Page last updated at 11:09 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 12:09 UK

Hope remains cautious in Zimbabwe

Eight months after Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai joined forces to form a unity government, the BBC's Peter Ndoro, a Zimbabwean who has been living in London, returned to his homeland to see what progress has been made.

Peter Ndoro with pupils at his old school
Peter Ndoro visited his old school in Harare to access the state of education

"How is he going to get through immigration? Are they still checking for things like that?"

I overheard a couple in the plane seats across from me looking at the book I was reading: Dinner with Mugabe by Heidi Holland.

At that moment I thought, despite all the talk of a new Zimbabwe dawning in the wake of its government of national unity, maybe things have not really changed.

As it turns out, nobody searched me and so I did not have to worry about my book after all.

I grew up in post-independence Zimbabwe and the drive to Harare city centre was familiar, but heartbreaking.

I had been home just a few years ago and yet the infrastructure had somehow managed to get even worse.

The fact that I am even here as a BBC journalist with a letter of government permission in hand is remarkable

The potholes, the rusting street lights that had not worked for years and the houses in disrepair all confirmed the stories reaching us: Harare was a shadow of the amazing city it once was.

The news though has all been about change.

The disappearance of the Zimbabwe dollar has slayed hyperinflation, and as President Mugabe runs a government alongside former enemy Prime Minister Tsvangirai, the once barren shops are once again full.

Positive outlook

The politicians have been talking about a new constitution and a free media.

This is new, and the fact that I am even here as a BBC journalist with a letter of government permission in hand is remarkable, I thought.

On the first working day our stories took us to Harare Central Hospital and a facility that was shut down for three months just a year ago.

It was working well and the patients seemed happy with the care they were getting.

 Harare Central Hospital
Patients at Harare Central Hospital seemed happy with their healthcare

I then went back to my old school to get a sense of what was happening with education.

The head prefect gave me a positive outlook about how things had turned around after a real collapse and he was optimistic about the future.

My doubts began to set in though, when I tried to interview a teacher.

Despite lauding President Mugabe's leadership, he was reluctant to have his views recorded.

I pushed him and asked if he would prefer to talk to us at the hotel.

I offered him a lift in our car but he declined. I asked why and he said: "Peter, don't act as if you have never lived in Zimbabwe."

Police service?

At the end of that day I went to see how busy one of the main bus terminals was at rush hour.

It was a hive of activity and it resembled any other bustling city on the continent as people made their way home.

But as I tried to record my thoughts, I was interrupted by two men in plain clothes claiming to be police officers.

A soldier appeared by my window, pointing a gun at me

They harassed and questioned us about why we were reporting there.

Despite our letter and protestations they started to handcuff my producer demanding money to let us go. We obliged.

At first we were scared to go the police station, remembering that not so long ago, an activist had been detained for five days before the police admitted having her in custody.

But we went there to report the incident later that evening and I have to say that the police were very helpful and cordial.

I wondered if I might be seeing the emergence of a police service out of an often brutal police force.

Could this be a Gorbachev-style glasnost and perestroika in the making?

Trust 'lacking'

My answer is that more and more people are smiling in the streets, as if their load is not as heavy.

Map of Zimbabwe

But then I took a drive to visit my sister in one of Harare's plush suburbs, where the mansions being built seem to be getting larger and larger.

In the midst of the chaos, it was clear that some were doing very well indeed, and I had heard that they might not be that keen to see change.

As we drove we stopped at traffic lights just outside State House.

I started laughing at a story my sister was telling me.

A soldier appeared by my window, pointing a gun at me. "What are you laughing at?" he asked.

"Who said that you can laugh at State House? We are trying to do serious work here! Stop the car and tell us what you are laughing at."

Unbelievable! Even laughing seems to be a threat to state security.

Life in Harare is still hard.

Some things are starting to get better, but trust seems to be sorely lacking.

Until that teacher can speak his mind without fear, and until people can laugh anywhere, even outside State House, the change that many Zimbabweans are seeking is still some way in the future.

For now though, maybe just having hope is change enough.

How to listen to: From our own Correspondent

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