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Becker’s African Diary #19: Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 31.07.2010

Difficult to imagine that there are many more places on this planet that make it more clear what kind of immaculate beauty nature can bring up, and how miserable man can make life for his fellow neighbour, than Zimbabwe…

I had my fair share of Garden of Eden moments in the last days. The Falls themselves, beyond description and a life long memory for sure, and I also can’t get over a stretch of 2 hours a few days ago, approaching the border to Zimbabwe on my bike, and rolling through the outskirts of the Chobe National Park on a rough and narrow stretch of unmarked tarmac, filled with thousands and thousands of birds in all colours and shapes, and in an unoverseeable number on the street, often only making way when using the horn, and at times it felt as if I was riding through a curtain of colourful creatures. At one point 3 cranes with a wing span of at least 1 meter sailed away beside me and disappeared over my head. It was a very surreal, beautiful experience.

Then the country: Mugabe-Land. What a misery. An impression of decline and decay. International sanctions and absolutist dictatorial politics have brought the economic system of the country to its knees, and spread resignation amongst the people. Public infrastructure in appalling conditions, the currency collapsed, food and petrol either in serious shortage or for horrendous prices. Shameful silence when politics is mentioned.

The economical situation reminds me of Russia in the early 90s. The only accepted currency is the US Dollar, with Billion Zim Dollar notes thrown away on the streets. Food is in limited distribution through a governmental system. Shops have a minimal offer, think East Germany 1970s, and for shocking prices (1 kg rice $4, 1 liter of milk $2).

I am learning also a lesson about democracy, or better, an open society here. There are different ways to deal with poverty, depending on the political conditions. In Botswana or Mocambique there is an open political debate, and despite corruption and inefficiency there is visable progress. Locals engage themselves in communal structures, NGOs are active, the people feel they have an influence on their own fate. Communication with me as the “wealthy” foreigner is friendly, respectful, and a talk among equals. Here – and in parts in the townships in South Africa – people have developed a feeling of resignation, being a toy of political structures they can not – or in South Africa could not – influence. Marginalisation and autonomy are the key words. The atmosphere is tensed, begging is aggressive, and I am not me any longer, but my wallet.

A beautiful and at the same time sad experience to be here.

Leaving tomorrow, back to Botswana, and making my way to the Okavango Delta, and trying to cope with the fact that the way leads towards the airport in Windhoek, that will bring me back…

Videos from Zimbabwe: