Tuesday, January 15, 2008



Simple huts, like haystacks, little kids with innocent faces and swollen stomachs, a few chickens, some maize, lots of uncultivated land and distant mountains: Zimbabwe, somewhere between Mutare and Harare.

I tried speaking to the bare-foot little kids. They were super polite and super serious looking. Conversation was difficult. Had it been Brazil or Malaysia I could have talked about Princess Diana or Manchester United and they would have smiled. But these Zimbabwean kids, lucky souls, had no TV.

The way of life of these people has no doubt been carefully worked out over thousands of years. They know what to grow and how to grow it. They do not necessarily want the IMF or the World Bank or some multinational company telling them they should be growing tobacco on huge estates. They do not necessarily want the political boundaries and political systems that the Europeans wanted or want.

I felt there was a huge gap between my culture and their culture. And my culture, with its drugs and sleaze and office work from 9 till 5, is not necessarily superior.

Their culture appears simple on the surface, but is not.

Of course the White Man may have brought some good things to Zimbabwe: clinics, schools, fine roads... But some of the White Men treated the Black Zimbabweans with cruelty and contempt.

"They are like little children," said one former White resident (on holiday in Mutare). "The politicians only want to enrich themselves and their families. They'll never be any different." It turned out that I had misunderstood. He was talking about our Westminster politicians, back in London.

With a friend I went to see a witch doctor. They say that witch doctors have much greater success than western doctors, partly because a lot of illness is mental or spiritual. But when I looked at the strange furry/scaly/feathery things tied to the witch doctor I felt out of my depth and retreated.

Beyond Mutare the highland scenery was Scottish: burns, pine trees, steep slopes, and freezing cold nights. Was Africa once joined to Scotland? Does President Mugabe own a castle in Scotland?

Back in Harare I discovered that the capital is not a place to explore on foot. Violent crime has become a serious problem.

There is not the same 'depth of culture' as in Cairo or Marrakech or Cape Town.

The flame trees were gorgeous; and we had a scenic picnic, shared with monkeys, on a smooth round red granite hill.

On the sreets of Harare you will find hungry orphans (AIDS orphans) and even hungry, elderly Whites whose pensions have become worthless. (AIDS? "In many African countries men do not expect to be faithful and often take several wives...sex at truckstops costs less than breakfast.... In Southern Africa...half of all 15-year-olds can expect to die of AIDS... Four out of ten young men in Zimbabwe are HIV positive..." according to Christina Lamb, writing in the Sunday Telegraph.)

The wild life in Zimbabwe was interesting: strange to think that these wildebeest and lions are in a savage battle for survival... Victoria Falls was interesting, although I've seen too many waterfalls on tours. I tried to imagine I was a famous explorer.


Early in 2001, a group of ex-combatants "descended on the resort town of Victoria Falls...and harassed tourists."

I was harassed once, by an angry young man. I was minding my own business outside a cheap roadside cafe painted white and blue. I don't know what he was shouting at me, but he looked more than angry.

There have been riots around Harare, partly as a result of steep price rises and job losses. Locals find it nearly impossible to get paraffin for heating and lighting. Unemployment stands at 50%. Real incomes have gone down 75% in 10 years. Inflation is 60%. At least 30 opposition supporters and 8 white farmers have been murdered


Fuel and foreign currency shortages have hurt tourism. There is little foreign exchange left to pay for fuel imports. Zimbabwe allegedly spent $30 million per month on its 'war' in the Congo (DRC). On the other hand, Zimbabwe still has some first class infrastructure and most of the people are very loveable indeed.


A drink in a Harare hotel with a middle-aged Black called Emmanuel:

"You know," said Emmanuel, "Our country is standing up to the West. Standing up to the New World Order."

"How is that?" I asked.

"You know, 7 million poor Zimbabweans struggle to survive in our rural areas. But 20,000 whites control most of the best land. The people of the New World Order want Africa's land and wealth."

"You mean," I said, "that the Americans want the 20,000 white farmers to keep their land?"

"No, the New World Order people want the White Zimbabwean farmers out."

"To help the rural Black poor?" I asked naively.

"No," said Emmanuel, "so the really big guys can eventually move in and take over African land. The multi-nationals. The really big guys in America."

"Some people have told me the real problem here is the involvement of Zimbabwe in Zaire, the Congo ."

"You know," said Emmanuel, "The Americans want the mineral wealth of Africa and Asia. That's why they topple leaders. If a Third World president won't deal with an American mining company, then he's going to be undermined and toppled."

"But isn't the West trying to help Zimbabwe. What about the IMF?"

"You know," said Emmanuel, "the IMF has made us poor. You take Kenya. The IMF has ruined some of Kenya's industry by insisting on free trade. Mozambique: the IMF ruined the cashew processing by insisting on free trade."

"You think the problem is the New World Order rather than problems within Zimbabwe?"

"Listen," said Emmanuel, "You get corruption everywhere. So why is the new World Order trying to topple our leaders? Not because of corruption here. But because these people want to control us."


A final drink in a bar; and chat with Nicholas, a wide-bodied middle aged gentleman wearing shorts and a large hat.

"Nice airport," I said.

"Leo Mugabe's company helped build it," said Nicholas, puffing a cigar.

"Leo Mugabe?"

"Part of the President's family. Nephew. Part of the Gushongo clan."

"Did Leo put in the best bid?"

"What do you think? Leo Mugabe runs Joy TV and Zimbabwe's first privately owned mobile phone system. He's chairman of the Zimbabwe football Association. He got the tender for the Harare sewage works and lots of other government projects. Some people say he's a front for his uncle."

"Any other Mugabes?"

"Innocent Mugabe used to run the Central Intelligence Organisation. He died. Oh, there's lots of the family running things. Uncles and cousins. Some become ministers. Some go into business. Some run newspapers."

"What about the government ministers. I saw some headlines in New African."

"There was a scandal when ministers were accused of robbing funds meant to help civil servants. The biggest scandal was when top ministers were accused of looting the war victims compensation fund."

"Did the war victims get any money back?"

"Mugabe put up prices to help pay for that. But the price rises led to riots. ten people got shot dead."

"What about Mugabe's new house?"

"Which one? He has two houses in Borrowdale and properties all over the place. The big one with the Italian marble has been given to Libya's Ghadaffi. Ghadaffi has lots of farms here."

"What about the diamonds in the Congo?"

"Rumour has it that certain top generals have been looting diamonds."


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