My memory, a cemetery


I don’t know when it happens. But sometime as you grow old, you begin to have more friends that are dead than friends that are alive and still with you.

Fr Oskar Wermter

You may say: If you grow quite old, that is mathematically inevitable. I say: No, it happens too soon. Too many of these dead friends might still be alive. Why?

When I drive along the highways and byways of this country, I keep passing by “dark spots” where old friends perished. At this point, Thomas was pushed off the road by a speeding articulated lorry, thrown into the ditch, dead on the spot. At this junction another friend was hit by an arrogant luxury car. His brain damage was so severe, he died three hours later in the nearby district hospital.

Our road network is a graveyard. This time you may still get away with the bad habit of crossing an unbroken white line while racing uphill. But the day will come when you have a far too close encounter with an oncoming truck . . .

There are memories which will stay with me until my own end: the farm lorry that missed the bridge and overturned, seven dead, and many more injured. I was on the spot and helped carry the wounded to the hospital.

Can I forget the body of the dead woman dumped into a corner of “Casualties”, the staff being too busy attending to those still alive to take her to the mortuary?
I cannot drive past a certain spot in the Nyanga mountains without reliving the horror of 90 students dying when their speeding bus overturned, fell on its roof and killed all inside.
I bet most of you, my dear readers, will say that these things just happen, there is nothing one can do, it’s just “fate”, inevitable and bound to happen. Just pray it does not happen to you or your loved ones.

With due respect, I do not agree with you. I just cannot accept this shoulder-shrugging indifference. And I do not believe in witches either. My background and upbringing have taught me to dig a bit more deeply. I am a man of faith, but also of reason. Mere “good luck” or “bad luck” are not good enough as explanations. They explain nothing.

I still remember driving from Rushinga to Mount Darwin when I observed two rural buses chasing each other, one overtaking at a sharp corner, the other one catching up with his rival at the next bend.

It was perfectly clear what they were doing, no witchcraft involved: they were chasing money in the shape of paying passengers. Maybe the drivers were not even the main culprits, but the bus company owners.

I remember a bus driver relaxing in his village somewhere along the “Alpha trail” going down to Muzarabani. He was resting for a few days after driving his bus non-stop for 10 days from Harare to Chipinge and back, day and night, sleeping only a couple of hours, maybe not at all. It was not his fault, he said. Company policy.

Refusing to accept this cruel regime would have meant losing his job. A fortnight later, his bus collided head-on with another bus on the road between Beitbridge and Masvingo, all 26 people on board dead, my friend, the driver, being one of them.

What I am saying is that when someone gets killed on the road, there is someone killing him. Maybe the driver, maybe his employer, maybe the manager refusing to put new tyres on the wheels, maybe shoddy work by a mechanic who has failed to adjust the brakes, maybe government in its various forms neglecting to fill up the potholes and widen the roads. Our narrow roads from north to south, east to west are death traps. Our public administration is at least co-responsible.

That is my main contention: We are not dealing here with “fate”. If you blame “fate”, the guilty can easily escape. No, someone is responsible, has made or is consistently making wrong decisions: could act reasonably and with safety in mind, but chooses not to!

I mourn a few friends who died in dubious circumstances, eg, politically committed people run over by army trucks. Just “accidents”? Or something more sinister? The questions do not go away.
We are all meant to honour life, but a few have a special responsibility. Doctors, for instance. Priests and pastors, too? Are they not merely burying those the doctors could not save? I think as believers in the Creator of Life they have a duty to ask questions about why precious lives are thrown away, sacrificed for the sake of greed and hunger for power.

There is a nurse, mother of three children, going about her duties in the hospital ward cheerfully and showing great kindness. The patients like her. But her home life is hell. Time and again she is viciously beaten by her husband. She keeps hoping he will change, repent of his evil ways. She hesitates to report the crime committed against her. There are countless others like her, in the same trap of violence.

When will we learn that violence does not solve any problem? Violence against wives and mothers destroys marriages and families. Violence in politics ends up in destructive civil wars.
Politicians who are so obsessed with power and self-enrichment that they kill their rivals and undo the freedom they once fought for. Aggressive behaviour by arrogant drivers (road rage) does not get them to their destination faster, but to a place where they never wanted to go, eg, a mortuary.

How can we overcome violence? Why this fury and anger against fellow citizens, even spouses and children, colleagues and friends?

A life free of hatred and violence is not a life lived in luxury and wealth. It is a simple life lived in peace with all. “Prophets” promise prosperity. The result is not peace, but greed and grasping for riches. Before you get into your car, remind yourself that you are about to meet on the roads your brothers and sisters, loved by God their Father as much as He loves you.

Violence does not solve any problems. Furious speeding does not get you to your destination. Physical aggression has never done any good. Rape has no right.

Respect women if you want peace, and talk to your enemies if you seek progress for your country. War has no glory. It is a waste of blood and young lives.

As I move around this “graveyard”, I see only one way forward, namely honouring all who have life and breath. “Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

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