We landed from an hour and a half flight from the far north of Zimbabwe. The plane stops. Gellys escorts us to the area where the bags would be delivered.
We didn't talk during the flight. We simply enjoyed the privilege of gazing at the incredible landscape of Zimbabwe from a low altitude. Gellys kept busy with the aircraft's controls and buttons.
There, detained by the delay in baggage, the pilot showed a pleasant British courtesy and an informality that only many years in those parts of Africa mold in His Majesty's subjects or descendants. We take advantage of your predisposition.
The Private Drama of White Lives of Zimbabwe
"So what about being a pilot started how?" we ask you. “Well, as a hobby and while we kept the farm, that's just it. Then…they took everything. Now, it's what allows me to survive here.” As dramatic as they sounded, his words didn't surprise us.
We were aware of events. "But in your case, was there violence?" we add. “Not physical violence, but it was pressure we couldn't resist. A mob with guns would appear and say that we had to leave until that day. Then they came back more seriously.
We didn't see an alternative. We left the house and property. Most white Zimbabweans have lost everything. We, those who stayed here in other conditions, continue to subject ourselves to Mugabe's madness and a lot of discrimination.”
The bags arrive. Gellys had her return to Mana Pools to fulfill. We say goodbye with the hope of a better future for him and for Zimbabwe. By that time, both we and Gellys were aware that it all depended on Robert Mugabe's resilience in the first place.
The War of Independence and the Blazing Rise of Robert Mugabe
Mugabe was the most prominent leader of the Liberation war waged against the white minority of the Republic of Rhodesia, self-proclaimed independent from the United Kingdom, in 1965. Throughout his life, Robert Mugabe abhorred the supremacy of the white minority in which he grew up. This hatred would, in fact, condition his future governance of Zimbabwe.
Between prison terms and meetings with Marxist leaders, Mugabe led militant and guerrilla forces that barely Mozambique obtained the independence of Portugal, operated from the extensive border area with present-day Zimbabwe.
In 1979-80, except for the South Africa Apartheid, its obvious ally, the supremacist and largely racist regime of Rhodesia was isolated. On the other hand, Mugabe found himself pressured by Samora Machel and other leaders to end the conflict. Very upset, he agreed.
As a result, he resisted several assassination attempts by the ZAPU and ZANLA factions, which began to fight for power with his ZANU. The ZANU party won the elections. In April 1980, Mugabe was sworn in as Prime Minister no longer of Rhodesia but of a Zimbabwe recognized by most of the world.
His early years in office hinted at stability, but Mugabe turned out to be a resentful, short-sighted despot, vulnerable to snooping and paranoia.
Dollars, bonds and long-standing Surreal Inflation
We didn't even leave the airport. The damage caused by his nearly four decades in power was successive. Due to excessive relaxation, we had only arrived with euros. ATMs had neither US dollars nor Zimbabwean bonds created when the national dollar devalued so much that not even half a line of a notebook was enough to record how much was worth 1 USD or 1 Euro.
After some investigation, we got a mix of the American currency and bonds as change for the purchase of a sunscreen, at the pharmacy of Chegadas. Once the solution was learned, we continued to obtain them, all over the country, in the supermarkets of the largest chains. Sometimes, even though we knew that outside Zimbabwe, the bonds would be worth zero, we didn't even stick around to guarantee change in US dollars.
A local tourism driver welcomes us and takes us to the hotel. We rest for a mere hour. We went out with him again, guided by a government guide, Salome, who follows instructions and takes us to National Heroes Acre, 7km from the center. Delivered to your mobile phone chats, Salome hardly calls us or directs the word.
The driver drives, as he's supposed to, but mostly talks to Salome. The national monument doesn't take long. At the top of a short staircase, initial and central, are the tomb and bronze statue in honor of the unknown insurgents who lost their lives in the war of liberation.
Heroes Acre and the “Eternal flame” from Zimbabwe
The statue is composed of three armed guerrillas in haughty poses: a woman and two men. The two ends of the monument are delimited by murals that narrate the history of Zimbabwe.
At the top of the hill, on a 40 meter tower so high to be seen from Harare, stands out the “Eternal flame”. It was lit during the 1982 Independence celebrations of Zimbabwe.
True to his Marxist leanings, Mugabe awarded the construction of Heroes Acre to a North Korean firm. It did not surprise us, therefore, to find that the mausoleum mimicked the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery at Taesong-guyok, on the outskirts of Pyongyang.
Heroes Acre serves as the last ceremonial abode of Zimbabwean insurgents. That same afternoon, a strong contingent of military and civilian workers prepares, there, the funeral of one of these heroes, Commander Naison Ndlovu, who had died days before, aged 86 years.
Ndlovu was esteemed not only for his role in Zimbabwe's independence, but also for the integrity he maintained throughout his life against regionalism and tribalism. This, in a country that still suffers from the sometimes irrational polarization between its predominant ethnic groups, axona, by Robert Mugabe and the Ndebele, both from the Bantu branch.
At certain stages of his long dictatorship, Mugabe led this opposition xona vs Ndebele to bloody extremes.
Harare: the Capital of All Misconceptions
We return to the center. Harare remains tranquil within what its controlled chaos of countless pedestrians and street vendors and shoppers grants, of course.
With Mugabe himself admitting that unemployment was between 60 and 90%, only the countless private initiatives of a little bit sustain the families – usually numerous – and keep the moribund local economy connected to the machine.
As we walk, we pass successive makeshift stalls outside stores that are often forced to admit the competition.
As far as things have gone, Mugabe may even complain in the press that Harare will never have tourism again as long as it's full of rubbish (largely that left by street vendors at the end of the day). But he also knows that forcing the sellers to remove could be the beginning of his end.
As such, in the midst of a fascinating urban forest of buildings where Soviet architecture from the 70s is mixed with African and other British colonial influences, Harare's heavy fate continues in the shade and sun of better and worse days. One lady composes showy hair extensions to another.
Seated on chairs brought from home, money changers hold huge musty bundles of bills. Lacking a load crossbow, a fruit seller pushes his own cart full of oranges. They are merely examples of a myriad of survival modes.
Harare and Zimbabwe Long Delivered to Their Destinations
Neither white Zimbabweans nor tourists. We don't see a single white person in town. In fact, we started to feel that at that time we were the only ones. But statistics guarantee that there are still several thousand of them there, of English-speaking culture and – they could not miss – many hundreds of Portuguese, more than a thousand in Zimbabwe, owners of restaurants, rural companies, tourism and whatever else they might have liked. in life.
But, let's get back to the decay of Zimbabwe. Until 1987, Mugabe kept himself occupied with a bloody and deranged fight against factions that had engaged in a banditry opposition in the country's most remote provinces.
To control them, Mugabe did not look to the means and would have caused the death of around 20.000 civilians. In the 37 years of his yoke, he would kill rivals and subjects relatively often, sometimes for the most preposterous reasons.
In 1987, Mugabe not only managed to merge the two main rival parties, but also to change the constitution. Declared himself executive president. Plenipotentiary, he hastened to abolish the twenty-seat parliamentary seats reserved for whites. The expulsion did not stop with the assembly.
Mugabe's Expropriations, Other Caprices and Follies
The black population continued to increase. To allegedly house them, Mugabe decreed that he would expropriate, without appeal, vast farms, some of which had been exploited by white families since the beginning of colonial times. Much of this land was, however, handed over to ministers and senior officers, several of whom were former combatants in the War of Liberation.
Upon learning of this, the United Kingdom suspended its support program (until then it had allocated 44 million pounds) to the compensation of the expropriated whites.
As if that wasn't enough, in 1997, former Revolutionary War fighters intensified their requests for pensions for their military services. Mugabe could not refuse. It ignored all economic and financial sense and limited itself to printing hundreds of millions of Zimbabwean dollars.
This free influx of bills contributed to the anecdotal figures of inflation that followed: 100.000 percent in 2008 when a loaf of bread cost a third of a monthly salary. The price of the national currency, that one, no longer had a qualifying adjective.
Mugabe blamed the catastrophe on the resistant white minority who claimed to continue to control agriculture, mines and industrial production. He demonized whites and his own black opponents.
He also took the opportunity to divert attention from the damage of his policies with the growing concern of homosexuality which he explained as an import from Europe, with gays being "worse than dogs and pigs... guilty of sub-human behavior."
From Zimbabwean Granary of Sub-Saharan Africa to Generalized Famine
From 2000 onwards, land occupations have worsened, carried out by armed gangs who have not shied away from rape and murder. Everything turned out to be orchestrated by Mugabe, who thus avenged the role that whites would have allegedly played in their poor results in that year's elections.
Whoever they were, the new beneficiaries lacked the knowledge or technical and even financial means to maintain productive lands.
Until then, known as the breadbasket of sub-Saharan Africa and a strong exporter, as more whites and businesses fled the country, Zimbabwe's economy deteriorated to the point where 75% of the population depended on foreign aid for food.
None of this seemed to bother the old dictator. Mugabe continued throughout the 2000s to encourage the semi-war state in which the country lived for the sole purpose of perpetuating its tyranny.
On another day in June 2017, we visited the cave paintings of Domboshava, some 30 km from Harare. On the way, we passed the block of the presidential mansion. Half alerted, Salome forbids us to photograph there. Ten kilometers later, suddenly, motorized scouts order us to pull over to the edge.
Zimbabwe's Times of Imminent Change
An endless convoy of hyper-luxury military vehicles that followed Mugabe on their way to the funeral of Commander Naison Ndlovu in Heroes Acre. And Mugabe didn't play games. In addition to a battalion of soldiers and special forces in other cars and vans, a vehicle protected him with anti-aircraft-style machine guns.
But at age 93, the antibodies in his body were weakening. Those of Zimbabwean politics, these, felt the urgency of extracting it from the country as never before.
A month or so later, the National Army realized that Mugabe had gotten rid of former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa to, despite the expressed will of the people, impose his wife Grace – Gucci Grace, as they call her on the streets – to his succession .
With nothing left to fear, the generals finally stepped in and placed Mugabe under house arrest. Feeling the support of the military, on the 19th, in an atmosphere of great celebration, the delegates dismissed him from the presidency of the ZANU-PF party and appointed Emmerson Mnangagwa as the new leader.
Hours later, Mugabe spoke on TV, in the somewhat disturbing presence of members of the armed forces, other officers and a priest.
He wiped out everything that had happened. He declared that, within weeks, he would preside over the party congress. He did not consider his departure from ZANU-PF, let alone from the presidency of the country. A day later Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the dean of Africa's tyrants, finally resigned as the country's presidency.
Thus ended almost four decades of arrogance, madness, use and abuse in Zimbabwe. Its vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa follows. After 37 years of frustration, people's expectations couldn't be higher.