Card games, pool, TV shows entertain Zimbabweans when closed

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – The day has come: some children in Zimbabwe are so tired from the weeks of coronavirus locking that they long to go back to school.

“This is all boring now,” said 10-year-old Tafadzwa Mafuta. “I miss reading, writing and playing with my friends.”

Zimbabweans hungry for entertainment, including some children, have turned to small gambling and other activities in poor neighborhoods, where many have lost their livelihood.

Some defy social detachment, crowding out shoulder to shoulder.

Ronald Kanhete’s informal television repair shop was cut short as part of the government’s cleanup campaign targeting “illegal” buildings. The campaign has not stopped even under a lockdown.

Now he spends his days at a busy pool table in the poor suburb of Mbare in the capital, Harare, gambling on games with the little money he has.

Before the corona virus, pool was a way of killing time. Now he jostles with some youngsters for a chance to win some money at the pool table to survive.

“Pool is a game I enjoy … it has also become my meal card,” he said.

Elsewhere, a group of young men and children knelt around a bag scattered on the dirty ground and played a card game. Money changed hands quickly, even when a soldier in a truck used a loudspeaker to send people back to their homes.

Security guards who are enforcing the shutdown are also breaking out dozens of people playing or watching football games in the poor residential areas.

Previously, these were friendly matches for men who tried to keep fit. Now they have become competitive ‘money games’, sometimes involving players from the country’s elite professional football league.

The league has threatened to punish players who take part in the unsanctioned games, but players, who are unpaid for months due to the lockdown, say they need the money to keep hunger at bay.

Even children participate and bet small amounts on the teams.

The Zimbabwe Ministry of Education says it plans to start a phased opening of schools in late July, although the teachers’ unions claim it is still unsafe to do so.

Some parents say they cannot afford to pay for online classes offered by some professionals.

“They just have to go back to school, they can wear masks and the teachers can enforce social detachment,” said Pertunia Sibanda of the suburb of Mbare, adding, “It’s better than being here playing cards for money.”

She said the only time she spends quality time with her three children is when, like many people around the world, they watch their favorite entertainers online or on state television.

The music shows are a breath of fresh air for entertaining Zimbabweans as well as artists who struggle to make ends meet.

Musician Progress Chipfumo takes part in the “Lockdown Live” performances that have attracted tens of thousands of viewers in recent weeks. Entertainers say the lockdown has reduced them to charity cases. The government has promised to help them with basic food supplies.

“Right now I don’t have a cent,” said Chipfumo, whose last live show was three months ago. The lockdown shows “help me get in touch with my fans, and maybe a few bucks.”

“The musicians don’t get much out of this exercise because most of them simply sacrifice their services to entertain stressed Zimbabweans,” said one of the promoters of the performances, Tinashe Mutarisi, who recently converted a warehouse at his paint factory into a recording studio.

For kids like 10-year-old Tafadzwa, nothing, including the television shows, beats the school he once despised for being too routine and annoying.

“I used to love the holidays, but this is just too much now,” he said.

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