Sarah m’dear, it’s not about the party. It’s about the tea.
For those of us of the British persuasion, tea is black tea. It was the tea on which the British built the empire.
It was also, I might add, the tea that Margaret Thatcher served at No. 10 Downing Street. I enjoyed some with her there. A Conservative traditionalist, she served it with milk for certain and sugar as an option.
Thatcher did not ask her guests, as bad hotels do now, what kind of tea they would like. Tea to Thatcher was black tea, sometimes known as Indian tea, though it might have been grown in Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe or Sri Lanka. It was neither flavored nor some herbal muck masquerading as tea.
The former prime minister knew that good tea is made in the kitchen, where stove-boiled water is poured from a kettle onto tea in a pot, not tepid water poured from a pot on a table into a cup with a tea bag.
Boiling water in a kettle, or pot, on the stove is important in making good tea. In a microwave, the water doesn’t bubble. Tea needs the bubbles.
While the Chinese drank green tea hundreds of years before Christ, the British developed their tea-drinking habit in the 17th century. In 1600, Queen Elizabeth I granted permission for the charter of the British East India Company, establishing the trade in spice and silk that lead to the formal annexation of India and the establishment of the Raj.
Initially, tea was a sideline but it became increasingly important and started to define the British. The coffee shops–like the one that launched the insurer Lloyds of London around 1688–continued, but at all levels of society tea was becoming the British obsession.
By the 18th century, tea drinking was classless in Britain. Duchesses and workmen enjoyed it alike.
Tea was the fuel of the empire: the war drink, the social drink, the comfort drink and the consolation drink. Coffee had an upmarket connotation. It wasn’t widely available and the British didn’t make it very well.
Also as coffee was well established on the continent, it had to be shunned. To this day the British are divided about continental Europe and what they see as the emblems of Euro-depravity: coffee, garlic, scents and bidets.
Although tea is standardized, the British play their class games over the tea packers. For three centuries, most tea has been shipped in bulk to various packing houses throughout the British Isles. But the posh prefer Twinings to Lipton.
Offering tea with fancy cakes, clotted cream and fine jams separates the workers from the ruling classes. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon tea time; which the hotels turned into formal, expensive afternoon “teas.” The Ritz in London is famous for them.
The British believe that tea sustained them through many wars. “Let’s have a nice cup of tea. Things will get better.” I’ve always believed that America’s revenge against the British crown was to ice their beloved tea. Toss it into Boston Harbor, but don’t ice it. If you should have the good fortune to be asked to tea at No. 10, or at Buckingham Palace, don’t expect it to be iced.
Incidentally tea bags are fine, and it’s now just pretentious to serve loose tea with a strainer. Of course, if you want to read the political tea leaves you’ll have to use loose tea.
If you’re serving tea to the thousands at your tea parties, Sarah, remember that unlike politics, tea is very forgiving. It can be revived just with more boiling water. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate
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What do you call a man who is a self-professed communist; has been accused of rape but the charges have been dropped, along with charges of fraud and racketeering; who practices polygamy and has 18 acknowledged children; and whose favorite song is “Mshini Wami” (Bring Me My Machine Gun)? You may call him a thug, but South Africans are about to call him Mr. President.
Step forward Jacob Zuma, 67, who led the African National Congress (ANC) to a resounding majority in the recent election and who will shortly be elected president by the South African parliament. This is a prospect that has delighted the poor black electorate of South Africa as much as it has terrified the rest of the population, including the country’s 5 million whites.
Once again, it would appear that Africa is throwing up a “Big Man” who will lead them into the Valley of the Shadow of Death–and leave them there. Think of Idi Amin of Uganda, Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who are just three of Africa’s megalomaniacal villains.
Although much is known about his bizarre conduct and strangely contradictory pronouncements, nobody has any real idea of how Zuma will govern. Already he is suspected of getting a key ally out of a 15-year prison sentence, after 28 months, on alleged medical grounds.
In most things Zuma left a trail of wreckage behind him, such as when he operated out of the ANC office in Maputo, Mozambique, during the struggle against apartheid. Similar stories of wild conduct and corrupt goings on came from Lusaka, Zambia, where Zuma ran the ANC intelligence network.
Zuma did one incontrovertibly positive thing: as a Zulu, he was able to stop the fighting between the Zulus and the Xhosas that threatened to tear the ANC apart and with it South Africa itself, after the fall of apartheid.
This was not an inconsiderable achievement, considering the role of the Zulus in South African history. First the Zulus, at 11 million people, are the largest ethnic grouping among South Africa’s 48 million people. They are also the Prussians of South Africa: proud, warlike and with a distinct sense of superiority. They were formed into a cohesive nation in 1816, under Shaka Zulu; and were the only African tribe to decisively defeat the British at Isandalwana in l879.
For a while it looked as though the Inkatha Freedom Party, under Mangosuthu Buthelezi, would imperil the ANC’s grip on power. But Zuma, with Zulu credentials and a leadership role in the ANC, quieted the Zulu unrest and the ANC prospered.
Although for many years Zuma was a member of the Communist Party of South Africa and has talked of wealth distribution, recently he has been kinder to business and even appears to be fascinated by it.
Encouragingly, some of Zuma’s statements about President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe are stronger and more critical than anything said by Thabo Mbeki, the man Zuma is replacing. Mbeki was committed to “quiet diplomacy,” which meant say nothing and do less. He was part of Africa’s post-colonial omerta: an implicit vow never to criticize another African leader even when he is a problem to you–as Zimbabwe is to South Africa with millions of refugees flooding over the Limpopo River.
White South Africans, and particularly farmers, are terrified that Zuma may yet take a leaf out Mugabe’s book and introduce race-based land redistribution and begin the destruction of the country.
Another concern is Zuma’s attitude to AIDS. Mbeki famously did not support Western therapies for many years and believed in quack remedies that assisted in the spread of the disease. Zuma’s alleged rape victim, the 35-year-old daughter of a politician, is known to be HIV-positive. Zuma said the sex was consensual and he then took a shower to minimize his chances of catching the virus. That suggested that his knowledge of AIDS is not much better than Mbeki’s.
Zuma, who likes to sing and dance at political events, is a conundrum. But there is no mystery about the challenges facing him: his base is poor and believes in instant solutions. While it is in Zuma’s power to wreck his beautiful country as so many other Big Men of Africa have done to theirs, there is little he can do in a recession to fulfill the expectations of his neediest supporters. Will he, like Mugabe, try to deflect public opinion by blaming the prosperous?
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I first encountered the healthy corrective of fatigue when I was a young writer for a television news service in London. I was chronically late. Every interview I did started with an apology. Every day when I showed up for work, I was late. My supervisor would look at me and at the clock and sigh.
One day, I decided that the price of being late was too high: If you have to start with an apology, you never get a decent interview and the long face of my supervisor was painfully reproving. I was tired of my self-imposed misery. I was fatigued with my own sloth. Since that time, I have been fairly punctual.
Fatigue, it seems to me, can be motivator in governance and foreign policy. Take the three great revolutions of our time: accommodation in Northern Ireland, the collapse of apartheid in South Africa and the end of the Soviet Union. I submit that in all of these, fatigue played a critical if not seminal role.
I have been in and out of South Africa all of my life. Sure sanctions and international pressure played a role in bringing about change. But there was something else at work: fatigue. The people of South Africa were very tired of their own creation. Driving across South Africa in the 1970s with an African relief driver, I ran into what used to be called “petty apartheid”: segregated places to eat. As a result, we took out food and ate it in the car. But at two roadside eateries (they were few and far between), the owners apologized to me for the offensive law. The weight of the injustice was getting to them.
That was the first time I saw a sufficient glimmer of hope that peaceful change would come, as it did.
In Northern Ireland it appeared that the sectarian violence, which emerged in 1963, would go on forever. Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in barbarous ways and terrorism was spreading into Britain. Over the 15 years I participated in a think tank in Ireland, I heard endless speeches from both sides about the hopelessness of the situation in which the Irish Republican Army, the right-wing Protestant “hard men” and the British Army fought a triangular terrorist war.
On a summer’s morning in 1982, there were two terrorist attacks in the center of London. A car bomb was detonated as 16 members of the Queen’s Household Cavalry trotted along a Hyde Park’s South Carriage Drive; and less than two miles away, in Regent’s Park, a military bandstand was blown up. Toll for the day: 10 soldiers killed, 55 injured. The I.R.A. claimed responsibility for the strikes. All of Britain was on a terrorist footing, but that did not stop an attack on Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Brighton, England two years later.
By the 1990s, you could sense a change in Ireland: People were tired of the killing and living in fear. Without that fatigue, that revolution, the Good Friday agreement of 1998 and power-sharing, would not have happened.
Likewise by the late 1980s, the Soviet Union–the edifice of communism with its incompetence, its privations and its paranoia–had lost the loyalty of the people and the terror apparatus of the state was failing. Russians were tired of it and Poland was in near revolt. Mikhail Gorbachov loosened the reins and things hurtled forward.
Alas fatigue is not a policy, not even a strategy. It is just a reality; a factor in protracted disputes, oppressive governance and pervasive injustice.
When, then, will fatigue set in between combatants in the Middle East, the oppressed of North Korea or the misgoverned of Africa? According to my theory of fatigue, these things are overdue. But it is easier to fix your own timekeeping than history’s.
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It is easy to work up a head of hate against Robert Mugabe, the cruel president of Zimbabwe. He has destroyed a beautiful country and inflicted untold suffering on his people. He has so mismanaged the economy that the country’s inflation rate is the world’s highest–over 100,000 percent. He has expelled the productive people from the country and others have fled. He has given choice land and accommodations to his family of thugs.
More, he is a murderer. In the early part of his reign of terror, he killed tens of thousands of the Matabele people in southern Zimbabwe, around the city of Bulawayo.
It is not hard to vilify Mugabe, who may now be at the end of his bloody reign. But there are other guilty men who should be named. They are the de facto co-conspirators up and down the continent of Africa, who lead countries, enjoy influence and have, to a man (the arrival of a woman leader in Liberia is recent), remained silent as Mugabe has become more maniacal.
The guiltiest are those in the frontline states that surround land-locked Zimbabwe. They are the leaders of Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. Each one of them has some of the blood Mugabe has shed on his hands. Because of the silence that they have assiduously maintained, their complicity has been absolute. All four leaders have been the enablers of Mugabe.
Each country has suffered from the implosion of Zimbabwe. Each country has felt the pain from the lack of trade; unsatisfied debt; and the surge of people fleeing from the privations of Zimbabwe–once one of the richest countries in Africa, and the breadbasket of the southern region.
Botswana, on Zimbabwe’s southwest border, is currently the showplace of Africa. It is a functioning democracy, with a healthy economy based on mining and tourism. But Botswana could have used its economic leverage, as the host of the principle rail line carrying exports out of Zimbabwe into South Africa, and from there to the world, to put pressure on Mugabe. But it did not.
To the east, Mozambique hosts many of Zimbabwe’s exports and imports through the port of Beira on the Indian Ocean. If there had been some tightening of this relationship, Mugabe would have listened. Instead, there was silence.
Then there is South Africa and President Thabo Mbeki. If there is a judgment day, Mbeki will have much to answer for his connivance in tolerating Mugabe. Mbeki’s guilt extends beyond the suffering of the people to his north to his own people. More than 2 million refugees have fled from Zimbabwe to South Africa, where they have been no more popular than illegal aliens anywhere. The really hapless live on such charity as they can find; while those who are more capable of organization, particularly deserters from the Zimbabwe armed forces, have formed sophisticated criminal gangs, specializing in bank and armored car robbery.
Finally, Zambia has shouldered the burden of watching over the giant Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River, which provides electricity to both Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zambia has kept essential goods flowing into Zimbabwe, against the international sanctions; and it has seen its own Victoria Falls tourism plummet because of conditions on the Zimbabwe side of the falls. Yet, Zambia’s leaders have said nothing.
If Mugabe is forced from power by the ongoing election, and if he leaves without trying to annul the results of the election, milk and honey will not flow again in the country between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers. Too much has been destroyed in 28 years of his rule. The infrastructure has been destroyed; soil erosion has carried away an incalculable amount of earth from the fragile plain that once produced corn for all of southern Africa; the professional class is scattered around the world, in what they refer to as the Zimbabwe Diaspora; and the people of Zimbabwe have lost confidence in the future. The most optimistic country in Africa has traded hope for fatalism.
Assuming Morgan Tsvangirai really has won the election in Zimbabwe, he will have to preside over a massive reconstruction, which will last decades simply to get the country back to where it was when Mugabe destroyed it through racism, megalomania, and economics so primitive that he thought he could print money and it would have value.
Tsvangirai will have to turn to the world for economic aid and technical assistance. But he will have to turn to Zimbabweans for goodwill and to resist corruption. And he will have to turn to another silent partner, China, for a better deal on the contracts Mugabe signed with Beijing.
Not since Idi Amin was feeding his opponents to the crocodiles has there been such a catastrophic head of state in Africa. And not since Amin’s days, have the leaders of Africa remained so quiet in the face of such palpable evil.
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