Been catching up on my reading recently and I managed to finish a good book that I’d been meaning to read for a long time – The Last Resort. Douglas Rogers is a Zimbabwean-born, US-based writer whose parents stayed put in Zimbabwe all during the madness of the past decade, when Robert Mugabe decided it’d be a good idea to let his vehement anti-Western rhetoric become reality and bring about the ruin of a formerly prosperous, peaceful and admirable nation. A lot of readers might remember seeing in the news in the early 2000s the stories of white Zimbabwean farmers being attacked and having their farms forcibly seized by liberation war “veterans”. The cause was ostensibly because it was unfair for the whites, a small but privileged minority, to own so much rich farmland. In any event, the “veterans” who took most of the white-owned farms proved to be mostly inept, inefficient, or useless, and the food production dropped drastically, helping bring in hyperinflation (and those crazy billion and trillion dollar denominations) and a breakdown in the local economy.
Coming back to the book, what makes the Rogers’ experience really crazy is that they ran a backpackers/hostel and cottage resort which eventually became a refuge for other white farmers, a hideout for opposition figures, brothel and local waterhole, brimming with illicit diamond dealers, prostitutes, crooked politicians and refugees. From 2002 to 2010, the writer made frequent trips to his parents’ home, whilst chronicling their story and meeting up with all kinds of folks from heroic opposition figures to shady diamond dealers to government apparatchiks, of which the fascinating output is this book.
The Last Resort is touching, funny, and memorable. Rogers is a great storyteller of the many events and characters in the book. The book covers a bleak and terrible time, when poverty, unemployment and violence were rife, but it’s anything but depressing. The then-opposition MDC saw supporters killed and members harassed, not to mention its leader, the current Prime Minister, having his head literally busted up. Rogers’ parents are MDC sympathizers and they do their part to help by hiding opposition members in their resort cottages. For their troubles, they face a constant threat of eviction and near the end of the book, a visit by 20 young toughs intent on violence. By staying put and risking their lives to keep their home and help others, Rogers’ parents are also reaffirming their Africanness, a touchy subject for whites who were born and raised in African countries, but face resentment and distrust by black Africans. As it is, Rogers’ parents have been in Africa for generations, with his father’s ancestors having arrived in South Africa 350 years ago. Zimbabwe’s turbulent past is frequently described, especially the fight for liberation in the 70s by black rebels against the white government, after which Mugabe emerged as a hero and became the nation’s leader. I don’t know much about this war and it’s sobering to learn how serious and intensive it was. I was especially shocked to learn of a raid where Zimbabwean forces killed over 1200 rebels in Mozambique, which the author recalled being happy about as a child, and which an old soldier and former rebel living in one of his parents’ cottages survived.