Feeling their way around a Zimbabwe without Mugabe as president
“We are very relieved that is a new beginning for our economy and people’s freedom,” he says.
Brian Brom is a Zimbabwean who lives in South Africa, but travels there regularly, and has worked closely with the government. He says that soon-to-be interim President Emmerson Mnangagwa – who is believed to have instigated the military takeover after being fired by Mugabe – wants the country to change and to be welcomed into the international fold.
Brom knows him well and says that despite his violent past as Mugabe’s second in command, he thinks he is good for the country.
Brom also believes Mnangagwa is a deeply religious man and may be more supportive of Israel and open to Israelis coming to assist Zimbabwe, particularly in agriculture.
Alana Baranov grew up in Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa as a young child. She works in human rights education, and has been extensively involved in her country of birth, advocating for human rights.
Although she is sceptical of the way change occurred, she couldn’t help being swept up in the joy of the moment. “To think that Mugabe was president when I was born there, and now he is gone, is truly incredible.”
As one of the many Zimbabweans living in the Diaspora, she hopes to play a role in advocating for change, and feels that many Zimbabweans around the world can do the same to help rebuild society.
“Remember, the tyrant has been removed but the system hasn’t been changed, and what happened is due to more than just one man,” she cautions. “The power is in the hands of the army generals, who were by Mugabe’s side for decades. Mnangagwa had a role to play in the genocide of the Ndebele (figures fluctuate between 20 000 and 100 000 killed), and the oppression of democratic activists.”
Baranov has friends and family who were jailed and tortured on orders from Mnangagwa and his men. “The past is still present,” she emphasises. “We need to be vigilant and ensure democracy is placed in the hands of the people.”
She adds that there is a rich Jewish history in Zimbabwe and that the many young Jewish Zimbabweans living around the world now have the opportunity to strengthen that connection. There is also archival material and historical records that need to be documented. “This can be an exciting period for growth and development, and young people can play a part,” she concludes.
Joffe agrees that Mugabe’s resignation does not mean that the challenges of the past and present are all over, and hopes that rational policy and the implementation of a full democracy under the new regime will be implemented as soon as possible.
African Jewish Congress Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft concurred that he is delighted it wasn’t a hostile takeover. “The question is how it will pan out – only time will tell.” He feels that the Jewish community can be “cautiously optimistic”, and hopes that those who left, may go back to reopen factories (which have been left as they were) and invest in the country.
He recalls the Zimbabwean Jewish community in its heyday as being a vibrant and actively Zionist community, enjoying the privileges of living in the breadbasket of Africa. However, despite its small numbers of about 100 souls today, it still maintains a rich Jewish life and communal spirit.
“When you are a small community, your best strategy is to lie low, otherwise you will be the target when things go wrong,” explains the rabbi.
From his perspective, it was when Mugabe married his second wife Grace that things went downhill for the country. He has met Mugabe in the past and describes him as “no fool, highly educated and deeply religious”. As the African Jewish Congress rabbi, he will meet the incoming leadership in due course.
Raymond Roth in Bulawayo is proud that Zimbabweans have dealt with this sweeping change so calmly, and that there is no indication of tension.
He says that they have not been fearful – in fact, on Friday night they had a full shul service and brocha, and no one mentioned any concerns. He thanked Jews around the world for the ongoing messages of concern, support and well-wishes.
A Jewish woman who lives in Johannesburg and was born in Zimbabwe, grew up there and is still a citizen, says that the news has made her want to go home. “I would love to go back and I’m sure I’m not the only one. South Africa has been good, but it is not home.”
The woman recalls a glorious and safe childhood spent outdoors. She would love the same idyllic life for her daughter.
She feels it is possible and that because Zimbabweans are so peaceful, it is actually safer than South Africa. “I’ve never heard of a hijacking in Zimbabwe. There is no real crime and people won’t hurt you.”
Her parents and brother still live there and she says they are all thrilled, especially because there was no bloodshed. “There is a long way to go, but the first step has happened.”