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The ‘House of Stone’ at 30

ZIMBABWE, the House of Stone, is 30 years old. April 18 1980 seems a lifetime away.

This nation’s tale has constantly divided opinion and people, creating new histories and revisionist ones that say I told you so — but the umbilical cord for Zimbabweans remains attached and pulsing.
At 30 a man or a woman may be feeling broody, that it is time to have some children, set down some roots, and leave a legacy.
What does a nation do?
I have no old-men memories of the liberation struggle to offer you — like crossing into Mozambique to fight, dismantling Rhodesia’s apartheid, educating a country, forging a peace and moving from prime minister to president and holding on as those around me die off.
Instead, my own personal memories are filled with ghosts — the kind of ghosts only a reporter would bother to give headspace to.
For just over a decade now I have been reporting on Zimbabwe on camera, radio, print and on the internet; and my ghosts are the kind of characters only people like me get to meet.
And, unlike many a reporter whose reports are prefaced with, “the BBC is banned from reporting in Zimbabwe”, I have never suffered those restrictions.
There was Chenjerai “Hitler” Hunzvi, the doctor and war veteran leader who, after kicking out my white cameraman from his office on Rezende Street, told me the revolution had started and I should come home and claim my land.
There was former governor Border Gezi, bearded and sharply focused, meeting me at dawn in the town of Bindura to declare his allegiance to “our father, Comrade RG (Robert Gabriel) Mugabe”.
Both Hunzvi and Gezi have moved on to the great green farm in the sky, as have others to whom the revolution was the very purpose of life.
There were images too of burning farmhouses, of marauding youths stoning farm dogs to death, of battering rams and thousands of farm workers wandering the dusty roads, homeless and jobless.
At the Commercial Farmer’s Union offices in Marlborough, the siege mentality was whole and awesome to behold, of farmers battling through the courts to hold onto their century-old inheritance, and others who wanted to protect their post-Independence purchases.
Perhaps 30 years from now, historians in Harare would be applauding a new economic class of freshly empowered black Zimbabweans.
Hopefully Zimbabwe’s children of today will grow up empowered.
But I am getting ahead of myself; there was more to come in the relentless pain of our times.
Thousands more lost their homes in the great sweep out of “filth” (Operation Murambatsvina) in 2005, and the urban voters of a rising opposition known as the Movement for Democratic Change found themselves homeless and beached on the sands of political expediency.
Meanwhile the land, famed for its stunning beauty and green acres, was shrinking and wilting like the skin of a dying man.
It is the drought, cried the politicians; we cannot farm when there is no rain.
And no one mentioned the departed farmers but everything was done to help the new ones — free fertiliser, brand new tractors — and still this fertile land failed to yield its once bountiful produce to previous levels.
Then came the Age of Inflation, when billion dollar banknotes mingled with waste on rubbish dumps and those scouring for food preferred to pick up anything but those notes.
The pain has been relentless at times during Zimbabwe’s 30-year history.
And the politics remained bloody. The art of persuasion which politics can be was diminished to the swollen and battered limbs of the opposition leaders, of trade union leaders, troublesome priests, those stubborn farmers and hundreds of poor activists who were swept away in the storm after the calm of the 2008 elections.
By the time a kind of peace was achieved, with a new prime minister in this nation’s 29th year, reporters had had their fill of the drama in the House of Stone.
So what can this compressed history tell us?
A history such as this has many truths, and seems to say that the righting of colonial wrongs can take up to 30 years to complete and do more harm to those a revolution seeks to protect.
Of course much of this history, by open agreement between the feuding parties, is no longer of any relevance to the bright new future.
Instead, the Ministry of Indigenisation says it is determined to put into the hands of the people those platinum, gold and diamond mines which for so long squirrelled the nation’s wealth into foreign bank accounts.
But who will benefit?
Will the ministers who took the farms also take the mines?
Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor is wider than the Victoria Falls; houses being built in affluent suburbs are large and feature imported Italian marble; and I for one miss the café society feel of Harare with its many restaurants and excellent bars.
And it is easy to spend an entire weekend at The Stones (a shopping centre popular with beer drinkers) in Highfield township watching  football and eating grilled intestines at the Jambalaya Inn.
But the poor out in the villages are finding it increasingly difficult to get their hands on a US dollar; the country still needs food aid and the citizens of this flame lily of a nation have been leaving in droves, tucking away their education to bolster the economies of other lands, other cities, other lives.
But wherever I am I still feel the pull of that umbilical cord and think I should really have taken up Hunzvi’s offer of land.

 

Farai Sevenzo is a  Zimbabwean  filmmaker and a BBC columnist. — BBCOnline.

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