While we are still just coming out of the second wave of the pandemic in SA, with hope for businesses opening up and a slow steady road to economic recovery, the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe not so much. Drastic measures are needed for the well being of the Pensioners. Being involved with the Old Legs Tour and Z.P.S.F (Zimbabwe pensioners support fund) has opened up possibilities for change. While my journey with Z.P.S.F is infantile compared to the Old Legs Tour, one thing is for certain, they all need collaboration for cohesion amongst the organizations.
Having being planning this March trip months in advance, i got a quick heads up to be ready to hit the road for the next round of deliveries. Johan Botha taking on the role of managing the whole trip, (Hannes is away for medical reasons) with Linda Botha behind the scenes in Nelspruit finalising all the last minute permits, letters and logistics. When i say a quick heads up, i mean literally 2 days, to get to Nelspruit, with covid tests and ready to hit the road.
22nd Feb – It was in the car first thing, Ampath here i come, and in no less than 10 min, Covid Test done. It could be because testing has slowed done, but nonetheless, very quick. I was adamant not to book flights till they came back, but also knew there weren’t many passengers anyway and risked waiting. Alas, no more than 2 hours later, my negative results were back! That’s unheard of!
23rd Feb – No sooner than getting my covid results the night before, flights were booked direct to Bullies (Bulawayo), and cost effective too. Actually same price as flying to Nelspruit, so we opted to meet up in Bullies instead. The day was not over, and planning had to be done shopping to do, letting the crew in Zim know about movements etc. All this while Johannes steered the big tonner across country through the border and to Bullies. While my total flight time would take the whole day including layovers, Johannes taking the long way up most certainly put in the long haul amongst the crew.
24th Feb – It’s flyday! 6am up, 7:30 at the airport, checked in and bags sent direct all within 10 minutes, this COVID thing has actually made things quicker in PE. 9am and we were in the air and headed to Jozie for the 1st of 2 flights. Hello SA Airlink. With a layover of a few hours in the ghost town of O.R.Thambo airport, and trying to find something to do to kill the boredom. 15:30 flight to Bullies and an hour later landed with Johannes waiting eagerly at the other side. Here’s my favourite part, we headed straight to Willems house (Johannes brother in law) to be greeted with food, food and more food. Imagine a real regte Boer, that eats a lot, drinks brandy even more, loves a good SAFFA braai and did i mention loves food? Welcome Willem. I shit you not, Villa De Willem has the best cuisine in Zimbabwe! Early to bed, as first light and well strictly outside of curfew hours, we head out to do the first delivery run.
Bullies to Chinhoyi.
25th Feb – 5 am start to get on the road just after curfew for the first of two deliveries across Zimbabwe. A 467 km journey across the South West/West of Zimbabwe with a 10t truck packed to the roof of food parcels for the pensioners. The journey saw us deliver a double load of boxes to Boggies Trust and Huis Vergesig in Gweru, Redcliffe, Kwekwe, Westview Trust in Kadoma and finally Sunningdale in Chinhoyi. My partner in crime, and long time hauler was Hannes Jovner, renowned in the area and his community. A classic golden oldie, with the spirit of a 20 year old. Hannes now drives the Chinhoyi trip for Z.P.S.F that sees both an income for him and being able to help and support Z.P.S.F. Even greater is the fact that Hannes gets to revisit old friends across the South West, reminiscing and catching up on the good old days.
One thing for sure is having to take the road with a pinch of salt, and as many Zimbabweans do, try make the best of any situation. Thunderstorms and rain for the last three weeks has left the pothole ridden roads worse for ware. Yet the journey must continue. Having delivered over 500 boxes, it’s clear that the need is far greater than what’s portrayed, or the lack thereof. We need to get stories out, show the world what’s happened to the builders of what once was a great nation.
It’s always a sight the minute you arrive at one of the homes. Not so much now due to the Coronavirus, but its like the oldies can smell it in the air, the truck is coming. They crawl out of their one bedroom homes, places they have been constricted to for months, congregating with cheers, love and laughter on site of the truck pulling in. While they are all so grateful for these food parcels, a lifeline in surviving on worthless pensions or sometimes nothing on all, whatever you do, don’t delay in offloading. As much as one appreciates it, you have to deny the oldies getting involved, as you really don’t need broken backs or hip replacements to come. God forbid you get in the way of them opening the boxes, with smiles on their faces, gleaming ear to ear, as the first point of order is ravaging the treats, chocolates in one go, savouring the thoughtfulness of the package. Within minutes, those chocolates are devoured, and all you see is golden oldies waddle back to their homes to assess the remaining contents of their food packs.
The last delivery of the day, Sunningdale in Chinhoyi sees tired souls coming alive to what was a long hard day. Our overnight stop with cooked food right from the golden oldies homes, and a bed at Villa de Haasbroek. Pastor Johan Haasbroek eagerly invited us in for a typical sunday lunch home cooked meal. Pastor Johan and Hannes Jovner go way back, which formidably turns the evening into long catch up sessions, stories and critical analysis of what’s currently happening in Zimbabwe.
26th Feb – After a hard crash from the previous day’s journey, it’s back on the haul with a return trip, via all the homes again to collect empty cartons from previous trips. It’s one of the rules, to have to give your cartons back, as they cost an arm and a leg and with numerous trips per year, you can only imagine the amount that goes missing or gets damaged. We need to find a better more economical way of being able to do these trips. On the return journey we were promised scones and tea by Mrs Dell Parkins, but alas time constraints to get back to Bullies, and possibly the fact Mrs Parkins was not there, most likely forgetting about the arrangement, saw us miss out on these world famous scones!
The work does not stop
Back in Bullies, and a week to go before our next trip to Harare and the eastern Highlands, the show must go on. With another full load to be hauled across country and waiting for us to return with empty cartons to be able to do a double delivery, Johannes Botha the yster (strong man) that he is, continued to liaise and organise the sorting, packing and labeling of these boxes. All while having to do deliveries in and around Bullies down the South West to Esigodini and back.; While this is only my second trip, the time and effort put in by the team both in SA and Bullies must be commended. This has been going on for 18 years already, with trips almost 2 months, with deliveries to over 40 homes across Zimbabwe. One thing for sure, is they have found their purpose in life.
Whilst i went along to document the trip, you can’t help but get involved. There is just to much work to do, and not enough hands. One thing i did want, was to be able to be more flexible, and the only way that was going to happen, i needed another vehicle. First person i phoned, and without hesitation, Eric de Jong from the Old Legs Tour gladly offered his Nissan patrol for the next journey. While they are all trying to achieve the same goal, ensuring a better future for the pensioners in Zimbabwe, working together, offering help and support in any way among the organisations is coming into fruition. A small kind gesture, that goes a long way.
Harare to Gweru via Mutare, Masvingo
3rd March – Slowly approaching the 2nd trip, the Eastern Zimbabwe leg we had to collect our next long Hauler from Bullies airport, Daniel Koekemoer on a late afternoon flight in from Jozie. Daniel an ex Zimbabwean and now Durban resident has been doing these trip for years, at no cost to the organisation. Years out of his own pocket, taking time off from business and family to deliver food packs across Zimbabwe to the pensioners. While humble in his stride, it’s definitely worth acknowledging the amount of time and effort over the years for a cause greater than himself. Being able to give so much, for nothing in return really resonated with me and this being my first trip with Daniel, made for long conversations, laughter and a general sense of ease to the road ahead. Daniel, such a cool, collected now Grandfather heads up a family of talented musicians which made for even more conversations around music and life. If you had never know he was a Zimbabwean and running into him for the first time, you’d think Durbanite. Yet his roots run deep in Zimbabwe, with family and friends scattered across the land, one can only affirm why he has invested so much time into doing this.
4th March – 6am starts of another day on the road as we collected Daniel from Coronation cottages in Bullies. A pretty much straight forward trip from Bullies to Harare, with the usual pothole ridden and overcrowded roads from trucks (as the railways don’t work) bad drivers, animals and some rain. A typical day on the roads in Zimbabwe. On entering Harare, we took a detour to head out to Running Dogs Nursery where we met Eric de Jong to pick up the Patrol. With thunderstorms on entering Harare, taking wrong back roads and eventually finding the farm we were no sooner on the road to go drop off our Harare contingent of food packs for the C.F.U (commercial farmers union) pensioners scattered around Harare and upto Kariba. A long day on the road met with warm hearts as we headed to our respective accomodations for the night.
5th March – Leaving Harare to do the trip to Mutare, with stops in Marondera and Rusape got off to a slow start. Having seeing family in Harare for the first time being back and only two stops between Harare and Mutare we left late morning to head to the depot for refuelling. Starting off the day with a stuck truck where it slept overnight and having to get a tractor to tow it out is all part of the adventure. On the road by 10 am and off to Borrowdale trust in Marondera. With tight COVID protocols, it was a quick drop off and go to then head to Rusape. Heading to Rusape is also a highlight of my trip. Situated in the Eastern Highlands, and not too far from my Hometown Mutare, seeing old faces, golden oldies that knew some of my family members is always a conversation starter. Rusape is always met with huge smiles, afternoon tea, sammies and cake. Before you know it, an hour or two is gone and you have to hit the road again. It’s never a goodbye from them, rather a see you soon. Sadly every trip, someone in one of the homes has passed on and it’s never easy as you get this attachment of a grandparent figure that grows on you, even if you don’t see them for a few months till the next trip.
Having said goodbyes in Rusape, we had to make our way to Mutare. Ah home, you know when you arrive in your hometown, that nostalgia, you can just feel it. Before i could even see family, there is still work to be done. Heading to Des Beckers to drop off the Mutare load of boxes, that Mr Becker distributes. Mr Becker is one of Mutare’s father figures, so much so you could say the Godfather. I say this as i went to school with his son Hilton and got to know him during our school years. A well respected man in Mutare, by friends and colleagues, youngsters and pensioners alike. I must say Mr Becker, your efforts don’t go unnoticed. If ever there is a problem or advice needed, Mr Becker will go out of his way to help where he can, and if he can’t he’ll put you in touch with a friend of a friend, that ends in getting the help you need.
6th March – Daniel happily agreed to spend the extra day in Mutare, rather than push through early to Masvingo and on to Gweru. This gave us some time to get in on the ground and see Mr Beckers operation and the deliveries to EHT Park Cottages and Murambi Gardens. One thing that really grabbed my attention is, before the boxes ever leave the warehouse, they are repacked into black bags, labelled and redistributed to the respective homes. The advantage of this is that, the empty boxes can then be put straight back into the truck and taken back to Bullies, eliminating damage or loss thereof. Maybe this is the way to do future deliveries, and one can only hope Mr Becker consults with Z.P.S.F on finding alternative cost effective ways on deliveries. Many hands make light work i’d say.
Arriving at EHT Park cottages, familiar faces come peeping out of the homes. Mr Perhat, Mr hay and Mrs Holtzhausen all know me too well. From my school days, I used to drive my Granddad to Moths, Potters or legion. It’s always good hearing stories from the good old days, and generally all the time they are good, funny stories. Stories that are worth remembering. I believe its in homes like these that some of the greatest minds, stories and accomplishments go to live out their last days. Stories that need to be shared, need to be told and Legacies remembered.
Mr Becker, just as familiar with the oldies, ensuring he greets and meets as many as he can. Daniel also, unfazed just taking his time to reach out, greet and meet everyone who took a hint of interest. It’s moments like these, you realise the worth of giving back. I can wholeheartedly say id want someone to look after me like this, they way they do with so much care one day. Murambi Gardens was a much quicker visit. The deliveries had already been done by the time we got there but a familiar face Aunty Pat gracefully sliding in with her walker, with a back and forth banter with Mr Becker. I say Aunt pat as that’s what she is to my family. A graceful old soul, with so much love to give, an adopted Granny to our family.
7th March – After a good night’s rest, i collected Daniel from Mr Beckers. A quick little cup of Diesel (coffee) and we were headed out of town. The road to Masvingo and on to Gweru was upon us. I followed in tow with the Patrol. A formidable beast on the roads or what we could call a road. This was to be our last day of deliveries for the trip with two stops on the way. Masvingo and Shurugwi. With the rail system in Zimbabwe non existent, naturally the roads were flooded with trucks again. Half way past Mashave, otherside of Masvingo, for some reason the Patrol just wasn’t giving power. Ah here it is, what was a descent time turned into a no more than 80km an hour trot across country. How in the world was i to tell Eric i have blown the turbo on his Patrol? If ever i was nipping, this was the time. Fast forward to our nights stop back at Boggies Trust in Gweru, all hands on deck and a few calls later in walks Alan Fulton a local mechanic.
Alan shook his head and got cracking on finding the problem. 10 minutes later and to my relief, it was just a loose air intake pipe to the turbo, which in turns tells the sensor to restrict the power. All of this pressure and stress caused by the lack of a decent road system and the inevitable pot hole. Relief as we ended the day off on a high note. Daniel made dinner, music was going and catch up chats about the trip were had.
Striving for collaboration.
8th March – Another good trip across the country comes to an end, as Daniel made his way back to Bullies to catch a flight out the next morning. I hit the road for another 5 hour journey back to Harare, to give Eric his beloved Patrol back (in perfect working condition) While nothing in Africa ever goes to plan i can say it was another successful trip that saw hundreds of pensioners receive much needed food packs. One thing to note, is that different organizations in Zimbabwe, all striving for a better future for the pensioners are working together. More so now than ever. Hopefully this can carry on into the future and bring hope and relief not just with food packs, but much needed medical needs, emergencies and companionship for them to not pass on alone.
While food packs were the main focus for deliveries across the country, taking into account the current Covid situation, PPE’s, sanitizers, oxygen concentrators and oxygen meters were delivered to various homes in need of this. I was glad to know there were now multiple machines across Zimbabwe for use in emergencies. As they were scarce during the height of the pandemic that left many home saying goodbye to loved ones passing on, from a lack of simple emergency medical supplies.
It’s never easy going on a trip like this, physically, mentally or emotionally but someone has to do it. If not you, who? if not now, when? Go get involved, it takes many hands to make great things happen. There is always a need for help through volunteering or donations. God forbid one day, in your old age, you have no pension, no help and no support fund to get you through.
While this trip is done, there is still so much work to do. Without your support our epic adventure would have been in vain. Inspire, mobilize, and advance the Old Legs Movement. 👇🏻👇🏻
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