(Note: This is written in the week that Robert Mugabe stepped down from the Zimbabwean leadership.)
Everyone loves Zimbabwe but everyone who loves Zimbabwe believes in some way on some secret level that it belongs to them, that others may know it better but no one else loves Zimbabwe in quite the way they do.
This week I wanted to talk about Zimbabwe but most of my good Zimbabwean friends are overseas or were busy. I have relatives who once lived outside Banket but they are not the kind of Zimbabweans I wanted to talk to. On Wednesdays as a regular event I have to take two long Uber rides, and the driver on the first ride was Tendai from Harare. Tendai was very excited.
As we drove I read him news updates and he put his head out of the window and laughed. Maybe this is a new beginning, he said.
I started expressing my concerns about a military coup, and how replacing Mugabe with Mnangagwa in the director’s chair – if that’s what was happening – would more likely change the energy than the direction, and he nodded politely but of course I was Zimsplaining. Of all the people who need a mini-lecture in Zimbabwean politics, a 35-year-old Zimbabwean exile driving a cab in Cape Town to afford food parcels for his little brothers and sisters back home is very low on the list. But Zimbabweans are kind and very tolerant of the rudenesses and stupidities of others. I don’t know what Zimbabwean Twitter is like, but I’m sure it’s more civil and decent than ours.
“Yes,” he said patiently. ”Of course. But when a person has been waiting so long for change, any change feels like rain.” He carefully moved lanes, flicking the indicator with a kind of controlled exuberance. “Maybe we can be hopeful before we must feel sad again.”
He then gave me a brief potted history of the five challengers for Mugabe’s throne and who he personally backed (not really any of them) and what the problems would be with each of them (lots of problems).
The last time he voted was in 2000. He was at a voting station with 3000 people and it was a long wait but what most struck him was that the whole crowd was controlled by two people, one policeman and one policewoman. “Just two people!” he said excitedly. “And they didn’t even have guns, just batons!”
“Because they’re so scary?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Because Zimbabweans like to obey the law. And they are friendly. You’re a white person.”
“I am a white person,” I admitted.
“Where I live here in Cape Town, you shouldn’t come to visit me. It wouldn’t be a good idea. You shouldn’t walk up the street to look for my house. I am exaggerating, but it’s also true. But in Zimbabwe you can walk around anywhere, even as a white person. People would be friendly.”
I told him about the time I was with my girlfriend driving through an unfamiliar part of Marondera and we had a terrible argument and I exited the car to walk home but then I realized that I didn’t know where I was or how to get anywhere and then I tried to run after the car but she carried on driving, and how there was a table of men drinking beer who had watched the whole sorry scene and they laughed at me and urged me to sit and drink with them and gave me relationship advice until it was dark and very late at night and then one of them pedaled me on the back of his bicycle for what felt like hours until we found my girlfriend’s parents’ house.
“Did they give you good love advice?” Tendai asked.
“No,” I said, and he laughed and nodded approvingly, because that is always the best kind of advice.
Tendai hasn’t been home since 2012. I asked him if he misses it and he didn’t answer because that was a stupid question. He said he does like living in a city, but he wishes he lived in a more friendly city. He lived in Johannesburg before he came to Cape Town, but that was unfriendly too. By unfriendly, I think he means violent. He misses the food back home. It’s been five years since he ate green maize. We reached my destination and he pulled over and looked at me in the rear-view mirror and his eyes were a little bit wet. “It’s mango season in Harare now,” he said. “The mangos are out.”
Times, 16 November 2017