By Denis Jjuuko
In the mid 2000s, I was a graduate student at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, a small town tucked way in the ridges of Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela’s home province. Rhodes is a small elite university where a lot of well to do Zimbabweans studied. And some of the Rhodents (as Rhodes students calls themselves) from Zimbabwe or Zim as we called it have gone on to do very well all over the world.
Rhodes has so many breaks during the year for the undergraduate students. They may number to four or five. That is a big number if you are used to the semester system where students break off twice a year. During these breaks, Zim Rhodents would go back home to Harare or Bulawayo, usually by bus.
Gramstown or G-town as we fondly call it is some 2,100km away from Harare by car. That is like driving to Arua from Kampala more than four times! A few days before these numerous breaks, the Zim students would descend on the town’s supermarkets and buy all the food stuffs they could get their hands on — maize flour (the Mattooke of Southern Africa), sugar, margarine, tea leaves, powered milk, and everything else to eat that is permissible beyond South Africa’s borders.
At first, I wondered why so many black students were shopping lots of stuff when the term was ending. I had thought that they were to leave Rhodes residences for digs in the town during the break since every such break; Rhodes would have a big conference or workshop. And the residences would be turned into hotel rooms (Ugandan universities need copy that business model). Staying in the uni residence would mean paying the same rate as those attending conferences, so most students who couldn’t go back home like most Ugandans found digs to stay during the breaks. I only realized later that their parents and guardians were sending them money to buy affordable maize flour.
In Robert Mugabe’s Zim at the time, you needed a Mercedes Benz Actros truck to move money from the bank to the grocery. Some times, the grocery would even be empty. And during this period, Mugabe fed the masses on anti-imperialism rhetoric instead of maize flour.
And that is the Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe presided over for nearly four decades. Don’t get me wrong, Harare is still more of a modern city than your Kampala. But for students to think of maize flour when returning home from abroad shows how long Mugabe overstayed his welcome.
As I said earlier, Rhodes is an elite private university and, therefore, anybody who could have afforded to pay fees for their kids there for undergraduate courses wasn’t an ordinary person in any sense of the word. These were elite kids from rich Zim families. Back in Harare, previously the food basket of Africa, Sadza (maize meal in Shona) had to be imported by students returning for their holidays. I had never ever thought that any student could be thinking of buying maize flour when returning home from abroad.
And it is such shameful things that must have made Zimbabweans celebrate Mugabe’s ouster like a teenager who has just received an iPhone X for their 16th birthday. Mugabe is gone and the sun rises again. Of course, it will not be easy because Zanu-PF is still in control and those who are taking over were part of Mugabe’s inhumane policies — he initiated them and they formulated and implemented them with glee. And it is never easy to move away from Mugabeism after so many decades.
There might even be a nasty fight between the army and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the person expected to become president as each tries to show the other who is boss. There might be purges in the army, government, public service, and Zanu-PF as part of the power consolidation process. Army chief Gen Constitantino Chiwenga had more posters of himself in the streets during anti-Mugabe protests than any other person. Mnangagwa, aptly nicknamed the crocodile, must have noticed.
The purges may not worry most ordinary people though, Zimbabweans being generally a proud lot (especially the majority Shona tribe) would never want to be buying Sadza from a little uni town again when returning home instead of chocolates, designer sunglasses, and single malt whiskey.