Zimbabwe through a different prism

The four men wore blue military caps and uniforms with epaulettes and red shoulder tassles. They were strutting their stuff in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, before a crowd of onlookers. But this was no exercise in intimidation by President Robert Mugabe’s martial regime.

The men wore broad grins, blew whistles and jigged with delight. Their dancing was accompanied by two men on drums and another beating a tattoo on an upturned metal bin. The action was followed by observers with handheld video cameras.

A microphone was handed to Thokozani Khupe, her hair cut short and wearing sunglasses, gold hooped earrings, a sleeveless brown jacket and yellow patterned blouse. The deputy prime minister of Zimbabwe addressed Movement of Democratic Change supporters in a mix of English and Shona with familiar rhetoric praising Morgan Tsvangirai and promising to “finish Zanu-PF once and for all”.

But as I looked around the shopping precinct car park and heard calypso music playing from the loudspeakers, it felt less like a call-to-arms than a crowd, as Philip Larkin put it: “Grinning as if it were all / An August Bank Holiday lark.”

There were men in Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool shirts holding umbrellas against sunshine and showers, women with babies tied to their backs, young men resting on bicycles and children looking bored.

Smiling elders sat on secondhand sofas behind a white table cloth under the shade of a tree.

News that has nothing to do with politics
I was reminded that Zimbabweans, even those attending an ostensibly political rally, should not be seen only through the prism of conflict and despair. While Mugabe and Tsvangirai arm wrestle over the country’s future, issuing orders and counter-orders as if in a jaundiced version of Yes Minister, people are trying to get on with living. So here is the news from the Sunday papers in Zimbabwe that has nothing to do with politics.

Harare is poised for a digital revolution, the Standard reports, as a company called Liquid Telecom installs two fibre optic rings in a $3,5-million project that it claims will put the city’s telecommunications ahead of London’s.

The new dance craze is Zumba. A fusion of eight Latin American dances including salsa, calypso, samba and American country rock ‘n’ roll, classes are on offer at the Body Active gym at the Borrowdale Racecourse.

Male circumcision is in huge demand, says the Standard. About 5 000 men, almost double the number expected, have volunteered for the operation since the government launched a health programme in mid-2009 in a bid to reduce HIV infections.

Sports bars are booming, with fans of England’s Premier League heading to the Chelsea sports bar in Harare. Meanwhile the outgoing chairman of the Zimbabwe Football Association tells the Sunday Mail that Fifa’s world rankings are not the best way to measure a team’s performance. Zimbabwe have sunk to an all-time low of 117th, below Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Libya. But in tennis, the Harare Open is ready to roll again.

Bustling city
The paper rounds up crime: a policeman died in a bank robbery shoot-out. There is anecodotal evidence of a rise in “crimes of passion”. A businessman is suing a headmaster and teacher for alleged indecent behaviour after catching them in a compromising position in his nightclub.

Samantha Musekiwa is the Sunday Mail‘s bride of the week.

Sixteen-year-old Takudzwa Munetsi and her best friend, Rumbidzai Mungofa, got a combined 13 As, three Bs and a C in their O-levels at Queen Elizabeth High school. Zimbabwe University’s theatre arts department is returning to action after “a lengthy period in hibernation”. The Harare International Festival of the Arts will run from April 27 to May 2.

The paper carries an advert for Air Zimbabwe: “Zimbabwean hospitality in the skies. Soaring above the rest.” There’s another for a football match where VIP tickets cost Z$10, upper grandstand Z$5, rest of ground Z$3. It’s sponsored by Branson cigarettes — “priced for your taste” — and accompanied by a health warning.

I drove back from the MDC rally and saw people shopping, strolling in the park and praying at an open-air service. Tourists wandered among the sculptures and arts and crafts of a roadside market. I saw a picture of an iPhone on an advertising billboard — but then turned to observe three elderly women huddled on the back of a pick-up truck.

Another item in the Standard, on the readers’ letters page, caught my eye. It said: “I am looking for George Orwell’s book entitled 1984. I can give away anything for it. I can be contacted on 0912 313 405/011 714 638.” – guardian.co.uk

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