An African's Anecdotes and Accoutrements
|During the three weeks I’ve just spent in Zimbabwe I saw more friends and family during those three weeks than I have during the three years I’ve been in Turkey. The thrill of catching up with everyone was enhanced by the positive changes I saw in my homeland.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have returned home three times this year, previous visits being undertaken in February and July. Zimbabwe’s unity government was formed shortly before the first visit, after restrictions on trading in foreign currency were lifted. Sugar, cooking oil and maize meal were some of the products displayed openly on supermarket shelves. Previously these items were only available on the black market, or sold directly to customers out of sight of public eyes. By July both imported and locally produced ranges of many products were available, and the prices had stabilised.
During this visit I tried to find ingredients for recipes I’ve only begun using during my six years away from Zimbabwe. I’m not sure if I ever came across them before 2003, so perhaps they were present, but not noticed by me because I didn’t use them. There was not one single item on my list I didn’t find - from capers to salmon fillets, every single item was available. And not too badly priced, when compared to Turkish till slips.
I ate out frequently; four visits to both Deli-icious and Cafe Med at Borrowdale, a further four visits to Coimbra for the best garlic sauce in the entire world (the chicken is pretty outstanding too) and three meals at the lovely restaurant at Golden Stairs nursery with my mum and mother in law. I cannot remember the name at the moment - blame jet lag!
While shopping and wining and dining in Zimbabwe are perhaps the best they’ve been in the last 15 to 20 years they are not a way to measure the country’s climb out of the abyss caused by Mugabe’s disastrous policies. One needs to look to other signs, and while they’re not as obvious as the two kilograms I managed to gain through socialising with friends and family they are there.
I asked my gynaecologist if she thought the health sector was improving. She confirmed it was, explaining that the last few years have been very difficult, but from her point of view there are real signs of improvement. Perhaps the increased number of affordable private medical aid schemes now available confirms the country’s health sector is moving out of intensive care. I had blood tests, and the equipment used for my pelvic scan and mammogram was very modern - not at all what I was expecting. My own doctor said the same thing, and I left both their rooms feeling a lot more confident than when I entered.
We had about five power cuts during our holiday, far less than what we’ve experienced in the past. And none was longer than three hours - previously we’ve run our generator for up to eight hours per day to keep fridges running during 24 and 36 hour power cuts.
The country’s largest cellphone operator - Econet - released a new range of numbers while we were there. Connectivity is excellent - far better than it’s been during the last few years. Much as I loathe advertising billboards I now see them as an indication of confidence in Zimbabwe’s economy and her future. Econet’s billboards are large, bold and full of promise. I have to love them.
Refuse removal seems to have started in my home suburb Mount Pleasant, and is certainly a bit more regular than it has been for the last few years. Hearing the refuse workmen’s shouts as they hang out of the filthy yellow refuse truck on Monday morning made me so happy I momentarily forgot my hangover/s.
Cabling is being laid along the roads in the eastern suburbs of Harare. I don’t know if these are for electricity or telephones, but the sight of workmen digging trenches to lay the cabling is encouraging. So too was the development of Econet’s new “Dongle”, which allows users 24/7 email/internet access for US$25/month after an initial payment of US$200 for the “Dongle”. Sadly I was unable to secure one because the scheme is apparently so popular it was oversubscribed. Latest news is that Econet is considering launching a branded notebook... again, signs of progress! Add to this the removal recently of customs tariffs on cellular telephones and computer equipment and the telecommunications industry in Zimbabwe is looking up!
But there are still problems. The last ten years have left Ziimbabwe so wounded these significant first steps are tentative and very small. Education at government schools is a mess, with serious shortage of school materials and teachers. Unemployment is still over 90%. Land invasions continue, with one of our friends from Chegutu desperately trying to find a place for his family and the exotic parrots he breeds as Mugabe’s followers evict him from the remaining two acres surrounding his farmhouse. The seizure of many of the remaining farms was and is ongoing.
Mugabe still clings to power, his determination fuelled perhaps by the recent revelation that less that less than ten percent of the electorate would vote for him if elections were held at this time. He is undoubtedly a major obstacle to democracy in Zimbabwe; his refusal to lift restrictions on the media and to swear in Roy Bennett as the Deputy Minister of Agriculture are just two examples of the octogenarian’s stubborn nature.
Despite the negatives hope is slowly emerging in Zimbabwe. Change will be slow - for almost 30 years Mugabe and his government have treated Zimbabwe and her people with a callous disregard for all but their own personal gain. I take great comfort from the changes I saw and the way most people are trying to look forward to a better future.
I just wish it didn’t have to take so long.
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
Albert Einstein, Physicist. 1879-1955