Phillip Nsingo
That name will mean nothing to you, but Phillip died on Tuesday morning in Bulawayo General Hospital. He was the builder in my small group of companies and had worked for me for 10 years. He was 35 years old.

What concerns me is that his story is so typical of the life that ordinary, hardworking, Zimbabweans experience every day. His story is totally anonymous and will never be reported on in any publication or in any of the electronic media. But to us he was a friend, an honest and reliable employee and a character in many ways.

He was an Ndebele; his forefathers came to this part of the continent in 1820 as refugees fleeing the might and wrath of Shaka Zulu and the Mfecane in South Africa. He was a tall angular man who in a different time would have made a superb Ndebele soldier with a cow hide shield as tall as himself and the classical short stabbing spear and perhaps a few fighting sticks. With his Impi he would have made up a formidable fighting force capable of running many miles in a day and completely fearless when confronted with an enemy or a predator. Philip's ancestors terrorized the whole of central Africa until the white man arrived in significant numbers in 1890.

In those days Phillip would have joined an Impi when he turned 15, become a man when he had bloodied his spear and married when his Impi had served the King in a manner that earned them the right to marry. He would have probably been dead by the age of 35 at the very outside.

But Phillip was born in the Rhodesian era and lived through independence in 1980 and finished school and then went to train as a bricklayer. He obtained a certificate when he was just turning 22 and went to work as a builder. Eventually he went on his own and specialized in general jobbing. He could turn his hand to anything.

He married when he had enough money to pay Lobola and he and his wife had two children - he was a devoted father, drank to excess on a Friday night but other than that he looked after his family and that included his mother in the South East of the country in a rural village.

Then the first tragedy struck. I do not know when it happened, perhaps on a Friday night at a job away from his family, but Phillip contracted HIV. He communicated it to his young wife and for a few years they knew little of what was now in their lives. Then his wife fell ill. Nothing serious initially but she never seemed to fully recover.

Phillip spent everything he earned on doctors, hospitals and then traditional healers. It made no difference. She gradually deteriorated until she could no longer look after the children and had to be taken home to her rural village where her own mother cared for her until she died at the age of 30 years.

Phillip then moved the two children to his own Mother's kraal and he paid a substantial sum to the family of his wife for this right - otherwise they might have taken the children themselves. Phillip then returned to his job as a builder.

On Christmas eve we took Phillip to the bus station in Bulawayo so that he could go home with a large quantity of food and some gifts for his family and the two small children. He was well dressed and looked fit and well. He was to have two weeks off and was then expected back in Bulawayo to start a new project.

On Saturday he fell ill - we do not know the details but his family took him to the local clinic. It was Christmas day and the staff at the Clinic sent them away saying they "were on holiday". They then put a very sick Phillip into a donkey cart and rode 27 kilometers to the district hospital. There he was admitted and spent the night before the staff (one qualified Nurse and an orderly) told the family they could not help Phillip - there was no doctor and no medicines. They suggested they take him to Bulawayo General some 200 kilometers away.

No ambulance so the family - now armed with a letter of referral from the District Hospital, put Phillip on a bus and then carried him from the side of the road in Bulawayo to the main hospital complex. It was Monday afternoon; Phillip could not speak or stand. He was admitted and on Tuesday a doctor saw him at about 09.00 hrs. He died just afterwards.

I was called and took his brother to the hospital with his identity number. A death certificate was issued and a burial order made out. The cause of death "unknown." I said to the nurse on duty that this in my view was a "sudden death" and therefore should be the subject of an autopsy. They shrugged this off and said they had no time or staff for such procedures.

We bought a coffin from a local Co-operative and hired a truck to carry his body home. He was buried in an unmarked grave on Wednesday, 6 days after he had left us to go home for Christmas. The children are with the grandmother who must be in her 70's. What lies ahead for just another two small orphan kids, whose mother died of Aids and whose father died at Christmas time in 2004.

We now have a million orphans in Zimbabwe. In some schools 50 per cent of the students in grade one are orphans. Over 1000 people a day are dying in Zimbabwe - three quarters of them from diseases and other problems that we thought we had beaten in the 60's. Now nearly 90 people a day die from Malaria. 200 a day are diagnosed with Tuberculosis. 700 women die in childbirth every week and our average life expectancy is lower than it would have been for Phillip Nsingo's great Grandfather in the 1850's.

For ordinary hard working, honest people like Phillip, life in Zimbabwe has become hell on earth and is most often short and nasty. We mourn Phillip's death today - the last day of 2004 and we wonder what 2005 will offer. We mourn for what we have lost in Zimbabwe and that which has created the conditions that have made life so difficult for all of us. Only a complete change of leadership and policies can give us any hope of a better tomorrow.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 31st December 2004