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         ||   P.O. Box 356  ~  Browns Valley, CA 95918  ~  Tel: (530) 743-1339   ||   

Zimbabwe - The Death of a Nation

By now, most people who keep up on daily events/current affairs of international news know about the current crisis in Zimbabwe: Hyper – inflation at 1,000% a year. Aids/HIV at 20% of the population, with a projected orphanage rate of 90% by 2010. Unemployment at 80%, an aged dictator clinging to power ruthlessly by using genocide to control the population from uprising. According to the U.N., the average life span of a Zimbabwean male is 37 years, and a female 34 years. This is the lowest in the world.

Most of these problems originated after the 2000 election poll showed that President Mugabe was headed for defeat, mainly because of failed promises to redistribute white owned land to the majority of the black landless masses after the 1980 victory of independence from colonial British rule of the country then known as Rhodesia. Mugabe began a vicious campaign of land evictions without compensation, removing by threats, intimidations and violence white farmers from their farms, and refusing to allow remaining farmers to plant crops. Almost immediately whites began leaving Zimbabwe in droves. Their farms fell into neglect as the blacks that took over their farms had no experience or knowledge on commercial farming. A large majority of the farms taken over by blacks went to friends and allies of Mugabe, and after one or two years of profitable farming ended with all profits being sucked out of the farm and nothing put back in like fertilizer or new seeds, the farm would be re-allocated to landless blacks and the crony of Mugabe would take over another farm and exploit it the same way.

As the economy deteriorated by these farmers leaving, and other satellite businesses folding because of it, the World Bank and other lending institutions refused to lend money to Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe began defaulting on its petroleum purchases, and ultimately struck a deal with Libya to exchange the choicest parcels of land in Zimbabwe for gasoline. When that deal came to an end, and Libya didn’t want any more land, and Zimbabwe had no more oil, things really started getting tough. Educated blacks also began leaving in droves, going to England, Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A, and South Africa. Every year the flood of immigrants has increased, and most will never return. Any brain drain of this magnitude would ruin a country.

Two years ago, Jamie and I spent a month in South Africa with a friend of ours, Corrine Gurry (the Wire Wizard lady), and my mother and stepfather bused down from Zimbabwe to join us. We rented a minivan and we drove all over SA, being tourists and also taking care of business, selling beads, doing trunk shows at bead stores, meeting AIDS co-operative workers who use beads to make African dolls to resell, and also seeing members of my family for the first time in 23 years, and in some instances over 30 years. I had left Zimbabwe in 1980, five weeks after black independence, and immigrated to the U.S. This was my chance to visit a part of the world I loved and see family I hadn’t seen in a very long time, and also show it off to my wife and friends, who had never seen it. Although Jamie and I did not go into Zimbabwe on this trip, Corrine did, as she was so close to Victoria Falls and felt the political climate was so terrible she might never get another chance to do so. She flew from Joberg airport, and spent the night, touring Vic Falls and gambling in the casino. She reported back to us that Zimbabwe appeared to be in severe financial trouble, with paper money being printed on only one side, and not even the shops or hotels would accept Zim dollars, and nothing to buy with it. The hotel she stayed at was a 5 star hotel, absolutely gorgeous, with one other couple staying there. It had a 350 occupancy rating. It was deserted. That was in 2004.

Corrine on the Zimbabwe/Zambia Bridge
below the Victoria Falls.

My parents who had joined us for the month long trip were able to confirm everything Corrine saw. George, my stepfather, had given Corrine $50,000 in Zimbabwean money to take with her, and she gave it back when she returned, as she could find nothing to buy. It was only valued at $15 US at that time.

Now the unofficial rate of exchange is $99,000 Zim dollars to $1US.
A joke circulating around Zimbabwe currently is that a roll of toilet paper costs $147,500 or $510 for 2 pieces. Zimbabwe’s smallest denomination is $500. Why bother to buy toilet paper?

My mother and George had just sold their very successful auction house in Bulawayo the year before, and were retired. They had lots of money in the bank, they owned their house, had investments generating income, and were fairly satisfied that they could continue living in Zimbabwe regardless of the crisis continuing in Zimbabwe and the deteriorating conditions around them. They explained that they really had no choice…. they were both born in Zimbabwe, all their friends were there, their money was tied up in the country and could not be taken out, they loved living there, and they could not get visas to live in South Africa (nor would they want to, as that country was going the same way, anyway) nor would they want to live in England, as they knew no-one there and it was an alien life style for them. Having been born and raised in Africa all their lives, they were African.

We left South Africa and came home to our own lives, and barely a month later my mother contacted me to inform us they were penniless because the trustees of their pension fund had embezzled all their funds. Ultimately, they were able to retrieve half of their funds back, but now their cushion was not quite so plump. They still insisted they were OK.

Things got worse. From November 2005 until March 2006 I lost contact with my parents(their emails bounced back and their phone stopped working) so I had no idea things were so bad until communications were restored in late March. My folks had been forced to sell their last remaining asset, their house, to raise funds to buy food so they could continue to live. George, who is 76 years old, and retired, was working again to bring in money. My mother could not find a job. She told us they had to make a chicken last 8 meals. A loaf of bread (if you can find it in the store) costs $80,000 (which equals $0.81 US). The price does not sound so high in USD, but if we had to pay $80,000 we would be paying a very high price, as $80,000 is $80,000. Most of the grocery stores are closed or empty of food. There is no milk (as all the cows have been slaughtered for food), there is no fish (no one is commercially fishing as the price of petrol is too high or you just can not buy it), all the farm animals have been killed off for food (therefore no eggs). And it goes on. The last we heard Mugabe opened up the National Parks for people to come in and kill the wildlife for food, i.e. elephants, zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, kudu, buffalo, lion, buck and whatever other animals they can find.

Obviously the situation with my folks was not acceptable to me, so I immediately contacted my congressman Dan Lungren, and began an expedited visa application to obtain immigration visas for my mother and stepfather. As we speak, they are packing essentials and selling off the rest, so they can flee the country of their birth, and live as refugees in South Africa with relatives until their visas come through. We are all waiting for their Visas to be approved by the USA. It should be August 2006. They will have lost everything they spent a lifetime building. All their friends had implored them to stay, because if they left, Zimbabwe as they knew it would be no more. They listened, and stayed, until now, with all those friends gone, they are some of the last colonial people left in Zimbabwe. Bulawayo used to have a colonial population of over 50,000 people, but now the walled village my folks live in and are leaving forever has a population of maybe 400. All pensioners, all over 65 years old. No children, no young families. Zimbabwe is dying.

My mother and stepfather.

When mom and George arrive here in the States, they will have a new life filled with love and hope. They look forward to working with us in our warehouse, sorting, organizing, pulling orders, telemarketing, selling beads, answering phones….as well as fishing, barbecuing, living the good life, and touring the country in our RV when we go on road trips selling beads. Hopefully, when you next call in an order for beads, the voice you hear will have a British accent, (besides mine) and it will mean my folks arrived here safely.

In case you are interested, Britain, the original colonial power that created Rhodesia, is doing nothing to help the aging pensioners of Zimbabwe. Ireland, on the other hand, is doing everything it can to repatriate all its people living in Zimbabwe that want to resettle in Ireland. In a recent article in the Sunday Times of Ireland, the Irish government under the Safe Home program has repatriated 19 families to County Mayo, placing them in new homes and giving them government assistance,ie, welfare.

All I can do is sponsor my parents to the USA, and then support them. I am so glad I can do that. However, I have just recently found out that the government will only issue a visa for my mother, and not my stepfather. So they will have to separate if they wish to immigrate here. At least legally. So although the original plan is still a go, its back to the drawing board with regards to George’s visa. We’ll find a way.

Zimbabwe’s loss, America’s gain.

Corrine Gurry can be contacted at www.the or by phone at (425) 941- 6559.
All photographs courtesy of Corrine Gurry Copyright 2004


Wild Things Beads  ~  P.O. Box 356  ~  Browns Valley, CA 95918  ~  Tel: (530) 743-1339

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