Monday, 8 March 2010

Return to Zimbabwe

Simon Pope, SPANA’s Communications Director, and Karen Reed, SPANA’s Veterinary Director, have spent the last week in Zimbabwe. SPANA has a long history of helping animal welfare efforts in this beautiful country, from supporting the rescue of horses abandoned by farmers after the land invasions to the work of the Donkey Protection Trust (DPS) in Bulawayo, which provides simple but effective vet care to working donkeys and horses.

In a series of blogs, Simon gives an insight into the work being done here, which was funded by SPANA donors responding generously to an appeal in 2009.


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to a group of people that Zimbabwe was one of my favourite places on earth. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and even live in various parts of Africa but there is nowhere like it. The people who I said this to looked visibly shocked. “Are you joking?” one asked “I mean, it’s an awful place isn’t it?”
Zimbabwe is a country that i have never and probably will never be able to understand.

It has an indefinable, mercurial character that is also a huge mass of contradictions. It is a political basket case and i could write pages about that but it wouldn’t change a thing. So SPANA’s work here is all about supporting the efforts being made to help working equines because by doing so we are helping those people who depend completely on those animals for a livelihood.

So we are back here again, and met by Ian Redmond of the DPS. Once I’ve supplied him with Marmite and a few English newspapers to remind him of the fact that even the old homeland is going though a few problems, he drops us off at the hotel, throws me the keys to the car and we arrange to meet up on Friday.

We are staying at The Bulawayo Club - a gleaming white wedding-cake confection of colonial architecture with solid, impregnable looking columns like a portcullis at its entrance. Stepping inside it smells and even sounds like a Pall Mall Club. The oak floors and panelling seem to have become impregnated with decades of cigar smoke, gun oil, port, and impossible Boys-Own tales of man against beast. Its a glorious relic of an inglorious age and because thye Club is on its uppers its turned over part of the building to a hotel chain, and the rooms are some of the least expensive in Bulawayo.

Club luminaries from the past peer out of the prisons of their picture frames their faces frozen in oils. The cage lift would not have looked out of place in an episode of Poirot – all black and chrome Art deco rectangles.

Other rooms of uncertain purpose have been mothballed. I sneak a look in one whose roof has fallen in, but even here an indignant looking be-whiskered and ruddy faced portrait of a former Club chairman is staring out at me as if to say “You! Yes you Sir! What the devil are you doing in the Sebastopol Lounge wearing a patterned shirt? Have you no sense of propriety?”

It dawns on me that this is a sort of colonial Hogwarts- the place seems alive with the spirits of its patrons all gazing down or skulking about pre-occupied with the moral descent of the 21’st century. When one of the hotel guests at dinner on Friday night begins to breast feed her baby, I can almost hear voices calling “Oh no! This is the end! Take down the flag! The end is nigh...”

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