The villagers no longer fool us

I was brought up entirely in the ghetto of The Old Bricks, the first African township in Salisbury (now Harare). I grew up mistrustful of do-gooders. I grew up mistrustful - period.

This could be a curse, if you begin and end your adult life, as I have, in journalism. You develop a thick skin, a cynical, hard-boiled, almost cold-hearted view of life.

It could be a blessing in disguise too. Nobody is likely to pull the wool over your eyes. Or to bamboozle you with jawbreakers, or Latin quotations, which remind you of Mass when they said "Oremus" (Let us pray).

The ghetto guillotines your childhood in half. You hear, see and experience things which transform you into an adult before puberty.

You get to know adult "things" pretty fast. You get to know human frailties and foibles fast.

One Christmas Day, a man and a woman walked the dusty streets of The Old Bricks arm-in-arm. I was enraptured by the idyllic scene, my heart going all mushy inside, when suddenly the woman, with a hiss, let fly a haymaker to the man's face: "Here is your Christmas Box, my darling!"

He fell down as if floored by one of Muhammad Ali's "sting like a bee" punches. I laughed, not knowing why. This was, by any standards, unladylike behaviour.

But I think I saw the funny side of it. You call them the weaker sex at your own peril.

I learnt to mistrust the white people. My mother, stepfather and I were not packed like sardines in a can. I heard of others who were, whether they were single or very large families. I had the whole postage-stamp kitchen to myself.

One thing I became used to was regular water and electricity.

The only time I was subjected to darkness was during a school holiday visit to the village. It always reminded me of being in a horror film, with sabre-toothed bats flying menacingly close to your head.

So, in this 27th year of Zimbabwe's independence, I am subjected to this same terror every time there's an outage in our suburb, which is too often for us to say anything complimentary.

"The trouble is that these people want us to start thinking like villagers, who support them, blindly," said one man, in a queue for candles.

"Moreover," a woman behind him said, "most of them didn't grow up in the ghetto, but in the villages.

"They only came to town when they were adults.

"It doesn't bother them when a whole suburb goes without power for two days."

So, in my suburb, the campaign is gathering pace to ensure not one of their candidates wins.

They haven't won here since 2000.

An imponderable is the effect of the price blitz on the vote. A 50percent slash in the price of basic foodstuffs is having an impact - no doubt about that.

But the supermarket shelves are emptying by the hour, cancelling out the potential vote bonanza for Zanu-PF.

Yet the most potent weapon against being hoodwinked is the ghetto culture.

Most urban voters stopped believing in Zanu-PF in 2000.

They decided, as do-gooders, the party was all mouth.

l Bill Saidi is the deputy editor at The Standard in Zimbabwe. His column appears every Friday.