Crossing the Border

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Crossing the Border
Author: Trymore MacVivo
Genre: Fiction. African Fiction. Zimbabwean Fiction.
Publisher: MacVivo & Nzira Press
Publication Date: 2008
License: (c) Trymore MacVivo
CC-Licensed Version:
Print version for purchase: {{{pvfp}}}
Pages: 300.

Synopsis The novel is the first book attempting to address the effect of the strife in Zimbabwe to the young people around the country who suddenly find their hopes and dreams crushed by Mugabe's government. It is set in contemporary Zimbabwe against the backdrop of poverty, company closures, political violence, social and economic unraveling. It is it about the struggle to survive, love, and one man's quest to escape from all that he loathes. It follows the life of the young Insp. Timothy J. Shumba as he tries to deal with issues in his private and those of a police officer. He has very limited financial resources to support his parents and his expecting girlfriend. As an officer in a corrupt police force that dances to the whims of an autocratic government, he struggles to find meaning in life.

In the end, he follows the road that many of his countrymen had taken by running away to South Africa, the Promised Land. On his heels is Chief Insp. Gaza, a man sent by the government to stop Insp. Timothy J. Shumba from leaving the country. Powerful people want him stopped from leaving the country fearing that he might expose the government's heinous crimes to the outside world. Along the way, Insp. Timothy J. Shumba dices with death as he escapes from man-eating lions, the South African Army, and Alistair Summers, a former Rhodesian Selous Scouts officer turned vigilante who has vowed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe into South Africa by any means necessary.

      • Below is the first five chapters.


the Escape

by MacVivo, Trymore

Man, who is he? Too bad, to be the work of God: Too good for the work of chance! -Doris Lessing

Acknowledgements I would like to thank my dear grandmother, Ambuya Nekete, whose belief in my potential has made me into who I am this day.

Crossing the Border~1

Never had a mood of desperation descended on the country like that before. It was a sullen mood that came so sudden and so unexpected that it took many by surprise and overnight, holding a passport endowed one with a sense of ease and feelings of being different from the common man, like a mark of high academic achievement. Those who didn’t have the little green passport book scurried to and fro like meercats desperately trying to get their hands on it. The small green book had become the most sought after document in the whole country. In Harare at Makombe Building, long lines of people waiting to apply for passports stretched into the distance. People resorted to camping outside the little colonial building’s gates to be well placed when the gates opened in the morning to apply for the document. The registrar-general, Tobaiwa Mudede taunted them. In his stern voice he said: “Having a passport is a privilege that the government endowed on you as a citizen...which can be taken away from you if the government so wishes.” It was no wonder that people claimed the government was deliberating issuing the little green book slowly to frustrate people. In those difficult times, the people working at Makombe Building rejoiced as they became millionaires overnight, beneficiaries of the underhand deals they made in broad daylight. It was said one could smell the corruption rampant at the little colonial building in central Harare from a mile away, or before one’s plane even landed at the airport.

“Why did having a passport in one’s hands put one at ease?” one might ask. The reason is that there was a mass exodus from the country. All across the country, people were leaving. Analysts equated the movement of people as equal in magnitude to what had happened in the Subcontinent when it was partitioned in ’47. Those were years of rapid change and turmoil and loss in the country. One had a sense that something had snapped, something fundamental that defined the psychic of the genial and easy going and amiable Zimbabwean people. Somehow, their mood, usually optimistic and resilient, had suddenly turned acerbic. It was as if they had woke up as sudden pessimists and cynicists. Was it hope that they had lost? Trust perhaps? Whatever it was, nobody could deny that the people’s mood had changed. The country had turned into a country of emigrants. The people left en masse to seek liberty and the pursuit of happiness abroad, in fact anywhere as long as it was outside the country.

Leaving—fleeing is the exact word for ‘leaving’ implies that one had an option of staying whereas those people that left felt they had no choice—the country became en vogue. Suddenly, foreigners—Nigerians, Americans, Britons, South Africans—once derided and ostracised and frown upon, became popular idols. These men buoyantly walked down the streets of Harare by night flashing the green back. Young nubile women, ripe and ready, threw themselves at the feet of these men from abroad, lusting for the money they possessed or the riches marriage to them entailed. For these desperate women, getting married for love had apparently ended with Cinderella.

Those who were lucky enough to flee the country, they left behind their families and their businesses and their homes, some never to return. At that time, an observer wouldn’t have been derided nor cursed by sharp quick tongues had he dared to rise poised atop the highest kopje and cried: “Hear thee hear thee son of the soil. Hear thee son of Zimbabwe. I say if you keep leaving the country, within weeks nobody will left behind to tend the graves of our ancestors.” Everywhere one looked, people were leaving, the old, the grey haired, and the young, they all fled.

A question one might have asked those fleeing the country would have been: “Where? Where are you fleeing to?” With a closely guarded look, the prospective emigrants would have pursed their lips and said: “I’m leaving for Britain, my uncle Jimmy lives there,” or “Aish...I’m moving to Australia, my this and that moved there when Mugabe came to power years ago. I should have left then with them, but I didn’t.” Doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, the whole lot, they all were leaving. They all began leaving for distant countries about the turn of the new millennium or there about. When ZANU-PF won another controversial five-year mandate in 2002, the stream of people leaving turned into a flood and the next five years saw the greatest movement of people out of the country.

During those momentous times, if one had gone to Roadport or Makombe Building in central Harare or any other border posts around the country and ventured to ask those who were fleeing: “Why? Why are you fleeing the country?” The people would have given one ready made answers of course. “Aish, things are tough man,” they might have said, or, “Tsk tsk tsk, nothing is working in the country,” they would have said, shaking their heads, their expression suddenly deadly serious and their voices solemn, tinged with sorrow and feelings of betrayal and devoid of any hope.

By ‘things’ they meant the shortage of fuel at the gas stations, the collapsing education system, the corruption that pervaded and dictated all facets of their lives, rampant inflation, the highest in the world which led to increases of prices of goods and services daily, the shrinking economy, the scarcity of goods—cooking oil, sugar, break, flour, mealie meal, electricity blackouts, water shortages, the moribund healthy system. In fact, the list of ‘things’ not working was endless. The disintegration of the economy had turned the social fabric of the country on its head. The collapse of the economy was terrible. It was sad. It was cruel. And somehow, it was even beautiful for it brought out the best out of the people who struggled to survive in the face of adversity.

Those a little less timid or down on their luck or just plain angry with the situation they found themselves in would have been blunt. “Why am I leaving?” they would have repeated the question, as if not believing that they were hearing the question. They would then have adopted a stern expression and furtively cast glances over their shoulders and said, choosing their words carefully: “Things are too bad. I can’t wait to leave this sorry situation,” using ‘too’ in place of ‘very’ as is the Zimbabwean way.

“Why at things this bad? Whose fault is it?”

“It’s the government,” they would have quickly pointed

out and swiftly added, “The leader of the government in particular, he is the one to blame. He is busy fighting with Tony Blair and George Bush while the country burns on his watch.”

“But why is the leader doing these things that you accuse him of doing?”


“What? Surely one can never rule forever?”

“The old man wants to stay in power forever, which is why the CIO has been working 24/7 to crush elements of the opposition. In fighting to stay in power in perpetuity, he has destroyed the country in the process.” They would have paused to catch their breath and then added: “There is no hope for us, that’s why I’m leaving the country.”

It is a fact that the majority of those who were fleeing the country were leaving because of the shrinking economy. However, there was a considerable number among them who were fleeing the country because of the persecution that they had received at the hands of government supporters and CIO and police. Analysts the world over were quick to point out that: “The problems in Zimbabwe start and end with politics.” Politics had destroyed the economy, they said to whoever had the patience to listen. For in fighting to stay in power, the ruling party had inadvertently destroyed the country’s judiciary. The jungle law that his government had then adopted in lieu of the real thing meant that investors lost faith in the protection of their investments by the courts and soon their confidence had fizzled away, precipitating the decline of the economy.

Inspector Timothy V. Shumba, as you will see in this story, was an average officer for whom life took a turn for the worst when his superiors found that he was reluctant to tow the line, to enforce some of the outlandish laws that the justice minister had put in place to entrench his master’s hold on power. Insp. Shumba’s was of the derided ‘born free’ generation, born after 1980. Even the president loathed this generation, accusing it of being wayward and impatient and judgemental. To show them his anger, the leader of the country regularly ordered the police to teargas the University of Zimbabwe residence halls a million times. As Christmas presents, he routinely sent in riot police to beat up the students, disrupting classes and the general running of the university. He punished them by closing the university at every opportunity.

The problem was that this generation assessed the worthy of a person by his present deeds and results than by his past conquests. They had no respect for the president because he had spent eleven years in prison fighting white racists rule, that was the past and they didn’t care. Generally carefree and lusting for an easy life just like their namesakes in countries the world over, they were the first to openly clash with the president once they realized he was taking the country on a road to hell beginning in 1998. This generation, they had grown up in freedom and were not prepared to see it denied them, unlike their elders who resigned themselves to government’s brutal rule. This generation, this born-free generation, it was the fuel that powered the opposition political party that sought to dislodge ZANU-PF’s hold on power.

For those who knew him, they were not surprised to hear that young Insp. Shumba was not inclined to enforce some of the outlandish laws that protected the government against the wrath of its own people. Chief Insp. Gaza, Insp. Shumba’s superior, knowing full well that having men under his command who didn’t support the government—refusing to enforce POSA was tantamount to not supporting the government—reflected poorly on his service record, decided to test the young man. In the process, Insp. Shumba was forced to beat, to kill his country men, just like what the white man had done before he was born. When the time for reckoning came, Insp. Shumba felt that he had no choice but to leave the country like what everybody was doing, running away from Chief Insp. Gaza, and the CIO who meant to capture and make him an example. The fact that he was being paid tiny wages living in an area with high rentals, exorbitant goods prices and other ‘things’ that were bad only served to bolster his decision to flee the country. He liked to think I was crossing the border into South Africa to flee everything that he loathed and to start a new life.

South Africa was the destination that many of those without the stomach to spend months on end waiting in line at Makombe building to apply for a passport, or with no money to apply for visas or by the plane tickets. Once they reached the border town of Beitbridge, they crossed into South Africa across the Limpopo River, illegally. At this point, it is important for the reader to know that the movement of people from Zimbabwe into South Africa was nothing new. People from all corners of the country, from the Zambezi to the Shashi and the Sabi valleys, they had always moved south at one time or another in their life times. They had all journeyed there to join Zambians, Malawians, Namibians, Basuotos, Mozambicans, in the days of old to work like ants digging the yellow metal in deep and hot and soggy mines on the rand of Johannesburg and crystalline and burnished diamonds in Kimberly for the white man. The only difference was that, whereas exclusively men had made the perfidious journey very few at that in the past, the present migration involved large numbers. Even pregnant women were crossing the border.

During one dark night, when the stars hung like diamonds in the heavens above and dark clouds moved in menacingly from the east to leave the savannah land in pitch darkness, darkness so deep that if one wanted one could have stabbed at it with a viciously curved knife and hear it heave in anger, Insp. Shumba stood high on a cliff on the north bank of the Limpopo River, the river of Crocodiles. Behind him, the vlei that represented the country of his birth, stretched into the night and in the distance a jackal on the prowl howled. Across the river in front of him, stood South Africa, the promised land and below him, the placid waters of the Limpopo flowed on the sandy riverbed through the tall lanky reeds that concealed the crocodiles that lain in wait to prey on the would be wader, the would swimmer, their bowels bloated to the rafters with human flesh. As the storm moved in and the scarf Insp. Shumba wore fluttered in the wind, he followed his cohort down the cliff into the riverbed hoping to take his chances past the crocodiles, the South African army patrolling the border, vigilante white farmers, hungry man-eating lions and hunger and thirst, for his sights were dead set on reaching Johannesburg, the city of gold—no matter what the cost.