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Why Did Robert Mugabe Ban Goats From A City Where There Are No Goats?

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe went for matching accessories during a February celebration of his 91st birthday. He appears not to be a fan of goats.
AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe went for matching accessories during a February celebration of his 91st birthday. He appears not to be a fan of goats.

Town goats? No way, says Zimbabwe's Mugabe.

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, is an autocratic, austere, ascetic but impeccably Western-style dressed 91-year-old who has ruled his nation for 35 years. He rides in a bomb-proof, bullet-proof limousine at high speed with nary a glance at his surroundings in the capital city, Harare, in a multi-vehicle motorcade guarded by soldiers, secret service agents and motorcycle outriders with wailing sirens to stop all the traffic along his route.

But we do know now what he doesn't want to see through the dark-tinted windows of that hurtling black armored Mercedes limousine, license plate "Zim 1": "We do not want chaos; the sort of mayhem you see in other countries where you see goats in the city center," he declared on July 29.

"That's what I once witnessed in West Africa," Mugabe said. "No, we want those who have shops to sell their wares freely, [so] then goats must [only] go to kuMbudzi*," the pens outside the city where they are brought from the countryside to be sold to slaughterhouses and butchers.

As yet, there are no goats in the center of Harare, its tree-lined boulevards and broad streets making it one of the most picturesque cities in sub-Saharan Africa. Very occasionally, a goat, tethered at the forelegs and hindlegs, is carried on the shoulders of its owner through downtown from one bus parking lot to another.

So why has the humble goat — mbudzi in the local Shona language — suddenly caught Mugabe's attention?

Record unemployment of 80 percent in the crumbling formal economy of commerce, mining and industry has led to a proliferation of street vending, not of livestock but of vegetables, cellphone chargers, CDs, cheap Chinese imports and shoes, T-shirts and other clothing, some of it secondhand, on sidewalks and open spaces everywhere. Authorities are trying to move the vendors to "controlled areas" at a time when it is estimated 80 percent of the 13 million population survive on what is known as "informal sector" activities — mostly street selling.

According to the agriculture ministry, the country has more than 2 million goats, and 98 percent of them are to be found in impoverished rural areas. The low-maintenance, rurally ubiquitous vegetarian ruminants are hardy enough to live in drought-prone conditions. Their meat and byproducts reach stores and markets across the land amid growing calls from Zimbabwean agricultural experts for farmers to raise more goats, which can thrive in dry conditions that can be brought about by climate change.

At the biggest kuMbudzi near a cemetery and tobacco auction floor on the southern-bound highway out of Harare, a fine, live female specimen costs about $30. The whole head is boiled as a traditional delicacy, and none of the rest of it goes to waste. In western Zimbabwe, the he-goat's testicles — the local version of American Rocky Mountain oysters — are roasted on an open fire still in the scrotum and eaten for virility.

Over a lifetime, Robert Mugabe has traveled the length and breadth of Africa. He met his first wife in Ghana, where he first saw goats on the street.

Mugabe has never shunned African culture but does not wear the flowing robes of traditional African dress either, always preferring tailored business suits and neckties, often with matching handkerchiefs in the breast pocket of the coat. Though he led his nation's struggle against British colonialism with the help of Chinese and Soviet political allies, he remained deeply conservative in his tastes and an admirer of things British as well as the orderly neatness of British colonial town planning.

The higgledy-piggledy of other African cities, where mansions, slums and livestock yards lie cheek by jowl, is not what he is used to. Hence, as Harare's own city regulations become increasingly lax 35 years after independence, he has taken up the not inconsiderable cudgels of his powers to stop the urbanization of the rural goat.

* The capital "M" is an idiosyncrasy of the local language; the term literally means "the place of the goats."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Angus Shaw
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
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