4 Days to Go

Those of you who have lived here know the magic spell that Africa casts. The other night I went out into the garden, it was a brilliant night, clear sky and the stars just blazed across the sky - a sweep of stars in the Milky Way. In the east the moon was rising - a golden orb, bright yellow and casting its glow over everything. We have a huge Fiscus Capensis in the garden and under it a small Lapa under thatch.

I sat there for a while. A Nightjar was just behind me and called, that distinctive night call that is never to be forgotten, once heard. The air was clean and fresh grass smells plus the other sounds that so characterize the African evening - tree frogs, crickets, even the odd bird deceived by the bright moonlight.

I thought back over the past 150 years to the lives of my Great Grandfather who landed at the Cape in 1867 and who married his Irish wife before coming out to a foreign land to help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Going on to fight in the Griqwa wars, then in the Boer War against the British, founding several Churches that still stand today. My Grandfather who was a lawyer and a Magistrate - riding the rural districts and hearing cases, married to a matriarch who towered over the family who sent for me imperiously when I got married - just a letter saying she would 'see us both for tea' on such and such a day and time. No acknowledgement that my new wife and I were 1200 kilometers away - 150 kms off the road and living on the edge of the Zambezi escarpment.

My Grandfather who served in the South African government up to the time when the Nationalists took over in 1949 and perhaps died of disappointment three years later but always believing in South Africa and in the basic strength of the Afrikaner whom he said to me as a small boy 'would one day put the situation right and regret the damage they had done to their country and its people'.

I thought about my mother with only 2 years of formal schooling, raising a family of five and having to carry the whole burden when her first husband died and then later when my father failed the family and became an alcoholic. My father, who should have been a professor of History somewhere, who was the Chief Executive of a fuel company and then fell to the demon drink and eventually recovered and rose to a senior position in the Railways. Loving the theatre and producing shows right through the Second World War.

The many friends I had lost in our civil war and its aftermath. The huge struggle to achieve a just society, first under the Smith era and then under Mugabe. So much time and effort wasted, so much potential lost. But still Africa remains a constant and consistent companion. Who can forget the vast sweep of the veld, the grandeur of the storms that bring life in summer, the golden sea of ripe grassland and green trees in late summer and the colors and smells of the long winters?

The friendliness and openness of African society - a people who smile and greet you and say sorry when you hurt. The warm hospitality that is the hallmark of Africa - not for us the stern unsmiling masses on transit trains. We sing and dance at the slightest provocation. But we also kill and maim without compunction when aggrieved.

It is a continent where the roar of a lion and the soft call of a nightjar can be heard at the same time. More and more to me, this is my real home. Anywhere else I am a stranger. I am white, cannot help that. I come from tough Irish stock. I cannot help that. I was born into a society that is very much in transition - cannot help that. What I can do is to work for change and development in the land of my birth and that is what I am doing.

I sat there and thought about my family - my son and daughter with their families in Harare, my long suffering wife who had never shaken hands with a black man before she married me and now seldom does anything else. She has defended my politics and me and gone to jail for human rights and who now worries about me when I am out on political activities and under threats of one kind or another.

But in the end it all comes down to this unforgettable African experience - the quiet nights under an open sky with a nightjar and frogs to keep me company. The old women who walked 7 kilometers to watch me fight to be nominated as their candidate for Parliament and who now campaign for me in my constituency. Those toothy smiles and the warm embraces and the countless offers of help of every sort.

We are growing up - Europe went through this torture and change hundreds of years ago, it is our turn. Of course there is suffering and pain - there is no music without it, but at the same time there is a rich reward in terms of our combined human experience. What a rich life we live, a life like none other.

The campaign is reaching its peak. Morgan spoke at a huge rally on Sunday - I looked over the sea of faces and open hands with red cards in them and thought about how much they expect from us. They want an escape from the nightmare of Robert Mugabe and the chance to start afresh. We are their only hope of that new beginning. Can we deliver that I thought? I worry about the expectations, all those hungry people, those derelict farms, the empty factories and closed mines.

Mugabe demanded that the Presidential ballot be counted in Harare - ZEC told them that this was not a lawful instruction! They reduced the numbers of polling stations in urban areas, potentially denying us the right to vote. ZEC simply stepped in and decided to open two polling stations at urban polling centers. This week we had activists arrested and beaten by the CIO. The Police reacted by threatening the CIO operatives with arrest and prosecution. I went into complain about a political Party defacing our posters - the Dispol asked if we wanted to pursue Zanu PF for pulling our posters down!

Saturday is D-day for Zimbabwe. Everyone knows it - even Robert Mugabe. But the crucial test will come on Sunday when we announce the results and demand that Morgan Tsvangirai take over as State President. Mugabe has said he will never, will never allow it to happen. We need to remind him of another man who said 'never in a 1000 years.'

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 25th March 2008