The Zimbabwe I saw(Cover story 3 Zimbabwe).

Author:Mkangi, Katama
Position:Cover Story

The Zimbabwe I saw: Professor Katama Mkangi, a Kenyan whoteaches sociology and community service at the United States International University in Nairobi, returned from his second one-month visit to Harare, Zimbabwe, with his family in September. Because of recent media reports, he had expected to land in a country in the grip of fear and a general sense of insecurity. "One would have expected hordes of white people queuing to leave the country." But that is not what he saw. Welcome to Zimbabwe. Your tour guide is Prof Katama Mkangi.

In both of my visits, I can safely say I have never felt safer than when I am in Nairobi. One would expect a sense of panic, suspicion and tight security with gun-totting police or soldiers on the ready as you land at Harare International Airport. But the truth is, the contrary is the truth.

You become a little bit unnerved by this peaceful environment as you expected to witness mayhem, chaos and crazed-machetes-carrying Africans ready to do battle with whites after you have landed. This is due to the fact that, the international (read Western) media has hyped you to expect a Zimbabwe on the brink of total collapse.

Thus, at the airport, your eyes play tricks on you as you don't see the expected hordes of panicstricken whites struggling to get out of this dark hopeless continent as fast as they possibly can. You get into town, and you see whites in their kaptulas (shotts) going about their business in their costly covered pick-ups.

Perhaps you might think I am giving my observations based only on a limited experience of staying in Harare alone. True, I did not visit the whole country. I didn't even get to Bulawayo, Murare and the farms where "the struggle' was taking place.

Irrespective of this limitation, I still believe my visit was long enough (longer than most journalists who have written on Zimbabwe) to make my commenrasy well-rounded.

Outside Harare

During a one-month period stay, my family and I made two major visits outside Harare. The first one was to the famous Chinotimba/Mosi-auTunya (Victoria Falls) town. Its a major tourist town because of the majestic fills across the Zambexi River.

I expected the Air Zimbabwe flight to be half full. To our surprise, the plane was full of white tourists with a sprinkle of "coloured" tourists like ourselves sticking out like a sore thumb in a barren desert of white.

And at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel where we spent five days, we were the only African tourists. Definitely I felt more of being a foreigner despite the valiant efforts by the African staff to make us "feel at home".

We had a walk-about in town. It was amazing to see Victoria Falls Town crawling with tourists, going about enjoying themselves without a whiff of worry on their faces. Then I asked myself, where is this xenophobia against foreigners or whites said to be rampant in Zimbabwe?

I found Zimbabweans working hard to make a living against an economic situation where the value of their currency is haemorrhaging on a daily basis. On the "parallel" illegal market, the "Zim dollar" was exchanging at 280 to one "US dollar". If this economic hardship was causing despondency among the population, it wasn't at the level as reported by the international media.

Our taxi-driver admitted that "things are getting tough economically". He didn't blame President Mugabe for it. He blamed the white farmers who stash away their tobacco profits in foreign banks. He concluded by staring that Mugabe is right in getting tough on them.

For curiosity, I asked him if he were a Shona? He told us he was from the Midlands and he refused to be drawn into stating whether he was Ndebele, Shona, Karanga, Kalanga or any other ethnic group. I understood him. He was a Zimbabwean.

He was a refreshing witness who could distinguish the cause and effect of what is happening in Zimbabwe. I guess a Western journalist could easily ferret out more than one taxi-driver to refute the veracity of "my" taxi-diver's political awareness.

Yet, I do think that even the white farmers would be hard put to deny their prevailing political strategy to overthrow...

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