Zimbabwe: The remains of a lost civilisation

Before I go on I must say that visiting the country I was born/lived in after 12 years was a privilege and a joy for myself. I had wanted to go there for a long time but the world is so big so It’s always good to see other places. However, majority of my family live in Zimbabwe and they of course were very happy to see me and my family, likewise on our side as well. There’s literally no place like home!

As famously quoted: “Home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there any more.”– Robin Hobb

Down to the nitty gritty; there are many opinions about the country of zimbabwe and the people who run it. Personally, when I left zimbabwe I was very young and even those other times I visited I was still young and didn’t really know how to comprehend what was around me, I just wanted to play. But now as a young man of 21 I went at an age whereby I could at least make a decent judgement of what I saw.

Now in terms of development Zimbabwe is very far away from countries in the west or other developed countries. What I witnessed is life for many without choice, but for someone like you and I, we would struggle to live in such a country. Things that you would think should be provided by the government such as roads, clean water and electricity. On my first day I was welcomed by potholes and just the day after the water went so we had to go and fetch it from another location. The only roads that are nice in the country are those which politicians or Mugabe himself uses such as the airport road or those on his way to his house or state house. As there are no street lights people tend not to drive at night because that’s when thieves come out and attack from road side. Those who do drive do at their own caution, people who drive at night use high beam lights which is very dangerous for oncoming traffic – I am glad to still be alive writing this!

Workers in Zimbabwe protested last month after months of not being payed, many of those have still not being payed. There are some companies who have been offering people land to cover for pay, but even if they get that land, where will they get the money to build a property on it or even other things to make the land useful.

Unlike England there aren’t companies who provide public transport, instead they have independent coach services and combi’s which are very small mini buses which you can see below which go around the whole of Zimbabwe dropping and picking up people. But the way that they do it is very strange. When you are walking around they are constantly whistling at people so that they can get in, some to the point of grabbing people’s bags to ensure that they get on and not get in another Combi. For some they even reverse if they see you wanted to get on (wish bus drivers did that in UK). On the second picture in the box below you can see a lady in the middle of the road, she was running for her life to get across as the Combi driver was driving at a very high speed. They charge 50 cent for a single journey in the city and if you want to go out of the city it can go up to $5-10. For me I called it the ‘ticket of death’ as they drive extremely reckless and drive at their own speed. If you do not have a car you have no choice but to get in one as their aren’t any other form of transports, even trains.

Now not everyone is not getting paid, but those who are getting paid are finding it hard to withdraw their own money. Most people have to get up very early to go to the bank, go during their lunch break or after work and be met with very long queues of other people doing the same thing. Supermarkets are one of the only places where you can withdraw with ‘cash back’. However, to do that you have to spend £15+ to get cash back. So one day we were at a till and a number of people approached us to ask if they could pay for us with their card and we give them cash as they needed it.

The banks across the country have put limits on what people can withdraw per day, so sometimes you can only get $20-150 per day by going to various banks. If you want to withdraw anymore than that you will have to apply. It sounds insane right?! Not being able to use your own money that you have spent all month working for. There are many cash machines across the country which you cannot even used as they are written ‘temporary out of service, will return to use shortly’ – that shortly has been months for some banks.

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(Above is a queue at a bank, more than 100 people at mid-day)

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Another thing is that at the moment Zimbabweans are not using one currency. That being said, the Zimbabwean dollar has been out of use for many years after the economic crash when inflation went through the roof in 2008 with 98% per day. In 2015 Central Bank formally phased out the Zimbabwe dollar, formalising the multi-currency system introduced to counter hyper-inflation. They got to the stage of using $10 million Zim dollar notes, of which I used to buy bread last time I went.

They are currently using US dollar, South African Rand, Zimbabwean bond (not worth anything outside Zimbabwe), Botswana pula, Indian rupee, Japanese yen and the Chinese yen recently added in December 2015. They recently asked for more US dollars to be given so they can be used in circulation but the USA refused, right now there are loads of dirty notes going around. The picture above wasn’t the dirtiest I saw, but one of the worst.

Because of a lot of infrastructure it is becoming increasingly hard for people to find jobs. There aren’t enough companies who are hiring and it is unbelievably obvious. There are plenty of skilled and educated people who have gone through education but can’t find jobs. As you can see above people sell on the roadside, stand in the middle of the road and set up their own markets. Not only that, In neighbourhoods there are people who walk up and down each street shouting their services so people can at least come out to offer them work. There are 1000’s of people who sell bags of fruits or tomatoes for $1 and give you a very generous amount of them. It is likely to be a parent of a child who has to pay school fees, as public schools are not free, you have to pay. Sometimes I felt incredibly sorry for them and give them a bit more than they asked for. It’s unlike in England where you have designated places for markets, but they are literally everywhere and could work from 5am to 11pm at night. Areas which were previously clean and generally just people who just walked to and from work and now filled with people who are selling roadside till night time just to make ends meet.

You’re probably thinking ‘are there any people who do have money or live a good life?’The answer to that is, YES! As you can see below these are some houses I managed to take when I was having a walk. I was astonished, I hadn’t seen houses like these before, possibly because I hadn’t been to such areas. There are areas in Zimbabwe in the low density areas which have such houses that replicate Hollywood or elite people’s areas. I saw houses upon houses which looked like the size of shopping malls and thought ‘surely this can’t be Zimbabwe?! Now obviously for some they have worked very hard to get this lifestyle, and for others who are politicians, you can make up your own mind about that with corruption and all.

Unfortunately protests began on Wednesday last week (24th August 2016) with opposition supports of MDC-T party in the city. People across the country are frustrated with the politics in Zimbabwe, some have said it’s no longer a democracy. The government ministers condemn those who take part in protests and say that Zimbabwe is a country which allow peaceful protests and wants their people’s voices to be heard. But when things are not improving, how can people stand by and watch their families and children suffer with the ignorance of politicians in power. There have been big army trucks patrolling the city in order to intimidate people In the last couple of days.

As it stands the opposition party in parliament is no longer powerful enough to implement change, so it literally just exists for the sake of being opposition on paper. ZBC (the news channel for Zimbabwe) had their car burnt last week as well as a police car. For me it was strange watching ZBC news for the three weeks in Zimbabwe. It consisted of Zanu-PF (Mugabe’s party) people talking about projects they were going to be going, plans on what they are doing and talk of Mugabe’s travel which he apparently gets $600,000 every time he leaves the country. A lot of projects which are meant to take place get funding and plans are completed appropriately, however the money is then distributed to the executives and bosses, they can start the project and leave it half done, this is evident across the country.

Cash-strapped and impoverished, Zimbabwe’s economy faces severe challenges. Unemployment and poverty are endemic and political strife and repression commonplace. Many Zimbabweans have left the country in search of work in South Africa. Many people who we used to spend time with were not available to see us as they have moved to South Africa to work and provide for their family.

I think I could go on all day, but I feel that I have painted a picture in which you can see how the country of Zimbabwe is like. I would say about 2/3 out of 10 Zimbabweans live a decent life and the rest are suffering either in poverty, not getting paid or struggling to pay debts whereby the government have put on strict taxing therefore they cannot operate their businesses any longer. BUT I believe that one day the country will begin to process one fresh leadership comes in. On one hand new leadership and fresh ideas would be good for the country to get out of the state it is currently in, but on the other hand they may get a similar person who will operate in the same way. Realistically if you get power in such a country you are in charge and nobody can tell you anything as head of state.

This experience for me was an interesting one! I would love to go back and see area’s that I wasn’t able to visit and see friends who I wasn’t able to see. IF you have money in Zimbabwe you are ok, but for the rest It’s a dire experience. I do hope one day we will see a change and see development.

The struggle for independence, land and power runs throughout Zimbabwe’s history. Veteran President Robert Mugabe has dominated the country’s political scene since independence from Britain in 1980. Until then President Robert Mugabe will remain head of state, he said: “I am here for as long as I am still sane, with good memory and will power. I thank God for giving me extra strength. I still have a bright mind; I still have will. I know our history more than you do. I know the wishes of those heroes and those who lie elsewhere more than you do. I know the wishes of the chiefs, dead and alive.” – At 6th Zanu PF National People’s Congress, 2014.

 

 

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