Millstones

A few years ago our local Church sent two volunteer nurses to Somalia to help with an emergency refugee problem. When they had completed their term in the field they came home and on a Sunday morning they were asked to talk to us about their experience. They described their flights to Nairobi and then by light aircraft to the camps and then they talked about the conditions they found there and the suffering of the people. Then came a tense moment in their presentation. The more senior girl was talking and she started to say that the worst part of the whole experience was the children. Then she stopped, she could no longer carry on and could not cope with describing the plight of small children in those dreadful camps.

I know how she felt. I am a father and a grandfather. My own two children are grown and have children of their own. Our son and daughter are very special to us and so are their spouses. We lost Sue’s husband to a heart attack three years ago and still grieve over his passing and the gap he left in all our lives. Our grandchildren are something again – they all say that parents wish they could have grandchildren first – without having to go through parenthood at all! I have never felt like that but what I can tell you is that having grandchildren is a very special experience and I am so glad that both our parents spent their final years in our home and close to our children.

I do not know what we would do if anyone of our five – Gary’s tag team of four special and gorgeous girls and Sue’s son Keith who is so much like his father it is scary, were to be lost to us. I can say without any doubt that I would do just about anything to defend those kids and to protect their futures. What we are so grateful for is that both our children have become such great parents. I certainly know that Gary’s girls love and adore him in a very special way and Sue has a very special relationship with her son.

So when it comes to the plight of kids in a country like Zimbabwe, please forgive me if I get a bit emotional. I kind of lose it when I must describe what sometimes happens, just like that nurse in our Sunday service in Harare. I still cannot get out of my mind the image of those 60 men and women who had just crossed the Limpopo River and faced a hazardous journey through the bush to Johannesburg 500 kilometers away. They had just seen a baby’s mother washed away and lost, they were left with the baby – what to do? They collectively decided that there was no choice, none of them would take the responsibility of a young baby with no name and he or she was thrown into that river to join the mother. Now I do not know about you but I cannot talk about that incident without tears. I hope I never can.

This past week a member of the MDC National Executive died of cancer at the age of 61. I traveled to Beitbridge with three others for the funeral. Georgina Chadzingwa was a Dadaya girl – raised and educated by the Todd family at Dadaya Mission. She had become an activist early in her life and spent most of her life fighting for the rights of women. Then she had a serious stroke that left her paralysed down one side of her body. It did not deter her and my last memory of Georgina was as she painfully climbed the stairs at our Head Office – six floors, taking her time on each floor to gather her strength for the next set of stairs. At our Congress in March she insisted on climbing onto the platform with the other women even though it took her 10 minutes to make the effort. She was elected the national treasurer of the Women’s Assembly and held this post until she died.

The funeral was a large one as you might expect – many women and a number of men who respected her for her work and courage and her family. We sat through the Church service and then went to the gravesite in the local cemetery. I had not been there before and parked the car on the side of the area and walked through the Cemetery itself to the gravesite. At first I was puzzled. Why are the holes for the bodies so small? There were hundreds of these tiny miniature graves. How do they get the bodies in those small spaces I thought? Then I came up to the gravesite and there was a row of “normal” graves excavated for the coffins of people like Georgina. I suddenly realized that I had been walking through a cemetery that was mainly made up of the graves of small children.

While we were putting Georgina to rest a small funeral arrived for another burial. This time it was a child and the relatives carried the tiny box to a gravesite near us. The mother was completely bereft. I said to the others – did they see how many hundreds of children’s graves there were? I had no idea that we were burying more small children than adults in places like Beitbridge. But the physical evidence was there for all to see. It is one thing to bury a woman of 61 who has raised a family and served her community. We grieved for a life lost but well lived. But to bury a child whose life has yet to begin, that is another matter.

This experience drives home the reality that our average life expectancy has declined from 60 years to 35 in the past 20 years. I know that Aids is partly to blame but it is the potent mix created by the Mugabe regime that makes matter so much worse. Malnutrition, starvation, poor medical services, homelessness, despair and broken families are all to blame. We monitored 216 families that were displaced by Murambatsvina in May 2005 and were taken in by our churches for a few nights before the Police forcibly relocated them to the rural areas. Our Pastors reported that up to half their number have died in the past year. What I did not appreciate was that one of the main causes was simply despair. The adult men felt they could not protect or provide for their families. Pushed from one place to another, denied any dignity or hope, they simply gave up and died.

Jesus said in Luke 17:2 “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck, than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” Those who create the conditions that lead to the deaths of so many thousands of young children in often, horrific circumstances, must be held to account. We may be forced to compromise justice just to get rid of these modern day monsters. God does not and for that I am grateful.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 12th October 2006