We were accommodated in a relative’s spacious house in Burnside, enjoying the magnificent thatched verandah, the swimming pool, the resident maid.
- The beautiful thatched verandah looking on to the pool
Although our stay was brief, I gained some fascinating insights into daily life in modern Zim.
There are bizarre anomalies. For instance: a big, flat screen TV in the lounge, connected to DStv (satellite) television, but in the back yard the maid is washing clothes in a zinc bath, parked on the dusty earth, with a green hose pipe delivering water onto the laundry…… from high tech to basics.
You need to be resilient and inventive to live comfortably in Zim. You definitely need your own generator, because there are regular daily power cuts that are arranged on a wildly complicated timetable. A local explained the system to me, but it left me baffled. There was a gas stove in the kitchen, in addition to the electric stove, and we had to use the gas daily, when the power went off.
To my surprise there is now a SPAR store in Leander Avenue, a new addition to the area. It provided us with good Portuguese rolls, and one of the best croissants I ever ate in my entire life. Further down the Hillside Road was the newish TM Supermarket, a big store, in a new shopping centre where all the shops were filled with merchandise. As opposed to the tatty, bedraggled, old shopping centre at Bradfield, where more than half the shops were closed, or empty, and those that were operating were grubby and third rate.
No more empty shelves, and anxious shoppers clutching kilogrammes of useless Zim-dollars, queueing on a rumour that there might be fresh supplies of cooking oil, or mealie meal. Those days appear to be over. I walked round the TM Supermarket looking with interest at the shelves. About 75% of the goods were South African imports, while dairy products, fresh produce, biscuits, cereals, mealie meal were local brands. I saw no convenience frozen foods, and only one small freezer compartment offered a selection of frozen peas. No Woolies ready-meals here!
We compared the food prices and they were much of a muchness, even taking the US dollar/rand exchange rate into account. However, diesel and cigarettes were cheaper than in SA.
You need to be on your toes when driving as there is often a happy disregard for road rules, especially in the city centre. Not to mention the traffic lights, some of which are not working. I commented on the number of dented and bashed up cars driving around, and a local explained that panel beating was just too expensive. Fortunately the climate is so dry that rust damage is not an issue. I suppose if you are a local resident you learn to avoid the suburban roads that are dangerously potholed, or where the tar surface has worn away leaving dangerous little islands of black amidst the corrugations. No doubt you learn which culverts to avoid, where the guard rails are dented, broken or missing, where the vegetation has choked the storm-water drains which must lead to flooding in the summer. Roads and public buildings are just not maintained. If you don’t like this, then you’d better go and live in another country.
I commented on the random patches of olive green pain I kept seeing on electrical sub-stations and walls around the city. Someone dryly informed me that although no government buildings (e.g. hospitals & schools) had been painted in over 20 years, the olive green paint disguised MDC political anti-government slogans, and the blotting out had occurred within two or three days of the slogans appearing. To my amusement I saw a whole rash of pro-MDC (opposition party) / anti-government slogans decorating a long stretch of wall that bordered Bulawayo’s one and only mental hospital, Ingutsheni. It seemed appropriate somehow.
Nothing about Zimbabwean politics or government makes much – or any – sense.
Once you have grasped that the country is run by a cabal of despotic, greedy, corrupt people and that outraged Western bleating is not going to make any difference, then you have begun to grasp the realities of life, politics, and the bottom line in Africa. Westminster style democracy? Don’t be silly. Get a grip. Take a reality check, and then swallow a very large chill pill. You’re going to need it.