Today, 25 May 2022, I visited Mr. Zenda at his makeshift home by Mazowe Dam. In a way, the gentleman is our local version of the archetypical frontiersman. But not quite: he is disabled from childhood polio and his gait is rather slow and tortured, but that does not take away the magnetic aura about him.
As I got into his patch of woods, I pass by an apostolic meeting place in the woods. I later remark about that. “They don’t bother me; I don’t bother them”, he tells me with his ready smile.
Mr. Zenda has a fishing licence which he uses when the season is due. He also possesses a mining prospecting licence, the purpose of which is currently holding his imagination.
Tell me about mining, I invite him. He immediately launches straight into it, telling me about the geology and the history, about Germans and trade, about the role of gold in traditional society. I had to cut him in mid-flow, to inquire about the neat rows of assorted vegetables growing a stone’s throw from his makeshift purification works site.
“Well, we need to eat, don’t we? Plus we have plenty water that comes out of the mining. We can afford to eat better than the folks in Harare”. I couldn’t argue with that: there was even a patch of strawberries. He handed me a couple of magaka eminzwa from one of his beds.
Does he enjoy life in the wilderness? The wilderness is where life is, he tells me. Do you feel safe? No more than the folks in Harare was the wry response. More reflectively, he goes on:
“We have problems from time to time from idle young people who do not fancy the hard work. We have more of those now”.
How do you see the Chinese going everywhere and extracting whatever they can and doing massive damage to our environment?
He turns the keen eyes towards me. “Well, we are lazy. We rather prefer rent than to work our land.”
He goes on to show me some amazing levels of engineering improvisation. Who does all these things? “Me”, he tells me.
After a couple of hours, I had to leave him to solve some of his problems. A Chinese-made chiguruguru had developed some mechanical problems which he had to fix.
On my way back, I was quite reflective. Mr. Zenda’s mine was clearly not Fort Knox. He probably extracted enough to survive, but diversified handily to offset the risks associated with his livelihood. The neat rows of fruit trees testified to his attitude towards environmental regeneration. He is clearly more substantial than an oddity in the woods, is Mr. Zenda.
He insisted on taking me halfway back home. After we parted, I glanced enviously back to see him limping slowly towards his place in the woods. His walk may be slow, but he clearly knows what he is about, I thought. I felt suddenly ridiculous getting back to my own version of Africa full of the fevered running and the over-pressured actions of people who do not quite seem to know where they are running to…
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