Over the last three months, I’ve been working on a project with the Sport and Recreation Commission (SRC) of Zimbabwe, in Harare. If the SRC was going to behave ‘well’, the project was going to be extended to two years. Last week, ICCO, the Dutch organization funding my stay, decided no extension was in order. They decided that June 15th is going to be my last day at the office.
The SRC, I believe, still hope that somehow they’ll avert the crisis and that I’ll end up staying longer, I don’t think it’ll happen.
Over the past months, I observed a couple of things. Amongst others, they are…
Zimbabweans have a particular smell. In Mongolia, the locals smelled of mutton. Here, they smell of sadza ne nyama. It’s getting colder now, so people sweat less, meaning you can now occasionally smell the perfumes and after shaves people wear, but in summer… man! Traveling on a commuter can be a real challenge.
When people speak Shona, they speak much louder then when speaking English. Quite often, locals are hard to hear when they’re talking English. This has nothing to do with some inferiority complex, or whatever, when these people address foreigners or white people in general: they do it amongst themselves as well. However, when they speak Shona, the volume goes up a couple of notches.
In the lodge, this sometimes startles me. The maids, sometimes talking English with each other, almost whisper but switch to a very loud voice when switching to Shona.
The social contract
It has been observed by many people that in many African cultures, it’s all right to fool/steal from/harass some one, as long as the person is not part of your extended family. I believe this is because Africans, in general, don’t have a ‘social contract’ with society as a whole, but mostly only with their extended family.
In Europe, it’s mostly the other way around, you don’t have a social contract with your family much more than you have with society as a whole.
Examples are rife. Here in Zimbabwe, black people, when driving a car, generally don’t let pedestrians cross the road (black or white), at zebra crossings or anywhere else. At work, getting teamwork off the ground is a real challenge since people prefer, at all times, to only work on their own agenda. And don’t get me started on Zimbabwean politics… land reform for the rich.
The lack of a social contract with society as a whole poses significant problems for the development of a country, or for stopping the continuous depredation of a country, as is the case in Zimbabwe. In fact, this might very well be the main reason why so many African countries have done so badly over the past decades.