THE BLOG
09/11/2013 06:32 pm ET | Updated Nov 11, 2013

Hearing Robert Mugabe Speak

Everyone does things they regret when traveling. Like that night you fell off the bar after one too many margueritas. Or the night you snogged that dodgy waiter with the ponytail on a dare for a free shot of tequila.

I began to fear it could be one of those moments when I found myself in Harare's 60,000-strong sports stadium, surrounded by a sea of staring faces while Zimbabwe's freshly-elected President Robert Mugabe railed against my government as something like Satan's representation on earth.

My trip to Zimbabwe started, as most of mine do, with a snap decision. I had originally planned to head to the country's laid back second city, Bulawayo, but problems with bus timetables forced me to travel directly to the capital, Harare.

I arrived just in time for a two-day public holiday to celebrate Heroes Day, commemorating those who died in the war to throw off British colonial rule, and then Defense Forces Day, which speaks for itself. It was also less than two weeks since Zimbabwe's latest round of elections that saw 89-year-old Mugabe officially win a landslide victory to remain president amid accusations of electoral fraud and voter intimidation.

Walking through the city center on my first day was an eerie experience. Everywhere posters of Mugabe and his arch rival Morgan Tsvangirai plastered the side of buildings. Graffiti exhorting people to "rise up and protect your vote" in the face of the disputed elections vied for space with slogans supporting the ruling ZANU-PF party. On the roads, drunk Mugabe supporters drove around on the back of trucks chanting war slogans.

Everything I know about Robert Mugabe paints him as the paradigm of an African dictator. At every turn he has crushed any opposition to his power, from his brutal repression of the Ndebele uprising in the mid 1980s to his "politicide" campaign in 2008 that is said to have seen supporters of Tsvangirai's MDC party tortured into submission.

But after the latest election officially gave him a landslide 61 percent of the vote -- a victory even some Western commentators have endorsed -- I was curious to see him in action. So, on my second day I jumped on one of the local buses to hear him speak for Defense Forces Day.

Harare's biggest sports stadium was packed, but, unsurprisingly, I was the only white face in the crowd. Everywhere people sporting ZANU-PF regalia stared at me as they jostled for space out of the midday sun. Hawkers drifted by touting their wares. Then, after what seemed like an age of waiting, I saw the tiny figure of the president assume the podium.

In spite of the demonisation that we have endured over the past 13 years under the West's regime change agenda in conjunction with their local allies, they have failed to frustrate our noble efforts

The indigenisation and empowerment drive will continue unabated...

This is our final phase of implementing the ideals of the liberation struggle, which started with the attainment of political independence in 1980, which was followed by the indigenisation of the land that was largely owned by the minority settler white community for nearly a century.

The crowd cheered and took to their feet. I stood in silence, amazed by the force of his hate. And then suddenly his speech was over, followed swiftly by a series of marching drills, parachute displays and several local dances. Suddenly the atmosphere seemed more like a day out at the races than a political rally.

As I wandered out afterwards, blinking in the sunlight, a soldier in uniform sporting a huge rifle slung over one shoulder approached me. "Hello. Did you have a good day?" he asked.

"Er, yes. Lots of fun," I replied, still bemused by the whole experience. "Good," he said, flashing a wide grin. "Welcome to Zimbabwe. I hope you enjoy your stay."