Where We Have Hope: a memoir of Zimbabwe, by Andrew Meldrum

Crying out for a beloved country
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The Independent Culture

Love has the ability to build a suit of armour around a man - even a reporter. This is what the Zimbabwean authorities never understood in their campaign against the journalist Andrew Meldrum. When they ran out of ideas in May last year, they had to break their own laws and drag him on to an aircraft to get him out of the country.

Love has the ability to build a suit of armour around a man - even a reporter. This is what the Zimbabwean authorities never understood in their campaign against the journalist Andrew Meldrum. When they ran out of ideas in May last year, they had to break their own laws and drag him on to an aircraft to get him out of the country.

The American-born correspondent has charted the history of Zimbabwe since 1980, the end of white minority rule, when he arrived as a young reporter. Robert Mugabe's personality - crafted by Jesuits, moulded by prison hardships and fired by ambition - emerged early. As prime minister, Mugabe wanted to head a single-party state. In 1983, he co-opted by force the rival liberation leader Joshua Nkomo. Tens of thousands were killed in Nkomo's native Matabeleland.

Mugabe got his way. The British Conservatives found it useful to have a president you could do business with whose country bordered apartheid South Africa. The left worshipped the Chinese-backed Mugabe. Blacks and whites - including the commercial farmers - quietly got on with getting along. But as the command economy became unsustainable, Mugabe transformed it into an economy for the commandeered. Cronies got the farms that had been bought with aid donors' money.

Nelson Mandela's release in 1991 stripped Mugabe of his regional importance. In 1997, liberation war veterans were given vast pensions. In 1998, little Zimbabwe sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Food prices soared and Zimbabweans woke up to the need for an opposition.

In 1999, the regime began attacking the media. Anyone not a supporter of the ruling party was branded its enemy. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change topped the hitlist. Torture and intimidation became Mugabe's tools.

What makes Meldrum's story compelling is his honesty: his early nervousness; the trials of his rickety Renault 4; his struggle - as a liberal non-racist - to accept things were going wrong; and his touching encounters with Zimbabweans. He recounts being taken for a ride by an elderly chief from a remote area. Meldrum offers him a lift from Harare; the old man packs the car with an impossible cargo - including a box of live chicks, a wife and a baby - and takes him on an epic journey in which Meldrum paints himself as the hapless whitey at the wheel. These are the experiences that formed Meldrum's love for his adopted country.

The book's heroes far outnumber its villains: Meldrum's lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, cricketers Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, opposition politicians Margaret Dongo and Morgan Tsvangirai and, most of all, Zimbabwe's brave, ordinary citizens. It is therefore surprising that Meldrum, who has poured all of his heart and his faculties into the book, has chosen the kind of insipid title used in aid-agency reports. The contents merit something more combative, and so do 11 million courageous, resilient Zimbabweans.

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