The Zambezi sparkles in the sun as it drives a broad wedge between Zambia and Zimbabwe on its way from Angola, past Namibia, past Botswana, and on until it topples over Victoria Falls and continues through Mozambique and spills out into the Indian Ocean.
A troop of baboons was free-running the border post, vaulting up onto the back of a trailer and running along, dropping off, scooting across the yard, up the side of the building, grasping a window ledge, springing up, leaping and grabbing for the roof, sliding down the satellite dish, back into the car park, over the fence in a couple of bounds, then stopping to rest and eat a pilfered sandwich.
Passport control is well into Zimbabwe, but one desk is officially Zambia and I officially left at some notional point as I walked the few metres across the floor to buy a Zimbabwe visa. Much of the world pays US$30, but Brits pay 50 because of Cecil Rhodes, and Canadians 75 – I am told – because their PM was recently rude about Uncle Bob.
Unity, Freedom, Work is Zimbabwe’s motto, but the unity is fragile, there is little freedom and barely any work. Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF has reportedly murdered, tortured, beaten and flattened the villages of people it believed to support the opposition. The economy was once one of the strongest in the region: now it is one of the weakest in the world. Unemployment has hovered around 90% for years. The regime blames sanctions. Others blame the regime.
But Zimbabwe was – for different reasons – a pariah state before Mugabe and ZANU-PF, before it was Zimbabwe; and its unhappy modern history dates at least to the 1880’s, to the Scramble for Africa and Cecil Rhodes’ dream of the British Empire stretching from the Cape to Cairo.
For miles and miles after the border, there was nothing but waist-high yellow grass flecked with red, except for a few generations of car wreck: a Humber from the forties, a Chevrolet from the sixties and others too screwed up and stripped of parts to be recognised.
We stopped for diesel at a flyblown filling station with big chunks of the canopy missing. Ragged men sat listlessly on the grass around it. A Rottweiler stood up and glared from a crumpled pick-up truck. The Lion’s Den Butchery around the back had dust-encrusted grilles on the door and hardly looked inviting; but inside there was a chiller cabinet filled with biltong and more of it drying on racks on the walls and I bought a few dollars’ worth and pigged it all as we headed south to the capital.
© Richard Senior 2015
Countryside image: Shutterstock