In Zimbabwe, coffee companion’s dream is for Chipo

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 5, 2008

In last week’s column, a tribute to recently retired Judge John D. Reilly, I highlighted his social justice dream that “every child should have a safe and quiet place to sleep every night.”

Several readers commented on how deeply touched they were by that dream. Cochrane coffee companion Daisy McKinnon wrote, we need “more people like Judge Reilly to make that dream come true.”

That dream applies not only to Cochrane and Canada, but around the world. I’m thinking especially right now of another of our coffee companions who lives in the crumbling southern-Africa nation of Zimbabwe, where far too many children do not, in fact, have a safe and quiet place to sleep every night.

Eddie Cross is a Zimbabwean economist and Member of Parliament. Like Judge Reilly, his greatest longing is for a safe and quiet future for the children of his country.

In Eddie’s correspondence with me over the past years he has described how Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, the tyrannical ruler who has refused to relinquish power in spite of being defeated in the March 29 elections, has fallen from being the breadbasket of Africa to being one of the poorest nations on earth. (See my column of July 2, 2008.)

The Zimbabwean dollar is worthless; any sense of normalcy has vanished. A mass exodus of broken souls has been complicated recently by an increase in malaria and an outbreak of cholera. And as in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the north, death and despair mock the very principles of democracy on which Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, was founded in its emergence from its colonial past.

Many of Eddie’s friends and neighbours have wondered why he insists on remaining in Zimbabwe under such nightmarish conditions. He replies that, in spite of the risks, it is his love for his beautiful country and its people that keeps him there.

And in particular, “it’s all about Chipo,” as he explained in his Nov. 2 letter:

Africa loves kids and gives its children the most attractive and inspired names. Chipo is often used. It means “gift,” and I think parents feel that way about a little girl when she is born. We have about 200 000 little Chipos born every year, and in the Zimbabwe of today they face an uncertain future. My own passion is that every Chipo who is born in Zimbabwe can expect a life where they will have every opportunity, as I had when I was born, to go to a good school, get a high school diploma and perhaps go on the university or college and make a life for herself that is fulfilling and worthwhile.

The majority of our Chipos are born in a simple village, in a round house made of mud and poles. I want to see a new Zimbabwe arise out of the ashes of this one where she can leave home every morning and walk to school where she will find herself in a first world environment able to study and learn what children in other countries take for granted.

As she grows I want her to have choice, to be able to choose to be a teacher, or a scientist, or a homemaker; to be able to earn an independent living and make money of her own, to be able to stand up in a crowd and argue for change in one thing or another and be respected.

Why Chipo? Because if we get it right for her, the boys will also be o.k. – but if you get it wrong for her, she will be condemned to a life of struggle. She will never be able to stand up as an independent woman, because our culture treats her as a minor all her life. Never able to make choices or a better life for herself, never able to help a new generation make a better tomorrow and help build the dream.

Mugabe has destroyed all that and the Congolese war lords and criminal elite are responsible for denying generations any chance of a better future. Yet is that cause to quit the fight for what is right? No, it’s not; and it is not really sacrifice for you to pour out your life in pursuit of the dream. It is actually a privilege and I am so grateful that we have a chance to fight where it matters. . . .

We struggle to give our grandkids the opportunities we want every child to have, everywhere. When they are grown we hope they will see that we spent our lives, not pursuing safety or prosperity and ease, but a better life for every little girl like my sons’ four girls.

Making dreams come true is what real life is all about.

History shows that eventually evil comes to an end. We will win this struggle. It’s like a marathon: when your legs hurt, it’s time to increase the determination to stay the course.

—Eddie Cross, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

© 2008 Warren Harbeck

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