Zimbabwe and Mugabe

(much of this post i wrote for a different blog back in March or so)

Robert Mugabe, PM of Zimbabwe.  image from http://etchasketchist.blogspot.com

Robert Mugabe, PM of Zimbabwe. image from http://etchasketchist.blogspot.com

I recently read a book by journalist Heidi Holland, Dinner with Mugabe. Holland presents an intelligent, in-depth look at Mugabe through interviews with people he was in close contact. What happened to this man, everyone is wondering. He started off as a hero, fighting the colonial government that ruled what was then Rhodesia. He instilled programs that supported health and education. Today the country has fallen to pieces under his watch. Basically, Holland sees Mugabe as an emotionally detached man who never wanted to go into politics in the first place. She suggests he was looked up to as a leader and put in place because of his achievement of earning seven university degrees after being born into poverty. Interviews with people who knew him earlier in his life show that he was a shy loner as a child who grew into a warm and courteous adult. Mugabe is an intelligent man, Holland explains, yet his negligence in properly dealing with the painful experiences of not having a present father, the death of his brother when he was younger, being imprisoned for 11 years and not being allowed to attend the funeral of his only son, caused him to disconnect himself emotionally. This internal separation led to several characteristics in him such as being intolerable of others’ opinions, which is evident in his known history of having people killed if they disagree with him. In this book, Holland presents an abundant amount of information about southern African politics as well as psychological insight into human nature.

Being that Zimbabwe is a neighbor of Botswana, there are people who come here to escape the current conditions.  I’m sure you’ve heard something about Zim in the news.  People used to be murdered brutally for disagreeing with the president.  Going shopping for groceries involved rolling a wheelbarrow filled with Zim dollars to buy whatever random things scarcely appeared on the shelves.  Some Zimbabweans have papers and come legally to Botswana, looking for work. They also go to South Africa, where more job opportunities exist, “but they end up selling tomatoes on the side of the road,” a taxi driver told me in Johannesburg. In Cape Town, I met a young woman about my age who worked at the internet cafe and had recently come from Zimbabwe. In my mind I thought how Cape Town has everything- the ocean, mountains, and an arts & culture vibe. As we were chatting I asked her how she liked Cape Town. She said she loved it, “it has everything- food, water, electricity.” That gave me goosebumps and put my perspective in check. It is really unfortunate and horrific what has happened in Zimbabwe. It’s a delicate situation and Holland’s book gives insight into what might “have happened” to Mugabe over the years.

The history and present of Africa as a continent is deep and complex, as can be seen in the history of Zimbabwe.  Through all of the turmoil that has been experienced over the past years, many people also have many good things to say about Zim as a country.  People say there is an excellent growing climate, deep cultural richness that manifests in music, crafts, and myths, and that Zimbabwe’s people are really lovely. It seems the worst of the current stream of disasters is over and the country is starting to rebuild itself.  Now that Zim is using the US dollar, the economy has stabilized and there are items on the shop shelves, although quite pricey. I look forward to getting a small taste of it over the next couple of weeks.

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