Letter from the 153rd State

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe; drawing by David Levine

“We have to succeed in our bid to establish a non-racial society, in our bid to establish civil liberties…. Once the reconciliation between the races is complete, once we have the opposing forces in harmony, then whatever the differences in the political sphere we will, at least, have that oneness which upholds a democratic society. I think it will also act as a consolidating factor for Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana, Angola, and even for the former High Commission territories, Lesotho and Swaziland. The progressive forces in South Africa will have a basis on which to demand that transformation take place as quickly as possible in their society.

“…Let me say that our principles remain…as a party we stand by the socialist ideology deriving, to an extent, from Marxism and Leninism. We don’t hide that. At the same time we are not governed by those principles alone. We also have our own tradition, and the principles that we have developed here under the influence of Christianity, while we were occupied by the West. In other words, while we adhere to definite socialist principles there is a streak of morality that runs through them, and this morality is a synthesis of our tradition and our Christian practice here…. We have always lived as a collective society. Land belongs to all. True, each person has his own cattle and goats but there was always a distinction between what was communal and what the individual acquired as his own property. The rivers and the fruit trees have always been common to us all.”

—Robert Mugabe Prime Minister, Zimbabwe

Just eighteen weeks after the creation of a new African state that not only its prime minister predicts will have a definitive influence on the future of all southern Africa, I had the chance to visit that state for myself. To go to Zimbabwe (or any other African country no longer ruled by a white minority) as a South African is different from going as a European or American; and to travel as a private person accustomed to observing from the underground point of view of the novelist is different from arriving with the journalist’s conscious, skilled determination to find news. I was less informed than a good journalist would be; as someone both African and white, I think I understood what I saw for myself—as distinct from what I might be told or told about—rather more accurately than a visiting European or American could.

And yet it is difficult, in the snuffing-the-air alertness, the awkward solemnity of first setting foot on the tarmac of change, not to read in headline fashion what meets the eye. I always warn myself that there are two places from which I must not generalize any impressions: airports and bars. the white immigration officer at Salisbury airport turned the pages of my passport with a metal beak instead of a…

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