UPMARKET Barbours department store on First Street is a hive of activity as bargain hunters rush to do their Christmas shopping. The high-class department store has extended its shopping hours. Gi
lded smiling half-moons on red crepe paper are part of the decorations put up to capture the festive mood.
In the third-floor children’s department, kids are receiving presents from “Father Christmas”, who is sitting adjacent to the till. A harassed mother in the latest hipster and a turqouise blouse watches a toddler eyeing an American punchball set.
There is a selection of Barbie dolls and some Fisher Price-imitation lorries. A little girl with braided hair clutches a giant pink teddy bear. Price: $946 000 — a farcry from the average monthly wage of most domestic workers.
At Borrowdale Brooke’s new Spar superstore, on special offer this week are Albany Christmas mince pies, giant focaccia bread, prawns and fresh oysters.
In this marble-floored heaven, Brian peers at sirloin steaks on the refrigerated display. He is prepared to part with a cool $200 000 for 4 kg of the meat which will be marinated, braised and barbecued on Saturday afternoon on manicured lawns. The leftovers, usually in abundance, are thrown to the Bull Mastiff and the Rottweiler.
Across the city to the south of the capital at a clearing adjacent to Mbare Musika, hundreds of residents go through their daily routine of shopping for meat. There are no shops, not even stalls but women with dishes full of fresh meat of all sorts. The street-side market offers beef, chicken, pork, mutton and offal, which attract the poor residents as much as it lures swarms of flies.
James from a squatter camp on the banks of Mukuvisi River peers closely at the meat. He has only $3 000. It is enough to get him a meal. The lady entrepreneur can offer him a bit of pig liver for that amount. It’s not much, perhaps 75 grammes. But he carries it off happily. It will be shared by his partner and two kids. He is greeted like a conquering hero back from a successful hunt.
The family will not even notice the stench from the piece of meat. Today they can bribe their stomachs that they are having meat instead of the never-changing diet of boiled vegetables.
Brian and James live in the same city but are worlds apart. They voted in the 2000 general election and they both intend to vote in March next year. Brian says he will vote because it is his democratic right to do so. But James prefers the prospective candidate who visited the camp recently and promised to relocate them to new flats being built “kuWillowvale”.
The gap between the “have and the have-nots” has never been so pronounced in the country’s 24 years of Independence. With Zimbabwe’s silver jubilee beckoning, the general populace has become poorer in direct contrast with its rulers who are wallowing in astonishing prosperity.
UNAids in its latest global report has said life expectancy in Zimbabwe has plunged to 35 years due to the HIV and Aids pandemic. The Zimbabwe Human Development report says 70% of the country’s populations can be classified as poor. Here is an ever-lengthening housing waiting list, schools have no furniture or books, hospital drug stores are not replenished on time and unemployment has remained high at over 70%.
This underlines the country’s “remarkable achievements” — we are always reminded of — in the last 24 years.
In the rural areas, thousands are going hungry. The World Food Programme (WFP) has said there is “mounting and compelling evidence” of food insecurity in Zimbabwe,
“There is belt-tightening going on in Zimbabwe,” said WFP regional director for southern Africa, Mike Sackett. “Between now and the next harvest, it is unlikely to improve.”
Although government claims inflation has declined to 149,3%, independent analysts say that it is still the highest in the world.
The “pro-poor” policies which government has tried to implement in the last two decades have failed to achieve the desired results. The policy of indigenisation seems to have been hi-jacked by a few party sharks to enrich themselves. The land reform exercise, which was touted as the panacea for all the country’s ills, is yet to achieve tangible results as there is low production on the ground.
People are still poor as evidenced by the legion of street children in all major urban centres and Harare in particular. At the intersection of Rotten Row and Jason Moyo the dozen children staying there are incongruous with the rich and famous whose vehicles drive to and from the Harare Sheraton Hotel. Or perhaps they have not yet attracted the attention of President Mugabe who drives past the spot in his 15-vehicle motorcade. Life is still a long struggle and these children will be on the streets this Christmas and the best they can get are scraps from the tables of the rich.
James and his family will probably bath in the Mukuvisi River, put on their best rags and head for Mbare Musika for the Christmas shopping. Last week, reports said a homeless woman in Mbare township sold a four-month-old baby for $100 000 out of desperation. Many would do the same if there were ready buyers.
But for Brian and his friends, a big party in the gazebo is ideal. He is grappling with the guest list. He hopes everyone invited turns up. What will he do with all this food if it rains and noone turns up? The Christmas tree he brought home is too small and his wife has ordered him back to get a proper tree. The electrician he hired is taking too long to install Christmas lights in the garden. He has to take the Rotti and the Mastiff to boarding kennels so that they do not disturb guests with their wild howling at night. A party would be thrown for the two together with other canines.
Blessed are the poor …for theirs is the world?