TEN years ago I walked from farm to farm in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe, near to its capital city Gweru.
had taken a group from Croydon where I was the bishop. There was no pumped water in Gweru because the four pumps had broken down and not been repaired – we had to buy water from wells and bore holes. This meant that we had an inch of cold water to wash in each day, brought up from the river in which the starving cattle freely did their business. Electric power kept cutting out. Unemployment was sky high, the economic infrastructure was collapsing, and inflation was around 10,00 per cent. There was an AIDS epidemic, medical care was under huge pressure, and the social cohesion of the country was, at best, fragile.
On the first day I took a photograph of a single rose, planted in the dry soil, but lovingly watered and cared for each day. In a barren landscape, it was a defiant symbol of hope.
Between 2004 and 2009, I visited Zimbabwe a number of times. I visited because the Diocese of Southwark (where I was the Bishop of Croydon) had longstanding partnership links with the Anglican dioceses in Zimbabwe.
Exposure to some of the realities of Zimbabwe was both challenging and frustrating. The country is beautiful, and its people are wonderful. But, there could be no hiding from the fact that Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF had turned the bread basket of Africa into a basket case of the first order. And the people to suffer were not the hierarchy against whom sanctions had been laid, but the ordinary people who were struggling to survive. Even then, people wanted Mugabe to go.
So, watching the news now is heartening to an extent. At last, action has been taken to rid this country of its liberating tyrant and his Lady Macbeth wife whose name – Grace – is not matched by her character. It is no wonder that thousands of people have been celebrating in the streets and that the Party has now dismissed Mugabe as party leader. There can be no going back – even though the President brazenly defied his party, the military and the people by doing a resignation speech without a resignation on Sunday.
Understanding the past is not the problem. But, to what might the country be going forward? This is the hard question. It is easy to celebrate the end of Mugabe’s reign; but, what will now follow? Freedom from is not the hard bit; freedom to or for demands far more.
Ten years ago I was clear that the key to Zimbabwe’s future had to be the reestablishment of the rule of law – not just any law, but law as internationally recognised. Without the rule of law, nothing could be relied on. And, yet, now, we see the dethronement of Mugabe – but only by his own party. The same party has appointed a new leader, and this leader will continue the rule of ZANU PF. It will take someone brave or reckless to bring democracy back to Zimbabwe; in the meantime, Mugabe’s departure will not change much at all in terms of who is in charge, how they will run the country, and whose interests will be protected.
After all, the ‘new’ regime comprises the very people who have promoted, defended, sustained and guarded Mugabe in power for several decades. They will have no intention of ceding power to others. An election will only be acceptable if it guarantees to keep ZANU PF in power. The new regime is led by the people who have an interest in preserving their own privileges and powers.
Clearly, today is for celebrating an ending. But, tomorrow will bring a beginning. And that beginning will probably be a continuing of what has gone before. It is too early to celebrate a new world for the wonderful people of this wonderful country. Yes, there is much optimism about the end; but, realism is needed for creating a different (and better) future.
My involvement with Zimbabwe was down to a strong relationship with the Anglican Church there – a companion link. One thing I learned is that while the politics hit the screens and command the attention, ordinary Anglican Christians – with all their fallibilities and fragilities – just keep on plugging away, sacrificially, imaginatively and creatively, serving communities and people in quiet, unsung ways, silently tilling the ground for a harvest they believe will one day come.