Many years ago, Billy and Declan lived for a time in the remote Zimbabwean low-veld. Those of you who have lived for any length of time in Africa know the spell that the continent can cast – the unforgettable smells and sounds that characterise the African landscape, the dusty heat of the low-veld, the crickets and sundry other alien sounds.
Our daily staple was a bowl of ‘sadza’, mealie meal – maize cooked as a porridge with milk, with a garnish of piri-piri sauce, served cold for breakfast, eaten again with some bread at lunchtime and consumed hot, and with great gusto, at dinner time – with an occasional bit of nyama (meat) – generally boiled goat – (and very occasionally a, very welcome, juicy ripe tomato) with lots of tea, Castle or Zambezi beer to wash it all down. Our three-weekly highlight was the 2a.m. Saturday morning 5-hour bus journey through the bush for a steak sandwich at Aces Garage in Mazvingo – pure heaven…
Obviously recent events in Zimbabwe have rekindled our memories, and (thanks to a recent Irish Times feature) we had the good-fortune to come across Eddie Cross’s excellent website – Africanherd. Eddie is Policy Coordinator General of the MDC and his website recounts the past few years of his and others’ struggles. It is a brilliantly evocative, articulate and sometimes heart-rending account of life in Zimbabwe today.
After Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, things initially appeared rosy, with Zimbabwe apparently on its way to becoming a modern, liberal, progressive State, the ‘bread-basket’ (as opposed to the basket case) of Sub-Saharan Africa. A fantastic primary infrastructure (which put Ireland at the time to shame), a well developed trade and financial infrastructure and a great tourism product were all in place and functioning. By the time Billy & Declan left in 1994, the first land seizures were being spoken of, and the Country began its rapid decline (nothing to do with us leaving). Today inflation in Zimbabwe stands at 100,000% (although Eddie Cross points to a recent rate of up to 400,000%).
‘On the economic front things go from bad to worse. Inflation continues to escalate and now stands at something over 400 000 percent. Prices are changing daily, even by the hour. Quotations are valid for a few hours, you pay when you take delivery. I heard of someone who was at lunch and while they were eating, the price went up!’
Eddie Cross, March 2008.
The name ‘Zimbabwe’ derives from an archaeological complex near Mazvingo in Mashonaland in southern Zimbabwe – Great Zimbabwe – and while the meaning or derivation is still uncertain, it is thought to mean ‘made of stones’ or ‘houses of stone’, depending on who you listen to, and probably derives from the Shona language. Built between the 11th and 15th centuries the complex covers a huge area, and comprises a network of dry-stone granite walled enclosures, reminiscent of the Western Stone Forts in Ireland, with intricate upper course chevron and herringbone patterns and other stone structures.
The walls of the largest enclosure extend to a maximum height of 11m, making it the largest stone structure in Sub-Saharan Africa (well, until it was superceded by larger buildings later, ancient structure – that’s what I mean). It is such an exceptional site that the first European visitors, and later the Rhodesians (whose official line was that the structures were built by non-blacks), erroneously ascribed it to the ancient Phoenicians, Arabs, Romans, and even ancient Britons!
Extraordinary things are happening in Zimbabwe today – from the accounts we’ve read it looks like the MDC may actually pull off a victory in the current elections. Hopefully this marks the rebirth of Zimbabwe and that the Zimbabwean people can once again begin on the road to prosperity and peace. Eddie Cross puts it much better than we ever could…
‘the people – they had just had enough, had enough of arrogance and being taken for granted, enough of the suffering and destruction of the economy. Their steadfast faith in the electoral process and their refusal to take to violence. They chose to suffer in silence and then go out and vote. For me they are the real champions and I hope they will never again be taken for granted. I also hope they will hold their new leadership accountable for the trust they have given us.’