Santa Barbara- S County

Santa Barbara man with ties to Zimbabwe watches history unfold

Grey Morey: 'People of Zimbabwe energized'

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Thanksgiving likely holds a very different and special meaning this year for one local man. 

Greg Morey is thankful for an historic change, a world away, after witnessing the historic fall of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's leader for 37 years. After all, Morey once called the South African country "home" over a period spanning nearly three decades.

"It'll be interesting to see how these factions position themselves in the next couple of years," Morey said. 

Morey lives in Santa Barbara but a big part of his heart is with the people of Zimbabwe. 

Facebook helps Morey keep in touch with roughly 300 Zimbabwean friends. He said posts and messages ramped up during Mugabe's dramatic fall from power last Monday as the longtime, 93-year-old leader of the ZANU-PF party. 

"All of a sudden, social media just went like a lightening bolt," Morey said. "Just went crazy."

One his favorites came from Comrade Fatso, a popular comedian-turned-activist in Zimbabwe.

"I was just amazed at how the streets, I think over a million people came in to celebrate in the city center of Harare to celebrate the change that he's gone," Morey said with a smile.

Morey spent three separate periods of his life in Zimbabwe, two years at a time, starting in the 1980s. It was right after the country's name change from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, head of the populous Shona tribe, rose from Prime Minister to President. 

"Initially, it was very peaceful," Morey said. "Racial tensions were extremely low, everybody had a great, optimistic feeling about the future. Everyone thought Mugabe was a good guy. I thought he was a good guy." 

By the mid-90s, Morey would travel back from the United States to Zimbabwe to run a popular tourist business for two years.

"It was just highly popular and people were making a good living," Morey said. "It was just one of the coolest places in the world to be. Then, about 1997-1998, that's when Robert Mugabe started the farm takeovers."

The words "corrupt" and "genocide" were quickly attached to Mugabe's regime. 

The farm takeovers were brutal for European and white Zimbabwe farmers, including one of Morey's distant cousins. Land was taken, often in violence, and over time, the country's farming enterprise was so badly deteriorated, food had to be imported in order to feed the people of Zimbabwe. 

"They had the world's highest inflation rate and at the same time, was printing $100 trillion dollar notes," Morey said.

He showed NewsChannel 3 some of his currency keepsakes.

"A $100 trillion dollar bill would probably be worth $60 dollars to $100 dollars, for a few days. And then, it went to be worthless."

Morey said by December of 2009, Zimbabwe went to a U.S. dollar economy, becoming the only other country in the world to do so. 

Morey's third and final move to the South African country he loved came in 2009, to care for an older relative living in the mountainous region lush with Eucalyptus or gum trees, palm trees and bougainvillea.

"When people ask me about Zimbabwe, I always say, 'Well, if you close your eyes and open your eyes, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between opening your eyes and closing your eyes in Zimbabwe or Santa Barbara.'"

Mugabe's Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, returned Wednesday for the first time since he was fired by Mugabe, to replace the ousted leader. According to the Associated Press, the incoming leader said his life was threatened, including a poisoning in August and he fled the country.

Mnangagwa is expected to be sworn in as President of Zimbabwe November 24 and reign until next year's election.

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