Breaking The Pioneering Spirit: In Zimbabwe Ruins, The Pensioner’s Light Goes Out

They secured Rhodesia as the Bread-basket of Africa, now they “talk of the prolonged loneliness as they lie in darkness for hours. Without the distraction of radios and televisions, snacks or books their minds wander too far from comfort and their reality and sadness is profound.”

Editor’s Comment: Having survived the Bush War, the violence of the farm invasions, the theft of everything they built and the loss of value of any savings or pensions, it’s now the relentless darkness breaking the spirits of the elderly white Rhodesian’s who remain. A generation that did so much to secure Rhodesia as the bread-basket of Africa and give the black Rhodesian a standard of living unknown in most of Africa.

The following is from a 2019 delivery trip report by Daniel Koekemoer of the Zimbabwe Pensioners Support Fund, a charity that provides essential food and medicine boxes to elderly white Rhodesians. These 8+ day trips are not for the feint hearted. From navigating the potholes of collapsing roads to dealing with a whopping 91 Police bribery inspection roadblocks he takes us into the homes of a forgotten generation.

Note: Images, captions and headings have been added. They are not the responsibility of Mr Koekemoer, but of the Editor.

Breaking The Pioneering Spirit: In Zimbabwe Ruins, The Light Goes Out

Our Pensioners are in darkness and they’re also wounded. They are emotionally, economically, physically and mentally wounded and exhausted with their plight as old folk in Zimbabwe. They’re all tired now. These strong, resilient, positive, beautiful people are worn down and trapped in an unthinkable mess. The electricity cuts [18-20 hours a day, every day, often with power restored after midnight and terminated, yet again, before 5 AM] have been the final straw. Their days are long and their nights even longer.

Darkness comes with unimaginable danger and difficulty for these elderly folks. There’s barely money for food, let alone torches and batteries. We’ve supplied candles over the years but those too come with great peril and bother. When you’re elderly and needing to pee, or move around in the night you can’t be holding a light too.  

They talk of the prolonged loneliness as they lie in darkness for hours. Without the distraction of radios and televisions, snacks or books their minds wander too far from comfort and their reality and sadness is profound.

Mnangagwa promises electricity and returning Rhodesia’s breadbasket status in 2018, then crashed the economy, once again, almost overnight in 2019.

At Huisvergesig I heard of another Shurugwe Brahman [cattle] farm that lies in tatters after being “resettled”. The livestock on this farm were from a gene pool and time when the whole bull had to be brought in, from the USA, by ship to Durban then by train to Shurugwe. Not just a gene specimen or cup of “strong swimmers” in an overnight bag but the whole animal! 

This herd is now no more. Gone with the stroke of a pen…

Image via Daily Mail, 2011, ‘From bread-basket to basket case: Land seizures from white farmers have cost Mugabe’s Zimbabwe £7 billion

My next stop, Redcliff, or as it’s now known, “Deadcliff” my spirits were hardly lifted. The once thriving export industrial hub is now a wasteland of nothingness. A few leftover souls wander here for want of a better home. I noticed a particular chap at this retirement home had lost a fair bit of weight. I asked about his health, he’s in perfect health I was told but he had “decided to lose some weight”.

I suspect from the conversation that followed that “deciding to lose weight” in Zimbabwe, for a Pensioner, could mean something very different. When your meal portions are halved and your Mazoe is replaced with a glass of water and a twist of lemon, you’re bound to lose weight whether you “decided” to or not. What will become of these folk when their final pennies run out?

Zimbabwe now depends on food aide

We have family ancestors that were transport riders from Lydenberg South Africa to Rhodesia in the 1800’s.  They would have had fire lamps and coal irons. They would have cooked in the outdoors and carried & stored their water in buckets and barrels. Many would have traded in a cashless way, bartering and exchanging goods and services along the way. They would have learnt and improvised dramatically with every ride and they would have been proud of their progress. They would never have guessed that 150 years later their country will have reverted to the same; a cashless, electrically starved, waterless, bartering society that we see in Zimbabwe today. I travel a similar route as our ancestors would have back then and, along the way, I can’t help thinking how utterly disappointed they would have been.

I passed a spot just beyond Birchenough Bridge that reminded me so much of my home area, in the Lowveld, that I had to stop and walk awhile into the bush. I was sad and angry. I thought about my childhood in Rhodesia-Zimbabwe and what might have been. I thought about my family. Should we stay on this continent that we love so much or are we prolonging the inevitable by remaining in South Africa? Being the big wussie ‘When-We’ that I am, I shed more tears. Not just for our Pensioners, but also a bunch of self-pity tears this time.

The situation is chronic, reminiscent of 2008 except that this time there are goods on the shelves but people can’t afford them. Many people don’t have cash and those that have small reserves in the bank are finding it more difficult to keep up with the daily inflation.

Most of our Pensioners simply have no money at all left and are dependent on the small food boxes that we give them every few weeks. We constantly come across these old guys that are proud and don’t want to bother their children. They won’t ask for more from them, despite their suffering. They may get the rent and utilities paid but many are on the breadline and living off morsels….

The generation that secured Rhodesia as the bread-basket of Africa are experiencing hunger, and their spirits are breaking quietly in the darkness.

Many have, tragically, outlived their children and so rely entirely on the grace of strangers. Please consider a donation to the Pensioners Support Fund via their banks accounts in South Africa, the UK, the USA or Australia.

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3 Responses

  1. Jinny Theunissen says:

    Rhodesian hearts are broken but the spirit lives on. I will not be called an ex Rhodesian I would never have left Rhodesia. I left Zimbabwe under duress. But prayed long and hard. Our sons have been given a good education and have come to love SA and it’s beauty. But nothing replaces the part of my heart that is my homeland. I am so grateful to the people who sacrifically and under great difficulty have taken food up to the pensioners in Zimbabwe. My mother who is now 101 was one .If my father had known how she lost everything through Mugabe he would have been so distressed. I salute those old folk who cannot leave Zimbabwe and especially now. We in SA are now in same situation in SA. But…… God. We are here to bring Christ to those who do not know Him and can only give Him praise for what He has done in our lives.
    My great grandparents trekked up to Rhodesia in 1896 and my Gran was born in laager. So my boys were 4th generation. That means nothing to the world. But precious to me. My cousins lost their farms with so many others, land they’d bought and and brought into glory through hard work. Now eek out an existence. But thousands of black folk suffer intolerably too.For so many years we have prayed. The Zimbabweans in SA work tirelessly for their families back home and are to be admired for their faith too. My heart aches for them too.

  2. AnnE says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart-rending story Jinny. It really saddens me too that my country Rhodesia exists only in our memories and in our hearts. Your family’s story should not be forgotten.

    If you elaborate on the story you wrote here I’m 100% sure would publish it as a treasured article to preserve your family’s Rhodesian history – the perfect website as it treasures such Rhodesian true history. (Editor, pse confirm?).

    We all need to put down our unique Rhodesian stories to preserve them.
    Rhodesians Never Die. Let’s make sure by preserving our stories for posterity.

    I have a sense that today, with the evil going-ons around the world – including especially in SA – many Rhodesians of the diaspora will be yearning for a country and time they used to know, just as you and I.

    • Editor says:

      It would be a privilege. Email me at:
      The intent of Reclaiming Rhodesia is to honour all our history and stories. After years of being pariahs, people internationally not only realising that we were right, they are also impressed with the toughness, defiance and high calibre of Rhodesians and the Rhodesian Spirit. In that way we are powerful role models for the rest of the West who seem to have forgotten how to fight to preserve their nations. We are also a stark warning of what happens when your nation is taken from you.

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