Spring in Zimbabwe

We had our first rain last night since May. It was only 4 mm but it toned down the temperature for a few hours. Right now in my office it is 40 C. That is why we call October "suicide month". But the heat has its compensations - this year, after an above average wet season in 2005/6 the flowering trees have been superb. The Galpinii along the rivers has been covered in clouds of yellow flowers, the Acacia is coming out and the Knob thorns will soon also be covered in spring blossom. The exotics kick in with the Jacaranda and the Flamboyant as well as the Bougainvillea - always a sight for sore eyes. It always amazes me how the most insignificant trees and plants will suddenly explode with color at this time of the year.

This is accompanied by the new leaves - the Mountain Acacia and the Msasa are famous for the Burgundies and pale greens. In some places it is like traveling through a watercolor of fresh spring growth. The northern realms get the color in autumn - we get it in spring.

Then there are the migrant birds - our Paradise Fly Catchers are back and we also saw Bee Eaters - back from the Congo and Europe. The birds know it is spring and are all nesting and hatching chicks and frantically trying to find food. The European Swallows have started to arrive in their millions and we will soon see the Storks.

This period - just before the rains and when it is so hot and arid after 6 months of dry weather, is a time of faith for all nature. They have no knowledge of El Nino or any other impediment to the coming wet season; they trust their instincts and the turn of the seasons.

Perhaps we could take a leaf out of their book and trust our instincts rather than what we see on the ground. Believe in the turning of the seasons and the inevitable changes that must come and bring with them life - sometimes in a rush, the brown flood waters sweeping down the dry river beds, sometimes like last night - gentle rains that presage the new season and with it new life.

Zimbabwe is hot and dry right now - also the veld fires have decimated most of the country. without farmers to clear firebreaks and fight fires, once they start they know no boundaries. It's like that with the so-called land reform exercise. Once the fire started there were no firebreaks, no farmer who cared for the land and would go out and fight it with determination. Right now the madness continues - last season we had 200 tobacco farmers left - many have now been dispossessed in the middle of planting out their seedlings - the costs of land preparation and fertilizers already spent. I doubt we will grow 20 000 tonnes of tobacco this year - 7 per cent of what we grew just 6 years ago.

Coffee and fruit farmers as well as the smaller timber growers are also being thrown off their properties. Many millions of dollars worth of assets and lifetimes of work and dedication swept away by the stroke of a pen backed up by the threat of violence. What do they think they are doing we ask? We see derelict farms all over the country. A friend who lost his farm in 2003, not a big place - just 280 hectares with a beautiful home and fully developed lands with fruit orchards, nut trees and sugar cane - 100 per cent modern drip irrigation all automatically controlled by computers. Packing sheds, heavy-duty equipment and pumps for irrigation. Taken over at the height of the season, the fruit was picked and sold locally instead of in export markets, the sugar died and now the place is totally derelict - the trees dead and the homes abandoned. Some of his staff still squat on the farm - perhaps hoping that the season will change.

What was the purpose of this - just a racially inspired cleansing exercise, a mock battle with the victors taking the loot as reward? Did they really think that the thugs could take over a sophisticated operation like that and make it work?

So we slide into abject failure and devastation. Lawlessness and looting the only activity that thrives. Cut off from the lifeblood of the rural economy, the urban economy shrivels and is dying. Factories close and the staff return home with the only hope being flight to South Africa, or Zambia, or anywhere else.

In the midst of this the Church leadership has suddenly woken up and discovered that the place is a mess and that the people they are supposed to shepherd are destitute, homeless and hungry. They have produced a document they call "the Zimbabwe We All Want" and claim it is a call to unite behind a common vision of where we are going and what we want the place to look like.

It is a useful document - but plays lip service to the fundamentals. It is just not enough. This collection of nut cases and evil pirates that have brought this country to its knees simply has to go. No compromise. They are incapable of delivering anything more than misery to the people of this country. They have no ideas, no principles and no vision except the one that sees them with their snouts in the trough and their bums protected by their neighbors and the security services.

That is always the great mistake of tyrants such as those who control this country today - they think they are here forever, that spring and the new rains will not come and wash the country clean. There they are wrong - eventually they will go the way of all the others and make way for a new start in Zimbabwe.

When that happens we all need to know that to take advantage of the summer rains, the abundance that follows the arrival of our wet season, you have to be here - you have to have either stuck it out through the winter or flown back in the spring. It does not look like it at this point in time - but the rains are coming. I attended a business meeting in Harare last week and was deeply moved by the determination of nearly all the senior managers and operators to keep their operations open and running and doing so to an international standard - life boats of excellence in a sea of disaster.

To me those are the equivalents of the spring flowers in the bushveld. When you visit the Hide at Hwange, or one of the 5 Star hotels at the Falls or you stay at one our many excellent private lodges - enjoy these spring flowers and pray that they presage a new start - for all of us.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 2 November 2006