World’s eye is on Zimbabwe

2008-03-29 00:00

Okay, so maybe it’s not such a good idea to go and watch a film about the Rwandan genocide a week before Zimbabwe’s umpteenth election, and with groups of Zanu-PF trawling Harare’s streets wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Robert Mugabe’s face and the slogan “Fists of Fury”, but a girl’s got to get out of the house, and it was Francophone week after all.

After the film, to calm my nerves, I trundled through dimly lit Harare to have dinner at a Portuguese place called Cascais Cascais, otherwise known as Cash Cash because it doesn’t, like everyone else, accept cheques anymore.

My partner and I sat down and looked at the menu, and then we looked at each other, knowing that we didn’t have enough cash on us for the house special — peri-peri chicken and chips.

Gideon Gono, the governor of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, recently ruled that Zimbabweans can only withdraw Z$500 million (less than US$10) a day.

Yip, that’s right. As we were counting our wad to see what we could afford, the lights went out. And the candles came on, but luckily this power cut was a short one.

In the end I opted for cheap pork chops, which arrived at the table quivering with floppy fat looking like they’d been grilled over a one-bar heater. Nearby a group of Southern African Development Community (SADC) election observers chowed down like there was no tomorrow.

On Easter Sunday I thought I’d pop in on a rally organised by Morgan Tsvangirai, the president of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

I was spurred into action by a text message from a friend. “This is Big”, it read. So I threw on my green and yellow Brazil T-shirt, donned my Fendi sunglasses and headed across the city to an open space next to the Sheraton Hotel.

I arrived to find a couple of thousand MDC supporters chanting and dancing in anticipation of the fat man arriving. To my delight the throngs thought I was a Brazilian diplomat and stepped aside to let me pass.

I didn’t hang around for the political speeches, which are always terrifically boring, and went, instead, in search of an Easter egg. I stopped at three supermarkets where there were no eggs of any kind, no bread, no milk, in fact, not much of anything at all.

What we do have on our shelves are very expensive South African imports when what we need are reasonably priced Zimbabwean products. Instead of an Easter egg, I bought a packet of Simba Mexican Chilli chips for Z$100 million.

But there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of the local brand of condom — Protector Condoms. They’re really cheap, but often I see men making sure to buy protection. The staff of life — the odd loaf of bread and a packet of condoms. It’s common to find discarded used condoms on the road side and on cycle tracks. Zimbabweans are f***ing their pain away.

Early on Sunday morning, I was running my dog along a road in Greendale and I came upon a group of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF youth busy putting up posters of the old dictator. I let them know what I thought of them pasting their Bob posters over all the MDC and Simba Makoni posters, saying it’s evident that their boss is fearful of legitimate and credible opposition.

People joke about Zimbabwe’s version of the Bermuda Triangle. We have the Bob Triangle — people have lost their livelihoods, farms, vendor stalls, businesses, their sanity and their self-esteem. We Zimbabweans might be on our knees, but where there’s an election, there’s hope. There is much to hold dear in Zimbabwe, even after all these years of repression.

Novelist John Berger sums up how I feel in one of his dispatches on survival and resistance: “With hope between the teeth comes the strength to carry on even when fatigue never lets up, comes the strength, when necessary, to choose not to shout at the wrong moment, comes the strength above all not to howl.

A person, with hope between his or her teeth, is a brother or sister who commands respect. Those without hope in the real world are condemned to be alone.

The best they can offer is only pity. And whether these hopes between the teeth are fresh or tattered makes little difference when it comes to surviving the nights and imagining a new day.”

•Bev Clark manages — Zimbabwe’s civic and human rights website.

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