I continue to be fascinated by the progress and exploits of Kirsty Coventry, the double gold, quadruple silver and bronze medal winning swimmer from Zimbabwe. Yesterday, she returned home to what The Zimbabwe Times called a “hero’s welcome”:
Hundreds of fans gathered at the Harare International Airport on Wednesday to welcome Zimbabwe’s gold and triple-Olympic silver medal winner Kirsty Coventry and her colleagues in the team which represented Zimbabwe.
It appears also that the “give her a farm” movement has not disappeared since her medal winning outing in 2004:
It was an outpouring of passion for the 25-year-old as hundreds hailed the swimming sensation with one placard reading: “Kirsty, we will give you a farm.”
This was a considerably brave thing to say, given that Mugabe was due to greet her and the rest of Team Zimbabwe. However, others were even more courageous:
A sea of red cards appeared directly in front of Mugabe and roars of “Chinja” – the MDC slogan for change – drowned the efforts of the military band. His supporters responded with cries of support, but were easily outnumbered by joyful MDC activists.
As for Ms. Coventry herself, her diplomatic skills and graciousness were abundantly in evidence:
“I was just trying to show the rest of the world that there are also good things in Zimbabwe,” Coventry said. “I can never be anything else but Zimbabwean. I am glad I am home to share my success with all of you.”
Mugabe’s response showed his discomfort, as well as the contrasting joy of the people of Zimbabwe in her success:
“I am sure you all join me in congratulating them, especially Kirsty Coventry, most heartily on that heroic performance,” Mugabe added, amid shouts of “She is white, why are you kicking out whites?”
A legitimate question, as Blessing-Miles Tendi of the Guardian reported Mugabe saying:
The only white man you can trust is a dead white man.
Our party must continue to strike fear in the heart of the white man, our real enemy.
However, because Coventry is popular:
…she attended a banquet hosted by Mugabe at his official state house residence.
And Tendi gave perhaps the best summary of the situation:
Anti-white politics has not aroused black Zimbabweans against white people. Even during the explosive land seizures phase, to a greater extent attacks on white Zimbabweans remained linked to state-sponsored farm invasions and official pronouncements.
The Mugabe government’s “hatred” of whites has not filtered down to the average black Zimbabwean. Most black Zimbabweans are aware that the root cause of Zimbabwe’s problems is, ultimately, the Mugabe government. Blaming white Zimbabweans and white Britain will never wash this charge away. Black Zimbabweans see through it â€“ just as they see the irony in the Mugabe government’s taking of Coventry to its bosom.
Which should give hope to those who want Zimbabwe to succeed as an example of a multiracial, peaceful society. Again, well done to the able Kirsty Coventry, and well done to the people of Zimbabwe.