Radio 5 Live presenter on first day broadcast in Harare

It did not look like the capital city you would associate with a developing country. It looks like a capital city anywhere in the world.

There are boutiques and familiar brand names like Nando’s and Wimpy. There are also some very rich people driving Toyota trucks that cost US $20,000 in cash. Some people at least are doing very well.

Harare was not what I had anticipated. I had expected there to be tension and that people would be suspicious of us. That was not what happened. People were extremely friendly and very comfortable talking to us. Certainly, if I asked, “What do you think of President Mugabe?” they chose their words very carefully. The worst thing that anybody said was that he has his shortcomings. More often they would say “he liberated our country” or “I don’t get into politics”.

Apart from that, it was a very friendly and open atmosphere. We could move freely and we never felt we had to look over our shoulders. I had been told not to have loud conversations in public places in case Central Intelligence officers were listening but we were never stopped or restricted or told that we couldn’t talk to someone or that we couldn’t enter a certain place.

I wanted to go to a hospital and our fixer, Brian, a black Zimbabwean, said he knew the chief executive of Harare Central Hospital and we just turned up without an appointment and when he had finished a meeting he showed us round. It smelled of fresh paint and we saw doctors on busy wards. A year ago, the place was shut because the staff couldn’t afford to get to work. Now there is a unity government and because of the dollarisation of the economy the staff are getting to work and getting paid.

I also went to a supermarket where the shelves, which were empty 12 months ago, were fully stocked and people could buy what they want. These are signs that there has been an improvement in the daily lives of Zimbabweans.

However, it is important to point out that there are certainly many, many problems in rural areas which I haven’t had a chance to see with my own eyes on this visit.

Also if you are politically active and support the Movement for Democratic Change, the party of the Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, you are still at risk of being threatened, harassed and beaten up.

I spoke to a woman in a safe house who works for the MDC. She was on her way to work early one morning four weeks ago when four men tried to abduct her and beat her. She thought that they were intelligence officers working for Mugabe. She screamed for help and a crowd started gathering around the car and shouting “leave her”, and they let her go.

If you are a white farmer then you may still face problems. I spoke to one farmer who lost his farm nine years ago and is still fighting to get it back.

Of the expat Zimbabweans living in Britain who rang in to the programme one was really enthusiastic that the time was approaching when she could go back. One of the people I interviewed in Harare had said there was some hope and she was really holding on to that.

One woman said she wouldn’t return even though her elderly mother was there. She was a supporter of MDC who left in 2002. And there were similar stories from other callers who said that the country was not yet stable enough for them to return. (The Times)