Paranoia in Mugabeland

I dreaded coming back home, ekhaya. There was only one choice available to me - to overstay my visa and disappear in London's underbelly or come dance to Robert Mugabe's propaganda.

I chose the latter, not because I am a brave hero, but that was the only choice plausible at the time. No organization was prepared to slice their budget for my PhD studies. Even personal referrals to former Labour leader, Lord Neil Kinnock, yielded nothing. So I came back.

Harare International Airport is now a white elephant. It is a big empty space, understaffed, though milling security operatives swarm around when a plane touches down. As you walk towards the Returning Residents desk, you’re faced with the Hitlerite grin of Mugabe’s image.

I never told anyone of my imminent arrival, except my immediate family, because 1) I had premonitions of harassment 2) I had already been forewarned to expect an extra welcoming party in the form of Mugabe’s henchmen. This Zimbabwe is mine as much as it is Robert Mugabe’s. I checked in without incident but had to wait half an hour for bags. There was no electricity to power the conveyer belt.

As I walked into my father’s waiting embrace, a hand tapped my shoulder and demanded my passport again. I was asked to walk back into the airport building and led to a room, I assume mistakenly labeled BUGGAGE ENQUIRIES, as it was a toilet, possibly the same toilet/room, in which MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa was bashed by unknown assailants earlier in the year. The faces were not friendly. One took my passport and disappeared while the other did the macho thing – grill me.

He insisted on taking my laptop, notebooks and diary. ‘For what?’ I asked. Macho face said, ‘iwe hauzivi here kuti uri security matter.’ You’re a security matter. They wanted to know if I was carrying any British sterling, what kinds of investments I had made in Zimbabwe, why I was coming back, if anyone had sent me.

They even wanted to know why I was carrying books like Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Ngugi’s Wizard of Crow, a scathing attack on dictatorship in 20th century Africa. After an hour of questions, of being passed from one superior to another, I was allowed to go. When my father asked why they had taken me for so long, he was told it was ‘a random security check.’

My father does not own a car so we went in search of a taxi but, after being told the frightening figure of Z$10 million we decided to hitch-hike into Harare’s CBD. We lugged my heavy bags and flagged down a battered kombi. But just a few meters from the airport, the kombi ran out of fuel. Commuters shouted, ‘asi mota haichina network.’ The bus has no network as if it were a phone. This is commuter talk, this is Harare talk, people trying to make light the challenges they’re facing.

Harare does not look the same any more. The buildings have a sickening off-colour look. The people are dull and tired.  No, it’s not the hunger and poverty that has sapped the life from them. Something essential is gone. The stuffing has been knocked out of them.

But there’s still hope too. I saw people carrying packets of maize seed in anticipation of the sowing season – though the blazing sun may suggest we may have to wait for Charles Mungoshi’s rain for a long while to come.

The panoramic drive to Gweru from Harare left me in tears. Our country is now like a big concentration camp, people being asphyxiated by a thuggish political regime but striding on with sheer will power.  Along the road, stranded commuters jostled for the little transport there was. Talk in the bus was that there was no fuel and there were no buses on the highway. We arrived in Gweru at 10pm.  The city was in darkness – yet another power cut.

But I am convinced Zimbabwe will not remain this hell. The spirit of humanity will triumph, and Mugabe’s reign will lead him into eternal banishment.

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