FOR many years now, my conviction that 30 men in Zimbabwe own more wealth than the rest of the population combined has grown stronger.
Candid Comment, BREZH MALABA
If you doubt this, visit the affluent suburbs of Harare on a leisurely Sunday and see for yourself the massive gulf between rich and poor in this deeply unequal society.
But a lot of the jaw-dropping wealth is not even as visible as you may imagine; some of the richest Zimbabweans are domiciled in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Dubai and even New York. The fattest bank accounts are not on Samora Machel Avenue but offshore.
The end of racist minority rule did not bridge the class divide — in many ways it actually widened the chasm.
Today, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, new words have entered the local lexicon. People are talking of lockdown, social distancing, sanitiser and face masks. The very idea of a lockdown is alien to most Zimbabweans whose hand-to-mouth existence does not allow them the luxury of staying away from work. Every single day is a battle for survival.
How does a family of 10 — cramped in a tiny room in Mbare’s decrepit hostels — practice social distancing? Just how? In any case, cracking your head over the issue of “personal space” is such a ridiculous luxury when your main worry is how to find the next meal. Social distancing is a class privilege.
I took a drive around Harare yesterday and what I observed was quite insightful.
There were many cars along Samora Machel Avenue, especially outside commercial banks and government offices.
Municipal police were more visible than the regular police in parts of town. They would flag down motorists, demand to see a letter from the employer and decide whether to turn people back or allow them to proceed.
This is a non-starter. Most economically active citizens are self-employed. Where on earth would a street vendor get a letter from an employer?
At Sam Levy’s Village, a shopping mall in the affluent Borrowdale suburb, I entered a supermarket and met a middle-aged man. I spotted him placing five packets of prawns into a shopping trolley, each pack costing ZW$599, equivalent to the monthly wage of the average worker. Also in his trolley were a bottle of whisky, cans of lager and a box of fish fingers.
He must have noticed my curiosity and I promptly broke the ice: “The lockdown is very tough hey!” He nodded and replied: “It’s a huge annoyance yeah.”
The class divide in Zimbabwe is real.
We cannot realistically expect the Borrowdale man to fully understand the existential struggles of a family huddled in a shack in Epworth.
These people live in different worlds. But we have every right to expect political leaders and bureaucrats to be alive to the suffering of poverty-stricken families.
Where is the compassion?