5 things 2008 revealed about Zimbabweans

Daphne Jena reflects on lessons learned from 2008…

2008 is described as the worst year for Zimbabwe in living memory, at least for our generation. They say Zimbabweans are like marathon runners, who train in high-altitude areas to increase their lung capacity. 2008 was our high-altitude time. Surprisingly, with no food in the shops, no electricity in the households and industry, no clean water, cholera outbreaks and industrial strikes in the education and health sectors; Zimbabweans found ways to carry on with their lives.

1. Zimbabweans are closet Master chefs

One time, I visited my aunt in the rural areas and was served tea with the sweetest bread I had ever eaten in my whole life. I only got to know that my cousin had used wild loquat juice (Mazhanje) to make the bread, because there was no sugar in the house, therefore she had little control on how sweet the bread was going to be. Although I didn’t enjoy it very much, I had to give my cousin the credit for being a master baker.

Who would have expected samoosas stuffed with soya mince, or even soya mince meat balls (or soya mince balls?)  to be served at a cocktail? Meat was scarce, and  the little you could find was beyond the reach of many. Soya mince and soya beans became the most popular source of protein, and new recipes started coming out of the closet.

Like soya mince burgers ,yum!

Like soya mince burgers ,yum!

2. Zimbabweans have a wealth of (untapped) traditional knowledge, etc

You will agree with me that a cholera outbreak and a doctors and nurses strike are the worst events any country can have happening at the same time. How did Zimbabweans deal with this if they did not have money to go to the private hospitals and clinics? This is when the hidden medical genius of Zimbabweans came into play.

During that time, we learnt about interesting names like ‘murumanyama’ and ‘mukundanyoka’ (meaning it overpowers anything that attacks the intestines). These were roots used to cure stomach ailments. The deep knowledge that local people have on traditional herbs saved many lives, especially those who had no access to modern medicines.

Sekuru still remembers the days of brisk business..

Sekuru still remembers the days of brisk business.

3. Zimbabweans are great engineers

With no running water, only the few with boreholes in their yards in the low density suburbs had readily available options. The masses in the ghetto explored their hidden engineering skills to identify potential spots for clean and safe water without disrupting the councils’ pipes or drainage system.

Without any qualifications in land surveying or modern equipment to help them, my brothers in the ghetto made a living from digging wells to provide everyone with the precious liquid. Most of these wells have stood the test of time, as they still serve their purpose even beyond the crisis period.

Some of this water will be used to refill Kariba

Some of this water will be used to refill Kariba

4. Zimbabweans are very patient


Just a rumour about the delivery of bread, sugar or mealie meal would result in someone standing in a queue from 8am to 4pm or even beyond. I am sure shop managers had many frustrations. After dismissing people no one experts to return after an hour only to see that there are a hundred more people in the queue!

Bank managers often did not have the choice to dismiss anyone as the mostly likely or obvious answer was, “Part of the money that you are withholding in your bank is my bus fare, so unless you give me something; I’m not going anywhere!”

Zimbabwean queues: an alternative to meditation

Zimbabwean queues: an alternative to meditation

5. Zimbabweans are good at Kiyakiyaring (Hustling)

Only in Zimbabwe did you hear that someone managed to get rich by ‘burning’ money. If people were actually setting notes on fire they wouldn’t get rich would they? Individuals worked with bank personnel to convert foreign currency into Zimbabwean dollars. Just from US$5 one would get trillions and trillions of dollars.

Everyone was in search of foreign currency in order to take it to the bank and get local currency instead. Some became full time money changers, and acquired a reasonable amount of wealth like cars and houses. Most of these were male and became known as ‘boys dzehigh rate’ (meaning the exchange rate was so high).

I 'burned' $60 to buy this Merc. (Source unknown)

I ‘burned’ $60 to buy this Merc. (Source unknown)

There are many ways that Zimbabweans used to survive the hardships of 2008, but most of these are skills and talents they did not even know they had. It might have been a difficult year for many, but in more ways than one it brought out the best in everyone. It is these same skills, and this same resilience, that holds us in good stead until today.

I am proud to be Zimbabwean.


Very passionate about the voice of the ordinary person, Daphne Jena is an ordinary young female African who likes to use her skills to articulate on big matters. A journalist by training and passion, she enjoys blogging on governance, youth and women’s rights issues.
She believes the best stories are told from the experiences of the ordinary person. An alumni of number of leadership fellowships, she volunteers for a number of women’s organizations