Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

The mystery that is Zimbabwe

Since my childhood days, Zimbabwe has always been of great interest to me. You see, growing up, I gathered from news and traditional, mainstream media that Zimbabwe was bad. Before I even knew what a “banana republic” was, I already knew that Zimbabwe was one. Apart from this, I’d also listened to long conversations about how Zimbabweans were flocking to South Africa instead of fixing their own country.

Having been raised in Mahikeng, I hardly knew or got to meet anyone from other countries — apart from church — which wasn’t an ideal environment for long discussions. So I could never have my curiosity satisfied.

What perplexed me most was that I had never heard of authors, poets, dancers or anything good coming from Zimbabwe and this baffled me greatly. Surely it was impossible that not a single soul in Zimbabwe did anything good or had any extraordinary talent in anything? Surely those residing in Zimbabwe had something good to say about their country and their lives? It just couldn’t be possible that nothing good ever come from an entire country.

It was only when I moved to Johannesburg in 2006 that I got to meet, know and spend a lot of time with Zimbabweans living in South Africa. Something that really caught my attention though, was that all the Zimbabweans I had met were not only able to read and write but also had some form of formal education. The Zimbabwean man selling cigarettes was a teacher by profession and his wife a nurse. Despite their living conditions and the abuse I saw them suffer, they maintained an air of dignity about them, which subsequently led me to spending a lot of time with them.

They would tell me about things back home, ordinary things about their childhood and growing up. I wondered why I never got to hear of this Zimbabwe they spoke of anywhere else. They also told me about the political instability in the country and why they left, also how staying in South Africa allowed them to care for their parents and family back home. That’s when I realised that contrary to what I often heard, many Zimbabweans weren’t running away from their responsibilities but merely trying to ensure their families survived. This can be seen at Bosman Station in Pretoria every Friday, when many Zimbabweans are gathered at the bus station with endless loads of groceries.

But this of course is only one part of the story, because apart from the above I have also met (both online and off) many Zimbabweans out of their country by choice, be it to study further or merely to see the world. I know many others still in Zimbabwe doing fantastic things, stories that some may never get to hear. I know or have heard of people like NoViolet Bulwayo and Barbara Mhangami, both published authors shaking up the literacy scene. I know of Fungai Machirori, who has made quite a name for herself in the new media scene among many others.

There is no doubt that like many other countries, something has gone terribly wrong in Zimbabwe. Taking stolen land back from whites should not make us overlook this fact, which is expressed very beautifully by NoViolet Bulwayo who writes about her experience of going home to Zimbabwe after being away for over a decade saying: “Now, they are not fazed; even the children are not fazed, no. They do not complain about the water and power cuts, the day-to-day challenges; their generation was born into it, this is their normal. What would be abnormal is the Zimbabwe of my childhood, of running water and spraying ourselves with hosepipes and flicking lights and blaring radios all the time and … no, they wouldn’t understand; that Zimbabwe is terribly gone.” So while we should be wary of the propaganda telling us that things in Zimbabwe are only bad, we should also be wary of the propaganda that tells us to overlook the wrongs being committed there, merely because stolen land was taken back.

It’s my dream to someday go to that mystery of a country and get to experience it first-hand. Taking in a country that some Zimbabweans feel has changed for the worst and yet also get to celebrate the much-hidden good that it still holds — as evidenced by its people, my fellow Africans.

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    • GrahamJ

      “Taking stolen land back from whites should not make us overlook this fact”

      I’m sorry, but what kind of conclusion must I take from that???

    • the grim reaper

      one needs to first understand where the country is coming from so as to conclude its progress as well as try to imagine its future. thank you for this interesting piece and please come to our motherland and witness first-hand info. not many authors and writers admit that they can n`t fully put together an article because they lack important facts. our doors are wide open come and see

    • Jack Sparrow

      It’s ironic that the very phrase “Taking stolen land back from whites should not make us overlook this fact” is behind the “something has gone terribly wrong in Zimbabwe” or can you not see this?

      Remember – you get the government you deserve.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Moeti, the land taken back wasn’t given to the people but to Mugabe cronies. The people are in SA because Zim. is a failed state and I don’t care how you try to wash white it.

    • Momma Cyndi

      One day, I hope you see Zimbabwe for yourself. The beautiful people of Bulawayo and the glory of the Kariba dam.

      I also hope you meet those black ex farmers who ‘stole’ land. Land they had lived on since before a white man’s face was ever seen and land that they slaved over in the service of Mother Nature and their own legacy. Shame that their ‘stolen’ land now belongs to a politically connected crony who doesn’t even bother planting seeds.

    • Hakimula

      Zimbabwe is indeed a land of mysteries. Despite all that has been said, this is one of the best places in which to live. As an example, Harare is a city where no thief is likely to ask you for your cellphone or your money, even at night. Of course white people feel hard done by having lost “their,” land.

      But it is also a fact, and I can testify to this, that peasant farmers now finally have a chance to, if not get rich, at least eek out a living. My mother who received 6 hectare of prime land now harvests from it more maize than is produced by ten villages and thousands of villagers back in the rural areas.

      To the white people who lost their land, I can only say it is time to move on. There are many who have joined new farmer training programs.

      Above all, let us give Zimbabweans a chance. If we fail, then so be it. We are only human. If we succeed, then let it be so. We are not children. We will stumble here and there. Above all, we are capable enough of charting out our destiny without foreign interference. That is because the greatest treasure that Zimbabwe has is the warmth and resolve of its people.

    • Raphael

      Come to zim n c for urself

    • http://capetownlog.livejournal.com r

      > Grahamj

      Your point? Mugabe may be a dictator, but the essence of his logic seems to be: Europeans colonised land, applied European concepts of land ownership. Obtaining land during colonisation can’t be equated to exchange of land ownership during a modern era of a free, capitalist market. Will be interesting to see how South Africa resolves similar land dispute due to the 1913 Land act, the consequences of which are evident today (migrant male labour, subservient domestic female labour, etc.).

    • Mugandani

      This is good reporting. In every thing done, something good comes up. The so called stolen land has put, not Zimbabwe on the map, but has enriched many Zimbabweans who in turn will help their extended families. The land was taken from few people(who had no extended families)to give it back to the rightful owners.As for how this land was shared. that is no outsider’s business. We are our own liberators and if there is unfairness on anything, we complain quietly within the right channels. I agree 100% with Hakimula. Zimbabweans know what they want and know how to get. Give credit to Zimbos. The only country which recognized, and up-rooted the root of greed and colonialism, land.

    • http://www.alandeanfoster.com Alan Dean Foster

      Koketso; you should indeed go and see for yourself, and form your own conclusions. If you can do it without being trailed by a government minder, I salute you.

    • TM

      Zimbabwe was a country with boundless potential. But all that hope, all that possibility has been squandered by the greed and ambition of a ruthless political class.

      I get the impression that some South Africans feel that what happened in Zimbabwe can’t happen there. They would be wise to heed the lessons in Zimbabwe because their country is being take down the same road.

    • Gerryr

      So while we should be wary of the propaganda telling us that things in Zimbabwe are only bad, we should also be wary of the propaganda that tells us to overlook the wrongs being committed there, merely because stolen land was taken back.

      And those that bought the land with the blessing of Mugabe?? They lost their land just because they were white? Black farmers lost their land because they were in the opposition party?

      Africa needs to grow up if it will ever develop and rid it self of these infantile racist views

    • Nkosi Mambo

      This was a good opinion article indeed. However, the writer should know that the majority of whites whose land was appropriated by the then ruling party did not steal land from blacks but rather bought it. It is not disputable that whites could buy land because they had the financial muscle and this created an uneven balance in racial land ownership. For a long time race in Zimbabwe could be regarded as a social class where whites were the upper class and a few blacks were the ruling class who also belonged to the upper class. The majority of blacks were the lower class. The middle class of black professionals was somewhere in between. However, the violent land appropriation of land in Zimbabwe simply displaced the few whites with a clique of one political party, Zanu PF. We have many examples where some peasants were chased away from farms they had occupied so that members of this clique take over. Most of these have more than two farms. Those who were employed by white farmers are now destitute; the new black farmers cannot employ them.
      The middle class of black professionals was also affected by the economic and political turmoil that accompanied the land appropriations. Teachers and nurses were the worst affected as these work in rural areas where Zanu PF politicians easily terrorise and harass opponents. Rural areas in Zimbabwe are not easily accessible and the media do not provide coverage of these areas.
      It should be noted that Mugabe and his party, Zanu PF, have…

    • RoyVolkwyn

      There are many outstanding people from Zimbabwe.
      The following list does not have a category for scientists and engineers; there are quite a few of them, some working in Europe or North America. One of their most famous engineers ( he was a professor of Robotics and Machatronics at MIT), Arthur Mutamabara, is in this list, under politicians.

    • RoyVolkwyn

      Shona Marimba music is played by several bands that specialize in that music, in the USA and Canada. Typically, a Zimbabwean student taught the music to fellow students, and they then formed a band. Some of these bands no longer have the founding Zimbabwean member, and the bands then consist entirely of whites, who typically sing in Shona too.

      Mbanzimaui is one such band, based in Maui, Hawaii.

    • Tapfumaneyi

      Thank you Koketso for the article. I urge readers to also read “Rise of black tobacco barons in Zimbabwe” elsewhere in the Mail & Guardian. With adequate financial and technical support the Zimbabwean black farmers will increase productivity. We should not underestimate the damage done by sanctions to emergent black farmers. Agribank, the equivalent of a Land Bank, was put on the sanctions list (ZIDERA)* to incapacitate it from supporting the newly settled black farmers so that the disgruntled whites (and blacks who lack self confidence) who had lost “their” land would say ‘we told you, blacks are unable to work the land economically.” There is also ignorance of some people who say land was only allocated to “ZANU-PF cronies ” that is distressing.

      There are many developments that would surprise foreigners visiting Zimbabwe expecting to see a banana republic. One of those things is the houses ordinary people are building for themselves in both the low density and high density suburbs. In our cities there are no shacks/slums.

      Zimbabweans, naturally are an ambitious people driven by a burning desire to succeed.

    • http://N/A tarupiwa

      Zimbabawe could be bad, but not as bad as the dispossessed whites would like to paint. Sanctions evidently helped derail the success of Zimbabwe. The reasons for land reform were very political no doubt.
      Why would a person create imaginations and speculations about a country that’s just across the Limpopo.? A return ticket with Greyhound will cost less than R1000.
      Lastly @ jack sparrow: ‘Remember – you get the government you deserve.’ So you mean to tell me South Africans deserved apartheid?

    • http://maravi.blogspot.com/ MrK

      People on this website are so busy trying to sell a forced narrative, rather than than actually examine what they believe.

      First, there are no 3 million Zimbabweans in South Africa, or 4 million, or 2 million, or 1.6 million. According to table 3.5 of the 2011 population census, there are only 1.6 million foreign nationals in South Africa – and they can’t all be Zimbabweans. It is a lie, and a dangerous lie, intended to make Zimbabwe look like a threat to ‘regional stability’ because of ‘refugee flows’. It is right up there with the ‘responsiblity to protect’ and the fake threat of mass killing by Col. Ghadaffi that was used by Susan Rice to bomb the hell out of Libya.

      Second, the ‘friends and cronies’ argument has long ago been proven to be just a slur against the land reform program. Over 350,000 families have been given land under both Willing Buyer, Willing Seller (159,000) and the Fast Track program (over 200,000 a few years ago, more today). Ian Scoones could only find that 3% of land recipients could be classified as related to the security service or ZANU-PF party machinery, when he examined 400 farms in Masvingo Province.

      If you want more evidence, here is a recent article – over 70,000 farmers have registered with the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) – impossible of 6000 white farmers had been replaced by 5000 non-farming ‘friends and cronies of Mugabe’.

    • Ren

      I am a Zimbo. For the record many ordinary Zimbabweans have benefited from the land redistribution – including MDC supporters. An independent study conducted by the UK University of Shefield last year highlighted that the vast majority of the land was distributed to ordinary Zimbabweans. It is convenient to highlight the farms that have gone to ZANU officials but all one has to do is go to the Tobacco auction floors – it’s not a handful of ZANU officials who throng the floors selling their Tobacco but ordinary peasants whose only hope before they got the land was to be farm workers for life. It’s still early days and with time these new farmers will get better at their trade – notwithstanding the fact they do not have anyway close to the financial support the white farmers had. The land is one position that the majority of Zimbabweans agree on as demonstrated by the referundum.

    • Hopewell Nzama

      If the majority of people from Zim can able to sustain themselves abroad what can stop them from initiating a workable solution for their country. Are they waiting for the octogenarian to step down which is only gonna be determined by God.

    • annie

      I have read all the comments and it seems that all Zimbabweans who have replied are quite happy with the situation in their country. For the writer I can just say that I know of quite a lot of Zimbabweans who has make their country pride, their Olympic swimmer Christy to name but one. However it seems that there is different opinions with regards to the landgrab. Was it a succes or not? Some say yes and other do not agree. I gather that the thousands of families who each got some piece of land are very happy and good for them BUT what about the rest of the nation. Was the landgrab good for the whole of the country? I think not.. The landgrab lead to hyper inflation and a sharp decline in argicultural exports. Joblessness increased together with polical violence< hence the reason many fled to SA. However i do know that thousand of independent farmers have since experience limited success. The santions was imposed due to reckless farm seisures and blatant election tampering. Zimbabwe was previously a maize exporter but has become a net importer. Zimbabwe need a new leader who only wants the interest of the people of Zimbabwe.

    • Mbonisi

      Many Zims here are siding with Mugabe’s experiments in Zim, not because they support them but simply out of patriotism and feeling slighted by some comments by white South Africans that come across as outrightly racist.

      The problem with most white South Africans, despite their claims of being AFRICAN TOO, is that they are totally incapable of criticising African political leadership anywhere in Africa, without underlying racist undertones. This automatically creates the “us” and “them” categorisation between blacks and whites. Even those blacks who could agree with them end up siding with Africa and its leadership – all because of these racist attitudes. Ever heard comments such as “This is Africa, wht do you expect?”. So when there is a raccist incident in the West we also should scream, “this is Europe after all, what do you expect?”