I debate on whether to use my jacket as a pillow or a blanket; I finally opt for my jacket. But as the cold bites I change that decision and use my jacket as a blanket.
At 8pm, I was already in a queue to apply for a passport the next morning. I slept inches away from a woman in front of me. Unlike me, she rolled herself in a thick blanket and seemed well prepared to conquer the cold.
I was position number 200. I learnt that the first person in the queue secured the position as early as 8am. When he gets served, he would have spent a full day in the queue.
True to my talkative nature, I was soon involved in casual talk with fellow passport seekers.
During the talk, I felt the desperation from the younger generation who were seeking the document to go and look for jobs outside. I felt the anxiety from another group of passport seekers who wanted the document to pursue studies outside; from the women folk who longed for the elusive document to do cross border trading.
From these conversations I felt the anger towards the current government for taking its people through “this hell” to get a simple passport. I felt the mood of sheer resentment towards the government for rejecting a machine from South Africa that could process up to 4000 copies per hour.
I quietly excused myself and headed for some nearby grassy area opposite Makombe building, the passport processing complex, to relieve myself.
Before, I could open my zip to empty my bladder; I was attracted by a groan deeper in the dark grasses. My hair rose. I had heard stories of people being mugged and their cash taken away. I heaved a sigh when I noticed it was in fact an elderly woman who had also excused herself from the queue to answer to the call of nature.
At 3am, heavy rains started pounding the city centre. Some people in the queue dashed for shelter from a Caltex service station on the opposite side of the road but after defying fervent advice from those who braved the rain warning them they risked losing their positions to late or early comers, depending on how you view it.
I was among those who opted for shelter. I was later disappointed to learn that an additional 70 or so people had come and were occupying our positions when we eventually returned to the queue. Among the invaders were a group of touts who now make a living through selling front positions to desperate late comers. The price for front positions ranged from US$5 to US$40 depending on how near to the front they were.
In the ensuing chaos while people demanded for their original positions, I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw security guards who man the gate at Makombe building approaching. They were accompanied by two policemen, who were dressed in trench coats carrying AK rifles on their shoulders.
I was among those who pleaded for their help to recover my position. But they would hear none of it. In the ensuing chaos, one of the security guards gently pulled me aside away from the “madding crowd”.
“Mufesi, urikuzhambei. Chingobudisa mbichana upe ma officers. Zvinokuiitira bho (Friend what are you yelling about. Just produce a small bribe to give it to the officers and your troubles would be over,” said one of the policemen.
After taking a deep thought, I took out a US$5 note and gave it to him.
“Aizve! Unenge usiri siriyasi futi. Nhamo yako ichirinani nhai? Chiona mumwe andipa $20 iwewe urikutadza kubudisa kana ka 10 dombi. (You don’t look serious. It seems your problems are still bearable isn’t it? Look, someone else has produced a straight $20 and you can’t produce even $10.”
Shaking my head in disbelief, I produced another $5 and was given position 15, although it became position 30 in the morning when relatives of influential government officials, uniformed army and police officers came to take up front positions.
I was still wet from the rain. I did everything not to stretch the patience of the hostile Registrar General Officers who did not hesitate to throw out anybody from the queue at the slightest detection of an anomaly or perceived misbehaviour.
A former college mate spotted me in the queue and approached me. Before he could greet me, he haughtily brandished a new passport with crispy pages.
“Mate, its good you went through this hell and you now have your passport,” I said to him in admiration.
“What hell?” he asked, “chete makaomera vapfana (You are stingy). Next time producejust $200 and your passport would be delivered at your doorstep. Look, you are wet as a sea because you want to save too much.”
I finally managed to submit my application for a “24 hour” passport after paying the stipulated fee of $318, although this only came out a week later.
After enduring the hustles of the night in the queue, I went home, sat down and put pen to paper. I phoned the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) the co-minister of Home Affairs to comment on the chaos at Makombe.
After introducing myself and the medium I work for, I got the response that would break my spirits.
“Ah nhai vakomana zvanyanya izvi (This is too much),” she said, “I was talking to another journalist from RadioVOP manje manje (now,now). I now seem as if I am the only minister of Home Affairs. Sorry shamwari (friend) I can’t talk to you. Try minister Mohadi (Kembo). Inini ndaneta (I am tired).”
Kembo Mohadi is the Zanu (PF) co-Home Affairs Minister.
In near despair, I bit the backside of my ball point pen and wondered, “What will it take to end the chaos at Makombe building”.