Wednesday 5 August 2009
The new optimism in Zimbabwe feels palpable, but this is a subjective judgement based on limited experience. However, it is backed up by everyone I have spoken to in the last twenty four hours. One measure of this might be the resumption of building for the future. When I was here two years ago I observed that almost every building project had stopped – not only because of lack of money (astronomical inflation and consequent unemployment had reduced the economy to ruin), but also because it is hard to plan for a future when your mind is focused on your next meal and whether your kids will ever go to school again. On one desolate farm I took a photograph of a single flower planted in dry earth – a symbol of defiant hope that out of the arid deadness will one day come new beauty.
This morning I was taken to a building project at Ascot – which does not resemble the English Ascot in any respect whatsoever. This is a building site on which hundreds of houses are built, half-built or started. Bishop Ishmael took a visionary decision four years ago and bought four plots for houses. The plan was to house two diocesan staff (and their families) in two of the houses, then let the other two to provide an income which would pay the expenses of the other two houses – thus rendering the future housing of these people cost-neutral to the diocese. One family is already living in one house (only the outside now needs to be painted) and the second is almost finished. A third is half-finished and the fourth simply has the walls and roof built so far.
At one point last year the wisdom of buying these plots looked suspect, to say the least. Today it looks vindicated. There is now the money available (US Dollars and South African Rand) for people to give, and one house has been adopted by the parish of St Luke, KweKwe (where I will be next Sunday) which will complete the house at their expense and then hand it over to the diocese. The doors, window frames and electricity are already installed.
We left Ascot and went on to visit another project at Harben Park. The diocese bought three large plots of land and then were unable to progress their agricultural development because of lack of money and people’s inability to get there (lack of fuel). The plan is for these plots to be developed, with the produce then sold to raise funds towards paying the stipends and pensions of the clergy in the diocese. In order to plant you have to be able to conceive of a future and see it as worth investing in. Plans are now afoot to begin this work once the Ascot houses are finished.
This might not seem much by English standards. But the challenges here have been enormous and people have survived with their faith and integrity intact. The clergy – led by their bishop – have, to my mind, been exemplars of the vocation of the Old Testament prophets: to keep hope alive for people when the evidence of their eyes tells a different story; to sing songs of ‘home’ when people feel themselves to be in the exile of the desert; to promise a future when the present speaks only of death and destruction.
Partnership with these people is a privilege.