The 19th century German might as well have been talking about modern Zimbabwe — a house of stones, now in ruins.
Since its independence from Britain, in 1980, bigots and zealots have looted and plundered the country’s wealth.
In the name of freedom, they have trampled on the rights of others, hounded farmers off their land and threatened to nationalise hundreds of mines.
The unity government, formed in February, has served only to defer the dreams of a better life of a great many Zimbabweans.
Today, Zimbabwe is flat broke and urgently needs to be placed under curatorship.
Though many might say that they are free from the yoke of oppression, the reality is that they lost their rights to chose long ago.
In Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, 85, knows best. He is the only one who enjoys and defines freedom. Everyone else must — for their preservation — bow down before “His Excellency”.
And yet, in the name of freedom, Mugabe hangs on. In December, he will be re-elected as president of Zanu-PF, placing him in a position to contest next year’s elections.
There is still no money to pay civil servants. Schools are barely coping. Electricity is as rare as snow. Running water and access to medication remain a pipe dream. Nearly everything has fallen apart.
Though food supplies have somewhat improved, food prices remain prohibitive.
Unemployment still hovers above 90 percent and all civil servants are still stuck on the same income — a paltry US100 a month.
Of course, those who lead the system are reaping the rewards of unity. Cars, farms and business deals are there for the taking.
Add to that paid trips abroad.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai reportedly stayed in US4000-a- night hotel on his recent US visit.
Mugabe, with his wife, Grace, in tow, refuses to be outdone. The “first couple” recently jetted off to Libya to spend some quality time with other African leaders.
Desperate to show who is boss, Mugabe has discovered a renewed appetite for flying. Hours after he arrived in Libya, he was off to Malawi, where he attended that country’s 45th Independence Day celebrations.
The next day, he returned to Zimbabwe, only to fly to Zambia to attend a ceremonial gathering of traditional chiefs.
All this unnecessary pomp costs Zimbabwe’s few surviving taxpayers a lot of money, which they do not have.
The trouble is, Zimbabweans have learnt to accept the unacceptable.
Defeated and deflated, Zimbabweans would rather endure any pain rather than risk being at loggerheads with Mugabe’s system.
Running away seems to be their only other option. Those who can afford to run are running.
When visa restrictions were lifted in May, the floodgates to South Africa opened. M ore than 250,000 Zimbabweans have crossed into South Africa. Only 30,000 are known to have returned home.
For the millions who remain, trapped in Mugabe’s endless loop of promises and poverty, silence seems to be the norm.
“Mugabe has taught us to be ultra- resistant, nothing can shake us,” remarked a Harare resident . “We have been to Hell and back.”
Mugabe seems encouraged by the lack of protests. This week, his henchman, Zanu-PF chairman John Nkomo, made it known that Mugabe’s job was not “vacant.”
Unwilling to loosen his iron grip on power, Mugabe is careful not to show any signs of ageing. From dying his hair to running up a flight of stairs, the octogenarian makes a big show of his staying power.
Mugabe’s new bedfellow, and former rival, Tsvangirai, insists that he is committed to the unity government. So committed is the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change that he has alienated his supporters for the sake of unity.
Tsvangirai is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has staked his premiership on a return of law and order, the restoration of the health system and the re-opening of schools — on a better life for all.
Though it is commendable that schools have reopened, crime and corruption are unabated. The health system is still a shambles.
Right-thinking Zimbabweans are fed up of being the lousiest nation this side of the equator.
But, without a vigorous campaign, ridding the country of plunderers and abusers is impossible.
On one hand, Zimbabweans are afraid of demanding change; on the other, their leaders, whom they fully deserve, are afraid of change.
How right Bob Marley was at independence when he sang “Soon we will find out who is the real revolutionary.”
For many, it has taken rather long, but all Zimbabweans now know who Mugabe is.