History and mindless optimism

29 01 2007

Irene is what I call a mindless optimist.
Zimbabwe is going to come right.
Why Irene?
Because it has to!
Right, we are not tossing a coin here, it does not HAVE to do anything. We are dealing with human greed and by definition it does not “Just get better”!

I’m all for optimism where it’s warranted; e.g. “The rugby team is playing well, I really think we can win the match on Saturday” but the mindless king really irks me. Maybe if Irene had read Peter Godwin’s new book, “When a crocodile eats the sun” she would be a bit more cautious with her scattering of optimism. But anyway, that was Saturday night and I hadn’t even read the book! It’s not often that I can get through a book in a day but that’s what I did yesterday and it is an excellent though often very sad read. Godwin chronicles the destruction of Zimbabwe over the last 4 years of his father’s life and he does it very well. It is a memoir not a history book so don’t expect all the details but if you get a chance – read it. It is as a result of this book that I have decided to record (a bit late) my brush with the authorities during and immediately after the election in 2000.

I was approached by someone representing the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change – the newly formed opposition) requesting the use of a vehicle to provide backup to the local election monitors. I had no misgivings, I was pleased to take part in what of course was going to be the trouncing of the ruling ZANU-PF party and the removal of Mugabe from power. I did have some misgivings when I heard that it had gone to Muzarabani in the Zambezi Valley, a known government stronghold not far from Centenary. Well there was nothing I could do about it so I got on with the election process and duly recorded my vote for the opposition.

The first twinges of apprehension started when I heard on the news that a vehicle belonging to the opposition had been trashed and burnt at Muzarabani. Not good. It was an old pickup truck that had belonged to my mother and I was NOT ready to write it off! I made enquiries but no-one seemed to know very much and my name had not been “mentioned”. I contacted the person who’d picked up the truck. He didn’t know either. Then he did. It had been impounded at the Centenary police station but he advised me not to do anything just yet – let the dust settle a bit. So I waited for a couple of weeks, half expecting to be “interviewed” by the police. But nobody came. Then I was told that if I wanted to get the truck back I should go and see Jonathan Samukange, a black lawyer with a lot of contacts who was dealing with other people involved in the same incident. I was assured that someone else would pay the bill (and indeed I never saw any requests for payment).

I arrive at Jonathan S’s office in the CBD of Harare, feeling hot and more than a bit nervous. Where exactly is this all going to end? A largish, super confident man, Jonathan assures me that there will be no problem (“I know the police at Bindura”). I have to bring my passport though and maybe a $10000 which is an awful lot of money. The idea of the police having my passport at this potentially volatile time is unappealing. We will be going next week sometime, I should call him on Monday. His office is adorned with thank you letters from grateful clients; “Thank you so much for keeping our son out of jail…” goes one. I guess there is hope.

So I call him on Monday but he is out. His secretary suggests I call again the next day. He is in and assures me that all will be well and I just need to bring the money, the passport will not be necessary. However, we are only going Wednesday next week.

I call the guy who approached me and he puts me onto another person in the same predicament. I phone him up and he is reassuring. He has just been down to the Bindura police station to give a statement and get his vehicle back. He tells me just to tell the truth; the policeman who inteviewed him commented that it made a change to come across someone who wasn’t lying for once.

The next day I leave for Bindura, an unattractive mining town an hour and a half to the north of Harare. I am fatalistic – I don’t really believe that they will lock me up as I was not even with the vehicle. The police are only vaguely interested in my case but they still waste my time for 3 hours and take a statement.

Was I in the vehicle?
Was I aware that an unlicenced radio was being used in the vehicle?
No (I am lying but very grateful I did not volunteer my paraglidng radios).
Do I support the government?
Why not?
Because I don’t like their policies.

This is all duly noted down in longhand on two pieces of lined paper and the whole exercise takes and hour and a half. I sign my name at the end. They have my full name, address, ID number. So be it.

There is still time to try and get to Centenary and try and get the truck so collecting the letter of authority I head off along the back roads with Fabion, my newly trained driver who is also a foreman at my work. We get to the police station at 12h15 and of course it is lunch time so there is nothing we can do until the Member in Charge gets back from lunch. We survey the damage to the pickup which has been sitting in the car park for 6 weeks now with a broken windscreen, gouges on the bonnet where a rock has been thrown and a flat tyre. In the back are a couple of dozen loaves of bread, or what was bread 6 weeks ago. They stink. I am reluctant to change the tyre in case we cannot take the truck and anyway, I’ll have to use the one on my pickup as the spare on the old pickup is flat too.

The Member in Charge duly makes an appearance around 2 p.m. and after a lot of vacillating agrees to see me. I plead my case and he allows a junior to fill in the appropriate forms. Now we have to get the truck started. I’ve brought a tow rope for the purpose but any amount of towing fails and I’m envisaging a long slow tow back to Harare. We persist with jumper leads and eventually are rewarded.

A full spray paint and a new windscreen put paid to most of the damage on the pickup and it is still going today, though the engine is tired. It really is not worth the expense of rebuilding the engine – I would never recover the money. It just gets used on business around Harare as I don’t trust it to go any further. Anyway, Fabion seems to think it’s his, he certainly keeps it much cleaner than I do mine! It was some days after the retrieval of the truck that we discovered the offending two way radio under the seat, with the aerial. I still have it as no-one bothered to claim it. Occasionally it is used for paragliding trips, but those are a rarity these days. No-one has come looking for me attracted by my tenuous ties to the opposition and I doubt they ever will, but my opposition is on record, somewhere.



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