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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In Africa

Periodically in this blog I refer to my youthful experiences in Rhodesia turning to Zimbabwe. My 18 months in Bulawayo working as a sub-editor at the Chronicle at age 25-26 unlocked fundamental answers and set my life course. So, when I'm not thinking or being with my family or business, or blogging about Construction Marketing Ideas, I surf the Internet, reading with interest the daily online versions of the Chronicle and (Harare) Herald and occasionally finding other gems that clarify or enhance my perspective of the situation there.
Right now, the country is a mess, with hyperinflation of more than 11 million a year, giving rise to the crazy economics of daily (or more than once daily) price increases, along with starvation, brutality, and political violence. In a 'lapse' for an autocratic government, Robert Mugabe's governing ZANU-PF allowed somewhat free elections in March. This gave them a surprise: Two opposition parties, the largest, the Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won a majority in Parliament. (A breakaway MDC won a few seats, enough to deny either Tsvangari's party or Mugabe's a majority). Under the Zimbabwean constitution, a run-off election in June occurred, but this could hardly be seen a sfree or fair; with extreme violence, detentions, and other tricks so severe that Tsvangari withdrew at the last minute, giving Mugabe the 'victory'. Negotiations to find a solution led by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa have failed to resolve the conflict; Tsvangari believes he should have executive authority with Mugabe perhaps remaining as a largely ceremonial president; Mugabe wants something of the reverse. And so the impasse continues, as the inflation escalates.
Morgan Tsvangirai.
In the midst of this mess, I discovered a blog by Eddie Cross of Bulawayo. Cross is a white Zimbabwean. As a young adult in the era of Ian Smith, he reports in his blog of a meeting between himself, other young entrepreneurs/business people and Smith in the early 1970s when he warned the then leader of the white regime that things would come to 'bad' if Smith didn't gracefully hand over power to the blacks. Most of the white population then thought Rhodesia was invincible; they had defied international sanctions for a decade and built a prosperous if 'outlaw' nation.
Cross still lives in Bulawayo, is a successful businessperson, and has significant relationships with MDC. So I wrote him an email last week. Here is the exchange.

I’ve enjoyed reading your observations and insights – a refreshing level of intelligence and commitment for a better future in Zimbabwe.

In late 1978, at age 25, I ‘faked’ my way through Rhodesian immigration and found employment in Jan 79 on the sub editor’s desk at the Bulawayo Chronicle. (Journalist friends told me if I went in as a journalist, I would be put on the next plane out – so I entered as a student, then applied for work at the Chronicle, and when offered the job, told the immigration officials they had hired me as a trainee: Voila, an immigration/work permit stamped “journalist”.)

The 18 months in Zimbabwe (I left shortly after Mugabe took office in April 80)
shaped my life. The young white people I hung around with of course cited the standard clich├ęs, but your observations about your meeting with Ian Smith in 73show that not everyone had such narrow and unthinking perspectives.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to revisit Zimbabwe in the next two or three years with my (to be) teenage son and wife; to a prosperous and thriving country. It appears from what I read here that you will be making a major contribution to that process.\

Cross responded a few days later with this brief note:

What a great story Mark - the Chonic is not what it was today! When you come - look me up.


I'm afraid there will be additional turmoil, chaos, hardship and pain in Zimbabwe before the current mess is resolved, but think indeed the story will come to a positive conclusion within two or three years.
Does this posting have anything to do with Construction Marketing. Only in a limited (but important way) if you are not interested in building in Zimbabwe, probably unlikely to most readers here. The importance is simply this: when we enter into business, and participate in community activities, when we sell or develop our products, services, specialties and the like, we are dealing, always, with individuals, people with their own stories, experiences and dreams. In my case, some of my heart and soul remain under the jacaranda trees of Bulawayo. Do you know your own place; or that of your current or potential clients?

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