Out of Zimbabwe, Out of Africa

Part One: Forced to Leave
This is the story of two exiles, father and teenage son, forced to leave Zimbabwe in March 2006.
I guess the die was cast at the turn of the Millennium.
It was around that time that Zimbabwe began its long and painful slide into

perdition. Sinking slowly at first, but soon destined to plummet into the abyss with the speed of a lead weight falling through space.
The cost of living had already started its long climb towards the stars; and retrenchments, joblessness and abject poverty had become the order of the day.
There were two mortal blows that eventually led to Zimbabwe’s economic implosion.The first was the extensive and often violent farm invasions. These acted as a catalyst for unplanned fast track appropriation of lucrative and productive farmland.
The second was the unscheduled, unbudgeted payouts made to placate angry and frustrated war veterans. In almost the blink of an eye the Zimbabwe currency started to depreciate against the hard currencies of Europe and America, and what was a strong and vibrant economy commenced its plunge into an era of self-destruction.
The land reform in particular was a contentious issue. What should have been a noble cause turned into a fiasco. It was more a scramble by the rich and the powerful for the biggest and the best agricultural enterprises, rather than a well executed exercise to resettle and economically empower the majority of rural Zimbabweans.
With the value of hindsight critics allege that in fact the rural folk were subjected to a gigantic confidence trick in order to curry votes and favour.
It was unscrupulous political thugs and opportunists posing as hungry landless peasants that were responsible for the violent land invasions, and not the majority of peace-loving Zimbabweans from the countryside.
This dastardly act of denigrating rural Zimbabwean was carried out to lend some credibility and respectability to the official policy, often denied, of unlawful and forced evictions of large scale commercial farmers nationwide.
A punitive side effect of the unseemly land grab was the adverse effect it had on the many companies servicing and supplying the agricultural industry.
The company that I headed became one of the first of many to suffer serious collateral damage. As a result the jobs and livelihoods of myself and my colleagues were prematurely demolished. I had been involved in the production of farming periodicals since 1979.
Although it was a shocking revelation when the axe fell, I was not too concerned as I had received immediate offers of freelance work. This kept me busy while at the same time creating additional earnings to supplement my pension.
I had a long-standing annuity that had accumulated over two decades, and that had been continually topped up by dual contributions paid in by both myself and the company. I had a house and late model car fully paid up. Under normal circumstances I should have looked forward to a relaxed happy secure and trouble free retirement.
However circumstances were far from normal, as Zimbabwe’s agriculture the bedrock of the economy, was relentlessly pilloried and taken apart. Crop volumes dropped causing basic commodities to become scarcer and more expensive, and the large spectre of foreign currency shortages became more horrible and scary by the day.
Most citizens including myself failed to realise that the stage had been set for an unprecedented economic collapse unheard of in a peacetime environment. As 2002 gave way to 2003 Zimbabwe’s malaise irrevocably gathered pace as fast as the quality of life faded.
It was exceedingly tough for almost everyone. Except of course for the ruling party hackers and politicos. For those like myself with a child or children at school, budgeting for the inflated fees became a terrible financial burden. The words ‘disposable income’ had disappeared from the vocabulary.
A frightening aspect of the tottering economy was the shortage of some essential drugs and the escalating charges of medical attention and prescriptions. Health care was beyond the pockets of most adults, and tragically for their babies and elder children.
Average life expectancy was on a downward trend. Aids fatalities in particular were on the increase due to sufferers being unable to either afford or to find the medication.
Even those fortunate enough to source the medication through a non-governmental organisation were losers, because the lack of a proper diet totally negated the medication’s usefulness.
Month on month inflation was creeping up to a shocking and unbelievable official figure of one thousand and two hundred per cent, reminding terrified Zimbabweans that worse was yet to come.
There were no queues for the staple food mealie meal or for fuel, because neither were available. The long queues for food and fuel had moved to the passport offices up and down the country. Every day hundreds of Zimbabweans were desperately trying to get out and seek sanctuary elsewhere. The United Kingdom and South Africa were choice destinations.
It wasn’t long before the United Kingdom and South Africa were forced to implement a closed door policy, imprisoning desperate potential economic refuges and asylum seekers in their own country. In fact most of the horses had bolted before the stable door was closed, and it is estimated that over three million souls made the great escape and are living and working in the diaspora.
My ability to ride out the storm started to seriously crack in June 2005. Income from my informal freelance work had shrunk; and at my advanced age, and with the formal unemployment figure running at over ninety per cent, I found myself at the end of a cul-de-sac.
To keep my son at school and meet cost of living expenses I sold my car and then my house. The rationale behind such a crucial and momentous decision was to increase my capital, and in so doing increase my income from the additional interest.
What was desperately needed was more time. My son was in form four and writing his Cambridge ordinary level examinations and I was trying to build up my media business.
During the September of 2006 my son and I, there are only the two of us, moved to a two bed-roomed flat in Harare’s Avenues. We went in on a sixth months’ lease at a monthly rent of Z$30 million.
The end for us came suddenly and brutally January 2006, a month before the expiration of my lessees’ contract. It was in the form of a letter in the post from the estate agent giving us notice. The owner was selling the property. Enquiries confirmed that if alternative accommodation was available the rent would be pitched at approximately twice the amount we’d been paying, around Z$60 million per month. I didn’t ask about the deposit.
As carefully and as many times as I did my sums I found it was mission impossible to make income meet expenditure. It was at last time up and time to leave. The only silver lining in a black cloud of despair was that my son had successfully completed his school curriculum and his school year.
A few hours before heading for the airport we packed what clothes we could into two suitcases. Shortly before the issue of a new Z$100,000 bearer cheque, my son and I were on our way out of Zimbabwe in search of a new life – out of Africa.

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