By Gabriel Dinda
For the past 6 days, I have been in Zimbabwe, getting the best of Mugabe Quotes (from the source). It was so easy for me to introduce myself, “My name is Gabriel, Mugabe’s namesake.” No one forgot my name. I don’t know whether everyone is respectful or they think everyone deserves the title ‘Sir’.
The queues of people lining to fuel their cars for almost the whole day were a bit scary though. “On the day you want to fuel your car, you do nothing else. There is no fuel, and the little that is available is expensive and everyone wants it,” Shonga Rutendo, one of the friends I met told me.
There is no money at the ATMs. Money is hawked on the streets like second – hand clothes. Anthony “bought” the money that sustained us from a gentleman who had nothing to prove that he was genuine.
“What if the money is fake?” I asked.
“No, I don’t have trust issues. This is good,” Anthony is street smart so if he says something is fake, it sure is.
Zimbabwe is interesting and somewhat sad. I am told that the president doesn’t use local planes (by local, I mean African planes). To travel to Bulawayo (442kms from Harare), he hires a plane from Dubai, which takes about 9 hours to get to Zimbabwe. The flight from Harare to Bulawayo takes 30 minutes.
I am also told that Mugabe’s fleet of cars used to be serviced in Germany. The whole fleet. The costs involved? I leave that to you to estimate. I am uncertain if this still happens with the new president – “the new Mugabe” as one of my friends called him.
Did you know that there used to be a whole Ministry of Social Media in Zimbabwe? A fully-fledged Ministry with the Minister, Permanent Secretary and all that come with it. This was distinct from the Ministry of Communication. I only wonder what the “to-do list” of such a minister was like. Wake up, “attend” Facebook live Broadcast, reply to WhatsApp messages, etc. What a nice Job!
My friends got arrested for taking selfies next to the ZANU-PF(the ruling party) offices.
“Why is that a crime? What are they insecure about?” Vera would later ask me. I thought this was gross until we took a walk along the streets of Harare when we got to the street along the President’s Office and our friend Nyash warned us not to use our phones. You can’t call or even text along that street. If you do, you will be arrested. Talk of tight security. Tighter than a body-hugging mini-skirt.
On the first day, I met Bruce at the lift. I thought he was only helping us to check-in. When I met him there the next days, I asked him, “what do you do here?”
“I am a lift attendant,” he said. Ooh, I regretted my ignorance. So the hotel has employed three people working in shifts to sit in the lifts to help the users press the button number of the floor they’re going to. Mmmmh… how interesting!
When I asked a friend later to help me understand this, her only comment was, “Here, the unemployment rate is 95%,- I mean, of every 100 people, only 5 have “decent” employment.” What happens to the other 95? So if you get ANYTHING to do, you do it.
The friend who took us to Weaver Press even put it bluntly. “You may be fooled that things are okay here- especially if you live on the posh side of town where your hotel is, but I challenge you to take a walk to any public hospital, or school. You will be forever sad.”
And what about electricity? It is available for about 5 hours a day and most times the power comes at night when people are asleep. If you don’t have a generator, you are ‘cooked’. And if you have a generator, you must set aside a day(if you are lucky), to get fuel.
On the first day, I asked, “Can I get some chicken?” I was given the mockery of a chicken I see in Nairobi in the form of a broiler. I meant Kienyeji. This troubled me until the day I was offered Kienyeji chicken and I asked what the difference was.
“Ooh this is called a road runner, it’s not chicken.” What an interesting name, because it is free to run around, not like the broilers which are kept. Roadrunner it has been until we traveled back.
What a lovely country, a place of stones (the meaning of Zimbabwe). If you have seen Kit Mikayi, that’s a very common scene in Zimbabwe. We took a ride outside the city to Zimbanate, a place where some visionary friends are building an African City. More like how we are struggling to build a technology City. We prayed to the gods under a sacred tree(their Mugumo Tree) and soon after, our vehicles got stuck in the mud. I think the gods were unhappy with us for some reason.
I learnt of Josiah Tongogara, Zimbabwe’s hero. I didn’t know that the history we learnt in school was that basic until I learnt of the story of this man. I am certain you may need to know more about him through Google. I enjoyed reading the letters he wrote to the wife while leading the Liberation Front and negotiating for Independence. He died only a few days before Zimbabwe gained independence. I love how the National Gallery has displayed his artifacts. The first thing that you meet at the door where his artifacts are displayed, “A FAMILY MAN”. What a great man(from what I saw).
The story of Zimbabwe is that of many great people, honestly struggling to make a living amidst difficult circumstances. A story of many in Africa. A story of hope amidst despair. Anthony tells me that in comparison to many African countries, “Kenya is a real paradise”. What would you say about that?
Gabriel Dinda is the Founder of Writers Guild Kenya.