I remember meeting a young Zimbabwean man a few days before I left Botswana. We were alone in a car. I asked him about President Mugabe. I don’t really remember what he said; I only remember him whispering the entire time, as if he expected Mugabe to pop up at any moment.
The first place I visited in Zimbabwe was the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo. The central patio contains a set of four concrete steps that lead to nothing, except four rusted nails. The government removed the nude sculpture that used to be there. They told the gallery that the sculpture was pornographic.
I interviewed as many artists as I could at the gallery, because I figured painters, sculptors and playwrights would have a few compelling stories about government censorship. One writer told me about a fellow playwright who had been kidnapped one night, and the next day they found him with purple, swollen feet. I met a painter who had been jailed for a week because he created an exhibition with pieces critical of Mugabe. His trial is ongoing.
But, as much as everyone loathed Mugabe, I would hear everyone repeat “Patience Pays, Patience Pays.” They sounded like they were hopeful that someday soon Mugabe would die, and things would be better.
Look at what’s happening in Libya, they’d say. Look at what’s happening in Egypt, they’d say. Why would we want that here?