By Charles T.M.J. Dube
BHEKHIMPILO was VaMazvida’s grandchild and just about our age if not slightly older.
He had this daily family chore of delivering two bottles of milk to some local general dealer, whose monthly payment probably paid for his fees and school stationery and added to family income to this peasant family.
His grandfather Petros had worked in the mines in South Africa and built for himself a nice four-corner thatched brick house, quite an achievement in the community back then in the 1960s.
We developed a friendship with Bhekhimpilo as he often passed by where we herded our cattle.
Normal naughtiness perhaps on our side, but perhaps some bout of stupidity on his side, with time we started drinking initially a quarter of the milk with increasing abandon over time, filling up with water.
The general dealer started noticing the deterioration in quality over time and raised complaints with VaMazvida who in turn conducted some investigations.
The results brought her to the doors of the local headmaster and his wife, who was also a teacher.
Their children were behind this deterioration in quality.
VaMazvida was known for her nasty tongue even with little-or-no provocation at all.
Now that there was some really tangible mischief and misdemeanour, you can imagine how with her sharp tongue she was able to navigate my parents all the way to the well in nasty exchange, to use some common Shona saying, ‘kuvaendesa kutsime’, sending them to go fetch water from the village well, as it were.
I leave you to speculate as to the consequences of this piece of mischief.
This incident occurred 50 years ago has never escaped my memory and as a social scientist, I have gained considerable interest in Bhekhimpilo, VaMazvida and me and my brothers’ contribution to this incident.
At lower primary school, I was always at the top of my class, while Bhekhimpilo, who was in the same class, was not very gifted with books.
My parents were also not just school teachers, but ran several general dealer shops in the district, although as part of our training and discipline, we were made to go through all the menial tasks expected of our agemates without any privilege.
Despite all that, in retrospect, there is no doubt we were in fact the envy of many of our contemporaries, despite living in and to similar circumstances.
While in practice, there was no difference between how we were brought up and our contemporaries, there is no doubt that in their minds they perceived us as privileged.
True enough, we might not have faced the same vicissitudes as they did by virtue of our background and yet we were equals in every other practical respect.
Bhekhimpilo was not a foolish boy and yet he compromised the family source of livelihood in a bid to win and consolidate his friendship with us, whom he perceived as the ‘better boys’ at the cattle herding stints.
The problem lay in his perception and how he perceived us and overwhelmed by that psychological trance, he could not help compromise family livelihoods for the joy and pleasure of association.
His condition, I will call the ‘Bhekhimpilo effect’.
On the other hand, VaMazvida could not share equal blame between Bhekhimpilo and the Dube brothers.
To her, her grandson had been taken advantage of and judging from the fist fight I eventually had with Bhekhimpilo, there is no doubt that VaMazvida had eventually ended up emptying all her anger at the Dubes and none whatsoever to her grandson.
To her, Bhekhimpilo was just a victim of the manipulation of spoiled rich background boys.
Let us face it, Bhekhimpilo had behaved foolishly, despite our mischief and naughtiness, of which he was part of the equation as he too partook of the milk with us.
VaMazvida did him no favour by laying all the blame on us.
She should have chastised him the same way our parents not only chastised us, but punished us.
In international relations, international trade and other trade relations, we also have Bhekhimpilo (as our ruling elites), VaMazvida (as our regional and continental blocs) and the rich parents as the developed countries’ blocs, including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
We have our mineral and other natural resources which are expected to give livelihoods to our nations and populations.
We witness the ‘Bhekhimpilo effect’ as we see those given the responsibility to deliver our produce to the international and local markets for the good of all deliver half bottles as they empty the bottles and drink the milk with the rich boys before final delivery.
Our position with the market is compromised.
For this, we blame the rich boys who manipulate and corrupt Bhekhimpilo.
We shout at the United Nations (UN) and other international forums against the unfair conditions of trade and how the rich boys take advantage of us.
We also shout about how the rich boys invariably take and run away with the whole bottle, while they shortchange Bhekhimpilo before he even delivers the milk to the general dealer, bringing to VaMazvida sheer change or peanuts for the bottles.
At times we even negotiate for the rich boys to at least take one and not both bottles and give us proceeds for at least one bottle.
We are not brave enough to chastise our own Bhekhimpilo and ensure that he is fully educated of his responsibilities to the family table and upkeep.
We instead give him honour and accolades for the little he brings back of the family estate.
In the Bhekhimpilo story, at least Bhekhimpilo still delivered, even though he delivered half bottles over time.
The Dube parents had hunhu/ubunthu.
In international relations, the rich boys do not drink at the pastures with Bhekhimpilo.
They give Bhekhimpilo a sip and take the bottles home to drink with the rest of their families while VaMazvida and her family that includes Bhekhimpilo fail to buy stationery for their children or even to take the next sick child to hospital.
Our own businessmen and governments must deal with other nations as equals, and not share the family delivery orders with aliens while our own family members starve.
Let us beware of the Bhekhimpilo effect in our international dealings and relations in business.
It will not help us to send VaMazvida to protest, as the rich boys’ father will be glad that at least their boys bring the milk home to share while ours are happy to be pampered and give the milk away.
Bhekhimpilo’s problem was complex and it cost and compromised family interests.
We have an obligation to watch out for the Bhekhimpilos among us and ensure that through education of family roles and responsibilities, we have all the milk deliveries accounted for.