‘When They Die Young’ by Ethel Irene Kabwato

It’s as if I have held you in my arms
In this, your short life,
But someone snatched you from me
Because I wanted you to see the sun
I wanted you to hold the dream
And not to chase the wind
Like a baton wielding policeman
I wanted you to keep the faith
And the trust deep in your heart
And see your tomorrows laid out
Before you because you were the future
…and not dice with death like the touts
Whose lives have become a breeding ground
for corruption, illicit drink and marijuana
Maybe I thought I held you,
My brief candle, in my hands
But someone sold their souls
To the devil for 20 dollars
And you, in your innocence
Thought the baton stick
Was meant to protect you
From thieves and murderers
You, with the trust in your heart
Thought the driver was there
To carry you to a place
Far, far away from the madding crowd
At corner Chinhoyi and Kwame Nkurumah street
We have been there too, son,
We can’t say we’ve seen it all…
Long after we have lowered
Your lifeless body six feet down
Another bribe will change hands,
As we seek justification for smashed windscreens
Maybe someone’s mother
Will not live to see Mother’s day
Because, sonny, we are no longer safe
On our roads
Someone has robbed you of
The beauty of not seeing
The day of the African child.
Eight days after Independence, sonny,
After all the speeches have been made,
After being reminded of the wars
You didn’t fight
And of the freedom
You, a born free
Should be grateful for
You thought you had it all,
You stepped out in an empowered style
On a road named after the father
Of African unity
(…how could I warn you son, that there are those among us who think they own the streets and the pavements…)
…how could I warn you, as they snatched
Your little life that no one cares?
…how could I tell you that
On the indigenized streets of Harare
What belongs to Caesar is not Caesar’s?
Someone sold his soul to the devil
To snatch yours…
Like those taken before you…
You remain without a name…
Rest in peace, son.

The poem is inspired by Aaron Ufumeli’s photograph in Zimbabwe’s NewsDay newspaper of 23.04.14, in which a young boy is struck and a killed by a kombi during what have become routine kombi wars in Harare. The title of the poem is taken from a short story by Levi Kabwato.

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