A return to Zim

2009-12-02 00:00

IT IS sometimes hard to tell the comedy­ from the horror, the gloom from the exuberant depiction in this wonderfully entertaining portrait of life in modern-day Zimbabwe.

Returning to his parents’ farm and backpacker lodge near Mutare after an absence of many years travel, writer­ and journalist Douglas Rogers finds that the place is much changed.

Where once foreign hitchhikers and sunburnt farmers ate pizzas and propped up the bar, he is now confronted by a new black elite and their concubines dancing up a storm to American hip-hop. Around the back, in the cottages, live a weird mix of displaced white farmers driven off their lands, black entrepreneurs and even a few forgotten political figures (in one cottage he recognises the bespectacled­ figure of former prime minister Abel Muzorewa who is visiting his brother).

Even more astonishing, he discovers that his elderly parents have abandoned their attempts to harvest a maize crop and are now growing­ marijuana to supply the needs of their new clientele. Taking it all in, Rogers suddenly realises that the elusive big story he has been hunting for overseas is staring him in the face.

Honest, insightful, full of humour and with a well-developed eye for the absurd, he describes the subsequent roller-coaster ride in The Last Resort: A Memoir of Zimbabwe, a book which sees him rubbing shoulders with illicit diamond dealers and political dissidents, war veterans and old rugby players who are still reliving former glories.

For Rogers, his parents’ farm becomes a metaphor for the state of the nation and there is indeed something quite touching and heroic about their attempts to stay afloat in an increasingly anarchic, rapidly disintegrating society.

Rogers is an astute and intelligent writer, wickedly funny at times. He manages to capture the details of life in contemporary Zimbabwe so neatly that his observations become almost a form of wit, but at the chillingly unfunny centre of the book lies the tragedy­ of President Robert Mugabe’s brutal and repressive rule.

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