I was out having a curry last night with some friends, in Adelaide, and the subject of Zimbabwe came up.
I lived in Zimbabwe (and Malawi) for four years in the early 80s. This was just after Mugabe came to power. It’s hard to believe now, but in those days Mugabe was, at least in words, pro-reconciliation with the remaining white population of the country. He seemed to see the need to keep the white farmers and their expertise, to provide some economic stability to the country.
I was house-sitting for a while. One Saturday morning, the African cook and gardener of the house were going off to a ZANU-PF rally where Mugabe was going to speak. I tagged along with them. Not many white faces in the crowd, but it was a good-natured rally, and I felt perfectly safe. Here are a few pics, of the crowd, and of the ZANU-PF ‘boys’ arriving.
Nowadays of course, such a rally would have an entirely different atmosphere. You wouldn’t want to be a white person or a Morgan Tsvangirai supporter amongst them. Pure thuggery would be the order of the day.
But when I was there it was a mostly peaceful place, especially considering the recency of the civil war. The infrastructure was good, the economy was spluttering along not too badly, the people were friendly and open, the wildlife and the national parks were sensational, tourists were relatively scarce. I used to go on long walks in remote places with the mountaineering / bush walking club, and saw all sorts of animals at close quarters. Sometimes too close for comfort. All in all, it was just a fantastic time to live there.
I have a few poems about those days. This one recounts an incident when doing a long 4-5 day walk along a remote part of the Zambezi, sleeping on the ground at whatever spot we found ourselves at the end of the day. On this particular day, we saw two lions running off from the spot where we were going to sleep the night:
We didn’t think too much of it. Until…..
On the Banks of the Zambezi
We cowered by the fire
cursing the dark
the dark where now and then
on both sides
hot coal eyes burned
then a mounting roar
a foul smell of urine on the night breeze
intended to make us panic and run
into the maw of the she-lion downwind
we fed the fire, huddled closer
cursed louder, banged harder
minute by minute
hour by hour
the lions tired of the game
leaving their sleepless playthings
to smouldering cursing hysteria
© Mike Hopkins 2011. A version of this poem was published in Friendly Street New Poets 16, 2011