Tag: Southern Africa

A bad shoe day in Maputo

The generosity to be found at busy intersections on the streets of Mozambique’s capital can be puzzling to first-time visitors.

My Canadian-based partner, Imelda, was hardly a first-time tourist — she grew up in Maputo. But she was still caught off guard when a couple of shoe-shine boys crouched down and set to work on her best stilettos while we were waiting for a robot to change.

For a moment she thought she was lucky — perhaps it was a new local custom, a way of offering compliments of the season? But when she looked down she was shocked.

Her clean white shoes had been covered in black-tan shoe polish. Before she could recover, the leader of the shoe shine brigade stood up with his waxy brush and demanded: “100 Meticais, menina [sister].”

In a fit of rage typical of a backhome diasporian, Imelda waved down a municipal police officer. Climbing off his motorbike the burly officer burst out laughing when he heard Imelda’s complaint. When he calmed down, he addressed the chief waxer: “Do Santos, sort out your customer!”

Then, leaving no doubt about whose side he was on, he told the boy: “At least today you can afford sardhinhas [tinned fish].” He started laughing again as he climbed back on his bike and rode off. Imelda was left fuming about corrupt police and — more immediately — about how she was going to address the meeting we were on our way to with any dignity in her smeary black-brown heels.

We were going to Maputo’s Alumni Scholars Club where Imelda was to give a speech describing her experiences as a young Maputo girl who had moved to Canada where she was doing an MBA at a top university.

Clearly the guest speaker needed to look her best and live up to the “returning banking alumni” image.

Her nails and make-up were immaculate and when she got dressed that morning she had settled on a white Giorgio Armani suit — complete with matching stilettos. She cursed the shoe polishers. “I am not gonna throw you a single dime. Just look at what you’ve done to my shoes!”

But the polish boys simply threatened to apply another layer of liquid black wax. The leader spoke: “If you don’t give us 50 Meticais we will confiscate your shoes. Do you know how much wax costs?” While he presented his ultimatum, the other boys tried to grab Imelda’s shoes off her feet. The situation was getting crazier and eventually I threw a 100 Meticais note (about R40) towards the boys, grabbed a sobbing Imelda and rushed for the nearest taxi.

Maputo’s streets have become synonymous with the unwelcome attentions of shoe-shiners. Waiting for a robot to change at a busy intersection makes pedestrians easy targets. Most of the time the boys don’t even use genuine shoe polish, but a dense industrial liquid that often corrodes shoes. Most disturbingly they don’t care about the colour of the reluctant customers’ shoes. They apply whatever they happen to have.

Having cleaned your shoes, it is common to threaten to seize them unless the ransom is paid. As we hurriedly looked for replacement white shoes in Maputo’s boutiques, Imelda could not come to terms with the change in her shoes — from crisp white to greasy black. People like Imelda — returning diasporians and tourists — are the most likely victims of the shoeshine boys.

We locals have adopted a more cautious approach to robot crossings in our seaside capital. 100 Meticais for a compulsory shoe polish? That’s a good day’s business in Maputo.

Skand Felicio is a pharmacist in Maputo. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper. 

King of fong kong football

In my wildest dreams I never thought I would own a soccer team. But here I am at 29, possibly the world’s youngest team owner. And the most stressed in Botswana, if not the world. It’s no joke to run a team. Ask Jomo Sono, Patrice Motsepe and Roman Abramovich.

Of course I’m still waiting to become as rich and powerful as they are. My team is just a social soccer side playing in an informal league known round these parts as the “Sunday Times” because of when we play.

The Sunday Times “league” has taken Botswana by storm. Matches are organised mostly by word of mouth and the teams include a few old men, but the bulk are wild and badly behaved youngsters — some as young as 15.

My team — Industrial Super Stars, so named after the scrapyard area in Itekeng where the majority of our players live — is made up of disgruntled and uncontrollable alcoholics without any soccer skills to boast about. My bunch was rejected by other Sunday Times soccer clubs.

In my quest to be Motsepe, I took the opportunity to name and organise the team. But finding them before a match is more complicated, especially at the end of the month. After payday, the team owner has to endure moving from one drinking hole to another in search of his players.

One of the unique things about the Sunday Times soccer league is that the usual football rules and regulations are relaxed. So relaxed, most of them don’t apply. A player can be substituted and come back into play later, as many times as he likes. A referee might smoke a cigarette during the game. The referee can also be substituted if one team feels he is biased in favour of the opponents. When this happens, the ref is likely to express his disgust at the decision by donning the kit of the team that stood by him when he was subjected to insults.

Alcohol and dagga abound and the players use them with abandon. Because most players are unemployed — especially in my team — pints of Chibuku, a traditional brew, are a regular feature at the games.

These players don’t care if team “owners” and officials such as me are present when they take their dagga. They are very uncouth. They spew venom. They don’t want to be shouted at like professional coaches shout at their players. They threaten to decamp to another side and there are plenty to choose from at the bottom of the league barrel.

In the worst scenario they threaten to form their own team that will be run and controlled by them without being subjected to civil behaviour lectures. The most foul-mouthed will tell you to your face that you don’t own them and that just because you occasionally buy them pints of Chibuku, this doesn’t make you better than them.

I have been told to go and write shit in the papers whenever I called some of my players to order. “Just because you write for newspapers doesn’t mean you can lecture to us about good behaviour,” I have been told countless times.

It is a bit unfair because other football team owners, such as Sono, Motsepe and Abramovich, are not subjected to this treatment. By the same token, just because my bank balance hovers close to zero most of the time, it doesn’t mean I should be subjected to this sort of treatment, I mutter to myself.

Although I’m not given the respect that I deserve, the team is happy to use the water in my house to wash the kit. I’m also the custodian of the kit, which is a raw deal. Come half time nobody listens to the coach. They don’t want team talk. They just want alcohol and that foul-smelling green stuff.

One of the Industrial Super Stars officials is my younger brother. One recent Sunday we Mosikares were accused of having hijacked the team.

Drunken debates ensued. I came up with the idea of forming a rival team to the neighbouring Itekeng Soccer Club when I realised that the majority of my present players were not being given a chance to prove themselves.

To explain the set-up for a South African audience, let’s put it this way: if Industrial Super Stars were a political party it would be Cope; Itekeng Soccer Club would be the ANC.

My breakaway plan was hatched in the middle of the month when I did not have money to buy a team kit. So one of my cousins — among those now accusing me and my brother of hijacking control — went and bought the kit at one of the Chinese shops in town. It is a “fong kong” kit costing less than P200 (about R250).

I wanted to refund him so that I could be left to run my Industrial Super Stars the way I liked, but he refused. My cousin can be difficult to deal with. On the field he will agree to be substituted only when he wants to smoke a cigarette.

In our way my team is like a close-knit family. And like all families, we bicker. It’s just as well we hardly ever win any matches — when we do, the boys drink until they drop.

Oarabile Mosikare is a reporter for Mmegi and Monitor newspapers. He lives in Francistown, Botswana. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper. 

Flying Air Zimbabwe

They filed in, summoned by the booming voice of the announcer: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a call for passengers travelling on Air Zimbabwe flight UM700 to Harare. Please report to your boarding gate as your flight is ready for departure.”

Little did these passengers know in September 2011 that they were among the last that would fly with Air Zimbabwe out of London’s Gatwick Airport for a long while.

Some were in their Sunday best, putting on a smile and engaging in small talk. Others were dressed unceremoniously, clearly exceeding the permitted limit of hand luggage and sheepishly approaching the counter. I was one of those passengers waiting for my name to be called, excited about my perennial trek to Zimbabwe.

Let me introduce you to some of the characters on my flight. There was George, who was trying to hit on one of the flight attendants who wore a creased dress and smudged make-up, but made up for it with a wide smile.

Ko shamwari ronga ka imwe Castle kufridge,” George said to her. (My friend, please get me another Castle from the fridge at the back.) In no time she came back with what she had been asked to bring, not just for George but for his friends as well. Two shocks here.

First, we had not even cleared European airspace and George was already tipsy. (This was going to be a long journey back home.) Second, you could not miss the labels in Chinese on all the soft-drink cans that the air hostess brought for George and his friend. A new form of imperialism, perhaps.

Opposite me sat a couple and their kids, bragging with their red British passports granted in exchange for the green ones from Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean passport can make your stay at immigration a tad longer, but it is also a nostalgic document that defines a Zimbabwean and is coupled with the intricacies that accompany getting it.

The father noticed me watching him zealously guard his newly acquired red passport. I think it gave him an exaggerated sense of self-importance, because he remarked: “My brother, the interesting bit is that I now need a visa to come back to Zimbabwe.” I gave an artificial smile. The kids seemed more sober, saying they looked forward to going to “Africa”, as one of them shouted, which sent a ripple of laughter among those listening.

There was banter coming from a corner of the aeroplane. A debate had ensued between three males, probably in their late 20s, about which boys’ school was the best in Zimbabwe. It was interesting how a journey back home, a few beers and a topic of common interest could unite people.

One bulky chap sporting a designer cap bragged about how his school, Prince Edward Boys’ High, or “the tigers” as they were affectionately known, was the best school in Zimbabwe. Another man, who had gone to Churchill Boys’ High School, also known as “the bulldogs”, immediately interjected, accusing the “tigers” bloke of being crass and myopic in his assertion.

A volley of questions came from the third guy, who essentially killed the debate. He had attended St Johns Boys’ High School, or “the rams”, and asked a question that led to silence: “What have you guys done for your schools since you left?”

The United Kingdom can be a cruel place that makes you forget not only giving back to your high school, but even to your relatives.

I sat next to a man who was returning home as a failed asylum-seeker. He had exhausted all available avenues to lengthen his stay in the UK. He really wanted to send money home, but life on the island was not as rosy as many back in Zimbabwe thought it would be. If his original projected income was anything to go by, he would have been Richard Branson by now.

He described his tactics for staying longer in the UK, which included being put on a Kenyan Airways flight back to Zimbabwe as part of a forced removal. As soon as he got on the aeroplane, he began to shout like an insane person. It sent the people on the aircraft into a frenzy, causing widespread panic, and the captain had no option but to force him to be removed from the flight. So much for enforcing a forced removal; he lived to see another day in the UK.

Some stories on the journey back home were entirely sober. There was the old lady in front of me, who was elated to have been able to visit her son and grandchildren in Portsmouth. She had held her son’s children and could finally die in peace in Zimbabwe.

There was the businessman on the other side of her, who gave a disparaging look to the three debaters as they made a noise. He looked like someone who had secured some serious business deals and was about to make it big in Zimbabwe. Then there was the lady dressed in black from head to toe. She never said a word and just drank juice and water. Her story was revealed on arrival: she was accompanying her dead sister on the same flight. It is much more expensive to come back home dead than alive.

Sadly, there was another death revelation. One of the guys in the debating team discovered the real reason for being summoned home on arrival at the airport. He was not coming to attend to a sick father, as he had believed. He cleared immigration only to be greeted by the wailing of his siblings: his father had died. The coolness he had displayed on the flight evaporated and the two others with whom he had debated disappeared into the throng.

As for me, I was home to enjoy a short holiday and collect data for my research, which is based on the use of narrative and story in explaining the lived experience. By the time I had landed, I had unexpectedly collected quite a bit.

On arrival in Harare I was welcomed by the warm embrace of my grandmother. She ran towards me like a young girl. As her tears began to soak through my shirt, I thought how wonderful it was to be back home.

Initially, I felt like a stranger in my homeland, but I adjusted easily to the usual problems: power cuts, water rationing, news of deceased friends. I also got used to a notable absence of friends who were now mostly in a world called the “diaspora”.

A month later I was sad to be leaving, once again boarding an Air Zimbabwe flight back to London. I took with me more stories of how people manage to survive socially and economically in Zimbabwe.

It got me thinking that Zimbabweans really are a special breed. They are great survivors. And their stories tell just that.

Willie Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi is a researcher with the Open University Business School in Milton Keynes, United Kingdom. This post was published in the M&G newspaper.