“No. I am South African, going to a family function in Zimbabwe,” I answered. “Oh, I hope it all goes well,” the man said.
It turned out the man was Zimbabwean. He was going home, after a sojourn to see his relatives in Benoni.
The man quickly shared the story of his collapsed footwear and jewellery business in Harare, and the difficult choice he had to make: either pay a bribe or let his successful business collapse.
“My religion does not allow me to pay a bribe. I am a Muslim, my brother. So, I let my business go down.
“Everyone who does business in Zimbabwe today pays a bribe,” the man said, with tears refusing to be hidden.
“I am very sorry, Sir.” Those were my last words to the man who did not tell me his name. He, too, did not ask for mine. And off we flew to Zimbabwe, where visitors are welcomed by a big billboard at the airport advertising the country as “the place of the majestic Victoria Falls”.
My host waited to pick me up and drive from Harare to Gweru, a distance of just under 300km , southwest of Harare on the N2 highway to Bulawayo.
Having informed him that I had not been to Zimbabwe since 2005, my host drove me around Harare before we hit the highway to Gweru. From the airport we drove through Hatfield, Harare’s equivalent of Sandton.
Today Harare’s Hatfield can’t be mentioned in the same sentence with Sandton. It looks worse than a God-forsaken neighbourhood in Brakpan. What we call potholes in SA is nothing. Zimbabwe has real road holes.
As we drove from one small town to another, my host kept showing me something: “You see, uncle, that is Zimbabwe’s new trademark.”
He was showing me long queues at fuel stations.
Every fuel station in Zimbabwe has an unbelievably long queue, some as long as 4km. My host refuelled his car from a drum in his son’s house.
What about water? It is a scarce commodity. If you are lucky to have it flow through your tap, you just don’t drink it – or else you contract cholera. There are billboards warning about cholera.
As for electricity, Zimbabweans get it between midnight and 5am. With our own Eskom, we cannot afford to laugh at Zimbabweans.
About 50km outside Harare, my host showed me a brown-looking piece of land. “That farm belongs to Gideon Gono, the former governor of Zimbabwe’s reserve bank who presided over the collapse of our currency.
“I still remember the bank notes Mr Gono used to print 20,000; 500,000, and something like that.”
Today nobody knows what Zimbabwe’s currency is: the US dollar? the rand? government bond? I was swindled R1,021.54 via $72.00 in a simple chicken-meat transaction that deserves a complex PhD thesis in banana economics.
My host, a black chartered accountant, showed me Gono’s farm.
“It is very sad that Zimbabwe now imports maize,” he said.
Here is a simple truth: The place called Zimbabwe is not a country; it is a sad story of a liberation movement gone mad.
A big Zanu-PF billboard in Harare, bearing the smiling picture of President ED Mnangagwa, reads: “2019 the year of rebuilding the party through ideological training.”
My heart sank as I looked at it, and I laughed.