Africa Update: Zimbabwe Simmers, Jazz Education

Special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Farai Chideya discuss the impact of instability in Zimbabwe on South Africa, as well as a new sports-education center in the township of Soweto and the recent Cape Town Jazz Festival.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

In this week's Africa Update, NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault brings us a jazz fest in South Africa and news of the ripple effects from the crisis in Zimbabwe.

I asked Charlayne how Zimbabwe's crisis is impacting its neighbor to the south.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, it's affecting it in a severe way, which is why so many people are eager for this mediation that Thabo Mbeki has been put in charge off by the African Union to succeed. There's an estimate of two million or more illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe here in South Africa, and the numbers are probably higher. Nobody knows. They live in a really funky area of Johannesburg where immigrants from all over the continent have gathered, many of them genuine political refugees, some economic refugees, some criminals just taking advantage of opportunities here with all of these vulnerable people. But I've spent time with many of them. They had horrendous journeys across the Limpopo River, which separates Zimbabwe from South Africa. They lost some on the way. They say the crocodiles probably ate the people like chocolates.

One young woman who has a two-month-old baby as a result of a rape, when she came across the Limpopo, there were guys on the other side who raped her, all of her companions except the one who screamed. They shot and killed her. She says she has no idea where the body is because they had to run for their lives.

And they are living in situations that are worse than anything I've ever seen in America's worst ghettos and apartment buildings; eight, nine, 10, 15 to a room, in buildings that are urine-stained, with garbage everywhere. So the way in which so many of them are living here today is a pretty interesting mirror on what they've come from. That they would prefer to live in this kind of hell than what they had back home.

CHIDEYA: Wow, that's a complete tragedy. Do you see any prospect that things are going to change any time soon?

HUNTER-GAULT: It doesn't look like anything is going to change in the immediate future. Robert Mugabe has been selected by his party to run again in 2008. Whether or not the rumors that he's going to bow out gracefully before then are true is anyone's guess. But there's nothing to indicate that the economy in Zimbabwe, which now has an inflation of close to 2,000 percent, is going to change overnight.

So the people who were trying to feed their families, trying to put meat on the, well, not meat, just bread on the table will still be coming here hoping, even at the risk of being arrested and deported as many of them are and they turn around and come right back, but they're willing to take that chance. So South Africa has a lot on its plate, just as Zimbabwe does.

CHIDEYA: Well, that is an issue that we're definitely going to keep an eye on, and I know we both care deeply about it. But there is good news. Tell us about the visit by...

HUNTER-GAULT: As I promised.

CHIDEYA: Yes, by Jeanne Ashe, the widow of the late tennis legend, Arthur Ashe. Why was she in South Africa?

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, she and Arthur came here some 30 years ago during apartheid and Arthur dedicated a tennis center. But over the years, partly because of apartheid and partly because of the legacy of apartheid, which is poverty, the center hadn't been maintained. Well, she came here this year to celebrate, rededicate, reaffirm this center, which, over the past two years, has undergone a $4.5 million renovation. And I asked Jeanne why she came.

Ms. JEANNE ASHE (Widow of Arthur Ashe): It really does speak to Arthur's legacy of scholar athletes and getting kids to commit not just to the sport's aspect, but using sports as the hook to really teach them life skills, make them better in their studies and school in addition to better at sports, becoming better citizens.

CHIDEYA: So you have other good news, musical news, the eighth annual Cape Town Jazz Festival.

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes, Farai, billed as the biggest event on the continent with jazz artists from all over the world. And this year thousands from all over the world, including yours truly, and I attended the performance of one of my favorite artists, Senegalese singer Ishmael Lo.

(Soundbite of song, "Dibi Dibi Rek")

Mr. ISHMAEL LO (Singer): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

HUNTER-GAULT: Now that's "Dibi Dibi Rek," which is the song that launched Ishmael Lo internationally. But one African-American, Philip Laurence(ph), from Las Vegas had a different favorite.

Mr. PHILIP LAURENCE: Well, the favorite of mine, of course, was Joe Sample, yeah, and Randy Crawford. That was very nice.

HUNTER-GAULT: And Devin Harrington(ph) from Miami, Florida, getting into jazz and South Africa the first time told me this.

Ms. DEVIN HARRINGTON: I like the whole atmosphere. Again, like I said, this is my first time, so I don't know what to really compare it to. But for the most part, I would definitely be back here next year again.

CHIDEYA: Well, hey, next year, I might have to come because I've never been to Cape Town. I've been to South Africa but I've heard Cape Town is beautiful and the jazz sounds are popping. So Charlayne, thanks again for giving us the tour of the continent.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne Hunter-Gault is NPR's special Africa correspondent.

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