This past weekend I finally sojourned to that pariah of democracy on the northern border of South Africa - Zimbabwe. This is the land of my uncle, the land of my ancestors, one of few countries in the world with a common national narrative that is not rooted in a myth. South Africa has its own apartheid narrative which quite recently has not been properly articulated for all of us but a few politically connected individuals belonging to that one party that is currently misappropriating that capital for the benefit of a few. When it's all said and done people will look at South Africa's apartheid card as a joker in the pack. And I wonder whose objective such will serve.
|Me and Frans Sello waga Machate at OR Tambo Airport en route to Harare|
So, on Sunday (May 19) I took a long flight to Harare; not to talk to the ZANU-PF or MDC bulls but to tour and see things for myself. I wanted to go back to South Africa and tell people who claim to be experts based on newspaper clippings how wrong they were. I came to Zimbabwe to finally put to rest the rhetoric I have been exposed to in my own mother country. I wanted to see if things are so bad that three million Zimbabweans will resist an attempt to take them back to the point that they will risk magumaguma's brutality on their way through an uncertain frontier. I came because a few weeks ago we had a heated conversation on my sister Dipuo Mahlatsi's Facebook wall about what needs to be done to fix the mess that has become Zimbabwe post 2000. This country that I am visiting moved from being the bread-basket to having an inflation of 23 million. That was the time that I collected millions of Zim Dollars as souvenirs.
So, when I arrive in Zim on the afternoon of May 19 I am puzzled by how things seem different here instead of when viewed from South Africa. The scotched earth is visible from the air when you approach Harare. What you realise immediately after landing is that things are not rosy. Me and my friends crack jokes about notices at the airport being in both English and Chinese. We are mildly amused that you don't get any notice in Shona or Ndebele but Chinese. What country is this? Taiwan?
That aside; another realisation is the feeling of arriving at a police state. The air is thick with mystery. When we were flying down I noticed an air force base on the right of the plane's wing with two camouflage helicopters stationed there. As we drive out of the airpot I notice another military base on my right with helmeted soldiers. Imagine that I am probably still five kilometres out of Harare but I am already feeling scared to snap a piece of motherland.
In all honesty, Harare is like Braamfontein with potholes and no working streetlights. Life looks normal until you see soldiers and police strolling around Kwame Nkrumah Avenue. Interesting, you see them but you don't see their weapons. A guy we meet on the street who I suspect is not really a conincidence meeting, with whom we end up having an hour long chat says it has never been a culture of police to carry guns and pepper sprays. He's a government loyalist and you know; I'm a journalist and I like to entertain both sides of the story so I indulge him and gain useful insight. He however warns us that if someone snatched a cellphone that unlucky bugger might face nine years in jail. Scary; I'm thinking at the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison outside Harare.
Day one ends with good dinner and clever conversations about the status quo in Zim. It ends with a reflection of how things are expensive here. The economy has taken so much beating that Zimbabwe no longer has its own currency. The printing presses has stopped. Everything is tagged in dollars and they accept both US Dollars and ZAR Rands. Nothing of value costs cents in Zim. The cheapest commodity costs US$1, which is an equivalent of R10. This means there is nothing that costs less than R10 in Zim. Everything starts at R10. Those R5 airtime that you love to buy and those R2 popocorns are never seen in Zim. So that's how bad the situation is given the NGOs allegation of 85% uneployment. How many people have R10 on any given day? Here you must have that to start buying stuff. Otherwise you can't buy. So few people afford bread.
At the Road Port (Bus Stop or Park Station) just across from the taxi rank there were tens of money traders. People are exchaning foreign currency on the street and are holding on to their bundles of US Dollars without fear of being robbed. That's how bad things have become in the house of my uncle. That's my uncles house and I plan to tour the whole house before telling him where to get off. Probably hours before I depart.
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