When queueing becomes a profession


THE fear is real. That of the slide back to the days when we had to queue for just about everything. Zimbabwe broke every conceivable record as our economy firmly parked itself in intensive care, stiffly comatose.

Lenox Lizwi Mhlanga

The scarcity of basic products meant that when one encountered a queue, one never asked what it was for.

It was obvious that it was for a commodity that would have disappeared from the shelves. We queued for everything, be it sugar, bread, salt, matches, petrol, mealie-meal — you name it — simply wasn’t available.

A lot of production time was lost in hunting for scarce commodities or when queueing for them.

Did I say production time? There was hardly any economic activity taking place in the country anyway.

So bad was the situation that the government even announced at one time that it would crack down on professional “queuers”.

The government’s role had been reduced to that of “prefects” in a situation it had little control over.

Those “queuers” were labelled economic saboteurs responsible for the emergence of a black market in scant grocery items.

The State media was never short of superlatives by which to describe how nasty these people were. In fact, at one point, so loud were the cries that one would not have been surprised if the government had said that those caught would be lined up against a wall and shot.

For the pessimists, those days might not be far off, so it would be prudent to prepare for the worst.

Since queueing might became a part of our lives, those who have not had the experience should have learnt some simple unwritten ground rules.

I call this “queue-tiquette”, a survival guide that one has to follow if there is any hope of them ever getting anything, let alone surviving.

Here are tips on surviving a queue which I will refer to below as the Q, perhaps we could call it The Psychology of the Q:

You are obliged to be good humoured without being necessarily funny.

It is healthy because stress kills. You could be in the Q forever like when we slept in our cars waiting for motion lotion (fuel). A lot of unwanted babies were manufactured during that crisis.

When you get to the Q, greet the person at the end by saying something like: “So when is the next supply of bread coming?”

This is called fishing.

If they don’t stare at you, they will give say: “This is the washing soap Q, mzala,” meaning that you and your family will definitely starve.

Avoid drinking a lot of water before joining a Q, rather eat bananas. You are bound to lose your place answering the call of nature.

Hell will break loose when you try to reclaim “your” place.

Technically, no one owns a place in the Q.

The other choice would be to have the riot police reorganise the Q using brute force, in which case everyone loses their place.

Never discuss politics in a Q. You never know who the guy in front of you is, let alone his political affiliation or occupation.

Talk about the coming rains, flying witches, anything else. The general guiding principle is the adage: “If you have nothing to say, please do not say it here!”

Be wary of toxic emissions in the form of halitosis, human gas and unwashed socks. The solution is wear a gas mask if you can afford one. Otherwise, it’s tough to be in the line of fire.

If the person in front of you in the Q happened to be a lady, it is wise for the sake of one’s health and general welfare to leave a discreet gap between the two of you.

Do not get too excited in any conversation with her. Her jealous husband/boyfriend/sponsor could be within arm’s length. It’s not pleasant to be on the business end of a flying fist.

Pushing and shoving in the Q will not help issues. It will complicate them. It will only serve to annoy people in front of you and create the inevitable chaos that could lead to the queue being passionately dispersed by orovayi (riot police) who will then take your place.

Students should judiciously use the time spent in a Q productively. They might as well lug those volumes or better still if they are technologically savvy, load audio books into their smartphones or tablets.

Chances of their getting first degrees, masters and doctorates in the Q are bound to increase depending on how long the crisis lasts.

Always approaching the Q from the back is another handy tip. Do not give people who are bored the chance to vent their frustrations on you for ukungenela (cutting into the Q).

There is nothing as embarrassing as being labelled the person who was assaulted in a Q through mob justice. It’s the height of desperation if you ask me.

If you eventually get what you were in the Q for, walk away hurriedly and don’t look back, In case they call you back and say it was a mistake. Never stop to entertain enquiries about where you got the precious item from.

Desperate people could make you a mugging statistic. Like I once was.

 Lenox Mhlanga is a social commentator