When the news broke and pictures appeared of tanks and armoured vehicles on the streets of Harare, my heart broke because of what that portends for the country I once called home.
For seven good years, I worked and lived in that land of stunning natural beauty only surpassed by my motherland. Yet one of the scariest incidents of my life happened in Harare.
I had just left work at an insurance brokerage one evening and was rushing home to spend a few minutes with my kids before heading to my side hustle--teaching a night class at a city college.
It was almost 6pm so I decided to use a shortcut-a stretch of road that passed by Harare's State House and which was closed to the public between 6pm and 6am.
MY LUCK RAN OUT
I was just about to reach the exit and rejoin the highway when my luck ran out. My car began to gradually lose power before finally coming to a stop.
At first, my only concern was with the car's antics but soon I became aware of the eerie silence of my surroundings as if I were deep in a rainforest and not a city.
Goosebumps formed on my arms as I tried in vain to restart the car.
I had been in the country for a year and I had heard some stories. On no account should I get out of the car or use my cell phone.
Looking up, I saw soldiers in army camouflage begin to drop down from the trees along the road. They had been so well blended into the trees they seemed like chunks of moving trees.
Other soldiers who had been positioned along the high, razor-wired wall also sauntered over. Soon my car was surrounded by what looked like a small army, guns in clear display.
I tried not to panic. My dashboard clock showed it was some few minutes to six.
‘REMOVE IT NOW!’
"Iwe, remove that car at once!" shouted the first soldier who reached my car. With a shaky voice, I told him that my car had stalled.
That information seemed to annoy him greatly and he struck the roof of the car hard with his baton, causing me to jump.
"Remove it now!" he continued yelling. Another one joined him, also yelling at the top of his voice “ Madam, you are trespassing! I'm going to shoot you!” I had no doubt he meant it and I was terrified.
I saw in my mind's eye my three little girls waiting for Amai (mum) who would never return. Brave souls who had lost their dad a short while ago and were only now beginning to find some stability in this foreign land.
I whispered a prayer, telling God I knew He was in control here, not these gun-toting sadists.
I looked towards the one who had threated to shoot me and addressed him while being careful not to look him in the eye longer than a second.
“Sir, my car has stalled and I'm unable to start it and remove it from here. If you want to shoot me for that you can go ahead. Saka ndoita sei?" ' (Shona for “What can I do?”).
By now, tears of fear and helplessness were flowing down my face. I believe this brief God-given speech saved my life.
DROVE A WAY LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL
A soldier standing next to the 'shooter' motioned to them to put away their guns.
“Don't shoot her! Can't, you tell from her accent that she is our sister from Zambia?” Turning to me, he asked me to put the car in neutral gear and 'remove' the brakes.
Then six burly soldiers made my little Mazda look like a toy as they careened her off their precincts. By some miracle as soon as they gave the final shove, the engine roared to life and I drove away like a bat out of hell.
I recounted the experience to a Zimbabwean friend and he turned pale with shock. He gave me a chilling account of people who had crossed paths with these soldiers for the most trivial of reasons.
A car puncture; bending to pick a dropped item; being white. Few lived to tell their tale. Fewer still, like me, came away unscathed. For which I thank God.
I wish Zimbabwe well.
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