I’ve never been closer to throwing in my benevolent towel as I have before this trip! I’d spent the days, or weeks leading up to it, watching the chaos at Beitbridge border post and was ready to mhanya in the opposite direction! But there you go……… I went, I did some fancy border hopping footwork and behaved as unsavourily as I dared, to beat the queues, and here we are. The oldies of Zim are fed again, and they can live & laugh again, for a few weeks…….
I left Malelane on 11 October with much trepidation and spent the night in the Magaliesberg with the daughter of my old school mate, Patty Cawood, in the most magnificent setting. After the drive up and a knot in my tummy, it was just what I needed before the dreaded border crossing day on 12 October. (Please look up La Luna Mountain retreat – Tessa, if you’re ever passing through……. excellent spot!)
What I didn’t realise is that I had chosen to cross the border on the day that the new, super sophisticated border crossing system went live on the Zim side. What a fancy Schmancy affair that all is, new buildings, pavements, flower beds, aloes, smart new uniforms, computers, iPads, boom gates, sensors. Sho! Yini lo? It all looks like a gazillion dollars, and I’ve read that it was. The new arrangement is a partnership between the Government and a private investor which is set to pay for itself in 17 years? Now….. much of the hold up at the border was, amongst other things, the border crossing fee which has increased dramatically, now costing $200 per truck per trip. All this keeps piling onto the costs of keeping the trucks rolling and we’re just so grateful for every cent that arrives to keep these old guys fed.
I was through the border in 6 hours which might have been 4 had the S.A. side not stamped my passport “entry” instead of “exit”. At the last moment I was forced to walk the 2 Km plus back to S.A. in the searing heat, with a clipboard to cover my balding swede. The correct stamp in hand I re-emigrated on foot. A life lesson right there. We need distractions at these trying times, so I imagined I was doing the Baghdad to Berlin route and sought solace there. On these trips it’s constantly helpful to know that one’s small discomforts pale compared to the plight of others and our special old folk, in particular.
My panic grew once I was in Zim and the southbound truck queue was from the border post all the way up to and past the Masvingo (Fort Victoria) turnoff some km’s away! I wondered how I was ever I going to get back into S.A. and my office the following week?
I arrived in Bulawayo in the early evening and met with Johan to plan the trip ahead. Bedded down at Coronation cottages for the night.
On 13 October we met at the small warehouse and, as always, Angela White had done a great job of preparing all the boxes. We loaded the truck in good time, and I set off to Boggies Trust in Gweru where the beautiful folk welcomed me and offered me a bed for the night. I had much work to do and welcomed an early evening to catch up on my office duties.
It’s really difficult to tell what’s really going on in Zim, in terms of the economy, the police, the hardships etc. Zimbabweans, and our Pensioners, seem to have become so accustomed to adversity and despair that “it’s no use complaining”. Zimbabweans are characteristically positive and light but, for genuine information gathering, it’s like pulling hens teeth! The only thing that belies these poor people is when you unpack their food parcels into their cupboards, and you realise that there is so little left from the previous delivery. A tin of beans here and a few grains of rice there. These are the heart wrenching moments that I find overwhelming at times. I can’t help thinking back to times when these folk might have lived in grand houses, with food aplenty and a comfortable stash in the bank. A time when they partied, sang, danced, and enjoyed being happy, super solid middle-class Zimbabweans. Many still fumble through embarrassed explanations for their circumstances. Always, and still, feeling that they need to apologise. So cruel.
I delivered Huisvergesig, across town, next and met the new administrator. At Hubert Lee cottages in Redcliff, an hour later, I was lambasted by a feisty little resident for not being on time. Can’t remember if I was too early or too late but I was asked “Are you a man of the wind?” Haha! That’s what I love about old folk; let’s not beat around the bush! Just get here on time young man!!
Redcliff is still caught in it’s economic time warp. It would seem that the optimism that was here earlier in the year, has come to nought. There are two smart new garages in the town, but nobody knows who they sell fuel to?
At Lynbrook home, in KweKwe, my heart skipped a beat when I scanned the gathered folk. There were several missing and we all know what that means on these travels. Relief was great when I learned that each of those missing had a good excuse! Gosh, the nerves! I always enjoy the offload here. There’s always some chat & banter and a good pick-me-up spot. Especially when Madam Alice Cameron makes her appearance. Ninety something years old, bright, and upright as a rod. Great lady! Thanks Lynbrook!
I equally enjoy my drop-offs at Westview in Kadoma. Clive & Estelle O Reilly are always at the ready. Before I’d climbed from the truck, Estelle had handed me the coldest glass of juice. Superstar stuff! I spent a bit of time here, catching my breath & catching up on all the local stories. I need more time in the town sometime. Too much of fun chatting……..
The folk at Chinhoyi were all ready and waiting when I arrived there later in the day. There has always been a great feel at this home. These people are warm and grateful. Many of the Grandies at Sunningdale Trust were the mainstay of the town in their day. Proud, excellent Zimbabweans.
It was early enough for me to carry on to Harare where I had arranged to park the truck with our special and willing friends, Charlie & Glynnis Piers. As always, it’s a huge relief having somewhere safe to leave the lorry overnight and I’m super grateful to them.
I needed parking too and my loyal friend, Pushkin Style, put me up for the night. So much of nattering into the night. Thanks again Pushkin. You’re a good thing for always feeding and watering me. Thanks tons Darlin’!
I was due to stay a further night in Harare to have a break from the truck but when I got a message from Des Becker in Mutare saying there was a golf day and live music in Mutare on Saturday I couldn’t resist. I need to be there by midday Saturday, so I decided to push closer, overnight near Rusape and get there early enough for a scrub-up after the offload.
On Friday Morning I delivered all the boxes for distribution in and around Harare. John & Leonie Herbst have taken this task upon themselves. John has sacrificed his boathouse to accommodate our boxes. We know that a man and his boathouse are sorely parted so that takes some special human quality. What a good human is this? Thanks, The Herbst family!
Another of our greatest contributors is Vic Bongiovanni of Concrete Structures in Harare. Vic has consistently donated fuel to the fund for the past few years and we can’t express enough how much this helps us. As I always say, for every drop of fuel we save we can buy more food for another Pensioner. Thank you, with all our hearts, for your kind support Vic. We are tremendously grateful to you.
I made a brief stop at Marondera to drop a few boxes there and then went off to Rusape. Dear old Resthaven. Love these people too much. Always a laugh at this positive stop. I was very sad to see Don Cripps without his beloved Anne who succumbed to cancer this year. What a brave fight she fought, this good woman. We’ll all miss her.
It was late in the day, and I spent the night resting outside town at my favourite Hidden Rocks, tucked away, close to nature in my little tent, under the Zim stars. Apart from a crow nicking my dinner crackers, I had a great night, revelling, absorbing, basting, and engrossed in the beautiful Zimbabwean Msasa bush.
I got to Mutare on Saturday morning and was met, as always, by Des Becker, at his warehouse, where he too has made huge sacrifices to store and distribute our boxes throughout the Eastern highlands. A legend in this community, Des has offered up many years of work, time, fuel to make sure our boxes get to the four homes in Mutare, Murambi, EHT, Strickland Lodge and Park Cottages. He, and his great wife Sally, also distribute all the S.O.A.P. boxes in and around the town. We are mightily grateful for the savings to the fund, and I am always and forever indebted to them for accommodating, feeding and entertaining me on trip after trip, year after year.
The Live music, at the local Golf club was provided by a local accountant and, after clearing up some confusion about me and my family being the musicians for the day, we had a great afternoon under the trees.
I left early on Sunday for Masvingo and was a bit like a horse back to the stables now. My grandson had been in hospital, in Durban and had deteriorated overnight so I was super keen to get home as soon as possible. I still had the border crossing hanging over me and had had several reports from different camps saying that the situation was now worse than before, and so it was.
At Pioneer cottages in Masvingo I met another of the new administrators, that is distantly related to my wife, along with everybody else in the old Gutu, Chatsworth, Enkeldoorn community. I’m never surprised anymore…….
I was very touched, again, when my favourite Mrs Edwards arrived with another knitted gift for my grandson. The kindness & generosity of these Zim Pensioners, giving whenever they can, makes these trips worthwhile. Thanks again Mrs Edwards & Pioneer Cottages. Bentley loved his knitted ball and I’m sure will love his knitted Santa, come Christmas. He’s all recovered and well again. Thank you millions.
My next few stops were quicker than I would have wanted but I was keen to get back to Bulawayo to make an early start for the border the following day. My delivery to Zvishavane is always sad. There are so few pensioners left in this little mining community (5 in all) and I can’t help imagining how tremendously lonely they must be. Lynne and John D’ewes were there to meet me with their customary cup of tea and pancakes. John hasn’t been well lately but I was surprised that he is strong, up and about and active again. Thanks guys for what you do for us and the old folk in Zvishavane. Give my regards to Stoffie!
I’m always sad to do the Shurugwe drop-off. The Pensioners there are becoming fewer, and it would be my wish to have them moved away to a more suitable environment. Mercifully, I’ve never heard of anyone coming to any harm but it’s the purely unsavoury vibe that hangs over the village that shouldn’t be in the end days of anyone. Poor old beautiful Shurugwe.
I collected boxes at Boggies trust and Huisvergesig, back in Gweru and trekked off back to Bulawayo.
Johan & I debated quite hard on options around me trying to cross the border the following day. We pooled all the information that we’d gathered in the days before and decided that there was only one choice. Balls to the wall!
On Monday morning I went off to the Mater Dei hospital to have yet another COVID test and then started out for Beitbridge. I had, moronically, left my passport in a Net-one Cell phone kiosk in Gwanda on the way up and was much relieved that it was still there, by arrangement, a week later. (Photocopiers do that….passport eaters !)
I had spoken to Robert, our clearing agent during the morning so when I arrived at the border to a many Kilometre long queue I wasn’t massively concerned. I managed to wriggle into the line, at the front and…. Long story short, I was through the border in two hours. The only harm that might have come to me was a potential skid mark in the old broeks when another trucker, offended by my pushing in, blew his almighty American style horn in my ear at about a metre!. He had his revenge, and I Pooped my pants…. fair & square.
For those who remember the area. The Northbound traffic into Beitbridge was queued from the border to Musina Town and then on the South side of the town for about another 3 or 4 Km. two and sometimes three trucks abreast. Crazy stuff! Only some unashamed fibbing and dogmatic line hopping could have helped me back and forth through that enormous mess; of that I’m sure. I remembered a book I’d read as a kid in which a man smuggled bibles into Russia and got to a point where the authorities were looking straight at them and not seeing them. Well…. I felt like God hid the entire truck on this trip and allowed me good unseen passage in both directions. Thank you God!
It was getting dark when I passed Louis Trichardt and the lights aren’t that great on the truck anymore, so I stopped in at the old Lalaphansi hotel for a night off.
I arrived back in Malelane on Tuesday and back home to Durban on Wednesday.
This wasn’t one of my favourite trips. There was a mountain of stress involved. My Grandie being in hospital was the biggest test for me. The backlog at the border and a little health issue that I had didn’t help any. These trips are never easy but the thing that keeps us going is that we know that from every corner of the planet there are people supporting us and depending on us to keep the old folk of Zimbabwe happy, healthy & fed. Our donors, throughout the world need to know the gratitude we are shown at every single home. These people are grateful to you all beyond words.
I’m not a politician, an economist or a specialist on Zimbabwe but as a outside observer we still have a way to go before we can report true and ongoing relief and happiness in the country that we so love. I’m asked often lately when we will be able stop helping these folk? The answer is, “probably never”. In a country where there is little or no social security there is no other way. Without the generosity and kindness of our donors and the local home support systems within Zim, these old people will surely perish. It is my earnest hope and prayer that we will never reach a point where we can no longer carry on the work of delivering food into the hands of those who need it most.
I pass onto every donor the warmth and gratitude that I get from every one of our Pensioners throughout Zimbabwe. Your unselfish generous and thoughtful kindness can only be rewarded by God. I pray that each of you feel the love of these folk in your dreams and in your hearts.
God Bless Zimbabwe!
Head office South Africa contact details:
Linda Schultz – email@example.com – (C) 079 6082676 (T) 013 7900934
Johan Schultz – firstname.lastname@example.org – 082 4979328
Hannes Botha – email@example.com – 084 5893221
Section 21 Co Reg. 2007/034036/08; NPO Number 096733; Section 18A PBO No 930031642