HARARE – Anyone who thinks that the struggle for a better quality of life for the people of any country is less than a “long walk to freedom” (Mandela) is no student of history.
I recently watched the story of the abolition of slavery in the film on the life of William Wilberforce in the United Kingdom and was again struck by the need for tenacity, faith and hope.
In Zimbabwe we have often been in that place where people have told me the situation is hopeless, “bail out” they have advised and then shown us how to do just that as they packed their bags and departed for other realms.
But in reality, all such decisions are based on choices, not the environment.
Our family chose to stay in Zimbabwe and see the country through to wherever it was going.
I have followed up many of those friends who left for greener pastures and their experience has been anything but uniform.
One couple told me that their lives were “boring”. Nothing happened from one year to the next.
Another walked into a civil war situation with AK 47 fire on the street outside their home.
Others have made a new life for themselves, closed the door on their past and done very well.
Our own experience has been one long roller coaster; certainly not boring and so far no live fire!
In microcosm, we have had real quality of life. Our grandchildren all go to good schools, they are growing up in stable families and will one day be great parents and adults.
We have our daily bread and more and most important, we get great satisfaction and pleasure out of what we do.
I visited the home of one of my constituents who is a widow with four children and who had a fire raze her flat to the ground and in the course of this tragedy lost most of what she owned in the world.
She lives in an area occupied by people who have very little, but they provided her with blankets, cooking utensils, clothing and food.
An anonymous donor provided the roofing and new timber supports and while I was there a local building contractor had his staff working through the weekend to repair the walls and plaster and rewire the flat.
He will then paint the whole flat for her.
Then I went across to visit another community that was displaced in 2005 during the Murambatsvina campaign and there are some 300 adults and over 150 children who are living in condemned buildings without sanitation and other amenities, where they have now been living for eight years.
Three years ago I urged them to form housing cooperatives and they did so.
On Saturday they held a party to celebrate three milestones — three years of operation during which time they have been saving $20 a month per member, their registration as a co-operation with the State and the purchase of land on which they hope to build new homes for themselves in 2014.
Using their own funds they had bought half an ox, rice and maize meal, vegetables and three cakes, two bottles of champagne and sweets and biscuits for the children.
Once I had left they had a keg of local beer brewed and ready and the party went on to late in the night.
We had a splendid meal and were invited to speak to the community.
I said they were an example to the whole country and that homeless people everywhere needed to emulate and follow their example.
Attending meetings with the absolute poor in this country —anywhere is always an inspiration to me.
When I am tired and exhausted by my schedule (I had six meetings on Saturday) sitting down with these ordinary people always fires up my spirit and gives me the motivation to carry on with the struggle.
When we can translate the motivation and inspiration into leadership, we can transform the lives of those we work for as well as ourselves.
I think that has been true throughout history and is the key to progress in all societies.
*Cross is the MDC MP for Bulawayo South.