Me & Katy just returned from a trip north of the border. We went to Katy’s friend’s wedding, visited friends and disseminated results from my PhD. This was our first visit since we left the country in 2009, and we were excited to find out what (if anything) had changed over the past 3 years.
The first thing that struck us were the changes. When Katy left the currency was still the hyperinflationary Zim Dollar. Inflation reached millions of per cent and we had to queue for hours to withdraw our daily limit which generally amounted to a few US$. We would then prowl around Bulawayo in search of something to buy with our bricks of cash before the price doubled. I remember getting quotes over the phone for parts for cheetah traps and when asking for today’s price being told “It depends what time you get here.” Now the Zim dollar has been replaced by the US dollar. As a result inflation had calmed down and it is easier for businesses to operate, and the supermarkets are now brimming with things to buy rather than being empty.
This change was echoed at the petrol stations. When Katy left the notion of turning up at a petrol station, even with foreign currency, and expecting to be able to buy fuel was a pipe dream. You had to have connections. Now that’s exactly what happens. The signs still present at petrol stations still belie this history, and rather than displaying the price next to petrol and diesel simply say ‘yes’.
There was also much that hadn’t changed, which was both good and bad. Power cuts are still a daily occurrence for many people. Despite the power sharing agreement, little seems to have changed politically. There was palpable excitement of many that we met at the rumours that President Mugabe may be on his death bed, only for them to be dismayed when it appeared to be a false alarm. The Fast Track Land Reform Programme still continues apace (see next post), and people continue to be intimidated and oppressed. And poor. And sick. One of the saddest aspects of visiting people here was the dreaded list of people that had died since we left, mainly of HIV/AIDS.
But many of the things that had not changed were welcome, at least to me. It was refreshing to get back to real Africa, away from the development of South Africa. Road signs were still hand painted, and scotch carts (donkey or ox powered carts) were still considered a viable form of transport. Importantly, Zimbabweans continue to be the most optimistic, hard working and persistent people on the planet.
We hope that next time we visit that the good things continue and a few of the things that need to change show some improvement.
A few US dollars equivalent in Zim dollars in 2007, and a dirty US dollar bill in 2012.
Before and after shots of the same supermarket aisle in 2007 and 2012.
Robert Mugabe way. Every town should have one. And pretty much every town in Zimbabwe does.
Millions of Zimbabweans fled to South Africa. Sadly they are often the target of xenophobic attacks, as seen in this graffiti near where we live in South Africa.
The road signs could use a lick of paint