May Magic

For me this country exercises its magic each year in April/May. The rains are over but we still have green grass in many areas, there is water in the rivers and streams and crops are drying off in preparation for harvest. At the same time temperatures are dropping fast and the days are shorter, nights crisp and clear with brilliant star-lit skies that stretch forever. Humidity is near zero.

It is also the time when our aloes work their magic - suddenly blooming where life seems only hard and unrelenting. There is just something about the pale yellows, pinks and reds that typify the winter flowers of our aloes. Perhaps it's the backdrop of gray granite and bright yellow grass; perhaps it's the little sunbirds in their bright colors. Perhaps it is all of these things taken together, for me, it is what I call May magic.

With the air still clean and reasonably free of the smoke and dust that comes later, the light at this time of the year also often casts a spell over the veld. The vast stretches that spread out in front of us at an escarpment, the evening glow that seems to illuminate all life with special significance. That time in the evening when the sun retreats and the moon rises, when the Hueglins Robin sings from his hiding place and then the quiet cry of the Nightjars takes his place.

Just the other evening I sat on the stoep and listened to the evening sing. A thin sliver of a new moon rose with the evening star cupped in its curves, so bright that it positively twinkled at me. This is better than a Disney fantasy I thought and it is all ours for free!

Somehow there is also magic in the Lowveld. Although I have spent much of my life on the Highveld, it is the Lowveld that has always symbolized the real Africa. Here the environment is colder, hotter and more arid. Here the trees must fight for life and bear the scars of that struggle. Here the colors somehow seem so much more vivid; by contrast the winter Europe is a pale shade of gray and its summer green. Here the variety of life is vast and bewildering - a thousand species of birds, animal life from the smallest shrew to the great gray ghosts of the Elephant. Everything in abundance from insects to snakes and reptiles. Life is never taken for granted; everything knows life is a precious gift to be enjoyed everyday.

Ever since I was a small boy growing up on a Matabeleland Ranch, I have expected winter to arrive on or about the 15th of May. This year was no exception. An artic front came across the Cape, spread upwards and inwards and if we had any moisture in the atmosphere, brought snow and ice. In the Lowveld, with zero humidity, it simply froze our birdbaths and garden pipes and killed our frost sensitive plants. I saw a small garden font still frozen solid at three in the afternoon on a brilliant clear blue-sky day.

This sudden arrival of winter, in a country where people do not heat their homes and do not have access to warm clothing, brings with it, its own threats and dangers. In Johannesburg 54 people died of exposure on the first night.

In Zimbabwe where the majority of the people displaced by Murambatsvina are still homeless and destitute, no one knows what our death toll was - no one is counting. In South Africa where 3,5 million Zimbabweans have fled, the majority as illegal migrants without rights, many must have died in their makeshift shacks and hovels in the over crowded slums outside all major Cities. No one is counting. Many will simply be buried where they died, not enough money to get them home, nowhere to bury them decently.

So for some, May is magic, for many others it's the start of another long cold winter. This time a winter with 10 000 per cent inflation, no work, no means of heating or cooking at home and many hungry nights. The minimum wage for a farm worker is Z$38 000, that is two loaves of bread or 4 kilograms of maize meal. A bottle of cooking oil is now Z$50 000, meat is Z$60 000 a kilo for low grade cuts. Under these circumstances many simply give up working - why waste the energy, rather turn to crime or begging or simply pack a few things in a bag and hitch a lift to the SA or Botswana border. Walk 50 or 60 kilometers inland and then head for the nearest slum to find someone who will take you in and show you the ropes.

I do not know how much more of this we can take. Those who are brokering our future must work with haste; life is at stake on a huge scale. It astonishes me how those who have created these disastrous conditions in our land but who themselves are protected by the very policies that give them lives of luxury and pleasure at our expense, show no sign of their culpability or shame. They drive their fast cars and flaunt their wealth while the evidence of their failure is all around them. It makes no impact and they actually think this can go on forever!

Well I have news for them, seasons change and every season has its own life. Regional leaders in the SADC have decided that the crisis in Zimbabwe simply cannot be allowed to drift on indefinitely, South Africa wants, needs, closure. The spectre of the World Cup to be staged in May/June 2010 provides one pressure point, the flood of refugees from Zimbabwe, another. Against this backdrop, the men and women who are brokering a deal are now aware of their parameters.

When negotiations finally get underway soon, they will be against the backdrop of a clear definition of just what the international community will accept as an outcome, they have their own rules as expressed in the SADC democratic protocols as the minima that must be satisfied. All that remains is the translation of these background conditions to the talks into the Zimbabwe situation and a form of language that Mr. Mugabe will understand.

Then hopefully we can get down to a meaningful election campaign and vote as a people based on our basic citizenship and decide who is going to lead us out of this smelly Zanu PF quagmire. All we then ask is that the rest of you respect our wishes and help us get back on our feet - from then on we will look after ourselves. When that happens we can give you an open invitation to come and enjoy the magic of our country and its people.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th May 2007