This is a work of Fiction. Although inspired in part by a true incident, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.
Huge crowds of people milled around in the area that had been cordoned off. It was impossible to tell who was who as the throngs of people milled around in disorder and chaos, most traumatised and bull whipped into submission. The raid had come out of the blue. Most if not all of the people in the suburb had awoken in much the same way as us to find the Black Boots already lining the streets. Armed to the teeth on a mission of death, these men were ruthless beyond measure and had dealt a swift and decisive blow to the so called shanty town. Everyone had been rounded up. Those that had resisted had met a fate worse than hell, many succumbing to their wounds or simply having been killed for daring to show any hesitation or resistance to what they were being ordered to do.
Women were crying, children wailing, men sitting with looks of shock and helplessness on their faces. People were asking for people. Men asking about their wives, women seeking news of their daughters, couples wanting to know where their son was. No one had any idea what we were meant to be doing, how long we’d be kept here, when food and water was coming. It was a holding area, and we were surrounded by police and military soldiers armed with truncheons and guns. What could we do but sit and wait to be told exactly what was going on.
In the distance we could hear the bulldozers grinding to work. Metal crashing and screeching as it was pulled and bent and twisted under the weight of the powerful engines, falling before the ploughs on the mighty machines. We knew that they were smashing down the market, it was clear that they fully intended to raze it to the ground. I’d been sitting in the holding area for well over four hours now. I wondered so many things in that passage of time, that my mind ached almost as much as the side of my face. Just like everyone else in the holding area, I knew little of my family. It was very few family units that’d managed to stay together during the scramble it appeared. I had managed to gather somewhat of an understanding of what had transpired while I’d been mistaken for dead and left on a pile of bodies.
The police had moved into the camp through the course of the early morning. Their aim it appeared was to scoop everyone from their dwellings and to move them in one pincer movement into the holding area, a large fenced off area opposite the cemetery. During this activity most people had been woken without warning and given no time to prepare or take any form of belongings. Consequently many of the people were inadequately dressed, and some still clung to blankets, quietly trying to stay out of the way and cling to the only familiarity that they did have.
From what some of the people had been told or what had been thrown at them in a manner of insult was that this was our marching orders. This was our eviction notice. We were being thrown out of the city. It seemed impossible that this could be happening to us. We’d come to Harare the city that smiled all day long, in search of good life and fortune that it was impossible to have in the rural areas. We’d seen our nation prosper since independence and we all wanted a part of the cake to enjoy. So we like so many others had elected to leave our rural lands in the Honde Valley and make our way to Harare. On our arrival things had turned out to be a lot different to what we’d heard. Life was tough. We’d made do with what we had as a family, and in time father had gotten a stall at the market fixing and repairing bycycles and we’d finally been able to afford to send one of our family to school, where the real hope for our future lay.
I could only wonder with a sick feeling in my stomach about Gilberts fate now. The son that had once held so much promise for our family. All I could remember was hearing him shout out as I’d been attacked at the door. If the rumours about the punishment met out on anyone that put up resistance was true I feared for Gilbert. I wished I’d never woken them now. I looked back and longed to go back nine hours and instead of raising the alarm to the whole house have just checked the dangers on my own. But looking back at wishing to do things differently is far too easy, and it was the here and now that I had to deal with.
I sat on the dusty field drawing in the sand with a piece of straw. I wondered what had become of my father. He’d been drugged asleep with pain killers. Since being diagnosed with HIV the year before he’d rapidly gone downhill, and was now apparently suffering from the full effects of AIDS. Through running the market stall I was able to get him black market drugs that helped but the hospital had said that he would eventually die. To be honest I think he’d made up his mind to die. At night to help him sleep mother gave him a tea brewed with leaves she got from the traditional healer and these helped him sleep through the night, otherwise he just lay on his bed in pain. It was clear that in this condition he’d never have been able to be moved, unless carried, and if Gilbert had been attacked as well, I wondered if a ZRP Officer would have bothered himself to do such a thing or rather have chosen to despatch of the elderly man when he had failed to respond to his bellowing. My eyes filled with tears and I feared the fate of my family.
And then there was my mother. What the hell had possessed her to leave our home in the night in such the way as she had? I had run through things over and over in my mind. I recalled having listened to her and father talking before I’d dosed off in one of my drifts in and out of sleep. As hard as I racked my mind I could think of no reason at all for her to have left the house. There was no way in hell that she could have known about the raid and even if she had there was no way she’d have left us to succumb at the hands of these thugs. Again there was no way that she’d left the house for any logical reason like tending to the food, or preparing for anything special. I could simply just not fathom any reason for her to leave the house. It was unthinkable to consider that she’d leave to be involved in crime, mother was just not that kind of woman. I could not consider her leaving to go to another man, yet in the back of my mind I could only chose this option as any close to realistic. There was just nothing else I could fathom. No explanation could I come up with. In the mist of all my pain, doubt began to grip me and even though I had no proof, I began to resent my mother for having an affair while my father lay drugged and asleep.
My tears flowed more. I hated my life. Suddenly nothing was important. In my mind’s eye I could see my family all dead. My brother dead for having resisted and trying to stand up for me. My father dead for simply being unable to rise up from his slumber. My mother dead to me for her callous behaviour of daring to have an affair at such a time in our lives. What was there to live for? These pigs that had stormed into our lives had stolen and taken everything precious from me. The stream flowed down my face and I suddenly in my rage screamed out, my anger exploding from my lips in a mighty cry of frustration. Many of those around me leapt up or screamed, alarmed at my outburst. Children close to me began to cry as my anguish upset them further. A gap suddenly formed around me, people shrinking from the mad man who was clearly having some sort of break down in their midst.
I was stunned into silence. Everything seemed to stand still in the moment. I knew that voice.
I struggled to my feet, trying desperately to scan the crowd with my one eye. I knew she was there, it just had to be her, she’d called my name.
“Ruben!” There is was again. I became aware of a scramble through the mill of people to my side and turned to see her pushing her way towards me, tears streaming down her face, a cry of desperation screaming from her lips. “Ruben, it’s you!”
She fell into my arms, and I pulled her towards me, aware of mighty shudders as she sobbed into my shoulder. I’d never before felt so relieved and thankful to see someone I knew. I’d never before realised how the recognition of someone in such circumstances can make you both leap for joy and at the same time lose all sight of reality as so many emotions wash over you. In that split second as I held onto her, I felt weak. Tired. I sank to my knees, still holding onto her, waiting till she found the strength to talk.
She eventually pulled away from me, her hands on my arms.
“Oh Ruben it is so good to see you.”
“Faith, I am happy to see you too,” I said quietly. My eyes were full of questions, my mind wanting to launch an interrogation, my patience stretched to its limit.
Faith lent into me again, her body convulsing in sobs as she once more broke down and cried the hurt away.
It hadn’t taken much to figure that she was alone, and my mind began to wonder at the fate of Enoch. Had every male close to me been taken by these evil men? Had so many lives been extinguished in such a quick flash as night had gloomily turned to day? After what was ultimately the longest period of time I’ve ever had to bite my tongue from speaking, Faith pulled away from my embrace and dried her face on her skirt. I looked at her, my lips burning with desire to launch a million probing questions. I guess she saw it in my face, as she hung her head and quietly said, “They took them both from the camp a few hours ago.”
My heart leapt even though I failed to compute the information she’d just told me.
“How long ago, which camp, where did they take them?”
“Who took them?”
I caught myself. I was shooting off questions faster than she could comprehend, and she just shook her head. I was frustrated and felt it rising in me. I could quite easily have shaken Faith silly in that instant.
She looked up at me, the tears had started to stream down her face once more.
“They took them from this camp a few hours ago.”
Alive. They were alive. I didn’t quite know who I was celebrating being alive, although I could guess at it, but a massive wave of relief bled over me as I sat back and remembered once more how to breath.
I looked skyward and breathed a long sigh. It was not a perfect world, but up to a few hours ago, members of my family were alive. I had a reason to live again. I looked at Faith once more who was quietly sobbing and leant forward and hugged her again.
“What do you remember sister?” I asked quietly.
For a long while Faith went quiet, sniffling now and then, as she seemed to decide what it was that she would remember and that which she’d chose not to recall.
“We heard them fighting with you and Gilbert tried to get involved, but Enoch pulled him into our room and pushed both of us through the cardboard hole that you never fixed properly.”
I was grateful to Enoch for having the sense of mind to overpower Gilbert and get him out of the house. I was also grateful that I’d never gotten round to completely fixing the hole in the wall where a piece of tin sheeting had been stolen from the house the week before. So the three of them had somehow survived up till a few hours ago.
“Why were they taken from here, Faith,” I asked.
“I am not sure Ruben,” she sighed quietly. “I have been told that the police are making us clean up the rubble where they have torn down the homes.”
“They are tearing down the homes?”
I leaned away from her, studying her face, uncertain that she knew what she was saying.
“The homes, the market, anything that is not wanted!” she responded.
“Why the homes,” I asked almost to myself as much as to Faith.
“They want us out Ruben. Gone!”
The words echoed in my head. Gone? Why us though? Yes crime was high in the shanty town, but crime was just as bad in the townships and suburbs of Harare. It was not our fault that the government had run out of money in completing the housing projects it’d promised to undertake five years before. We’d just built on the land we’d been allocated. It was temporary, but it was a home, shelter, dwelling. Over 12,000 of us lived like this in our section alone. Gone to where? Where were we supposed to go and how were we to get there? So many questions to ask, nowhere to go to get the answers. For the longest of time, we Zimbabweans that lived in the home made houses had always understood that for us we deserved no answers. When we asked why the government had failed us, we never received an answer. When we asked where the promised schools, hospitals, and homes were we were told to be thankful for what we’d been given and shut up. No for us existence was carved out of survival, and we struggled to make ends meet. Yes there was evil people among us, and yes some of us had even voted for change, but on the whole most of us didn’t matter and weren’t even counted when it came to things that mattered.
The day dragged into night, and we remained surrounded by troops, holed up without food, water, sanitation or shelter. Huddled together we slept under the stars. I lay on my back looking up through my one good eye looking at the stars that I’d gazed up at the night before. It seemed a world away from me now. A life time between that last look upwards and this. I’d accepted that Faith knew nothing of what had happened to my father once the three of them had escaped from the house. I know that Enoch would quickly have realised that it was not just a random attack that was underway when he’d heard the shouts of “Mapurisa” erupt from the gang outside the door. He’d have had the savvy to grab Gilbert and make fast their escape. At some point they’d run into a group of officers and been bundled along to the holding camp. I could not bring myself to ask Faith if she knew anything about my mother, and while she never offered any information I preferred to leave that one till I could find out for myself exactly what had happened to make mother leave the house that night.
We were held in that camp for the whole weekend. The stench of humanity hung in the air as pockets of the camp became designated human waste areas. There was no form of sanitation in the camp, so excrement was openly exposed to the elements. No food at all entered the camp during that weekend. Children everywhere were crying if they weren’t sleeping from hunger pains. Mothers with child did what they could to breast feed their children, but even mothers began to dry of milk as provisions failed to reach them to replenish what the child had taken. Water browsers had been parked off at the four corners of the camp, but someone had failed to make provision to have them filled, and so 12,000 families suffered the effects of Operation Murambatsvina as it swung into full force. Faith had done what she could to clean my wound and had used part of her skirt to create a makeshift bandage. Throughout the weekend we heard nothing more of Enoch or Gilbert. Unease began to grow in the camp and by Sunday afternoon there was a tension hanging over the camp, as it began to become clear that people were suffering and anger at the guards surrounding the camp began to grow. Towards Sunday evening a sizeable number of armed troops arrived to reinforced the guard, a clear show that no nonsense would be tolerated from those trapped in the camp no matter how bad it got in here.
For most of us we just buckled down and accepted our lot. At some point something would be done to show what the government intended to do with us, and we’d then know what would become of us. But for now it was just sensible to shut up and quietly suffer the intolerance.