After he was reported as being unwell and that his wife Grace Mugabe was likely to succeed him, I have just heard on the radio that in Zimbabwe President Mugabe seems to have been deposed. I can’t feel any sympathy for him at all after all he has done to ruin a great country.
I visited Rhodesia, as it was then called, and later I revisited Zimbabwe. My memories are mixed.
It was from Rhodesia (as it was called when I was first there) that I visited one of the world’s greatest natural wonders; the Victoria Falls. There were eight or nine of us visiting from Malawi, where we then working, while sanctions were in force. To fund the trip, even then I didn’t have any money, we each ordered a case of whisky in advance from the duty-free shop in Blantyre, to be collected on the plane. Custom officers in Salisbury (as Harare was then called) didn’t blink at my excuse that the case of 12 bottles was for my own personal consumption. I remember his next question. ‘Then, how long are you staying?’
‘Just the weekend,’ I said.
‘Fine, off you go,’ was all he could answer. We sold the case half an hour later to a bar not far away, which paid for all the hotels.
I was with a beautiful girl friend and it pains me now that I can’t remember her name. Somewhere, stored away is a photo album of that trip and maybe I have annotated it with her name. She was tall, thin, beautiful, with luxurious dark hair, and for a short period lived with me in my villa in Blantyre. Like me, she was an expatriate working in Blantyre but whereas I came from London for the three-month secondment, she was from East Africa the daughter of a mixed race, Indian and Caucasian liaison.
I can’t remember a time when I had racist thoughts and clearly, even then her race or colour meant nothing to me. We had a wonderful relationship and I remember days and nights when the house was boiling hot from the near equator sun and she lay beside me gently blowing her cool breath on to me to keep me cool. Happy days and happy thoughts but back to Salisbury and that holiday.
As a group we went into town to have a meal and drink. We were happy walking along, laughing until we found a bar. The first of our group were already half way in when a bouncer stopped us. ‘You are Ok,’ he said, ’but she can’t come in. Only Whites in here.’
I won’t go into the ensuing conversation, but the bottom line was that apartheid was still the norm and my girlfriend was considered ‘coloured’. What I saw as a beautiful skin tone, akin to a modern Mediterranean tan, in that Rhodesia was barred. We all bailed out and found somewhere more amenable to what was now labelled our mixed-race group.
Let me be clear I could not and will never be able to understand the discrimination that coloured and black people face every day but at that moment I had a tiny insight and so when in London Mugabe negotiated with Prime Minister Thatcher their independence I was delighted. I loved Africa and I saw a wonderful future for all these newly great countries. Apartheid was going, but sadly it was false dawn.
Mugabe turned into an oppressor as bad as any white man had been. Tanzania, another country I love, turned from being the potential bread basket of Africa into a net consumer of aid. The promise of a new and better future is all still in the future.
Maybe today, as Mugabe seems destined to leave his role as President and his wife is reported to have fled, there is a new future for Zimbabwe. Maybe some of the huge agricultural and cultural capital can be shared back with its people. Maybe, the financial position will be better managed. Maybe inflation can be reduced to normal levels. Maybe the country will become prosperous. Maybe, maybe, maybe but I fear that one old and aged dictator will have been thrown out and somewhere not too far down the line there is another one in the waiting.
I hope I am wrong.