Growing up in Malawi, I prided myself on my knowledge of African geography and at the age of 10, I could recite all the countries in Africa including their capital cities more or less in alphabetical order. I would always end with ‘Zimbabwe, Harare…!’, beaming at the achievement. It was not until a few years later that I came into contact with the country, mainly its produce.
When I was 15, I accompanied my aunt to the market in Lilongwe our capital city, to buy provisions for Christmas as my siblings and I were spending this time with her. I was told that we needed to be at the market for a particular time to catch the Munorurama bus that would be coming from Harare. Lilongwe business women would be returning with groceries and foodstuffs from Zimbabwe to sell, and this market was their first stop. We left the market that day with butter, Mazoe (cordial), cooking oil, sugar and some lovely treats. We were set for Christmas, and along with a traditional Malawian Christmas meal of slow cooked local chicken stew, rice, cabbage cooked with an onion and tomato sauce, Fanta to drink and lovely seasonal mangos for dessert, we had a memorable Christmas Day.
I was fascinated by Zimbabwe, which was known in the region as ‘the bread basket of southern Africa’ but it was not until I was 22 years old that I finally got the opportunity to visit Harare myself. Harare in 1997 was thriving. The streets were clean, the tall buildings sparkling; and entering the city after an 8 hour journey from Blantyre, through Tete and the Nyamapanda border, was a vision! Upon crossing into Zimbabwe I had passed large irrigated farms with acres upon acres of healthy maize crops, well-presented homesteads in rural areas, and happy children in smart school uniforms, and I remember thinking how far ahead this country was in its development from my own.
From that time, my next visit was in 2001 when I went to Harare to do some consultancy work. The city seemed to have lost some of its shine, but it was as lovely as I remembered it. My father came to see me from Malawi as I had relocated to the UK two years prior. He treated me to a Nandos dinner as we caught up on life. This was the last time I saw my father as he passed away suddenly three weeks later. That sealed the special place this country has in my heart.
After two years working at All We Can, I was privileged to return to Zimbabwe in 2016. The country seemed a shadow of itself. Driving the breadth of the country while visiting local organisations I passed parched fields where farms used to be. I met people whose lives had become a daily struggle affected by the drought and many could only eat one meal a day. The Zimbabwe of old would have been able to feed its people. I heard stories of hard working people, who were let down by the ‘system’, the leadership and the oppressive politics. People who had money in banks but they couldn’t access it with the country’s economy on the verge of collapse.
I danced ecstatically when I watched the regime change on the news knowing I was joining the families I had met just a year before. I could imagine their joy, and their laughter! The political change in the country offers hope, and even though the challenges will not disappear overnight, the resilient citizens are ready to build a new Zimbabwe. All We Can is supporting families to start-up businesses and end poverty. In our Extraordinary Christmas catalogue, churches in the UK and individuals can purchase a ‘Zimbabwean special’ gift to support these efforts.
My prayer for Zimbabwe this Christmas season is that the people I met will have enough food to eat and be as merry as I was all those years ago with my Zimbabwean flavoured Christmas at my aunt’s house in Lilongwe.
I pray that that they will be blessed with good leadership to drive the country forward, and as I reflect on this as a Christian, I am reminded that there is a perfect government to come. Oh that our leaders may emulate that government for the sake of their people!
Isaiah 9:6-7New King James Version (NKJV)
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.