A subscriber to this blog asked why it had taken me so long to return to
Zimbabwe? Thirty years is undeniably a long, long time: a third of a century.
I thought about the question and replied that because all my family and friends had
emigrated, there was no reason to return. It’s not, after all, that the
Rhodesian scenery, life-style and food were so unique as to be unobtainable elsewhere. In many ways the life-style “down South” (i.e. in the Republic of South Africa) was/is very similar to Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. An active, open-air, sports orientated lifestyle – braai, beer and boerewors. When I emigrated, the big differences lay in culture and politics. In the late 70s, South Africa was firmly in the grip of the apartheid government; Rhodesia about to change over to a black, nationalist government. Galaxies apart.
And in the intervening years of the 80s and 90s and early 00s, Zimbabwe went through very very hard times economically and politically.
No fuel, hyper-inflation, empty shops, ethnic cleansing in Matabeleland – the infamous Korean 5th Brigade. For those who are interested, Douglas Rogers wrote a book which perfectly reflects the difficult years experienced by Zimbabweans, The Last Resort. It was published in 2009 and truthfully relates the surreal facts of living in Zimbabwe. It’s not an easy or comforting read, especially for those of us living in Southern Africa, but by golly, its truthful. So that’s why I had no desire to return or re-visit.
Now, in the second decade of the 21st Century ? Things appear to have vastly improved. Up to a point. While driving around Bulawayo we passed a smart new filling station, bounded by a high brick wall, and painted a very distinctive shade of blue. The stout metal gate at the entry to the station was closed. We were told it was
a Libyan Petrol Filling Station, erected about five years ago, and always
stocked with plenty of fuel, even when there was no fuel elsewhere, but available only to card carrying members of the ruling ZANU-PF party …….
The toll roads in Zimbabwe caused mirth amongst our convoy. After the modern, heavy duty concrete toll road structures in South Africa, manned by staff in booths, with electronic card readers, flashing lights, precautionary road markings and signage, entrance booms, we stared at our first Zim Toll Road in disbelief.
Followed by laughter. A battered metal sign, propped up against the ubiquitous empty 60 gallon drum proclaimed TOLL ROAD. I looked around and asked: Where? No concrete structures, lights, booths, booms: just the modest single thread of tar, with fading road markings, jagged edges and sandy verges. There, in the distance up ahead, a small structure spanned the road: a green, corrugated iron roof supported on metal uprights, two men on wooden kitchen chairs.
One man was a policeman – his uniform made this obvious – and the other guy had a clipboard. He sauntered up, greeted us politely, asked for one US dollar, issued us with a small, printed ticket that agreed this was, indeed, a toll fee, and waved us through. We handed over US$4 en route to Bulawayo. None of the roads had been maintained or improved in the last thirty years, and it was always my understanding that toll fees were levied to maintain and improve the roads. Not in Zim.
And then there is the conundrum of the brand new hospital, in Bulawayo, built by an overseas Aid Agency. It has been completed and is fully equipped. It has an efficient perimeter fence, guards at the entrance, and a boom. But it is empty. No staff, no patients. It has never opened. The project was finished a couple of years ago, but due to some unhappiness between the Zim Government and the Aid Agency, about which nobody is very clear or prefer not to comment, there is an impasse and the hospital has not opened. What a crying shame.
Which brings me to the vexed question of land ownership. I was told by a reliable source of a white farmer who bought a farm, owned it legally, but then his farm was taken from him and given to a black “War Vet”. The black guy decided, after a year or so, that he didn’t like farming, and suggested to the original owner, the white farmer, that he pay him, the War Vet, rental on the farm and carry on with his farming activities. Which the white farmer did. Being a pragmatist, and wishing to continue farming, he pays. Welcome to property owning/farming in Zimbabwe.
Can you see now why I titled this post as I did ?