As president Robert Mugabe has made his first public appearance since the military coup on Wednesday, three Zimbabweans sit 5000 miles from their homeland, wondering about the potential outcome.
Earlier this week, in an attempt to have him resign peacefully, the president was put in military arrest in his home. Since the negotiations began on the second day of his captivity there has been quite a few rumours of his resignation but there are no clear inklings of where the discussions are going.
Truthfal met up with three Zimbabweans at Falmouth University to talk about the growing unease in their home country.
Russell Easterbrook, a gaming design-student currently in his 3rd year, has taken a break from his busy schedule to share his thoughts on the situation.
“I’m a little bit worried,” he says when asked about his family. “You never know how it will change or how it will turn out. It could one way or another, which is interesting.”
As a 23-year-old, Russell has never experienced anyone other than Mugabe as the president is currently in his 37th year of dictatorship. Since Zimbabwe’s independence from the UK in 1980, he has ruled the country with an iron fist.
In Colne Valley, Harare, Russell’s sister Rose-Anne, is following the situation closely. She works as a teacher at Chisipite Senior School and says Zimbabweans are hoping for a ‘New Zimbabwe’, meaning a Zimbabwe where roads are fixed and healthcare improved, all with being able to withdraw money from a bank at the same time.
Zimbabwe has been in a state of turmoil for decades, with hyperinflation, severe droughts and a high unemployment and poverty. During the last days of hyperinflation in 2009, the Zimbabwean central bank even printed up trillion-dollar notes – which could barely buy you a loaf of bread. Since 2015, the official currency has ben US dollars.
Soon after the military arrested Mugabe, Foreign Minister Boris Johnson issued a statement urging all British nationals to “remain in their homes until the situation has become clearer,” and although both Russell and Rose-Ann are both born in Zimbabwe, they only hold UK passports as the process to getting a Zimbabwean often is complicated.
Rose-Ann says that they have been very careful about following the Government’s recommendations. In fact, at the school she works in, they only had about half of the staff come in on the first day because of the warning to stay at home and off the roads.
On the day of the coup, she says that although the news about the coup was a slow build-up she describes the situation as being “quite scary”.
“This has been the first real sign that there’s a big shuffle and a big change, and it has given us a great deal of hope,”
Describing the political atmosphere, she’s saying that the Zimbabweans are struggling with the fact that it’s happening very fast.
“We have waited a very long time to see the power change, and now it seems to come, almost at a curveball. This has been the first real sign that there’s a big shuffle and a big change, and it has given us a great deal of hope,” she says.
At another part of the university, Cherie Bridges follows the news, feeling sad about the unease in her native country but excited about the potential change it could bring.
Cherie, who’s in her third year of Marine and Natural History photography, moved from Zimbabwe with her family 10 years ago when the country failed to provide enough security.
“Zimbabwe wasn’t the place we knew anymore. We left everything. The only thing we could take with us out of the country was each other – and so now, that’s the only thing that really matters to us all.”
“Immigrating was incredibly hard but Zimbabwe wasn’t the place we knew anymore. We left everything. The only thing we could take with us out of the country was each other – and so now, that’s the only thing that really matters to us all.”
There has been a growing number of Zimbabweans emigrating in search for more opportunities and an easier life elsewhere. The number of Zimbabweans moving across the border to South Africa is estimated to be somewhere around 1 to 5 million and is the most popular destination for people from Zimbabwe. The UK is estimated to have around 100 000, mostly centred in the London-area.
Hoping that the result of this ‘coup’ will end in Mugabe’s resignation, Cherie says that although she can understand his rise to power, he has left the country in “shambles” and a change is desperately needed.
“Everybody knows that there needs to be a change, but nobody quite knows how to do it. Everyone that has tried has failed – or been murdered. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t be driving a car at 93 – let alone running a country. Best-case scenario – a new leader is put in place. Not the military, not Mugabe’s wife, not the vice president. Someone who can unite everyone again, instead of pitting everybody against each other.”
Dr Hayes Mabweazara, Senior Lecturer and researcher, initially came to the UK to do his doctorate. Before he moved, he spent four years teaching journalism studies at the National University of Science and Technology. He believes that for most Zimbabweans, the dream is to see the back of Mugabe and his wife.
Robert Mugabe’s wife, ‘Gucci Grace’, is believed to be the successor of Mugabe after his death. Her nickname was given to her due to her flaunting her expensive shopping habits while the rest of the country starved. Due to a series of scandals related to the first lady, she has grown to become almost as unpopular as Mugabe himself.
“This is a guy that has preceded over an economic decline. This is a guy that has preceded over of the death of quality of life for Zimbabweans.”
Dr Mabweazara says that the people of Zimbabwe deserve to live in a democratic society where their civil liberties are respected by the powers that be, but however, for the past 10 years, talking about succession has been rendered ‘taboo’.
“People deserve to live in a democratic context where their civil liberties articulated in the country’s constitution are respected by the powers that be.
“People deserve to live in a democratic context where their civil liberties articulated in the country’s constitution are respected by the powers that be. Zimbabweans have never known anything of that sort. “
Although the Cornish landscape and fresh air is perfect for Dr Mabweazara, he humbly admits that it would be a dream to go back and help rebuild his native country.
“At the end of it all when it’s all said and done, a product of the Zimbabwean education system and a Zimbabwean native, there’s a sense in which I will contribute to the development of my country.”
As the country awaits further updates about where negotiations are going, protesters are organising a march to support the army.
In a last update to Truthfal, Rose-Ann says: “People are very despondent today! They are selling shirts, caps and other merchandise, all on the street corners with the caption ’37 years he must fall!
Zimbabwe’s official media is silent, all they have done today is present revolutionary songs in Shona.”