McZENA MUSELouise Swartzwalder


RURAL OHIO — Oh, Robert Mugabe.

I hardly knew you.

There you were, wielding power in Zimbabwe.

I was fortunate enough to visit that country, doing a job for CNFA, a USAID-funded non-government organization (ngo).

I was there training farmers, at the Johannadale Irrigation Scheme, outside Harare.

To say living is rough in Zimbabwe is to be downplaying the significance of having no jobs, no food, no water, no electricity.

When I was there in the 1990s, for a three-week stint, Mugabe’s presence could be felt.

He was powerful then, and visitors to the country were advised to not make a mistake and go too close to the place where he lived and ruled.

Mugabe, 93, may be out at the ruler of this country, after 37 years.

I have followed news about Mugabe with a bit of fascination, and lots of mystifying thoughts.

It seems this week the military made a statement about him, and the possibility that his much younger wife, Grace, was paving the way for her to take power.

They asked him to resign from office, under the threat of impeachment.

When I was in Zimbabwe, it was clear, at least to me, what he had done to the country.

There had been a time when agriculture was significant in Zimbabwe. There would be large spreads run by farmers. Unfortunately, they were all white.

Mugabe at one point ran out all the white farmers.

The place I stayed on my trip there was the former home of a white farmer. It was a sprawling ranch style house, with separate wings, running water and electricity.

When I stayed there, those niceties didn’t exist.

A man named Chaka, an extension agent, was my host. His wife had to build a fire and boil water before she could begin to cook.

I met some wonderful people, many of them artisans who knew how to make something from items most people would ignore, or throw away.

Zimbabweans are stone carvers. One thing you could find when you were in Harare, walking about, were people in parks, trying to sell things they had made.

I bought several items from people, who were doing modest, home style crafts.

I have two small stone carvings, in the shape of humans (though small and deformed).

I also have a piece of fabric, printed in colors by using potatoes.

It is common there for people to use dyes made from plants, and to use the primitive paint brush — the potato.

To see what has been happening in Zimbabwe over the years has been discomfiting.

A number of sympathetic-minded volunteers from the United States have been sent to Zimbabwe to take on various training jobs.

It’s probably appropriate to say those efforts haven’t scratched any notches, signifying progress.

Mugabe became established almost four decades ago as one of the first major rulers in continental Africa.

Since then, other countries have had leaders. Many, like Mugabe, have seemed to savor the aura that goes with power.

The result of Mugabe’s tenure as leader, is open to question.

Any reasonable person would probably observe there is no progress, if native Zimbabweans, still have no access to free ownership of land, or the ability to make use of that land.

Mugabe’s intention, it was said, was to liberate landholdings so Zimbabwean natives could indulge in and advance in farming.

There were demonstrations about the move to get Mugabe out of power. Even that phenomenon is incredible, because most people there probably thought they’d get shot or otherwise mangled if they demonstrated.

It would be good to see Zimbabwe advance.

The good people there most certainly deserve it.



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