A Luta Continua… (Part 5)

The struggle felt like trudging through the forest.

After securing the new accommodation, all that I thought about was moving. The excitement I felt gave me tons of the courage I needed to face the irate landlord. The fact that I was moving to a new house meant that, at some point, I would have to face him. Because not facing him meant that I had to continue living in his house, and that was NOT an option! So, I gathered all the courage I needed and told him that I was moving out. As expected, he did not receive the news well because this unexpected development was going to be a huge blow to his budget. I reminded him that he had kicked me out, so, by leaving his house, I was respecting his wishes. Not that I expected him to see reason.

I think this is a sad fact about humans: we do not always know what we have till it’s gone. On the one hand, people ill-treat those they feel they have power over as landlords, while on the other hand they desperately need the money they pay as rent.

The insults he hurled at me only confirmed why moving out was the best decision I had taken. After all, I was going to live in a room that had a proper toilet and shower. Henceforth, I would be able to take a bath with running water and not have a bath in a sort of fountain where the same water keeps going up and down where one simply puts their dirt back onto their body and believe they are bathing. Moving to the new house was some form of upward social mobility. I was rising in accommodation status.

The moving-out day came. My new landlord provided me with transport as she had a van which she used as a business to ferry people’s goods to the Zimbabwe – Botswana border. The excitement I felt about moving was intoxicating! I can say I was drunk with it.

The moment I moved in; I knew that I had to make that place a real home. So, to give it this homely feel, I bought a double bed and a 21-inch TV. All along, I had been using an airbed. I am sure those who have used airbeds will certainly agree with me when I say that it is not at all comfortable. One can use it for a few days but for months or years, daily! Not on!  I already had a DVD player which I had been using to play music DVDs and listen to the radio. You see, I love my music: you can take everything away from me but just leave me with my music. And I will be just fine!

Living in this house, even though it was just a room, made me feel like a real working-class woman who could go back to an almost normal home after a long day at work. And my working days were long indeed!

Nevertheless, the room had its drawbacks: it had no windows. For ventilation, there were two triangular openings, the size of a brick high up in the wall on two sides of the room. When it was during the hot season, when Botswana got extremely hot, it became unbearable! Despite the challenges, I loved the new place.

When faced with challenges, one needs to have the heart of a lion, the speed of a cheetah, the wisdom of a serpent, the strength of an elephant and combine all these attributes to work to one’s advantage. However, sometimes the slowness of a tortoise can work to one’s advantage. One needs to have a discernment spirit to be able to make the right decisions at the right time.

One problem solved

I had only changed my place of residence, but my place of employment remained the same, therefore, my financial woes were still very much a part of my life. At least I now had only one issue to worry about. The other advantage with the new set-up was that my new landlords were Zimbabweans who knew all about my workplace and its financial issues as their kids attended the same school. Moreover, they were also a very understanding couple.

Since they were aware of my working conditions, they never made it an issue if I paid rent late. It is not every day one gets such understanding from landlords. However, when I eventually received my monthly income, I always ensured my rent was the first expense to be taken care of which earned me a good name as a tenant.

My new place of abode was, without a doubt, a different scene altogether: no rules to break, a lot of space, and, in addition, Zimbabweans to talk to in my home language. You never know how much you miss conversing in your mother tongue until you spend years speaking in English 24/7!

The cottage had two rooms. I used one and the other one was occupied by a Zimbabwean couple. We lived very well together, and it was just great to have people to talk to and laugh with.

The place was also near the Central Police station so there were no problems with thieves. It was also near the road to Zimbabwe so when I was returning from Zimbabwe, I could drop off close to home anytime and walk freely. It was a very secure neighbourhood.

I lived there for over a year until I left Francistown.

The Same Work Place

They say that work is not where we go, but what we do.

Remember the challenges I faced at work when I first arrived in Botswana? Now the challenges were different. I now had the work and residence permits so my stay in the country was legal and stress-free. However, the challenges which now existed were more to do with the workplace and the unfavourable working conditions.

I constantly reminded myself that life is a constant challenge that you either face head-on and succeed or do nothing and fail. Nothing in life is easy. Motivational talks and quotes about the difficulties that exist in life became my favourite and that got me through the days.

Because we were no longer living in Tonota in the communal residence, we did not arrive at work in the wee hours anymore. We had to be at work by 7 am when the school day started. Unfortunately, we still had to work way into the night as the school was running both day and night schools.

In Botswana, there is free secondary education, but, for one to get access to secondary education after the Junior Certificate (JC) level, one must have passed the JC examinations. The JC level is 3 years long. The government schools’ set-up is such that students attend schools that offer the JC level only then move to a different institution to complete the remaining two years of secondary education.

If one does not pass the JC level, one cannot be accepted to the next level. So, these children must find alternative schools to repeat their JC level and retake the exams or proceed to the next level. This is how they end up in private schools like my school. So, you can imagine the calibre of students in the school. We were dealing with learners who were troublesome and had been expelled from government schools and were not that interested in school or those who were not academically gifted. But some students were children of foreigners who could not get into the government school system or other very expensive private schools.

At that time, there were only three well-run private secondary schools in Francistown: John Mackenzie School, a very expensive school; Eastern Gate Academy, a Seventh Day Adventist school; and Tabitha Private school, a more affordable private school. My school was the cheapest option and an educational haven for those who could not get accepted into government schools.

I could have started my stint in Botswana at Eastern Gate Academy. A few years back, a friend of mine who had moved to Botswana to teach at a private primary school called me about an employment opportunity at Eastern Gate Academy. They needed a teacher urgently and she had recommended me. I turned it down! At that time, I was doing very well in Zimbabwe because I was making money from selling sweets. Yes, sweets!

Making ends meet in Zimbabwe

It all started as a joke. One day, I took some sweets to school to see if I could sell them to the learners. I did not expect them to buy. Was I wrong! The sweets I had taken got finished so quickly I regretted having taken just one packet.

After my first business attempt was well-received, I had to ensure it continued, so I worked on ways to sustain it. I decided to sell different types of sweets, chocolates and eventually upgraded to the more expensive cakes and crisps. Every school day was market day for me, so I had to ensure my business was stocked daily. To do this I would pass through Jaggers wholesalers, N. Richards, and Balmain store to buy the required supplies.

Every time teachers went on strike and we were told not to go to work, I would be unhappy because it would be a loss of income for me. So, I would be one of the stubborn few who still went to work, not because I loved the job, but because these were the best days for my business. No teachers meant pupils were freer to visit my business!

I made a good profit daily. Because of inflation in the country, it was not wise to keep money in the local currency. So, I would trade the money for the Rand and save it that way. It was also good for the “money clubs” I belonged to.

In these money clubs, we were grouped as five or six women who would meet every month to give one member an agreed amount in Rand or Pula. We had four sets of these groups which meant that when one person was hosting a party about thirty ladies would meet. The one who would be receiving that month would host the other members and could also invite outsiders. The more people one could invite to attend, the more money one would make.

Food and drinks would be sold. The members would be expected to buy a plate and at least six drinks. All thirty members needed to attend and buy food and drinks. If for any reason one would not attend, they would be expected to send their club money as well as the money for food and drinks.

The members of that group would pay the agreed amount and other people could bank. So, if someone banked at your party you would be expected to return that same amount when they hosted their party. You would also be expected to spend as much as the person spent on food and drinks at your party. So, keeping records of who bought what and who banked what amount was crucial!

My sweet selling business made it possible for me to take part in these parties without necessarily relying on my salary. I always had forex on me every day of the month. Therefore, it was no surprise that when I got job offers outside Zimbabwe, I was not keen on taking them. I felt that I was comfortable where I was.

When I say that I was selling treats at school, it does not mean that I was doing it legally. I was doing it under the table which meant that no one had to know about it. I could not tell other teachers about it. Only two other teachers knew about it and they had also started selling, so they could never talk. Only my customers, the pupils, knew about it. And these young people could keep secrets!

But no matter how much you try to hide certain activities in a community like a school, they always have a way of coming out!! I guess my clandestine business was bound to be exposed!

One day, the deputy headmaster and the senior master came to my classroom which was on the second floor of Block A. They said that they had heard that I was operating a business in school! I just laughed and said I knew nothing about it. One of them sat right in front of a desk where I kept my products. If he had just lifted the desk cover, he would have seen a whole shop under it!

I was so scared to be discovered. One small boy almost blew it for me. He walked in and when he saw them, he said he was looking for a spare chair! I don’t know how he thought of that so fast, but I was impressed by his quick-thinking skills. The two gentlemen just laughed and said they could see that they were chasing my customers away and took their leave. I am convinced they knew for sure that I was selling things at school. The only reason they did not make a big deal of it was that they were my friends. We used to laugh and joke together a lot and they probably did not want to be hard on me. I continued with my business, but more cautiously.

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The Journey Continues…

Taking the bull by the horns!

I made the bold and permanent career move to another country.

Silver Lining!

The salary problems persisted. As if that were not enough, I was also faced with the challenge of not having a work permit: so, I was an illegal worker. In fact, most of the teachers in the sister schools were illegally employed!

This meant I had to travel out of the country from time to time to avoid overstaying and spoiling my passport. To ensure that my entry into the country would not be denied, I would always request two or three weeks at a time. Sometimes I would go to the immigration offices in town to apply for an extension of my stay and I think I did that twice.

You see, traveling was not always the best of options considering my dire financial situation at the time.

Because of all these challenges, my dream was to get work and residence permits so that I could enjoy all the benefits that came with having those legal documents. I came a step closer to realizing my dream when, towards the end of term, I was called to the Director’s office and asked to prepare my documents for the Permit Application.

I was over the moon! I quickly put together everything required and filled in all the necessary forms and returned them to the office. I had almost exhausted the yearly allocation of the 90 days I could use to stay in Botswana. This meant returning to the country in January would be a challenge.

However, when I returned to Zimbabwe, I was walking on cloud nine because of the permit application documents I had submitted. There was nothing any foreigner wanted more than to hold that legal document! I even got the courage to go and resign from my job so that I could commit fully to this new opportunity.

On one of my trips back home, I had applied for a new passport as the one I was using was about to expire and I collected the new passport during the December holidays. I traveled to South Africa for grocery shopping using my new passport; it felt very good!

This was also possible because on closing we had received a payout of BWP900! This was the biggest amount I had ever received at one go. Because we were always being paid in bits and pieces, we were still owed some of our money for the previous months as well as the balance for the November salary.

There was no salary for December in that school!!!! I never understood that practice, but one would always learn to live with the situations they are presented with. So, I sucked it up and made peace with it. In my country, we used to get paid every month of the year and we even received a 13th cheque back in the day.

When schools opened in January, I returned to Botswana a bit late. The Director, himself, phoned me and told me not to return without a Police Clearance as it was a requirement for permit application. The police clearance was acquired after two weeks and I could make my return journey to Botswana.

A fresh start!

Because I was using a new passport there was no record that I had almost used up my 90 days and it was a new year which also counted in my favour. That was the reason why I desperately needed a Work Permit! Worrying about how many days one has stayed and all was emotionally draining, and I had had my fair share of that in the previous term!

Being in possession of that A4 size document had a lot of advantages: no more long queues at the border as permit holders had their own queue which was normally shorter and faster than the one for non-Residents; I could go to work without fear of immigration raids; I could open a bank account; just walk around Francistown freely without worrying about the police.

The change would also stabilize my stay in the country and at work – no need to hide from the police and immigration officers who normally made spot checks at schools for illegal workers. I suspect that they knew there were always illegal employees at my school so they would always stop by. However, they would not find any illegal workers as some people downstairs would raise alarms so that the affected would hide, even in cupboards!!!!!

I was lucky to have never had to go through that ordeal as the only time they came in my presence, I had already received my permit.

Illegal immigrants always played cat and mouse games with the police in Francistown as there were thousands of them in the city. Perhaps because of the proximity of Francistown to Zimbabwe, it was just 86km from the Botswana – Zimbabwe border. A myriad of Zimbabweans walked from the border to Francistown through the forest. There were some people who charged a certain fee to help people cross the border on foot through the forest. Sadly, a lot of female border jumpers were exposed to acts of violence such as rape and robbery.

Another positive in the new year was the fact that the school’s finances were promising to improve because the school owner had enlisted some board members to oversee the running of the school. This meant that the monthly salaries would stabilize, and we would get paid our full salaries every month end. It was a welcome development for all teachers, and we were all very excited!

Making a bold career move

This improvement in the working conditions gave me the courage to take the next career-changing step: I finally resigned from my full-time teaching job in Zimbabwe. At the same time, I had also been offered a tutoring post in the Portuguese section of the Modern Languages department. But, I decided to let that pass as the economic situation in my beloved country had deteriorated further. I chose to go and receive a pittance and survive than to get a Master’s degree while starving and struggling with the accommodation and transport woes in Harare!

In the first term of 2008, the financial situation at work had improved and we would receive our salaries in full and on time most of the time. We were no longer getting part payments throughout the month.

I think I only returned to Zimbabwe once to get my passport stamped before my Work and Residence permits were processed! It was total bliss for me! The first thing I did was to open a bank account so that I could receive my salary through the bank! This was a huge improvement!

With a stable income, I now had to look for accommodation in Francistown so that I cut out the daily travel of 30km twice a day as well the cost of the commuting. All the other teachers I had been staying with had found accommodation in Francistown and I had been left alone. I didn’t mind as the place was quiet.

However, it was not practical for me to live that far, and at times when I returned late from work, I would walk in the dark to get home. The place was about a kilometre from the main road and that was extremely dangerous for me!!

At first, I wanted to find a house in the Tonota area because it was cheaper than Francistown and quieter. Sadly, the houses I found were not very appealing. It took me about two months to finally find something close to town, in fact, it was just on the edge of town near the Nzano shopping Mall where The Game Stores are located. It was the best place as I would walk to work: it was about five minutes away. All my colleagues envied me!!! Seemingly, I had the best accommodation location.

However, as the saying goes: “every level has a devil”

I was to find out soon enough!

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Part 2: The Trials and Tribulations of Covid-19 In Africa

Hiding Behind a finger!

Part 2 by Meme Writes 2020

Date 3 August 2020

Fig. 1 Water is used for boiling. What we use against all forms of flu in Zimbabwe. Why not try it against Covi-19 too? What do we have to lose by trying something where no cure is in sight?

Africa is a place where, judging from the way we treat one another when it comes to issues of authority are involved, the issue of Human rights is but just a myth.

It is sad and worrying that black Africans continue to be treated as second-class citizens and disadvantaged in their own countries on so many levels which include and translate to wealth, key positions in privately-owned companies, and the possession of commercial land.

Even though the issue of human rights is a widely discussed subject that is also claimed by many, the actual exercising of the practice seems to be a different ball game altogether. It is common to encounter nationals originating from countries where human and animal rights are well-respected but do not quite act the way they would normally do in their countries of origin: just because they are on African soil.

Does the aspect of human rights jump out the window when dealing with African people? For example, African governments open their countries to foreign investors and give them all they need to set up and operate. In most cases, one of the expected conditions would be to employ locals. Some countries even give a percentage of how many locals should be employed over foreigners. This is where the “fun” begins!

Locals do get employed alright. But which positions do they hold in the companies? The menial ones or unskilled or semi-skilled labour? Who holds the key positions in these foreign-owned companies?

And what do the locals earn in terms of salaries? And what do the foreign employees earn? What employee benefits do the locals receive? And the foreign employees? When I speak of foreign employees, I am referring to those ones from out of Africa. This is a case of white people (minority) vs black people (majority).

If you question the discrepancies in salaries and benefits, the most common excuse you hear is “scarce skills.” The foreign (white) employees have “better qualifications and skills.” Better skills and qualifications, my foot!

You can have an African chap educated and trained locally who can do a job as well as or even better than the one from out of Africa, but you will never find them earning the same. Ordinary teachers who have the same qualifications and experience will have their salaries differentiated based on the colour of their skin, or simply where they come from: Africa.

Mind you, the setting for all these goings-on is Africa! Imagine that! We are in Africa and Africans are treated like second class citizens; so where should we go to be treated fairly or be the preferred ones?

If we cannot get preferential treatment on our own Motherland, would we be able to get it anywhere else in the world? I doubt that!

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When the hard times hit…..

Hello, lovers of Peace!

Figure 1 On a lovely July afternoon in the heart of Africa.

I am calling you lovers of peace because I presume, we all want some sort of peace, no matter who we are or where we are from. Peace is the word that binds the world: some have it and enjoy it, while others seek and it and long for it, not forgetting those who prevent others from having it and seem to find that normal.

Peace goes hand in hand with love. If you have a love for the next person and want the best for them, you will be a vessel of peace. There is nothing wrong with self-love, we all have it and need but the loved one has for someone they do not know would go a long way in making our world a better place. Please do not get me wrong about the kind of love I am talking about; I am talking about the one where you just care about what a person who is not a family member or an acquaintance of yours is going through. This is the love that I am referring to.  

I believe that every human being is important and has a role to lay to the world ‘going around’. What role are you playing in the world? Do you bring other joy and happiness or misery and sorrow?

During the times that we are currently living in, the whole world has buckled under the Corona Virus Disease of 2019 popularly referred to as Covid-19. The effects of this disease have been felt across the world by all walks of life. This has seen the world coming together with the common goal of stopping the spread of or managing the disease which still has no cure or vaccine. Lockdowns were put in place in many countries, schools were closed, public international examinations canceled, flights were brought to a halt, borders closed, etc.

Figure 2 The world may have seemed desolate at times, but nature did not take a respite.

All these were measures several countries adopted without thinking twice. For once the whole world acted alike with the same goal. There was an unwritten need for the world to stand together to combat the spread of this novel disease which claimed lives and caused many to lose jobs and incomes. Some unscrupulous business owners saw this as an opportunity to save money by unjustifiably cutting their employees’ salaries even when the employees continued working throughout.

When the lockdowns were announced in many countries, some enterprises including many schools resorted to performing their duties online. Schools were teaching online full time, but this did not stop the school owners from cutting teachers’ salaries. What these bosses failed to understand was that just because teachers were working from home did not mean they were working less.

Teaching online entails a lot of preparation which means that the teacher must transfer the textbook onto a digital form to enable sharing tasks with learners as well as ensuring that pupils can submit completed tasks digitally.  

While this was and still is happening to some unfortunate workers, other companies and schools who, similarly, resorted to the same platform to execute their duties did not, however, cut their employees’ salaries and benefits. Hats off to such employers! The world needs more like you!

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Black Lives Have Always Mattered!

Lately, I have taken a huge interest in the true history and facts of Africa and its people – the Bantu speaking people.

What is Bantu? According to the Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, “Bantu languages are a group of related languages spoken in Central and Southern Africa.”

There are several Africans of the past who I find very fascinating such as Sigidi son of Senzangakhona and uNandi, a Princess from Elangeni, better known as Shaka Zulu, the gallant warrior who rose from a bitter childhood of being a mocked outcast son of a King to become the most talked about Zulu warrior to date after he invented tactful and effective fighting methods that saw him gain popularity and territory across Southern Africa. But, how much do we really know about him and his era?   

It is a pity that our African ancestors did not have ways and means of recording their experiences. Imagine if they had diaries and could write. eat stories they would have left for us! In the past, the passing on of information from generation to generation was, solely and unfortunately, reliant on oral methods.

Many questions come to mind: Was that even effective or some facts got lost in the transmission? Again, the dissemination of information depended on messengers. Did they pass on the correct message word for word? What happened if a messenger got attacked and eaten by wild animals before getting to his destination? The sender of the message would wait and assume the message had been relayed whereas it had not while the intended receiver would be oblivious to anything.

How effective was information sharing and collection of news of events that occurred from generation to generation? Had there been ways of scribing the goings on, we would have most certainly been able to get the true facts of what really transpired in all the “historical” events we read about in books written by Europeans. Was what we read about the truth and nothing but the truth or just the opinions and biased views of those who saw themselves as superior and wiser than the Africans ‘running around in their birthday suits’ as one put it in one of the episodes in the series Shaka Zulu. Did we really get the truth as it happened, or it was the view of the writer and how he perceived the reality?

The history was first written by Europeans who “spoke” to the Africans of that time. The so-called speaking was done through a European interpreter who had learnt the local language. How effective was the communication that occurred through an interpreter who had learned to speak the local language? How had the person learned to speak Zulu well enough to play the middlemen in discussions? Were the utterances of the two parties conveyed correctly? Were the words spoken really translated the way they should have been? Who knows?????

When you think of it, there are so many inconsistencies. The records of the history of Africans only starts when the Europeans arrive on the African scene; they also include events that took place a few years before then. How did they get those details and statistics? Because, for one, they did not speak the local languages. To achieve this, of course, they communicated through the Europeans translators. My question remains the same: who had taught them IsiZulu? And how long did it take them to become fluent enough to converse with the Zulus who did not speak a word of English? Now, can I trust the translation that, supposedly, happened between the two sides through a European who had invested interests? Had this interpreter learned all the local language’s idioms, proverbs, etc, to translate effectively?  

When I watched the movie Shaka Zulu and saw how Henry Cele (May his soul rest in peace) and his son Khumbulani Cele (who played the young 8 – 11-year-old Shaka) portrayed Shaka, I marvel at their excellence. You would swear they were the real Shaka! Why do I say that? It is because of what I read in some history textbook about the kind of person Shaka was. But, was that the real truth? Did he really do all those terrible things? In whose opinion was the story of Shaka told? Who told the story? Was it done through an interpreter as well? These are some of the questions I have concerning how this whole Shaka Zulu story is told. I guess we will never know the truth then!

I really do not believe Shaka was as barbaric as he is painted out to be. I believe that he was negatively portrayed to justify why the European settlers wanted to topple him from power. They found him to be a hindrance to their ‘Cape to Cairo’ dream and so, to make their job of usurping the African plains a done deal, they worked on his downfall and afterwards continued to smear his image in history books in order to make it seem like they saved people from him. With Shaka in power, their objective of controlling the African people and their resources would not have been as easy to achieve as they wanted it to be. Shaka would not allow them to have their way.

I find Shaka to be the greatest African warrior of the past known to us. He fought and won his wars using the original African tactics and weapons, untainted by western influences. If he had lived in a different era, he would surely have fought for the freedom of the African continent. Yes, he had his faults and weaknesses like all humans do, but I believe that he also had his incomparable strength which would have benefited the Africans. I guess we will never know the real facts about Shaka and his reign as well as his era.

I refuse to believe that the shared literature about my history and my people is the gospel truth. To start with, it is a product of a group of people who came to Africa with the sole aim of colonizing and taking over. They had ulterior motives and anything they said, and their actions were for their own benefit. It had nothing to do with benefiting the locals.

I am saddened by the fact that those beautiful African souls will never have their true stories told as anyone who had first-hand information is no longer there to verify anything written down as “facts”. Sadly, just because it is written does not necessarily make it the truth. The available literature could just be biased.

Although we will never know the true facts of his life, we know for sure that someone like Shaka Zulu graced the plains of Southern Africa in the early 1800s. He fought hard to become a force to be reckoned, ruled with an iron feast and brought dignity to the Zulu people – his influence was felt like a ripple across the better part of the sub-Saharan Africa.  

If Shaka Zulu had lived in a different era, how would Southern Africa be like? What would the story of the African people be like today amid the #BlackLivesMatter campaign?

More influential African people in history’s stories to follow!

Who was your favourite African person in history?