Undeniably, the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa, are awash with Zimbabweans from all walks of life who seem to be attracted in their droves by the brightness of the city’s neon lights.
by Masola wa Dabudabu
Most Zimbabweans go to Johannesburg to seek employment opportunities in genuine pursuit of a better way of life.
Once in Johannesburg, they are faced with two options — to use either conventional ways or criminal exploits to realise their dreams.
Historically, Johannesburg was always a medium intensity destination of choice for many Zimbabweans job seekers.
The onset of the country’s economic hardships and political instability changed this and the city became a high-intensity destination of choice.
The city has since turned into a massive cauldron where pleasure, riches, poverty, hardship, danger and many other positive and negative attributes of live constantly simmer.
Sadly, access to the contents of this cauldron is through very short ladles. Scooping from the cauldron is like taking a chance in a lottery sweepstake.
Johannesburg, the city of chance and despair, has given rise to many Zimbabweans success stories as well as disappointments.
There are Zimbabwean professionals; teachers, craftsmen, lawyers and others, who may or may not be engaging in the professions they studied or trained for.
Indeed, a number of Zimbabwe’s exports to the city of gold notoriously engage in ignoble activities.
The bad apples in the basket have become cut-throat criminals, prostitutes, petty thieves, beggars, gangsters, muggers and other agents of vice.
Yours truly has also been to Johannesburg to play the cauldron’s lottery numbers.
The remit of the trip was to innocuously “spy” on fellow countrymen for the benefit of posterity.
The task was not for any nefarious reason.
It is very easy to identify Zimbabweans on the streets of Johannesburg; stereotypically, they ooze an aura of despondency and walk with an unmistakable lack of confidence, an honest reflection of the turmoil at home.
It did not take me time to identify my first subject on the streets.
I picked up Dzungu Mavanga, a character with no amazing characteristics to write home about.
Dzungu’s face bore the hallmarks of the wounded nation he hails from.
He had scary scars that piled his face as if to offer him some scales for added protection against the elements and the rough environment he found himself operating from.
I changed my approach when Dzungu informed me that he was a graduate of Zimbabwe’s controversial National Youth Service programme.
Dzungu attended Mushagashe Training Centre at age 19 in 2002.
He went through the paces under the tutelage of “Commandant” Francis Zimuto, a.k.a Black Jesus.
He said he gained basic paramilitary skills from the programme.
After the training stint, he was deployed in the districts beefing up support for Zanu PF.
He was quick to mention that canvassing for support was a mean task that involved a lot of cajoling and coercion.
Dzungu left Zimbabwe at the height of economic problems in 2008.
He said not even being a Zanu PF storm trooper could mitigate the atrocious conditions that prevailed at the time.
Since Zimbabwe did not hold general elections or by-elections every day, his ability to feed himself was compromised as Green Bombers had to be laid off for long periods between elections.
His decision to cross national boundaries into South Africa was purely for survival as he had a child and wife to feed.
Dzungu was forced to establish a niche on one of the street corners, as he had no relatives or contacts in Johannesburg to host him.
He was grateful to the paramilitary training he got from the youth programme.
Now he was using some of the skills for his own survival and not for the survival of filthy rich Zanu PF individuals.
He had learned to retreat or to advance in typical Maoist fashion.
He also used his variegated face to instill ungodly fear whenever he was robbing victims.
The training at Mushagashe had indeed prepared him for the concrete jungle.
He had no regrets for having been a Green Bomber while still in Zimbabwe.
He said he never used violence on ordinary civilians unless it was absolutely necessary.
On the streets of Johannesburg, he also made sure that collateral damage was minimal.
He was of the belief that during a robbery, there was no point of killing a compliant victim.
My brief with Dzungu had rendered me emotionally distraught.
I wept as I thought of the youths whose future continues to be destroyed by selfish politicians.
These power-obsessed maniacs use children to perpetuate their days in power.
The youth service is blackmail at the highest level.
The dilemma is that children who decline to do the “Green Bomber” programme are ostracised and denied some of their rights.
If they take part, they are likely to be shunned by their relatives.
Like Dzungu, our children face prospects of indoctrination.
Soon, they will be like zombies drunk on party poison.
For the sake of progress, just let our children play.