Plainly

Jane

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

ILEARNED to smoke in Zim­babwe, or Rhode­sia as it was called, af­ter Ce­cil John Rhodes. ‘‘ Light me an­other one,’’ my mother would say, in the throes of a panic at­tack when she thought she was be­ing fol­lowed by three black men in a car fancier than our own.

The smell of smoke came back to me when I had an email from writer and friend Si­mon Winch­ester, urg­ing me to read Peter God­win’s books about the coun­try. I read three: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Mem­oir of Africa, Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa and The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mu­gabe. God­win and his wife and chil­dren live in Man­hat­tan these days but he can­not re­sist vis­it­ing the coun­try of his birth, how­ever dan­ger­ous it may seem. He has courage ga­lore. As Nel­son Man­dela said: ‘‘ I learned that courage was not the ab­sence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who con­quers that fear.’’

Just as an aside, the world’s hero is still very much alive, although frail; he’s 93 and is writ­ing a cook­book con­tain­ing recipes for the na­tive food of Africa.

I have a nun who lives in Zim, in a town called Harare. She worked in Soweto in South Africa for yonks and then was sent to Zim­babwe. Well, I can’t re­ally claim to own her, but I like to touch her be­cause I am pretty sure she is go­ing straight to heaven for giv­ing up her life for the poor.

When my broth­ers and I had a huge fam­ily re­union, we man­aged to raise some money to send her home and have some­thing to buy books for her pupils. She wrote to thank us, say­ing she had man­aged to get some good books and her stu­dents were en­joy­ing read­ing them. It is not an easy life in Zim­babwe. Peo­ple are dread­ing an­other elec­tion, afraid that vi­o­lence will erupt, as it al­ways does. There are many electricity out­ages that add to the dif­fi­culty, and el­derly women find water cuts very hard as they have to go quite a dis­tance to bore­holes and carry water back. It is also not easy for par­ents try­ing to find school fees — chil­dren have been sent home to fetch money. Not to men­tion there are up to 60 pupils in a class.

It’s time now for us to show our com­pas­sion. The Zim­bab­wean vicar gen­eral of the Broth­ers of St Paul, Brother Blazio, is now amid us as a guest of Car­i­tas and its Project of Com­pas­sion, rais­ing money for the needy (he has im­ple­mented more than 18 Car­i­tas pro­grams in Zim­babwe).

The tragic thing is that Zim­babwe is rich in min­er­als in­clud­ing gold, plat­inum and di­a­monds, but wealth from these re­sources has not reached many. That’s why close to three mil­lion Zim­bab­wean cit­i­zens have left the coun­try, of­ten walk­ing their way to South Africa. To get there they have to go through a game re­serve, which brings with it the dan­ger of be­ing taken by wild crea­tures.

If they get to South Africa, there are other dan­gers. A friend of mine has a man from an­other coun­try work­ing for her but he can’t go out at night be­cause lo­cals blame him for tak­ing one of their jobs. They’d like to kill these in­ter­lop­ers.

Dur­ing my child­hood I used to spend school hol­i­days in a min­ing town in Zim­babwe. My mother, clearly keen to get rid of me for a month or so, would es­cape the day af­ter she dropped me and I was al­ways more than happy. My cousin Colleen, who re­cently vis­ited her adult son and his wife in Syd­ney, and I have many rem­i­nis­cences of rid­ing our bikes to­gether. My un­cle and aunt would drive us all over the place and we never felt in any dan­ger. Now the tragic truth: UNICEF says 3.4 mil­lion chil­dren are vul­ner­a­ble in Zim­babwe and most of these are or­phans.

Mean­while, Zim­bab­wean Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe re­cently had his 88th birth­day, for which there was a lav­ish party fea­tur­ing a huge fash­ion pa­rade. He claims to be in the health­i­est con­di­tion.

It is a more than cor­rupt coun­try. Four years ago, af­ter nearly three decades of tyran­ni­cal rule, Mu­gabe lost the elec­tion. But in­stead of con­ced­ing power he was per­suaded to launch a bru­tal cam­paign of ter­ror. God­win was one of the few ob­servers to slip into the coun­try and bear wit­ness to this. He trav­els widely to see the tor­ture, the burned vil­lages, the few re­main­ing white farm­ers, and the church­men and diplo­mats who are putting their lives on the line.

At least they have some­one like Brother Blazio, who does his best to bring com­mu­ni­ties to­gether. The places where he works agree to share their wealth. No one is bet­ter off than the next per­son and they re­ceive microfinance for such things as seeds and fer­tilis­ers to help them make a liv­ing.

And now my sis­ter-in-law, who is my nun’s sis­ter, is con­tem­plat­ing fly­ing there to visit her. I’m keen to go, too.

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