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.

ZANU-PF rally in Harare

ZANU-PF rally in Harare

ZANU-PF Boys arriving at Mugabe rally in Harare

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:

Banks of the Zambezi

We didn’t think too much of it. Until…..

On the Banks of the Zambezi

We cowered by the fire

banging billies

cursing the dark

the dark where now and then

on both sides

hot coal eyes burned

blinked, disappeared

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

dawn approached

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

4 thoughts on “Zimbabwe

  1. it was great to meet up with you today, Mike and to be able now to put a face to the blog. I like your poem and this post; I suppose there was a moment when suddenly the mood changed and things got brutish, or maybe it happened over time; those lionesses seem harbingers of Mugabe’s sinister intent

  2. Interesting post – great photos and poem. I happened to read an article in this month’s Big Issue which mentioned The Last King of Scotland, the film Jacque was talking about. It was of course about Idi Amin’s Uganda. I should watch it. My knowledge of world history and global politics is embarrassingly slight!

    • I think I enjoyed the book more than the film, but both were good. Another in a similar vein which I read when I was in Zim, and really identified with, is “A Good Man in Africa” by William Boyd.

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