Wellington Machezera

Wellington Machezera. Photo by Mai Palmberg

"Zimbabwe is being full of crooks"

Wellington Machezera was born in 1974 in Masvingo. He makes and sells wire art post-cards, and lives in the street.

We are sitting here in the Harare Gardens, on the dry grass because it is still winter, although some people say it is spring. I suppose many would say that what you do is handicraft or crafts, so let me ask you if you would call yourself an artist?
Yes, I call myself an artist because I create. Music is art, I create art out of sculpture stone and some of creative art like wire, and some more things like batiks, and paper marbling, which as well I use it for the backgrounds of these cards, and painting I do, and papier mache and wire craft and stencilling as well and handmade cards.

Who are the buyers?
Well, the Zimbabweans especially, they are not used to buying printed things, they are used to having handmade things. So this I called Shona Cards, in order for Zimbabweans to see something different. But not many of them, but some of them, yes, they began to like it. First when I came up with this idea, trying to sell them to the black people, they didn't want, they didn't like it, they didn't understand it. But I had to explain much about this.

I created these animals because we also care for the animals and I wish if this project could raise me up and I could even also support like say five per cent goes to the Green Fund to support the animals. And some of this, the heart, is to remind especially now the black Zimbabweans, to say they should not forget of where they come from. You might have come from the rural areas last year but think as well to say you have left some people there, don't just be attracted with the lights and the buildings in town. As well send them this type of cards to show that you love them and you still remember where you came from. That's the story about that one.

How did you start doing this?
I was in the street for six years. My mother and father divorced and then I came to the street and I stayed for quite a long time without doing anything, just only parking cars, sleeping in the streets. Then I met these people, that was in 1998, and they wanted to help me through doing some art. Their names were Annie and Caroline they were coming from England . They had an organisation that is called the MaZimbabwe Art Project, it was a Christian project, which was teaching kids to not earn money but to have school and knowledge. That's when I started being creative. So this is my certificate, which I got from them, since I went to school of art for two years.

OK, it says that you have completed a two year course or art training with MaZimbabwe Art Productions and that you have learned batik, paper marbling, fabric printing, painting, papier mache, wire craft, stencilling and handmade cards. And it also says here that the"MaZimbabwe Art Productions is a Christian project working in association with the Presbyterian Church of Southern Africa in Zimbabwe." This two-year course, was it a full-time?
Yes, it was the full-time. I went for 2-years and then they asked me if I can stay and as well teach some other kids who are coming into the project because they groom kids from the streets and to take them to a better position so that they will not learn of all the bad things in the streets, and so that they must know that they are people and that they have something to do in their lives and they are not just people who are nothing, but they are people that if they can have a support from the people that they can give them support they can do something.

When they sort of took you from the street how did they find you?
They found me, I was in Union Avenue , that is when I was parking my cars, and when they were passing along the streets I just greeted them. Those days there was a restaurant so they went in the restaurant and they were seeing the way we were like chasing cars up and down in the streets. They felt shame. We didn't know some people are thinking something for us. After that they asked if I wanted food, but this time I was very scared to just accept everything from someone whom I don't know.

Everybody tells me that the number of street kids has increased. When you see street kids today what do you think?
Now it is very difficult for the street people. Why are they increasing the number? Because of hunger in Zimbabwe and some parents they can't support their children and they are poor, they don't have jobs, and some they are not educated and so if the father and the mother are both not educated and even the children they won't be feeling even to go to school because they follow the parents. Or the parents says they believe the child must go to the streets and look for money and the mother goes somewhere and looks for money and the father goes somewhere and looks for money so no one is going to school there.

And as well because of the money, it is a crisis in Zimbabwe . The banks are bankrupt. And even the food, it is there but it is expensive and there's no money. That's why they come to town and beg. That is why the street kids are coming. It doesn't mean they don't have families, they're even coming to the street with their family, with their father, mother, daughters and sons.

I don't know how much job they do but I think it is caused by the government itself. If it wasn't the government people they were not going to complain of anything in Zimbabwe, about food, about money, about petrol, everything which is crisis in Zimbabwe, there was not going to be like that if the government was ruling the country nice and proper and without people complaining.

So what do you personally feel when you see street kids?
Sometimes I really feel pity about them because I have been a street guy and I can't say I'm out of them. I'm still within them just because they are my people, they are my friends, we lived together. If I move down to the street they say "Wellington, Wellington", if they ask any help for me I can't say I don't have if I have.

We are all of us still not feeling happy about our lives. And some they are now taking advantage of us. Like these black people they are taking this as an opportunity for them to gain something, to benefit from us.

In which ways do they benefit?
Like they have access to mealie meal, and to money through maybe black market and they are able to cook sadza and give it to the street guys. And then they take photos and send photos to the donors. Then they get money because the donors say "Oh, shame about these kids". They say "Yes, they are suffering, they are living in the streets so we want to find them accommodation, we want to buy them a house, we want to buy them food and everything and we want to send them to school". Then they get money from there.

And you see no new accommodation?
You see not even accommodation. You stay in the streets. Like an example, this other guy, his name is Gerald, he was going to this church, and he found we were sleeping behind by the veranda, me and the other guys. So he says: "No, you guys we need to organise for your accommodation" - that was last year but one - "and everything and some clothes". So when he went to America he says he's now going to ask for money "So then you guys can have money because this is not my project, it is your project". That's the way he was saying it. So we would say "Okay, that's our project. So guys, let's work". So we worked about these cards. He took the cards, I think it was about 3 000 cards, we did work very hard, and we gave him and he went and sold the cards.

Did he pay before he went?
He never paid. Then he went to America …

Was this a white or a black man?
He's a black man. He's a black man from here, Zimbabwe . I don't think the foreign people will do that because the people who come here they come to help people. So then he gets some money from there, he came back, he asked us to find a house, but that was too expensive, so he said: Find a place to rent. Then we looked for the places, he never turned up to come and pay the rent. Well, he bought a new car, now. He bought his new car and he was passing, driving now. There was not enough time to talk to him. If we set up an appointment to come and talk about this issue he wasn't coming. Until now he's gone.

Everybody wants to be rich and doesn't want to be poor, but how can you be rich when you are not faithful? They come and cheat from the poor and gets rich from the poor. But he is not faithful because he's coming talking about the word of God to you, he's a pretender to you, and then he talks this and blah, blah. Everyone now is like very tired of this kind of people.

Even the churches, it is the same thing. There are crook churches now. You can't believe which church is the true one. They're also doing the same thing. If you can find out when the Pastor is now doing like the black market thing. The petrol, he'll be found there with the black market. Everything is just crook. I can even come in the church and say: "Excuse me, I have got US$300, can you stop telling them something? Come and let's deal here". He can do that, he can say in Shona "I'm just doing some business". There's no church.

So now Zimbabwe is being full of crooks sometimes. No, I can't say sometimes, every day and every time. Like pretty much of our President, he was working for all these twenty years for what? Now the country is down. He is chasing the people that he has been staying with in order to share life because both of us, white or black, we are all human beings, God loves us as how he created us. I don't see why we should hate each other. We should just be together. We eat the same food, we're not different. You see? There is no one to hate about. That pretty much I gave it to if God could put us together and then we do one thing together.

You don't have any place to stay now? Are you still living on the streets?
I'm still living in the streets. Behind the park, the other park, there is a place which I'm given a to look after there during the night and sleep there as well. I move with my bed, my bed is there, it is kept there with my sleeping bag, and my one blanket and my clothes are there. So whenever I want to wash them I to go the Les Brown swimming pool, to the showers, I wash my clothes, I put everything together, I take it back there.

What is your dream of life?
My dream, I just wish that my dream will come true, and maybe go back to school or do some studies of computers and then I increase a bit of my education and be someone who will crop up with things faster and be able to actually work with the guys in the streets and do the same thing together and no one is cheating others and no one is fighting but living peaceful. If my dreams could lead me in that kind of thing I would say: "Thank you, God".

[Interview on 6 August 2003 in Harare Gardens]

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