Jubilation, Unprintable Expletives, and KFC in the Middle of Zimbabwe’s Coup
Sadza nuggets in Harare
When I was growing up in Zimbabwe in the 90s, we didn’t have KFC, or many other fast-food joints for that matter, and most people lived primarily on the maize-meal staple, sadza.
So it was strange to be back, 17 years after I left, chowing down on KFC’s deep-fried sadza nuggets for breakfast during a military coup. Maybe it was just my euphoria at being back home and covering the story of a lifetime, or the jubilation of the Zimbabweans all around me at the downfall of a despot, but those sadza nuggets were divine.
Sazda has the consistency and appearance of mashed potato. It’s a carb-heavy comfort food usually consumed with some kind of relish–spinach and peanut butter is a common side dish. KFC’s sadza nuggets are a modern, greasy twist on an old classic: rolled into little balls, dusted with KFC spices, and deep-fried with a gravy dip.
My fixer, Problem (actually an extremely helpful guy saddled with an unfair name) and I were eating the nuggets as we walked down the road with the hundreds of thousands of people who had turned out for a rally against Zimbabwe’s longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, who had been placed under house arrest by the military days earlier. He resigned Tuesday evening.
The atmosphere was electric; people were singing and dancing, hugging random strangers. Hooting minibuses, decorated with names like “No food for lazy boy” and “God’s protection,” were overpacked with people coming to the rally, some hanging precariously from the roofs.
If I hadn’t been working so hard reporting the story, I might have had more time to dwell on my return to a place that, I now realize, I never quite recovered from leaving. But even as I worked, adrenaline pumping through my veins, I took it all in: the orange of the princely flamboyant trees and lilac of the avenues of jacarandas, the smell of summer rains on the long grass, the red mud, the soft sounds of people speaking Shona, the taste of the sadza.
Let’s get one thing clear: I’m not a “when-we”–the name given to nostalgia-prone white Africans who long for “the old days.” I don’t long for Rhodesia; in fact, I never knew it: I was born in 1983 in a newly independent Zimbabwe.
Having grown up with leftist parents who had moved to the country post-Independence on a wave of optimism, and a mix of black and white friends, what I long for is the Zim I knew in the 90s–when there were good schools, good healthcare, and the country was still somewhat of a model for southern Africa.
That Zimbabwe is no more after years of misrule by Mugabe and his vicious, shopaholic wife, Grace.
The people had had enough long ago, essentially voting Mugabe out in the 2008 elections, but the opposition here has been violently repressed, and now it has taken a military coup—thankfully bloodless—to get the old man out.
Whether what comes next is good is unclear, but Zimbabweans say they are sure it can’t be worse.
Back at the rally, Problem and I were enjoying the creative banners protesters had made for the occasion. “Leadership is not sexually transmitted,” read our favorite, which showed a picture of the first lady with a red cross through it. Mugabe, at 93 the world’s oldest leader, had favored his wife to succeed him and wanted to create a dynasty.
Grace Mugabe is widely loathed in this plundered country for her penchant for high-end brands and fancy cars, while her children cavort in the most expensive clubs in Johannesburg. One video doing the rounds on Zimbabwe’s social media shows one of Mugabe’s sons pouring champagne all over his expensive watch.
“Gucci rags pack your bags,” read another banner referring to the first lady.
“Hello, I’m a journalist, can you comment on why you’ve turned out to protest today?” I asked a young man walking alongside me.
He let off a colorful string of expletives about Mugabe.
“I can’t publish that,” I told him, laughing.
Then I ate another sadza nugget.