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Gary Younge
Keeping the colonial ties alive

This is the watering hole of Rhodesia's old political elite - who happen to remain Zimbabwe's economic elite too - a patriarchal bolthole that has done all it can to stay frozen in time, steeped in nostalgia.

The former head of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, is a regular. Yesterday, in the reading room, the president of the commercial farmers' union, which represents white farmers, addressed a crowd of around 100. On the walls are sketches of lords and colonels, stills of the original Salisbury club back in 1893 and a framed copy of the last bar tab before history caught up with it and it was forced to change its name.

White Zimbabweans take their colonial ties seriously. Many were born here and may have never been to Britain. But the few who don't have familial ties still have some kind of emotional attachment to the old country. You can see them on the ironed lawns of the bowling greens in Harare gardens, near Park Lane. You can see their influence in much of the architecture and some of the place names, like Queen Victoria museum. In the Miekles hotel, the English tea platter is served with jam and scones on three tiers of silver.

Their ties may not now be as strong as those of Mary Turner, the principal character in Doris Lessing's award-winning novel, The Grass is Singing. For her "the word 'home' spoken nostalgically, meant England, although both her parents were South Africans and had never been to England." But whether it is sport, religion or the arts, to them England remains the centre around which this post-colonial metropole revolves.

They are understandably, and rightly, keen to assert their Zimbabwean roots and heritage. But when violence flares many have also shown themselves equally keen to head for the British high commission to ensure that their papers are in order in case they must flee.

It is this colonial connection which lies at the heart of the issue of land reform. When a troop of mostly British settlers arrived here in 1890 they stuck their flag on a hill near a Harare and, ironically, called it Occupation Day. Now the black population want some of it back - a wish which President Mugabe is attempting to cynically exploit by encouraging his supporters to launch "occupations" of their own.

Back at the Harare club, lunch, for one group of white businessmen, is running long and the wine is flowing freely. The colour bar has long gone here and some influential black businessmen have joined. To become a member you must first be interviewed by all the members of the selection committee individually; to remain a patron you must remember the rules - no mobile phones, no business is to be conducted, women are allowed but only in the guests' dining room.

But the clientele remains overwhelmingly white. There are more elephants (75,000) than whites (70,000) in Zimbabwe, but you could not tell that from an afternoon at the Harare club, where all the waiters are black.

The club has always prided itself on being the home of the liberal wing of the white establishment. One cabinet minister had his membership revoked for being rude to the servants. Nonetheless, this community, which makes up less than 1% of the population still employs 65% of the nation's workers. Thanks to their land, they dominate the tobacco and cattle sectors from which they have made a lot of money; but you will not see them use it at the Harare club.

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