The skies were blue and clear, birds chirping merrily in the distance. Now and then, a mild breeze would sweep through the surburb, diluting the intense heat that was coming from the scotching sun. The old surburb of Torwood (Kwekwe) embraced me with a strange aura filled with unsaid sorrow, fears and bitter-sweet memories of the past, the days when Zisco Steel was alive.
We got to her home, it looked abandoned, for a second, we actually thought the place had been deserted. doors locked, the tiny windows shut, its brown walls made my stomach turn, the dingy,dirty, torn curtains hung loosely, threatening to fall off if the mild breeze outside decided to be stronger. Freedom knocked on the door, a couple of minutes passed before we got any response. The door was opened just enough for a frail old face to peep outside, her old crinkled eyes that were obscured with cataracts so completely that I could not tell her eye colour looked hard at us, eyes wide open with fear.
Like a detective, she asked us questions just to make sure we were not the police nor people from the city council. The tragedy that had befallen her on 23 July this year, had left her traumatised. She let us into her little home, dark inside and short of good furniture. Everything in the house was old, from her brown sofas that had neat yet torn covers, grey scale pictures that hung crooked on her walls and the Television set on her table that was supported by bricks. 84 year old Utaba Imana, narrated her ordeal to us.
Redcliff City Council in July this year locked out families of New Zimsteel workers and in other cases widows of former Zisco Steel workers from houses which belonged to their employer. The houses were handed over to council for free some 20 years ago.Houses in Torwood’s H-section, which were built in 1942, are now an eyesore with dilapidated infrastructure. Utaba Imana is among the 19 victims of this insensitive exercise, evicted over outstanding rate bills.
She stays in her little home with her child and grandchild, but she remains the breadwinner of the family because her child “anorwara nezvirwere zvakauya izvi (is a victim of these diseases that are rampant in today’s world/ubulawa yimkhuhlane yalezi nsuku)” I quote. As she was narrating how they slept out in the cold for two nights, and to add insult to injury how they were sleeping on an empty stomach, locked out of the home she stayed in for the last 35 years, tears filled her eyes, and she let them wonder all over the place, evading our gazes as she unsuccessfully tried to hide her pain. The dreadful memories chocked down her voice, she spoke in almost a whisper.
This old, strong-willed and frail woman made headlines in the newspapers as she challenged her eviction in an ex-parte application (an urgent application where requiring notice is waived because it would subject one party to irreparable harm) filed at the Kwekwe Magistrates’ Court. Her eviction order was then rescinded and she was allowed to reoccupy her house until finalisation of the court case.
When we told Utaba that we had come from Harare after reading her story from the papers and on seeing her on the National news, she stared at us inquisitively, and asked if her grandchildren who were in the capital had heard the news too (because they had taken no action). The whole team was tongue-tied, no-one had the right answer to this. I saw Freedom shrug in his seat, compassion written all over his face, his hand flew to his eyes, he was not crying but something deep and unexplainable was stirred in him.
Time was not on our side, we had a 396km journey back to Harare ahead of us, we quickly wrapped up with a prayer, and Freedom gave Utaba some money to buy groceries for the family, she ululated, with unwatched tears rolling down her cheeks. She went on to take her mealie meal container and showed us that she had used the last mealie meal the previous night to make mealie porridge for the family which they had had for supper.
It’s grossly disheartening to think of all the widows that faced the same horrendous circumstances, “The Forgotten Ones” because of the way they were treated…however like an orphan is “EVERYONE’S CHILD” each of these widows is “EVERYONE’S GRANDMA”.