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Cricket in the land of misery

Wide, wll-maintained roads, skyscrapers, shops and pavements bustling with people, cars and taxies plying on the road. Living in Harare does not appear to be ordeal, but a pleasurable experience.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2003 02:13 IST

Wide,wll-maintainedroads, skyscrapers, shops and pavements bustling with people, cars and taxies plying on the road. Living in Harare does not appear to be ordeal, but a pleasurable experience.

Why would anyone want to protest and not come to this city? England forfeited Their match against Zimbabwe under pressure from the Government, and also echoed the desire of Nasser Hussain --- who wants to be seen as someone who is concerned with human rights violations and cares for the sufferings of the people.

It was done to convey a message, to tell the world that they can't play in a country whose ruler is a tyrannical despot and has pushed his country to the brink of another civil war. One of the main reasons cited for this drastic stand was that people have no food to eat and anyone who raises his voice in protest is put behind the bars.

The pictures of Robert Mugabe, the architect of Zimbabwe's independence, adorn the walls of government offices, hotels and even restaurants. On the surface, Harare is as peaceful as any place and people as docile and helpful as one can expect a civilised, well-governed society to be.

The first shock any visitor with dollars to spend gets is when he exchanges the money for the local currency. The official rate is 5,500 per dollar but in the market you get double or even three times that amount. One lakh, forty thousand to 100 dollars!

But this is the kind of money you can spend in a day. Inflation is mind-boggling. The second shock comes when you start talking to the mild-mannered, friendly people. "There is no food in this country. People are starving,'' they tell you.
You are also told that even in Harare, there are long queues every day to buy bread and you would be lucky if you will get a few loaves. Petrol is scarce and thus rationed.

People have been prevented from forming queues for buying bread during the time of the World Cup and petrol has been made available during this period so that the world does not see the real picture,' you are told.

The Blacks, the supposed beneficiaries of Mugabe's revolution, are the worst sufferers. "It is terrible. We don't know why has he done it? He has let loose his goons, forced the White farmers to abandon their farms without any alternate plans to plough the land. We are an agriculture-based society and now there is no food to eat.

"Just go out of Harare and you will see the real picture of Zimbabwe. Starvation deaths are common. Come back after the World Cup is over, and you will see the different face of Harare.''

Such comments are routinely heard. And, the most vocal are the Blacks who, unlike in South Africa, are to be seen in majority numbers everywhere.

The only place where one can find the Whites forming the majority is the cricket ground, be it the spectators or the team. It is a society reeling under the terrible impact of "reverse racism' which is followed by a ruler whose only aim seems to be to perpetuate his power.

Any voice of dissent is throttled with an iron hand. On the eve of India's match, the police arrested a Supreme Court judge on charges of corruption. The real reason, it is said, was that the judge had released an opposition leader whom Mugabe's government had put behind bars.

Seen in this backdrop, what Andy Flower, a White, and Henry Olonga, a Black, did by wearing black armbands in their match against Namibia, to protest against "human rights violations in our beloved country and to show solidarity with the suffering and starving masses of our country'', was a great act of courage.
Olonga was dropped from the playing XI against India and one fears what final fate awaits the two.

"Unlike South Africa, this is not a violent society. You can walk around the roads, anywhere, any time, without the fear of being mugged. People are suffering, angry but don't want another war. But Mugabe has to go otherwise this country is finished,'' is the majority opinion among Blacks.

For the tourists and journalists, Harare is today a city where they can flash their dollars and live their fantasies of becoming millionaires overnight, thanks to the unreal dollar-local currency exchange.

For the Indian cricketers, Harare has come as a boon and on Thursday, they left this country in a happy frame of mind, debating their future in the World Cup with renewed hope.

For the people of Harare, cricket has been an unnecessary distraction from their daily quota of misery and suffering.

First Published: Feb 21, 2003 02:13 IST