ZIMBABWE PENSIONERS SUPPORT FUND TRIP REPORT February 2016

    November 25, 2016

ZIMBABWE PENSIONERS SUPPORT FUND TRIP REPORT February 2016

Daniel Koekemoer

Accompanied by; Crosby Stills Nash & Young (and a bit of Joan Baez)

Five and a half thousand Km’s, from start to finish, and not a single one that wasn’t utterly humbling and worth the effort……..

I left Durban early on 23 February and made for Malelane, Mpumalanga. I had a thing or two to do in Ladysmith and Newcastle so I made a day of it; arriving at our warehouse in the early evening.

Linda was there to receive me and, as efficiently as always, had all the border documents and truck prepared for me. I was relieved to learn that I was to take the 16 ton truck which is newer and somewhat more comfortable than the older, but faithful, 8 ton that I usually get.

I left Malelane at about 6h00 am on Wednesday and had a trouble free ride to Tzaneen where I met up with my very dear Friend and co-driver, Pastor Attie Botha. Attie, as I’m sure you all know, has been stricken with some health issues in the past few months and wasn’t able to do this trip. I was really pleased to see that, on the outside, he was every bit himself. Full of it!! He escorted me to a special depot where he had arranged some discount diesel for us and after some chat & banter I went on to Musina, arriving there at about 19h00. Joe and Hester Joubert put me up again with all the hospitality that we’ve become so accustomed to. These people are saintly and nothing is ever too much trouble for them. I left the truck at the NG Church across town and passed out early in the sweltering, bone dry, stifling heat that Musina has to offer. (Please pray for rain relief for these parts. This region is absolutely parched)

I had an early start on Thursday, in anticipation of the dreaded border crossing. I was up at 04h30 and got to the border at 05h30. I met the border agent and all went well enough with the paperwork, but in the waiting, I caused and enormous “storm in a coffee cup“by boiling my small kettle on a primus in the back of the truck. The Border policeman raged and demanded my documents and passport, which I refused to hand over, and what a debacle that was! I was marched into an office and lectured at length on the dangers of fire. After an hour of high drama and efforts to extort money from me (in the absence of a law under which to charge me) they eventually relented and I was made to apologise! “You must say you’re sorry” they said…… I said “I am sorry” and watched as my dignity, pride, logic and brotherly love all flew out the window.

I was out of the forsaken hole that Beitbridge has become by 10h00 am!

The Beitbridge / Bulawayo stretch is always a challenge for me but I made it to Bulawayo by 14h30 after a brief stop somewhere near West Nicholson.

(A little warning here… One shouldn’t stop at the beautiful Baobab lay-bys in these parts. I’ve known of attacks on motorists but scanned the area around my chosen lay-by well enough before I pulled over. On having a stretch and tinkle I looked up to see a crudely made sign nailed to the Baobab saying “Beware of robbers!” A bit unnerved I looked around more carefully, only to realise the back of the tree is hollowed out and the vermin thieves have a nest inside it. I’m thankful that they were on their day off. Be careful of this, those that travel that way. Robbers grow in trees there it seems!)

I digress…….

Ever efficient, Angela and her helpers, at our warehouse in Bulawayo, loaded my truck in record time and I was headed for Gweru by 16h00. Hannes was there to meet me and gave me my instructions for the trip ahead.

This little jump to Gweru was uneventful, except that my border agent had entered the wrong route on my road coupons. I was not allowed to be on that road and should have approached Bulawayo via Masvingo?? (Long story). The Tollgate lady was perplexed. With a long blank stare and much scratching of her amply bushed crown with her curved pointing digit, she allowed me to “proceed”.

Boggies Trust Cottages, in Gweru, has always been one of my favourite stops. Amongst the hardship, that is their lives, there is a special warmth and happiness at this place. Fred Munger had prepared a spare cottage for me and after some welcome refreshments and a great chat with him and his dear wife they settled me in for the night. I learned on that night that some folk have not seen their children overseas for 8 to18 years! Thinking of my own family, the pain of this separation must be inconceivable? Ones own niggles fade sorely into obscurity in that environment.

We offloaded Boggies boxes in the early morning with Fred cracking the big whip and we were done in a flash. (Through much laughter and good Zim banter on the correct pronunciation of the various names) Thanks for the laugh Boggies.

I made my way to Huisvergesig cottages across town and offloaded their boxes along with those for Anna Scheepers, who kindly distributes to the Gweru “outsiders” (folk who still live in their own homes) Deepest thanks again to her and her family.

After R120 putrid cup of coffee and brine soaked Chicken leg, from the local filling station, I was on the road to Redcliff by 8h00. My breakfast stayed behind in a Gweru dustbin.

Great sadness awaited in Redcliff as they had discovered, moments before I arrived, that one of their residents had passed away in the night. George was a favourite there, always ready with a story. R.I.P George.

After the offloading at Redcliff I went on KweKwe where I was warmly welcomed, again, by the good people there. I left them their boxes which they happily squirreled away in their wheelbarrows. Their happy faces: Medicine for my sad heart.

Ken Connolly, our faithful and always willing fuel-giver was away so I didn’t do the customary top-up at KweKwe but he is worthy of a huge “Thank you “ in every trip report for his kindness and generosity over the years.

I was met by Estelle & Clive O Reilly at Westview homes in Kadoma. These servants of their community are always a pleasure to see. I dropped their boxes and enjoyed their tea and company, as always, albeit briefly. They have great plans for Westview to ensure the comfort of the residents and the longevity of this facility. Oh, but for the goodness of these fine people??

I took the short-cut, heading north to Chinoyi where the folk were alerted to my arrival. Their little old bakkies lined up to cart away their precious food boxes. I spent a fair time chatting to the residents here. This is another massively grateful community, who can’t adequately express how they appreciate the help from all our donors. There’s urgency amongst them to make their gratitude known to all.

The biggest bother of the trip followed my delivery to Chinoyi. A long story short, I was hauled from my truck by my shirt sleeve by a screaming, frantic, crazed group of soldiers while I was waiting at a tollgate, near a military barracks, northwest of Harare. When I eventually made sense of what they were wanting, they accused me of taking photos of them hitchhiking at a turnoff some Km’s back. (On reflection, I had been talking to my wife on my cell phone when I passed the turnoff to the barracks)

My frantic denials fell on deaf ears as they all had a go at the photos on my phone. Needless to say there were none to be found. After some pushing and shoving and yelling in my face “You are lying!” they scurried away and climbed back on the low-bed truck that had given them a lift. I was left at the roadside, a quivering mess, somewhat shaken and decidedly in need of a lavatory! (I’ve heard stories about Chikurubi….. not nice ones)

I was mightily happy to arrive in Harare where my hostess, Lynda Style, awaited me with a very welcome cold beer. (To say I gulped it down, and a few more, would be true….) I was treated to a great meal from a very special human, Jean Style. A million thanks Jean. I needed that.

Breakfast on Saturday morning was great. Thanks Dearest Lynda. You guys, and your hospitality, during this, and all my previous trips, has been great and I love you guys for that.

I needed to get to our special friend, Jim Forrester, by midday to collect, once again, his hugely welcome fuel top-up. Jim and his partners have been fantastically generous over the years and this trip was no exception. He filled me up with the greatest pleasure. In chatting with Jim it was interesting, and very sad, to learn of the many difficulties facing ordinary Zimbabweans and not just the Pensioners. The uncertainty of the future is agonising for these people and we must pray for their comfort too. Thanks so much again Jim. Your fuel donations are particularly special at a time when it’s really tough in your industry. A really huge thank you!

From Jims Depot I went off to Marion & Mike Futter. This is another couple that offers unwavering support to the Harare pensioners and those less fortunate. I dropped off the many food parcels destined for Rusape, the CFU, SOAP and “Outsiders” for Harare and surrounds. These are all ably distributed by these willing people, using their own means. Many thanks again, Mike & Marion. You’re good humans.

I stayed on in Harare for the sad memorial service for another great and legendary Zimbabwean, Janey Style who had passed away the week before. I needed to skip the formal early memorial proceedings on account of not having taken up respectable and appropriate clothing but was fortunate to spend the rest of Saturday with the Style Family and their many friends. R.I.P Janey Style. Zimbabwe, and the Lowveld, in particular, will be a lesser place without you.

On Sunday morning, 28 February, I was away to Resthaven in Rusape, another of my favourite homes, populated with welcoming, hospitable and beautiful folk. The very welcome overnight rain in the area had softened the soil around the cottages which made for a very dramatic entrance as I sunk the truck into the mushy ground. A catastrophe, to say the least, as we tried but everything to dislodge the truck. I was assured that I shouldn’t feel foolish because it was the most action they had had in a long while……. Mixed blessings right there.

We did get the truck out in an hour or two, before the farmer arrived with his tractor, so all was good and we offloaded their welcome boxes. I was treated to a boerie roll and some home made ginger beer, which I must write about….

I was offered the Ginger beer with a jocular and scant reference to its alcohol content and was happy to accept. In my thirst, I wolfed it down and admired the rawness of homemade anything. It was only after a tidy head-spin and a silly giggle that I questioned the “joke” about the alcohol content and was told that that wasn’t a joke. It was for real! I can’t be sure but I don’t think that Ginger Beer passed the Regulatory Consumer Alcohol Content test of Zimbabwe. The extra hot home made mustard on my boerie roll was also a part of my punishment for getting the truck stuck…. I think?

To peels of laughter I delayed my next leg for an hour or so, until I had gathered my ducks.

I learnt again that there is a very fine line between great happiness and great sadness.

I arrived in Mutare at dusk and was met by yet another very special man, Des Becker. I parked the truck at his offices and he drove me across town to Strickland Lodge where he had “booked me into” the very comfortable guest room overlooking the hallway. Des and his Sally Becker devote their lives to the elderly of Mutare and cannot be thanked enough for the help that they always provide for us when we arrive. Des gave me the use of a1970 something Nissan sedan which I could use for the night to fetch a meal etc. The memories flooded back as I drove to the OK Bazaars in the main street for some cold (very expensive) sliced ham and a bun. Great skaf and just what I needed to mop up the ginger beer.

You gave me so much more than a special old car Des; you gave me a special memory. Thanks for that.

I had a good rest on Sunday night and we started our Mutare deliveries early on Monday morning. With the help of Des’s good man, Simba, and his friends we delivered to all three Mutare homes and I got to chat to some of the residents for an hour or two. At Strickland lodge the resident pooch, Bella, barked incessantly at me. An Elderly lady said “He just doesn’t listen anymore! I told him to bite you, not bark at you!” and then rolled about laughing. Good old Zimbabwean humor. Special stuff.

I dreaded the next part of the trip, backtracking towards Harare and then taking the shorter route through Dorowa etc to Chivu, (Enkeldoorn). This is a new link that was built after independence and it’s quite the shocker. Mercifully, the millions of potholes have been crudely filled which makes for a straight but really bumpy ride. I had to chuckle as there’s a new toll booth being built on the Chivu side, as you leave town, so they’ll have your loot long before you realise what you’ve paid for.

Arriving in Chivu two and half hours later I felt like I’d been blended!

I delivered the Chivu boxes to Piet DeKlerk and his family and welcomed the good cup of tea. As the only “pioneer” family left in this town they also need our earnest prayers. It’s a really tough existence for these dear people.

Masvingo was my next destination and I arrived there at about 16h00. Dusty Evans met me at the old NG. Manse and insisted on helping me offload the many Masvingo boxes. The not so young man is a machine and I was very grateful for his help. He took it upon himself, again, to deliver to Pioneer cottages, the Masvingo outsiders and others for the region. Thanks again Dusty. Hope you catch a million fish this year.

I considered a sleepover in Masvingo but hadn’t arranged anywhere to stay in advance and the manse dorm is no more since Gerhard Burger left so I moved on to Zvishavane and the ever welcoming Lynn and John D’Ewes.

We quickly offloaded the Boxes for the outsiders in this district which Lynn and John also willingly distribute. I was fed on Lynn’s well known special egg/mayo sarmies and a great cup of rooibos. Thanks millions the D’Ewes. You guys are the best. My offer for a reciprocal visit to Durban is sincere.

The folk at Sherugwe are beautiful. This town is no longer the scenic mountain village that it once was and by my estimation shows more battered signs than any other town in Zim. Its historic buildings and streets lie in tatters. A really sad reflection of what has passed in our great country.

The humor and gratitude of the folk there are a solitary brightness in this sad town. Old man Nielsen, an octogenarian Scandinavian immigrant is a pillar at this home. He’s a small, happy, generous, and strong as an ox man who offloads boxes at a rate that even I have a problem with. Amidst warnings from fellow residents as to whether he’ll be able to stand in the morning, he slaved away. I’ve never taken the time to explore his history but behind his little twinkly eyes there lies richness of experience, I suspect. Sherugwe was very grateful too for their boxes.

I collapsed into my reserved cottage at Boggies in Gweru at about 21h00 on Monday night. It had been quite a day. The first bit of discomfort I’d had on the entire trip was a wary spine which I blamed on the Chivu roller coaster road.

I was up for about 7h00 on Tuesday 01 April and our empty boxes were all ready for loading. Fred and his team again helped me throw these into the truck and I was wished a happy return journey with the now familiar pack of biltong from Fred and a tub of delicious samoosas that I’ve yet to match in my Currytown, Durban.

Collecting the empty boxes at Huisvergesig was quick and I was on my way back to Bulawayo by 7h30. I had decided during the night that I would head for the border so as to make up some time and get back to my business.

In Bulawayo I offloaded all the empty boxes from around the country and was on the road to Beitbridge again by about 12h00.

My return border crossing, on the Zimbabwe side was a breeze. After an hours lull during which everything totally stopped, to the consternation of us all, they processed my documents and sent me through. The South African post was also a breeze, until I reached the final boom and a gate man who I would have liked to lollipop with his boom pole.

There’s a new toy on the South African side, in the form of a truck x ray scanner. Despite my protests that I was totally devoid of any cargo, like empty! he felt that I needed to be scanned. I was second in the queue and the process took two hours! For those of us that have grown up in Africa, we know that when an Operators arms are wrapped around the top of his head, confusion reigns. I suspect, in the event, that the Product training for this mighty sophisticated new equipment was either inadequate or ill absorbed.

The dilemma caused by my personal suitcase in the back of the truck further delayed me by 20 minutes but I was released and got to Musina by about 18h30.

After a brief stop to drop a small gift with the Jouberts, I went off, ambitiously, to reach Atties home for the night. That wasn’t to be. By the time I got beyond Louis Trichardt I was quite wary and decided to stay at the old Lalapansi Hotel. Felt like Daniel in Wonderland in my little rondavel with the Barbie furniture but I was too tired to care. Had a good nights sleep.

On Wednesday 02 April I headed home. I left the Lalapansi early and got on the road to Malelane. I met with Dear Attie briefly on the roadside at Modjaji ( sp), as he was on his way to Polekwane to start his radium therapy, and I was on my way again. I left the truck in Malelane and after exchanging paperwork and feedback with Linda I carried on to Durban via Swaziland. I arrived home at about 11h00 on Wednesday, a day earlier than expected.

Readers and donors; I try to make light of these reports for the sake of easy reading but there is a serious and ongoing plight amongst some people left behind in Zimbabwe, the Pensioners in particular. We cannot, for a moment, forget these folk. Without your help and very kind donations these people will all but perish. Many depend totally and entirely on the food parcels that we buy on your behalf. Many don’t have a penny of their own. This is an unthinkable position to be in when it’s no fault of your own. I’m not a natural beggar or fundraiser but please don’t dry up on these guys. With the ever increasing cost of basics and the run-away economy they are at serious risk and they need your ongoing support if at all possible.

The most common question I’m asked at my fundraising talks is “Why don’t they just leave?” It’s a fair question when one hasn’t an understanding of the complications of emigrating to anywhere in the world. It’s about money, work, age and the inability to contribute to your host country. In the very kindest words; no country, including South Africa, wants or needs you when you’re older than 50 or 60. That’s the way it is. We need to keep looking after these great people where they are in Zimbabwe. Please continue to help us do this thing.

We have a tremendously sad situation with Pastor Attie and his health issues. This man has been, for many years, been an essential cog in the fund operations, driving diligently back and forth to Zimbabwe bringing love, comfort, friendship and joy to so many people across that country. My special friend needs to stop his work but he’s driven by his insatiable kindness and the knowledge that we don’t have other willing or able drivers. I can keep doing a couple of trips a year but we would welcome calls from anyone else that has a few spare weeks a year, a code 10 or 14 license and a mountain of patience. Please get in touch with us?

Pray for our dear friend Attie please. We love this man and need him back, in great health, sooner than later.

My final thanks go to the Pensioners of Zimbabwe. These beautiful humans remind me of how small and petty our little daily problems actually are. They ground me, they strengthen me and they ingratiate me for the great many pleasures that I have.

Amidst the intolerable angst that these people suffer there is laughter and camaraderie in these homes. A love and support for each other on a level that we should all learn from. I love you for your lessons Dear Pensioners. God Bless you all.

God Bless Zimbabwe.

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