With nothing more to enjoy back home,Zimbabweans form long queues for KFC chicken at Musina border town

Themba Molefe

Themba Molefe

The road to Beit Bridge in Limpopo is long, winding and tedious to slog on a hot day.

After almost four hours in our Corolla that lacks an air-conditioner, the sign appears.

Musina 20km, it says.

Then Thomas Ramatapa, the driver, says: "I will show you where Lesley Manyathela died."

Manyathela was the Orlando Pirates star who died in a car crash on the road to Musina a few years ago.

Our car hurtled forward and Ramatapa restated his intention.

But by then only 10km were left to Musina.

Still no sight of where Manyathela met his end.

By then I had resigned myself to not finding out because we were met by this sea of humanity.

We had reached Musina.

We were on our way to Beit Bridge, at the border of Zimbabwe and South Africa, to gain a first-hand account of the influx of Zimbabweans fleeing the economic meltdown in their country.

There were people everywhere; the bus terminus and taxi ranks were overflowing.

Buses made their slow way into the town and out of it.

We stopped to look for food. It was while we were debating the menu when I saw a long-winding queue. I thought people wanted to get into some office.

The queue made a 90 degree turn at the end of the block. And the people were patient despite the heat. Some chatted. A man drank from a 750ml brandy bottle while sitting on the pavement; others just stood and waited their turn to enter the building.

Meanwhile, a debate ensued among Ramatapa, photographer Antonio Muchave and I over what to eat.

Ramatapa wanted fried chicken, Muchave wanted to check the Spar across the road and I just wanted pap en vleis.

Ramatapa never got to have his fried chicken. Muchave disappeared into the Spar for a long time. I just sat in the car and took in the unfolding queue drama.

Curiosity got the better of me eventually. I requested Ramatapa to follow the line and see where it ended. He duly returned with his findings and I was truly surprised.

"No, don't worry. These people are just queueing to get into the KFC outlet."

I had never seen anything like this in all my travels.

I wanted to know why KFC and not other chicken outlets dotting the town and on the same street were as popular.

"Most of the people who are buying KFC come from there," said a man pointing at the bus terminal, specifically at the Zimbabwe-bound buses.

I asked: "Are you suggesting that they are buying large quantities of the chicken to eat on the way or to take home?"

The man said he was not sure but told me the picture played itself out every day until closure late in the evening.

Then something struck me. The people travelling on those buses from South Africa to Zimbabwe are not illegal immigrants. They might be workers returning home to families, or nationals who had entered the country to stock up on much-needed food and other necessities lacking back home.

I concluded that Zimbabwe was once an economic powerhouse where its citizens proudly enjoyed its wealth. This also meant relishing luxuries such as fried chicken or even eating out.