The not-so-basic basics

By Kudakwashe Chitsike

I live in an urban area, in fact a metropolitan city. It rained incessantly for days, throughout the festive season. Ordinarily, I shouldn’t have had to worry about the availability of electricity or how I was going to cook the proverbial rice-and-chicken-Christmas-meal. Without electricity, in those rains where would I light the fire, where would I find dry firewood? The thought of spoiling new Christmas clothes with the smell of smoke or finding ice to keep the food fresh in the freezer was unbecoming. So was the worry that I would not be able to play my favorite music and dance into the New Year?

My neighbourhood is notorious for massive load shedding. Strangely, electricity was abundant throughout the festive season for three full weeks. My family and I celebrated and were grateful to ZESA for sparing us a dark Christmas, for the absence of electricity is what we have become quite accustomed to. We were also privileged to have clean running water unlike most homes that had black or green water coming out of their taps. We were far better off than those whose taps have been dry for years.

I was also privileged to have my family around me. Those from the diaspora were able to come home, a simple pleasure that many are not able to indulge in because of the economic hardship we find ourselves in. With my family around me, I ate well and even had a choice of what to eat, albeit it wasn’t anything flambé by a fancy chef! The First Family unashamedly exercised their right to family in extravagance. We all saw from the photos and video that went viral that they were not lacking of anything. Yet, how many other Zimbabweans didn’t eat anything let alone something special over the festive season? How many were restricted to one meal a day?

Watching the incessant rains from the comfort of my home I thought of those that lost their homes due to floods. In Hopley Farm and Epworth, houses collapsed, and people were hurt. One child allegedly died as a result; yet another basic right not fulfilled.

I appreciated the annual shutdown which allowed me to get some rest. I also knew come January I had a job to go back to. 2 million jobs were promised in 2013, and none were delivered. More companies actually closed and the unemployed increased in numbers. The  government has failed dismally to provide jobs.  Who wants to invest here; the political situation does not inspire confidence.

During the festive season I was admitted in hospital and was fortunate enough to go to a hospital of my choice and attended to very well by the nursing staff. I imagined someone else with the same problem going to a government hospital, where doctors were on strike and where patients have to bring their own food and bedding. I imagined having to wait; unsure of when the doctor would come and having to buy my own medication without proper diagnosis.  Yet we say we have a right to basic health care?

There is something very wrong with this picture. These rights should not be the preserve of a select few.

Having electricity and water is not a privilege. It should be and is a basic right. I shouldn’t be excited when power is there and children shouldn’t be screaming happily ‘magetsi auya!’ when power comes back.  Our situation has been bad for so long we tend to confuse rights and privileges. Most of us are indifferent to the violation of our rights and instead of demanding these rights we “make a plan”. Those who have generators, boreholes, gas stoves, solar power think their lives are normal but are they?

A selfish streak has permeated our society. ‘Each man for himself’ is the going mantra and the government has thrown its obligation to provide these basic rights back to its citizens. The government expects us as citizens to pay tax but does nothing to improve our lives with these taxes. Instead, they unleash the riot police on us when we dare to complain.

How much longer shall we permit them to do this? Those of us who think we are privileged, are we really that privileged? When will the bare basics be basic for us?




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