ACTIVIST Alan Fish has just returned from a week in Zimbabwe.
He was working for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change during the election campaign.
He said: “I didn’t find anyone on the streets who didn’t want change.”
Alan, 54, of High Flatts, near Birdsedge, has long had an interest in Zimbabwe.
He arrived in the country on March 26, just before the presidential and parliamentary elections.
He said: “I spent a few days going round the villages talking to people about the election. Then I went to the capital, Harare, to help the election effort of Tapiwa Mashakada, the MDC’s finance spokesman.”
Alan also went to a rally outside Harare addressed by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Alan said: “There were 15,000 people, some of whom had walked for miles to get there. Tsvangirai told the crowd that there was no ‘quick fix’, but he would make sure that people had a job and enough to eat.
“He also said the police wouldn’t be used as a tool of the state.”
Alan saw little sign that President Robert Mugabe was trying to rig the elections in favour of his Zanu-PF party. “There was no intimidation at the polls,” he said.
But Alan found that people were reluctant to discuss politics openly.
He said: “I didn’t find anyone on the streets who didn’t want change, but they tended to whisper their thoughts or speak in the third person.”
Alan, who returned to England on Thursday, is unsure what will happen to Zimbabwe after the election results are finally announced.
He said: “No-one seems to know what will happen now. It would be easier if Mugabe just left for Malaysia, where he has business interests.”
Alan said people in Zimbabwe were suffering from food shortages.
He said: “They talk about being zero, zero, one, which means no breakfast, no lunch and something for dinner.
“You see people cooking sweetcorn on the side of the road and some people go over to Zambia, Mozambique or South Africa to get cooking oil.
“In the countryside we saw some of the farms which used to belong to white farmers. There were massive greenhouses just lying empty.
“Zimbabwe is the most fertile country in Africa yet they can’t even feed themselves. It’s a sorry state.”
Inflation is also a huge problem.
Alan said: “A loaf of bread costs 400m Zimbabwean dollars, which is about £1. It’s not unusual for the price of something to double while you’re standing in a queue waiting to buy it.”
Alan, who is the director of water cooler company Cool Water Direct, has long followed developments in the country.
He said: “I’ve been interested since the 1960s when it was still Rhodesia. I’ve recently got involved helping Zimbabwean asylum-seekers. Also Morgan Tsvangirai is the son of a miner, as I am, so that struck a chord with me.”
Despite all the country’s problems Alan found the trip uplifting.
He said: “It was my first time in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe is a fantastic place, full of lovely, gentle, Christian people. That’s one of the reasons that Mugabe has been able to carry on for so long.”
But Alan believes Zimbabwe could become a magnet for British investment if the veteran leader loses power.
He said: “Trade is the only way the country is going to get out of its mess and, if there’s a new government, I would like to help.
“Once there’s a stable government Brits will want to buy houses there. The country is beautiful and the people speak English. It could become a new Spain.”
Meanwhile, Birkby couple Ken and Mags May have written a book about their time in Zimbabwe. Strangers in Paradise tells the story of their four years there, working as IT professionals.
Ken said: “Our aim was to help the country in any way we could. We quickly became deeply involved in the lives of township dwellers and subsistence farmers and were able to give practical help to schools and street kids.
“We felt grateful for the opportunity to be there, but could only watch in disbelief as Mugabe dismantled the economy in an effort to restore his popularity.
“Our book tries to paint a broad picture of life in Zimbabwe, especially the dignity and good humour of the people. We hope it fulfils our promise to tell the truth about the situation there.”
Copies of the book are available in libraries in Kirklees.