Roots and Wings

I was watching a programme on television the other evening and a man said that people had to choose between roots and wings. He was talking about those who stayed behind in places like Alabama and those from the South who went to the great commercial and banking cities of New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.

His remark struck me immediately and has been sitting at the back of my mind for the past few days. Very good friends of ours have just told us that in April they would be leaving Zimbabwe, the country of their birth, to go to New Zealand. No matter how often it happens, it hurts - because every family leaving creates a hole that is more and more difficult to fill.

They have chosen to fly. Many from our farming communities did not choose to leave they were uprooted and tossed aside by this ruthless, barbaric regime. As a result the holes created by their uprooting is very visible - farms and farmhouses desolate, burned and empty. Those who choose to take wings and fly away do not leave a visible hole that can be seen by the casual observer, but their leaving makes holes all right - in this latest case we lose a great family.

I guess we all have the right to choose to fly but we need to remember that only those with roots can keep a nation and a people alive and growing. Somehow people without roots simply cannot make a lasting contribution. Sure, those who take flight will land somewhere else and we are constantly hearing of individuals who have done so well in their new environment. But to make a contribution where they go, they must first put down roots, become deeply embedded in their community and play a role in all its activities and aspects.

Part of having roots is family. I am just reading a book by Lee Iaccoa - former CEO of Chrysler and in it he talks about his home in Pennsylvania. He worked most of his life in Detroit, spent a lot of time in Washington and New York, but home was Penn State. No matter where he was, he always went home - where his mother stayed in his parents original home and where their local Church was located. It was there that his two daughters were married and where I guess he will eventually be buried. He is an Italian migrant with deep roots in America. Had he remained an Italian and an alien, he could never have achieved what he did in his lifetime. People with roots plant trees and grow flowers, they trim the grass outside their homes and they watch out for their neighbor’s interests. They make communities out of collections of unrelated people. At the heart of this process is the family and when I hear of the statistics for divorce and broken homes I shudder and worry about the next generation. We play with these building blocks at our peril.

When people decide to fly away - out of a relationship, a community, a country or a continent, it has an immediate impact on their attitude to what is there and the problems and opportunities. They need to justify their action because they know full well they are hurting the interests of those they leave behind. No one can say to me that a divorce does not impact on the kids - it can have life long effects, just visit our jails and ask any group of cons if they came from a single parent family! This week we saw an example of roots in the form of Ben Freeth - a commercial farmer who has survived the past pogrom and is still on his farm. A large grower of fruit in the midlands of the country. When a Zanu PF minister, Nathan Shamuyarira (a Princeton PhD) decided to try and take the farm, Ben simply said to the mob, if you want me off this farm, you will have to kill me.

Others have been killed (some 20 commercial farmers have died on their farms during this pogrom) many have been physically evicted with extreme violence. The human suffering and the trauma is terrible - I have many friends who are a mere shadow of what they were when they were on their farms and being very successful with their families all around them. Today many are just like uprooted trees - dismal shells of what they were. Their beautiful farms simply stark holes in the ground.

Inflation here reached 1600 per cent (official) and in my own commercial operations we went over 3400 percent growth in 12 months. Take your pick as to which rate you use. As a consequence we are now in hyperinflation territory and can expect prices to change daily. Just this week we saw the GMB price of maize increased to 58 000 dollars a tonne from Z$600 - 9 000 percent. The price of wheat to millers has risen three times since December and the price of bread is expected to go to Z$2 400 a loaf - up from an official price of just Z$250 per loaf in December. Panic has set in at official levels and a full price and wage freeze is being threatened. Nothing could be more futile as the driving force behind the inflation spiral is monetary - simply too much money being printed and the rapid fall of the local currency on the open market. The US dollar is trading at nearly 5 000 to 1, while the Pound is over 10 000 to 1 and the Rand 750 to 1.

When you appreciate that the monetary authorities have just dropped three naughts off the local dollar and 5 000 is actually 5 million of our old currency, then you know how far down we have gone and how fast it has been. Predictably Zanu PF held onto the seat in Chiredzi South at the weekend - 10 000 votes in their favor as against 3300 for the MDC. No other outcome was possible in an election where for three months the Police, the Army and the traditional leaders subjected the entire constituency to a barrage of threats. The threat to cut off food supplies if they voted for the MDC is a real one. In fact it is amazing that so many still voted for the MDC.

In the towns the situation is hotting up - every day there are actions by different groups. This Sunday was no exception - the MDC was scheduled to hold a rally at the Zimbabwe grounds - an historic site that has been at the centre of politics in this country for 50 years. The Police banned the rally, then a High Court Judge granted our appeal and said we could go ahead. Nothing would move the Police - they stuck to their decision and prevented anyone going to the venue. We have many people injured - I have seen pictures of injuries that could only have come from buckshot - in the back. But make no mistake - if I was a Zanu PF heavy, I would be looking for wings!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 19th February 2007.