The Last Resort
A Memoir of Zimbabwe
(Harmony)As far as I can figure, Rhodesia was only one of three countries in the world named for an individual (Bolivia and America being the others --- unless, back in the shadows of history there was a Freddie Finland, Mary-Beth Mali, or Peter Poland).
Anyway, soon after the English moved out of Rhodesia, it became Zimbabwe, a Shona word, according to my encyclopaedia, that means "Great Houses of Stone." Given the evidence in The Last Resort, perhaps the name should now be changed to Ex-Zimbabwe, since after the disappearance of the English in 1965, so many homes, even the stone ones, have been leveled.
Despite the plagues of violence that have swept over the country since then, Douglas Rogers has pleasant memories of growing up in and around Mutare and Harare. After he left to become a journalist for the Times, his parents stayed on, turning a bedraggled 730-acre farm into a tourist resort, a getaway featured in one of the Lonely Planet Guides until, ten years ago, the political infrastructure went to pot. The Last Resort is the story of how Rogers' parents have survived the last few grueling years, including turning "Drifters," complete with chalets, into a local rendezvous for whores, and, at the same time, literally going to pot: growing it just out of sight of the military. "The lodge's becoming a knock shop had shocked me. Discovering my father was growing weed came as an unexpected surprise," Rogers recalls.
Mom and Dad turn out to be an unlikely heroic couple. A quarter-century ago, they were one of 4,500 white farmers left over from the colonial days; now, they are but one of 350 survivors. Mom drinks gin and smokes like a chimney, Dad has the vocabulary of a sailor, is willing to fight those --- even Robert Mugabe's henchmen --- whom he thinks are going to trample his rights of ownership.
On an earlier visit, Rogers thought they were goners, but someone discovered a diamond mine nearby which has revived his family's resort. Poor young men have taken to smuggling diamonds, and their area has become prosperous once again, even though Harare is not somewhere you and I would much think of visiting. The Economist Intelligence Unit's "global livability poll" gives first place in the world to Vancouver, with Vienna, Geneva, Zurich and Sydney not far behind. The worst --- the bottom of the heap --- was Harare in Zimbabwe, deemed "the toughest city to live in ... where civil instability and poor infrastructure present significant challenges."
You can say that again. Rogers' parents let the weeds grow to hide their home from the government operatives that want to "liberate" it. They also have several guns, a generator --- the state power system seldom works --- and travel to hell and gone, merely to locate food, booze, and Mom's favorite hackfest cigarettes.
And when they go out to shop, they use a "Zimbabwe Wallet " ... a rucksack ... because the inflation rate is 231 million percent (worse even than the Weimar Republic's). One has to carry "bricks" of Zimbabwe dollars. At the time of writing, the country had just issued currency that included a bank note for Z$1 billion. That's nine zeroes. By the time you get home from the store with a can of tuna, the price has doubled to Z$10,000,000.
Despite Mom and Dad's pickle, The Last Resort is a kick. Rogers knows his subject (not only did he grow up there, he has worked as a travel writer). It is also a dandy handbook on the recent history of Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, detailing the realities of mega-inflation, the agony for citizens in their country's declining infrastructure, and the price of a revolution going awry.
Mugabe was initially seen as a liberator. As recently as 1985, he asserted that he would not punish white citizens for the sin of being white. All that has changed, and Rogers' family were only able to save their once-prosperous homestead and tourist destination because they had old friends in the black community, some working directly under Mugabe (Rogers' father was an attorney who made a specialty of getting liquor licenses for his black clientele).
And now there is the diamond trade. The real engine of change, says the author, comes from the "black middlemen from Mutare, many of them the same desperate street dealers from whom my parents had often bought sugar and flour. Now they had a new trade." Within months, "the town was transformed."
Flush with easy money, pockets bulging with fat wads of American dollars, young men and women were suddenly buying houses, cars, cell phones, suits, and designer shoes.
"Men who had only ever ridden donkey carts turned up in their rural villages in Toyota twin cabs; peasants tramped the bush with the latest Nokia cell phones (phone camera flashes were used to distinguish real gems from fool's diamonds.)" It's a trickle-down, reverse justice for Rogers father and mother.
It was the diamond dealers who, thirsty during the great beer crisis and food shortages that followed the price control debacle, fell upon Drifters and made it their playground, their hideaway.--- Carlos Amantea