house of horrors Zimbabwe has become. Where some are wasting away, drinking away their sorrows, there are those who have taken it upon themselves to ride the system and try to make it on their own. Hustling here and there, fingers in many different pies. These are the resourceful young Zimbabwean’s who inspire me.
On a recent trip to Zimbabwe, I stumbled across a group artisan miners or as they are locally known “Makorokoza”. They roam around gold rich areas mining for gold, often illegally. They can go for months digging deep into the ground with no reward, praying that one day they strike it lucky. Once in a while, they may hit the jackpot and get a few grams but most of the time, they’ll come back empty handed to their hungry families saying “ndakaviwa”, “we have been kicked”. But still, even when the losses are painful they wake up in the morning, gather up their picks and hammers and go back down those man-made shafts praying for a better load for next time. What choice do they have? It’s not like anyone out there is recruiting?
You have to admire the resilience of these young men, where many would give up they keep going. They have this unwavering faith in better things to come which inspires me. As an outsider, it’s easy to look at them and see the desperation of their situation and the unfairness of it all. But, as there sat there clustered together sharing sadza, vegetables and locusts there was something in them that just said: “don’t feel sorry for me, I’m a survivor”. Their enthusiasm is infectious and you can’t help but admire their positivity and sense of humour about their situation. You have to have a sense of honour about these things I guess- otherwise, they’ll consume you. They regaled me with tales of how they planned to spend their money once they went to the mill. “ahhh mainini, vamwe vano rova ma kilo muma komba muno, ahhhh mainini muchandiona ndakudriva benz manje manje” (Others are getting kilos in these mine shafts, very soon you’ll see me driving Benz very soon)one said to me laughing. I looked at him and prayed deeply that one day he does strike it lucky and get a kilo gold nugget, but I know full well that the likelihood of that, especially in these parts is very slim. When I look at these young men I remember this Ndebele saying “siphila nge themba”, (we live in hope) I spent about an hour with them and I came out feeling like yes thing’s in Zim are freaking hard but they are not impossible.
You then get the young women, hustlers. I wandered into a salon in Bulawayo wanting to treat myself to a rare manicure. In Zimbabwe, you can get a stunning manicure for as little as £6, in the UK you splash out at least £25, so I wasn’t going to miss out on this golden opportunity. I walked in and saw this radiant young woman with beautifully manicured hands labouring over another woman’s nails. She was quick to smell business and before I’d even said what I wanted, she’d kicked her customer off the chair and had me sit down to start doing my nails- that’s the trick to keeping customers, start the service so they can’t leave. After she’d filed my nails and stuck on the acrylics she asked me to sit aside and invited the first customer back in the chair to finish the job. While I sat there she started talking about how she got where she was today. “Who is recruiting these days in Zim? No one, you need to make your own luck in this country. I found myself sitting at home doing nothing. My parents had nothing and couldn’t even pay for me to do a course. I had this boyfriend who said he wanted to marry me, I told him I wanted to go to school first before walking down the aisle. Luckily he agreed and even offered to pay- “nansi uthando” (that’s what love does). I’ve always been into beauty and nails so I jumped to do the beauty technician course. After a year I had my certificate in my hands. The relationship broke down so I had to find a way to get myself started”. She sold her phone and a few other possessions to buy her nail starter kit containing acrylics, nail polishes, nail files, nail clippers. She rented a chair in a shop and the customers started coming. After 2 months she’d made enough to buy another phone. 2 years on business is booming and she’s a glowing newlywed. She finished my nails beautifully and I left her shop feeling again inspired, yes shits hard out here but it’s not impossible.
What inspires me most about these young people is the fact that they have not just sat and waited for someone to offer them a job in the formal job market, instead they have grabbed the bull by the horns and had the courage to make something happen for themselves. Survival instinct is the best attribute we have as human beings. One thing really stands out when interacting with them, there is no shortage of ideas. They are rich in passion, energy, creativity and talent. Nurtured properly these young people are the key the healing and future prosperity of Zimbabwe. Unless something changes and quickly, this generation will effectively be Zimbabwe’s biggest tragedy. We have been let down beyond measure by the incumbent government and our futures have been robbed. Any hope our parents had for themselves and us as the “born frees” have been shattered. But still, we must carry on. Zimbabwe is broken and may feel hopeless but it’s ours and we have a responsibility to create a future.