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Saturday 18th April 009
Dear Family and Friends,
After counting as many people as I could and then doing some rough calculations, I guessed there were about 750 people in the queue in front of me at Beitbridge border post. It was 7.30 in the evening and we were all trying to have our passports stamped to get into South Africa. The line was immense: inside the building, all around the courtyard, out into the car park, along a fence and down the road back towards Zimbabwe. Rude, aggressive, sullen and surly South African officials made it quite plain how they felt about us Zimbabweans. If we dared to even sit down on the ground in the painfully slow border queue, large chested South African police women barked: " Get up! No sitting allowed here."
A couple of brazen touts constantly patrolled the line looking for business and watched by the Police women:
"You want to go fast?" they ask.
For 200 Rand per person (20 US dollars) they will bribe the officials and take you to the front of the queue. For another 200 Rand per person they will get you right into the passport control building.
Without bribes it took 4 hours to get to the front of the line and when you get to the few counters that are staffed, the South African immigration officials do not look at you or greet you but they chew gum and talk to each other as if you weren't even there. Its a very grim welcome to South Africa and an exhausting exit from Zimbabwe.
Shortly before midnight the queue waiting to get into South Africa was still at least seven or eight hundred strong.
One Afrikaans man standing in the Beitbridge border queue told a crowd of bemused and amused onlookers about the five most frequently used Shona words and phrases he'd learned whilst doing contract mining in Zimbabwe:
"Nzara" (hunger); "Hapana mvura" (no water); "Hapana mari" (No money); "Hapana basa" (No work); "Hapana magetz" (No electricity).
How accurately this visitor summed up our lives.
Despite all the negatives: physical, social, economic and political, and despite the fact that life is so hard and improvements painfully slow in coming, there is still no place quite like this Zimbabwe.
Coming home three weeks later at dawn when the trees were silhouetted against an apricot dawn glow a woman passed me on the road. In one hand she held a child's hand, in the other she carried a bucket and on her head she was balancing a full size suitcase. She smiled and called out a response to my greeting and straight away, despite a decade of racial hate speech by our leaders, I felt as if I belonged.
On the road ahead a line of guinea fowl walked single file across the pot-holed tarmac and further on young men ran out holding out slabs of wild honeycomb dripping with golden, sticky nectar.
The farm invasions go on, political prisoners remain incarcerated and the attempts by the old order to cling to power continue but Aah, it's good to be home!
Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.
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