That name will mean nothing to you, but Phillip died on Tuesday morning
Bulawayo General Hospital. He was the builder in my small group of
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
hardworking, Zimbabweans experience every day. His story is totally
anonymous and will never be reported on in any publication or in any of
electronic media. But to us he was a friend, an honest and reliable
and a character in many ways.
He was an Ndebele; his forefathers came to this part of the continent
1820 as refugees fleeing the might and wrath of Shaka Zulu and the
in South Africa. He was a tall angular man who in a different time
have made a superb Ndebele soldier with a cow hide shield as tall as
and the classical short stabbing spear and perhaps a few fighting
With his Impi he would have made up a formidable fighting force capable
running many miles in a day and completely fearless when confronted
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,
man when he had bloodied his spear and married when his Impi had served
King in a manner that earned them the right to marry. He would have
been dead by the age of 35 at the very outside.
But Phillip was born in the Rhodesian era and lived through
1980 and finished school and then went to train as a bricklayer. He
a certificate when he was just turning 22 and went to work as a
Eventually he went on his own and specialized in general jobbing. He
turn his hand to anything.
He married when he had enough money to pay Lobola and he and his wife
two children - he was a devoted father, drank to excess on a Friday
but other than that he looked after his family and that included his
in the South East of the country in a rural village.
Then the first tragedy struck. I do not know when it happened, perhaps
Friday night at a job away from his family, but Phillip contracted HIV.
communicated it to his young wife and for a few years they knew little
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
to her rural village where her own mother cared for her until she died
the age of 30 years.
Phillip then moved the two children to his own Mother's kraal and he
substantial sum to the family of his wife for this right - otherwise
might have taken the children themselves. Phillip then returned to his
as a builder.
On Christmas eve we took Phillip to the bus station in Bulawayo so that
could go home with a large quantity of food and some gifts for his
and the two small children. He was well dressed and looked fit and
was to have two weeks off and was then expected back in Bulawayo to
On Saturday he fell ill - we do not know the details but his family
to the local clinic. It was Christmas day and the staff at the Clinic
them away saying they "were on holiday". They then put a very sick
into a donkey cart and rode 27 kilometers to the district hospital.
was admitted and spent the night before the staff (one qualified Nurse
an orderly) told the family they could not help Phillip - there was no
doctor and no medicines. They suggested they take him to Bulawayo
some 200 kilometers away.
No ambulance so the family - now armed with a letter of referral from
District Hospital, put Phillip on a bus and then carried him from the
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
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
A death certificate was issued and a burial order made out. The cause
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
We bought a coffin from a local Co-operative and hired a truck to carry
body home. He was buried in an unmarked grave on Wednesday, 6 days
had left us to go home for Christmas. The children are with the
who must be in her 70's. What lies ahead for just another two small
kids, whose mother died of Aids and whose father died at Christmas time
We now have a million orphans in Zimbabwe. In some schools 50 per cent
the students in grade one are orphans. Over 1000 people a day are dying
Zimbabwe - three quarters of them from diseases and other problems that
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
have been for Phillip Nsingo's great Grandfather in the 1850's.
For ordinary hard working, honest people like Phillip, life in Zimbabwe
become hell on earth and is most often short and nasty. We mourn
death today - the last day of 2004 and we wonder what 2005 will offer.
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
change of leadership and policies can give us any hope of a better
Bulawayo, 31st December 2004