A Blush of Burgundy

Here in Zimbabwe it is early spring. That means we are now 5 months into our dry winter weather and still 2 months before any chance of rain. But the cold of winter has come and gone and the days are growing hot and the wind blows dry across the barren bushveld.

In other more mild climes, the spring rains bring an early flush of green. Here it is the heat and the longer days that trigger the first signs of spring. These come not in pale greens, but in an early blush of a deep burgundy color in the new foliage of the Mountain Acacia (Brachystegia glaucescens) and the rich cream colors of the Knobthorn (Acacia nigrescens) in bloom. These are followed by the splashes of deep green as the wild figs dig deep to find the water for their new foliage.

At this time there are also the bright splashes of yellow flowers as various shrubs and trees decide that the rains are coming and a new season can be signaled. In the cities this season is accompanied by the swathes of purple Jacaranda and the bright, almost incandescent Bougainvillea.

But for me, a true Matebele, it is the pale delicate pastel colors of the Mountain Acacia in the Matopo hills and the splashed yellow of the Knobthorns that brings the country alive. How they do it is a mystery, because the rest of the Veldt lies hot, dry and dead until the rains come.

Zimbabwe is at the end of its long winter and all the signs are there that Mugabe is preparing to go. The death over the past weekend of the Vice President must have been a blow. I know that Muzenda was reported "brain dead" some time ago and that his death was no surprise, but it is always unpleasant to be reminded of our mortality. After all, Muzenda was only 18 months older than Mugabe.

The decision to close down the Daily News, despite the overwhelming international reaction that had to follow, was also an interesting decision. Make no mistake it was a decision and not a consequence of any sort of legal process - that was simply the pretext used to implement the decision. It signaled that Zanu PF regarded its influence as outweighing the cost of the closure in diplomatic terms. Remember the cost - continued opprobrium from the Commonwealth in November and the possible complete dislocation of the European Union and the African Caribbean Pacific group (EU-ACP) summit in October. Most people do not appreciate the impact of the latter but the EU-ACP group is the largest grouping of States outside of the UN system, the EU is the largest trading bloc and the largest source of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the world. ACP States enjoy the best market access with any major developed markets within this arrangement and for Mugabe to single handedly disrupt this relationship by his delinquency is a very serious matter.

I have seen several reports of the speech Mugabe made at the funeral for Muzenda - none of them cover what I thought was the most important aspect. His reference at the end of the speech to the need for one generation (his own) to pass the flag to a younger generation that must be charged with carrying on the good work that he and his cohorts started. Perhaps everyone was so fed up with his long, rambling, diatribe and dozing off at the end not to have picked this item up. I felt it was important.

We have come to accept dishonesty from our politicians but his attack on a mythical "white farmers organisation" which had approached the EU with a request that they suspend Zimbabwe's beef quota was a bit too much. First of all no such organisation exists, secondly, Zimbabwe lost its access to EU markets for beef two years ago following the collapse of veterinary controls in rural areas. This was entirely the fault of the Mugabe government and its illegal, chaotic violent land exercise.

One mystery to me from the past week has been the continued leak from South Africa (can we assume Mbeki's office) of talk about an agreement between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF). The local State controlled rag, the Chronicle, echoed this on Wednesday when they also said, "agreement reached between the MDC and Zanu PF". This was immediately denied by the MDC but few people will have seen and heard that bit of news as there simply is no means of getting it out there at present. But what does it mean? After all, Mbeki has been pretty consistent in saying that we are talking and that progress is being made!

I am apprehensive that the informal talk about talks that have been going on between the two Parties may suddenly be used to declare that some sort of agreement has been reached and that Zanu PF is going to unilaterally implement this "agreement" and press ahead with new elections. African leaders would support them in this exercise and the international community tempted to go along with the charade in the hope that it will put the Zimbabwe question onto the back burner.

As in the past three years the MDC would then have to fight new elections without any media access, very little money, no protection against State violence and the abuse of the legal system and the Courts. We would have to contest on a playing field where we had to play uphill against a strong headwind with the whole process still in the hands of Zanu PF and its collection of well-versed thugs and crooks. As the elections in Rwanda showed, you can hold an election with international observers and get away with a fairly thorough subversion of the whole exercise. I frankly cannot accept that a Tutsi could get 95 per cent of the popular vote in a country with an over 80 per cent Hutu majority. But they did and South Africa declared it "free and fair".

We have consistently underestimated the lengths to which Zanu PF and its supporters within the region and abroad will go to hang onto power - even when their abject failure to govern in the interests of the majority is so obvious. When a skiboat comes in from a fishing trip and heads for the beach and home, the last 200 metres are the most dangerous. We are on our way towards the beach and home, lets make sure that we are not tossed out into the surf.

And if you think the bush is beautiful at this time of the year - just wait until the first rains. When that sweet smell of earth and rain and burnt grass suddenly arrives with thunder and lightning and then the new grass and leaves on the trees. The bush knows that every winter has its ending, we need to remember that the same principle applies to the affairs of man. It is time for a change of the baton to a new team, it's just a question of who gets the baton and making sure it is not dropped in the process.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo September 26 2003