Other places are as beautiful, even spectacular – but no places on earth can hold a candle to Africa in April. I love Washington DC and have seen it in all its phases – deep snow, then in the spring when the trees come out it is amazing, but the pollen count, temperatures and excessive humidity make it hellish. The Rockies and the Alps – stunning. But none of these not hold the same mystique as the unique blend of elements that come together at this time here in Zimbabwe.
We were out in the Matobo Hills at the weekend – the air was clear, humidity near zero, 25 degrees c. Streams running clear and sweet, grass that golden hue and the trees and shrubs in every colour you can imagine. Then late in the afternoon as the sun sinks, the sudden emergence of that light that seems to enhance every colour and illuminates the granite and the tree trunks. If you painted that it would look unreal to all who have not seen it for themselves.
Last week one of the Committees of Parliament – the Public Accounts Committee, held a four-day workshop at Leopard Rock – a small hotel in the Vumba Mountains. We worked hard starting at 8 am and running through to 5pm or later in the evening and I thought our time was very productive. It is a sort of Audit Committee for the state and we supervise over 200 government departments and agencies.
But those of you who have been to the hotel will be interested to know it has been taken over by a group of young businessmen who have refurbished it and jacked up the management. A similar arrangement now applies at the Montclair in Nyanga. The hotel was superb – food was excellent and the service great.
The golf course is one of the best in Africa and they now have a wild life area next door where the coffee plantations used to be – with a wide variety of plains game including Giraffe, Eland, Kudu, Impala, Wildebeest and Nyala. The gardens were in great condition and the winter aloe flowers starting to show.
We have our problems, many of them, but these are the compensations. An American tourist – travelling through Africa and just arrived from South Africa, said to me on a walk in the hotel grounds that when she crossed the border into Zimbabwe she immediately felt that she was in a different country.
I know that feeling well, I always feel it when I get into the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport on the way home or at Beitbridge. Zimbabweans are friendly and courteous and this tourist said that she felt safe while travelling around Zimbabwe – something she did not feel in South Africa.
The young businessmen who have bought the hotel are Zimbabweans, the manager was a middle-aged woman who was clearly in charge and making things happen. To me this is hugely encouraging and shows that if we can do it in a hotel operation, we do it across the country and even the continent. It just takes time.
In 1975 under a programme mounted by the South African government, a number of long term political detainees were released in an effort to try and find a solution to the Rhodesian crisis and end the war. Ndabaningi Sithole was among them and after his release he travelled to Lusaka in Zambia to see President Kaunda. He was picked up at Salisbury Airport by private Jet and then taken to State House by helicopter.
After the trip he returned to Salisbury, as the capital was then called, and came to talk to the Council of Churches in the City. I was a member and attended. He talked about the way forward and the outcome of his discussions with Kaunda and then described his feelings about being taken on his trip by a totally black crew – first in the Jet and then the helicopter.
One elderly Pastor asked at the end of the talk, “What qualifications does a person have to have to become a pilot?” Ndabaningi responded “Umdala, Independence!” I have never forgotten that brilliant reply; it summed it all up.
Now when I see bright, well-educated and confident young people in offices, in banks, in hotels all doing a great job and showing no hint of feeling inferior or less than adequate, I remember those words again – it could not have happened without Independence. It is sad but true, at when we, the white Africans, were in charge, we did not create the conditions for black people to flourish and thrive in the environment of a modern economy.
It is astonishing how rapid the changes have been taking place and how quickly the new generations – the born free’s – have found their feet in this new society, this new world.
Sure we have failed in many ways – the country has become deeply corrupt, we are poorer and our society is less equal. The roads have potholes and we have problems that were not there before, but ask any young black Zimbabwean if they would go back to the old days and the answer is no.
At least now they have their dignity and opportunities and the right to make mistakes. And slowly they are discovering how to make things work. We have begun to forge a new alliance and society and eventually, a new economy. The future is bright.Post published in: Analysis