I was speaking with a new friend recently. Suzanne is from Zimbabwe, a country she says is the most beautiful in the world, one where she grew up, spent most of her life (she’s 54 now) and where most of her family lived, married, worked and died in their time. I can see the wistful expression on her face when she speaks about it, and in her voice there is love for a place dear to her. She moved to the USA in 2002.
Despite these happy memories of Zimbabwe, beginning in the 1980’s with the arrival of strongman Robert Mugabe‘s policy of confiscation of land and property from white, wealthy landowners Suzanne told me that things began to change. Her black neighbors and friends – people with whom she’d grown up and worked – now turned against her and her family. Their formerly peaceful town saw a sharp rise in violence, marked by robberies, assaults and kidnappings.
The government (local and national) slowly crept toward socialism as the tyrant’s friends, associates and followers took power at all levels of government. Suzanne and her family began fearing for their safety on a daily basis as the government began to confiscate private property by force. The issue of land distribution, which Mugabe’s party had promised to solve by consensus, came roaring back as the ruling party’s governing philosophy around 1997. Mugabe began forcibly redistributing this land to his associates in 2000. The legality and constitutionality of the process has regularly (and unsuccessfully) been challenged in the Mugabe-controlled Zimbabwean High and Supreme Courts.
Citing “fairness”, broad public support and promising a better future for all Zimbabweans when wealth had been “shared equally”, Mugabe’s forces began violent attacks against any opposition. Whether face-to-face or in media, the policy effectively created division and strife in the country, pitting neighbor against neighbor and branding those who opposed the policy as “greedy”, “selfish” and “traitors”. The brutal police state and tyrannical bureaucracy that emerged during that dark time held power in its iron fist – and no compunctions against using it.
Suzanne and her family were forced to flee Zimbabwe when it became impossible for them to leave their homes without being attacked for their views. With the arrival of hyperinflation, people began carrying paper bags full of worthless currency to purchase the most trivial items with $1 Trillion bills. On the black market, American dollars became the currency of choice as store owners began refusing the local money.
When their family business was shut down by Mugabe’s thugs because the family refused to pay protection money or “donate” to the Mugabe presidential campaign, the family packed up as many belongings as they could in the dead of night over week-long period and fled Zimbabwe, never to return.
Suzanne told me all of these while pointing out how much of America has changed, sadly for the worse. She said, “I left my home to escape these ideas and madness. And it has followed me here.” She looks at cities like Chicago and Detroit, and the State of California with sadness. “They have chosen to go this route, willingly and with eyes wide open.” I asked her to elaborate and she said, “I see the same anger here that I saw at home. People are turning against each other, and the leaders are saying things that make us hate each other, not trust each other, and be jealous of each other.”
“If you look at Chicago, where people are just killing each other like animals, and Detroit where they are destroying their own city, you see what I saw in Zimbabwe. It is madness. There’s no sense to it, but it starts with the leaders – the mayors and the President. They’ve done nothing to help, only to hurt. Things get worse, not better.”
It appears that a perspective from the outside serves to crystallize and give voice to the reality we see all around us. America is coarsening, and slowly becoming something none of us want. It is critical we do what we can to bring about positive change.