In the late 1990s I lived in Zimbabwe for a while. Following the recent death of Robert Mugabe, I’ve been re-reading the diary I kept while I was there. I just came across this report of a conversation I had, with a former solider in the Rhodesian army.
Now permalinks are the norm, its unusual to lose anything you’ve written online. We are Funes. However, now CSS is also the norm, it is possible to lose the design of any given page. For example, the posts from my archives which announce a re-vamped site design have been rendered pretty meaningless after I re-re-designed the site earlier this year. Having said that, my latest, lazy template does attempt to retain some elements of the old design, on pages that previously carried it. A web designer with more coding skills than me should create a WordPress plugin that allows older posts to use a different template for older posts.
And of course, some websites no longer exist. Permalinks only work if you’ve remembered to pay your hosting invoice. Graphic Designer Jason Santa Maria has asked his readers to post examples of their early websites (via Kottke):
The things we write are published with a specific design and context. When we change that, we break the context and alter the original qualities of that piece of work… We haven’t had enough time to step back and see web design objectively. Will the work we’re doing have historical significance? Sure. Will it have historical significance in design? Probably.
Its definitely the case that web design “dates” just like conventional print graphic design. When I reviewed the Presidential websites earlier in the year, I noted how Barack Obama’s logo and website seemed to be very much of-the-moment. (Given his recent victory, perhaps we have a new predictor for elections: The candidate with the most modern website design wins?)
Anyway, my earliest experiments in HTML is illustrated below. The site was a scrapbook for the year I spent living in Zimbabwe (back when Robert Mugabe and Tony Blair were still friends). It carried a few cute and now totally outmoded innovations, such as a counter and a guestbook. It did include some early experiments in CSS, but the menus committed the double crime of being images, and utilising some italicised version of Comic Sans. Oh, the shame of it!
Another page that is still online is a failed pitch for a gallery installation. It is an example of Single Serving Site, before that phrase was coined.
I’ve added a gallery of a few more old sites below.
Photo from the Sokwanele Flickr Photostream
In an entirely predictable move, Mugabe arrests Tsvangirai ahead of the presidential run-off vote in Zimbabwe (via F/P).
This is what happens when the state has too much power. The reason why we have a much healthier democracy than Zimbabwe is precisely because we go all “awkward squad” the moment any politician moves anywhere near this kind of power. For all the convenience that 42 days detention might bring, it is unquestionably a transfer of power from citizen to state. And, reading about the fate of Morgan Tsvangirai, you will forgive me if the prospect of such a transfer makes me squeamish. Now is not the time for 42 days.
I know its perhaps a forced comparison, but I wonder if there aren’t some similarities between the Presidential elections in Zimbabwe, and the Presidential Primaries in the USA. Not, of course, between the policies, candidates or the reliability of the democratic process. I am thinking more terms of concepts like momentum, perception, and the role of bit-players in the race.
Over the past months, watching Obama overtake Clinton in the polls, and watching John McCain come from near bankruptcy to seal the Republican nomination, its clear that the art of PR is crucial to the winning of an election, and I think the MDC need to be similarly savvy in shaping the message in Zimbabwe. What is tortuous just now, is watching the momentum that the opposition party built-up towards the vote of Saturday, slowly disperse as the results are further ‘delayed’. This uncertainty allows people to doubt, and consider where their allegiances lie. The relatively long delay between Primaries seems to have hurt Obama in a similar manner.
Crucial to both examples is the role played by supporting characters in the contest. It seems very much as if the Zimbabwean security chiefs will play King-maker in that country, while the so-called ‘super delegates’ will probably have a similar role in the Democratic Convention in Denver. In both cases, pundits will look to see how these people ‘break’ to one candidate or another. Each faction seeks to persuade the power-brokers that they are the inevitable choice, although in both the African and American examples, this can never be conclusively proved. Each candidate seeks to prompt a stampede of power-brokers in their direction. They need to engineer a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is, of course, profoundly depressing and anti-democratic, since the actual number of votes cast for a given candidate becomes just one of many factors in the decision making process, and not the last word on the matter. However, the one source of optimism in this is that we are reminded how fragile a person’s grip on power can be. Mugabe is more weak now than he has ever been, and that’s purely a perception thing.
In the case of the US Primaries and the Zimbabwe elections, what we need know is a killer blow to definitively swing the power-brokers. In America, I would say that the endorsement of Al Gore, rightly timed, could be crucial. In the Zimbabwean case, it is probably the actions of South African President Thabo Mbeki that could break Mugabe. Do either men have the cojones to make history, or are they waiting to see which way the wind is blowing too?
Update 7th April
Zimbabweans have voted in presidential elections. Good luck to them.
Ten years ago, I was living in Zimbabwe, working for the charity SOS. I lived in Chiwaridzo, a township attached to the town of Bindura, a mining town and capital of the Mashonaland Central province. Its one of the northern provinces currently being described as ‘Mugabe’ country, and he has been holding rallies in the area in the run up to today’s vote. About an hour from Harare, Bindura sits at the top of the Mazowe Valley, one of the most fertile parts of the country.
The period 1997/98 was a very interesting time to be in Zimbabwe. In retrospect, it was the turning point in the country’s fortunes and its international reputation. At the start of my time there, the economy was in rude health, with the exchange rate sitting at about seventeen Zim dollars to the pound.
The new British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, met Robert Mugabe. A photo of the two men appeared on the front page of the Herald, Zimbabwe’s state-owned newspaper. (I remember it well, because the obnoxious white farmer who showed me the photo pointed out how both men were sitting with their legs crossed. “What a couple of poofters,” he said, and I was too young and nervous to challenge this casual prejudice). So when people say that Mugabe has spent the last 28 years ruining his country, remember that only a decade ago he was a leader of good international standing. He was not an international pariah in 1998, nor was he in the business of demonizing the British in the manner he does today.