Friday, July 12, 2024

Zimbabwe: Good, Bad and Breathtakingly Beautiful

Had it not been for the countless and unreasonable traffic stops between Mashonaland and Matebeleland provinces, I would say with poise that my recent visit to Zimbabwe was the most enjoyable and one I would always remember.

 

But the hostility portrayed by the Zimbabwe police dampened my mood and made me have a sudden change of mind, even though I greatly appreciated the beauty of the country and had very much wanted to return in the future. I had visited Zimbabwe as part of a delegation from Ngamiland in Botswana, which was in the country on a weeklong benchmarking mission to learn from the prosperous Zimbabwean leather tanning and allied industries. The visit was facilitated and sponsored by Ngamiland Sustainable Land Management under the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Between Harare and Bulawayo alone, we passed through more than twelve road blocks and numerous toll gates. In all of them, we were flabbergasted by the police’s demands to be paid for the most unreasonable offences. 

The Zimbabwean police found fault with almost everything that we did or said, and they had no qualms charging us repeatedly for the same offense at every roadblock even when we provided proof of payment from the previous roadblocks.

In their view, there was nothing wrong with the continuous charges as long as the fault has not been attended to. They were not even interested in helping us sort out the said problem, but rather on getting paid straight away. They didn’t even want to impound the vehicle, as our driver suggested to them in frustration at some point.

Even after demanding payment for the so called offences, the police were very reluctant to provide proof of payment as they always claimed that they had run out of stationery.

We were never told exactly what wrong we had committed, just some vague explanation that we had failed to follow certain procedures, followed by demands for more money. At some point the police threatened to send us back to Harare when we reached a toll gate just outside Bulawayo.

The policeman on duty demanded that we provide a token detailing that we had travelled from Bulawayo up to Harare and back. 

“Yes there was need to obtain such a token when you people started off in Bulawayo. It is a requisite that when you connect between other towns not stipulated in your documents you provide such, particularly when you are a delegation. Now we are going to have to charge you,” he said as he instructed the bus driver to make a u-turn to a police station a few kilometers away.

Surprisingly, the police there did not put on name tags as is the norm in Botswana. They took exceptional offence to our demands for some form of identification.

What was even more shocking for us was the fact that there was no documentation availed to verify the demands that the police made. So we were never sure if such demands were authentic or fabricated.

Again, we were surprised at the insistence by the police to make these unreasonable demands only when we were exiting the country. You see, we had commenced the trip through Gweru, Kadoma, Kwekwe and Chegutu, but we were never bothered with unreasonable charges as we were always given the green light by the police. The problems started on the way back.

 

Our trip started off in Maun at the UNDP office at around 6am on Sunday 4th October. We travelled by road to Francistown up to the Botswana/Zimbabwean boarder in Ramokgwebana. We easily crossed into Zimbabwe from the Botswana border, but were delayed by up to five hours at the Zimbabwean side. The reasons for the delay, we were told, was to allow immigration officials time to sort out some issues with regards to the three journalists who were travelling with the delegation, myself included. This was despite the fact that we had presented our clearance letters from Zimbabwean media authorities. According to the border authorities, some issues were not communicated accurately, hence the holdup. 

Just as we thought we would be allowed to go on our way, another problem arose, which culminated in the driver parting with a lot of money before we could be allowed to be on our way.

We arrived in Bulawayo at around 10pm and immediately checked in at the N1 Hotel situated at the town’s Central Business District. Our stay in Bulawayo lasted for three days, and by 5.30 am on Wednesday, we were on our way to Harare. However we made stop-overs along the way and we visited the BATA shoe company, the Mupfure College as well as leather tanneries in the towns of Gweru, Chegutu and Kadoma.

I must confess that Zimbabwe is a very beautiful country and I loved every place we passed. I fell in love with the countryside because of its greenery, beautiful plantations, controlled livestock movements, well mannered people and first class hospitality.

I never imagined I would find such serenity in Zimbabwe and I was taken aback by the people’s generosity and kindness.

Along the streets and shopping malls where we stopped, we always met friendly people who wanted to know where we came from and where we were headed.

We were told that crime levels are very low because Zimbabwean laws are very unsympathetic and very harsh on wrongdoers. This made me wonder if it meant there is laxity on the regulation of laws our own country.

I also learnt that Zimbabweans are naturally hardworking people, considering the may open spaces which they use for farming purposes. People there are hands-on, and there are so many factors that influence development, particularly for those with interests in leatherworks and farming. They have all the needed skills and knowledge but still lack capital. They are more interested in growing their wealth, but the fact that most of them are still challenged financially cannot go unnoticed. Unlike in Botswana, their livestock is managed effectively and cattle roaming on the streets are a rare sight.

Our visit also took us to Dhaniko project for the disabled, a joint partnership with BATA Shoe Company of which the first lady Grace Mugabe is patron. Here we were taken on a tour of the facility which currently has a total of 610 students at its secondary school and vocational institution .Its principal Elizabeth Dekune told us that the centre was set up soon after Zimbabwe gained its independence and was mostly dominated by ex combatants and civilians who had sustained injuries during the 1981 war in Zimbabwe.  

“It has expanded over the years and now offers educational training to various groups of disabled children and adults as well as the socially and economically disadvantaged.

They are mentored on practical skills which later enable them to either gain employment or set up their small businesses as entrepreneurs”, she said.

As a Non-governmental welfare organization, Dekune says the project relies solely on student fees, income from the sale of production goods/services as well as donations from kind donors. Since its inception in 2012, she said, the Dhaniko- BATA program has given the students the opportunities to acquire leatherworks skills, consequently enabling them to have their own brand of sandals and other shoe makes which are now for sale at numerous outlets in Harare and surrounding areas. 

The institution also enabled the students to anchor their commercial production and well as to perfect their skills. The principal added that the program has assisted by way of empowering people with disabilities with lifelong skills in leatherworks. Should the production of shoes increase, she added, they foresee even their customer base broadening, thus also bringing in more revenue.

After a visit to several tanneries in Harare, our guide took us through Mbare, a somewhat cramped township with lots of movement, reminiscent of Old Naledi in Gaborone .This densely populated area is less than five kilometers from Harare and has a lot of activity going on.  The place has a lot of deserted buildings, amongst them dilapidated flats with poor sanitation. Graffiti is all over, even on occupied houses.

“This is the place where you will get all that you ask for. Everything from food, cell phones, clothing and whatever you can think of is available in this place. It is the oldest township in Zimbabwe and thereby the most respected, despite its appalling conditions. To show how much Zimbabweans hold this place in high regard, our departed heroes  are made to pass through here in big convoys just to give them the last respect before they are laid to rest,” said Sydney Mutambiranwa, a LEA consultant and leather instructor.

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