I found Zimbabweans to be unfailingly kind and helpful. The country is rich in mineral wealth and has farmland which led to the calling of the country the “breadbasket of Africa”. Yet the reality for people trying to exist here is apalling. With inflation running in the region of 1200% life has become extraordinarily difficult for the people with price rises for basic commodities such as food increasing daily. A kilo of minced beef was put on offer at well over 1 million Zimbabwean dollars!
Someone is benefitting. Travelling down a road out of Bulawayo in my cousin’s MGB we gasped as we saw palatial mansions being built. Adrian knew the area well and hadn’t seen this development before. Evidently a government minister was residing in the area. A new elite exists in a climate where the masses are exeperiencing massive unemployment and widespread health problems. Aids is a major worry as it is elsewhere in the continent.
Those who can get away from Zimbabwe do. Many told me they would like to go to the U.K. The white population used to be 250,000 but has now fallen to 20,000. In spite of this yhose remaining employ black servants, still referred to as “houseboys” and maids. Time seems to be in suspension with attitudes still harbouring thoughts of Ian Smith, now spending his days in a home in South Africa. Houses have fixtures and fittings common in the UK decades ago. A library I visited had books that could be found in British libraries which had never been updated, quite inappropriate for a modern African country.
Views about Great Zimbabwe and other research which has found Africa’s past to be other than to be “one of darkness” as an eminent British historian once put it. Yet views are still held as if Cecil John Rhodes was still around when stories of King Solomon’s Mines were current, denying that black Africans had anything to do with such constructions. It still very hard to find a cohesive history of the Kingdom Of Monomatapa, which included both Great Zimbabwe and Khami. Even the Internet doesn’t help much.
Whilst racist attitudes and beliefs continue across the globe, at least scholarship in Europe and America has moved on. The debate about Black Athena and the riposte “Not Out of Africa” may still rage, but the work of many scholars both black and white is slowly leading to the realisation that the African past is as rich and varied as anywhere. No where is the denial of the African past more evident than in the story of Egypt. While it is taught about endlessly in schools, it is presented out of its context and without reference to Africa through its Nubian links. No one was more aware of this than the Greek writers and historians who understood that they themselves had inherited an African past in many aspects of their lives.
Such a brief visit as mine cannot take in the dimensions of space and time in which what I experienced exists. I have recorded the cave paintings of the Bush People who inhabited the region for many thousand years. I was able to see a partly reconstructed Khami which had trading links with the Portuguese. In the museum was evidence of the gold mining being carried out by local people 500 years back before the colonial incursion which robbed them of the land.
Robert Mugabe shares with Ian Smith the propensity to share out the goodies with a small minority of the people for whom they have responsibility. In this case the babies, both black and white, have gone out with the bathwater. While farm land has been handed to black Africans, they have not been encouraged to maintain the diversity of crops needed by the economy. Where government agents have taken over industry, they have asset stripped for personal rather than maintain production. In neighbouring countries the economies are being turned around. I saw a boom town in Botswana where the economy is now exceeding that of South Africa. Mozambique has recovered from a situation which could be compared to Zimbabwe. In neither case could I be sure of who benefits. In Botswana jobs were being provided for local people, but businesses seemed to be owned by outsiders. As for South Africa some are saying that it is heading the same way as Zimbabwe.
One factor present in a number of countries is the presence of Chinese businesses. Many are beginning to feel the presence of a new colonialism. Enterprises bring with them their own labour force, so there is a view that again local people are not going to feel the benefits.