"The Zimbabwe flag. Tourist"
"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society." --Krishnamurti

A Look at Zimbabwe: A Visit and Subsequent Thoughts

"The Tourist" Returns (2005):

January 27th, 2006.

In June 2005, as "Operation Murambatsvina" was winding down, I returned to Zimbabwe for another short visit. I was again in the region for three months (spending most of my time in Zambia as before) and again returned to Zimbabwe only because of the lure of family and friends. I ran into the same "currency conundrums" as before (only the quantities of cash this time were vastly greater, due to rampant inflation), and I was threatened with deportation on arriving at Harare International Airport for attempting to enter on my passport of choice -- again, something one takes for granted in the "free world". I was forced to use my other passport (which, fortunately, I was carrying) and pay a higher entry fee (something new since my last visit); in fact, an entry fee more than the amount of US currency I had declared was in my possession. (I had declared more than I needed to get in on my passport of choice, but less [it turns out] than was extorted from me to get in on my other passport.) I paid the extra from my now-not-so-secret stash and was allowed in, without mention of how I had obviously lied on my declaration form.

Mercifully, I have little to add to what I wrote in 2003. Pretty much everything is worse, and what isn't is the same as before. Actually, there might be one thing better -- fewer clouds of diesel smoke hanging over Harare, thanks to the shortage of fuel. Fortunately alcohol is still affordable. I'm a big fan of alcohol, lest you think I'm on a teetotalism crusade, but I am reminded of Big Brother subduing the population in George Orwell's 1984 with Victory Gin. Anyway, because there didn't seem to be any point to writing an addendum to my account from 2003, I didn't bother putting pen to paper -- which explains why I am only writing this now, in January 2006.

However, by accident I came across some more tripe put out by Debbie Jeans -- something she actually wrote in early 2003, a few months before she and I got into a bit of a public row over my impressions of Zimbabwe later that year and before I'd ever heard of her. I want to make it clear that I don't fault Debbie's optimism or her effort, and least of all do I fault her willingness to stay in Zimbabwe when she could probably do far better for herself abroad. But Zimbabwean society is too badly damaged. A few community activists here and there trying to ensure that "the next generation will be principle-centred leaders" just hasn't worked in Africa, and certainly won't in Zimbabwe in the foreseeable future where the breakdown of the social fabric has been so complete. (I'm reminded of the comments of the Dean of the Anglican All Saints Cathedral in Salisbury, the Very Reverend John da Costa, in his sermon after the shooting down of the first of two civilian airliners by Zimbabwean "freedom fighters". In answering his own question on the identities of the perpetrators of that "bestiality", he replied that they were "[y]ouths and men who, as likely as not, were, until recently, in church schools. ... Men who went over to the other side, [who] in a few months have been so indoctrinated, that all that they have previously learned has been obliterated.") What is needed in Zimbabwe is leadership, the rule of just law, and a good example on a national scale; Zimbabwe lacks these. To be sure, there are patches of that social fabric of varying sizes here and there (including the patch in which Debbie finds herself) holding together, but the patches have been well and truly scattered to the four winds by mugabe and his ongoing atrocities, including "Operation Drive Out (our fellow Zimbabwean) Filth".

At the same time as finding Debbie's letter (perhaps I'm being too harsh in using the word "tripe", although many Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe [I hasten to emphasise] consider my ramblings to be tripe) I also found a 14-minute BBC video about Zimbabwe from December 2005, and I guess a few things dawned on or crystallised for me: It's abundantly clear that mugabe actually has a plan to destroy the country to make everyone dependent on him and ZANU-PF (so much for "independence"); it's abundantly clear that mugabe considers whites in Zimbabwe to be "foreigners", no matter where they were born or how many generations of their family have lived and died in Zimbabwe; speculation continues year after year, as he approaches yet another anniversary of his sordid birth, that mugabe might actually retire this time -- as if his retiring would actually mean he'd relinquish control; and professionals are leaving Zimbabwe in droves, to be replaced by foreign volunteers "doing their bit" for charity (until they go back home), yet some Zimbabweans who could leave still stay.

It's that last part that hit me the most, combined with the BBC report switching from images of dead and dying children to the reporter having coffee with a local economist. Zimbabweans (and, as Debbie pointed out, I am not one), black and white, seem to have coalesced into five main groups:
  1. I'm doing all right Jack. The weather's nice and the servants (excuse me, "domestics") are useful to have around. My mates are here and we can "make a plan" that ignores how bad the situation has become and that probably takes advantage of people not in a position to "make a plan". We have sundowners at the club in the evening, we're very comfortable with our heads in the sand, and we don't want to make waves (by actually acknowledging that there's something wrong and it's not OK just to pretend we live in a functioning society) in case it upsets our privileged existence. Oh, and I can get what I need (petrol, sugar, cooking oil, etc.) on the black (I mean "parallel") market, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
  2. I'm jumping ship before the whole thing goes under.
  3. I'm just hoping I live to see another sunrise.
  4. Those on the ZANU-PF payroll, being paid in money, farms or sadza.
  5. A bit of a combination of 1 and 3, while working within one's sphere of influence to try and do something that might actually last longer than a week and have some sort of effect on the future of Zimbabwe. This includes people with the guts to work for the Movement for Democratic Change (such as it is these days, or was even) and the likes of Debbie.
The blinkered optimists in the first group amaze those of us who are familiar with the concept of "making a plan", yet can't understand the apathetic regression back to the subsistence-based, day-to-day existence we left behind in the Stone Age. Sorry -- I just don't get it.

But what's missing in this list? It's an old cliché, but the word you're looking for is "revolutionaries". The BBC interviewed someone who is apparently a major in the Zimbabwean army who didn't seem too impressed with mugabe's communist-like plans for the farms. A major! Holy crap! World War II was started by a corporal! Yes, a military coup d'état is so yesterday and so Africa, and a simple assassination would probably be the worst thing imaginable, but I'm open to better ideas as Zimbabwe lurches from "it can't get any worse" to "it just got worse", day after day after day. How about a good new-fashioned popular uprising, a la the Philippines, Romania and Ukraine? One MDC activist, attacked by mugabe's thugs and interviewed by the BBC, said, "It is time for the people of Zimbabwe to rise up. There's no future, for this country, with robert mugabe." The BBC reporter's rejoinder was, "... I for one doubt that the people of Zimbabwe, enfeebled by hunger and fear, have the strength or wherewithal for an uprising." (Sounds like mugabe's plan all along.) Well, with most Zimbabweans either looking out for number one, heading for greener pastures, or just hoping to live another day, there'll be no uprising or revolution. Those three disparate groups will have to unite and find some common ground first, and then get together with the handful of existing community activists and do something. The key word there is "do"; sitting around talking about it and working within mugabe's Draconian laws while on his very short leash simply won't accomplish anything. But action will mean death for some, there's no doubt about that. Courage will be necessary.

Sorry though; not being a Zimbabwean myself, I'll be watching the revolution (if it happens) on TV. For you Zimbabweans still in Zimbabwe or with the right to return to Zimbabwe (which I don't have), there are two more old clichés you should consider carefully: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing", and, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

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