The Winter of our Days

Each of the seasons in Zimbabwe is special and very different. Spring is characterized by the brilliant colors of the new foliage of trees that sense the longer days and the coming rains. Summer with its storms and flooding rivers, green grass and rich, dense foliage. Then the onset of the dry season when the weather clears and we have chilly nights, green veld, running streams and beautiful blue skies and clear nights when the stars just crowd the skies and you can walk by their light.

But our winters are tough – harsh dry, dust devils scatter across the bushveld, rivers slow and then die, trees drop their leaves and are stark and bare, many covered in thorns that make the bush difficult to walk through. The grass dies and goes brown and is frosted and turned white or pale yellow, tinder dry and instantly supporting fire when given the slightest provocation. Millions of hectares are burnt and scarred and the sun turns a deep red as it its energy is filtered through a dense prism of dust and smoke. The winter moon rises just after sunset as a yellow ball, twice its normal size and giving the whole world a sense of serenity that is broken by the grunts of a distant lion, or the weird laugh of a hyena and the faint tinkling call of the nightjar.

During the winter it is very difficult to imagine that summer is coming. It takes a lot of faith and memories of what was in previous years. It’s especially tough in the spring when temperatures rise to the mid 30’s and low 40’s. I can remember one spring when for two weeks the thermometer sat at 45 c during the day and never dropped below 35 c at night. That year you would not have seen a blade of grass for 100 kilometers in any direction, cattle died in their thousands, the only hippo left alive were in swimming pools and dams maintained with pumped water.

But I was born in this wild and tough environment and find the bush of the lowveld and Matabeleland especially fascinating. By comparison the soft green environment in the wetter and more temperate areas seem characterless and uninteresting, even barren. But it can look pretty discouraging and bleak to the outsider.

In politics this is our winter, there not much to cheer about, Zanu PF is still frustrating all progress, both in the economy and in the political arena. They seem to be able to continue to burn what remains of the rural economy and get away with the arson. The MDC seems compliant and without power or even influence. The regional community makes the right noises but seem unable or unwilling to intervene effectively on the side of justice and freedom.

Preparations for the summer are not going well, the Constitution making programme is flawed and compromised by the necessity of doing a deal with the Zanu PF to get progress and even this has not yielded progress. Zanu PF has tabled a version that simply closes the door on the future and they claim that “this is not negotiable”. The rogue elements in the Party refuse to disclose either what they are producing or selling from the diamond mines and are clearly not returning most of the secret revenues to the country.

So we have had to cut our budget and reduce the scope of all we planned this winter. People are hungry, jobs are few and still declining, health services are available but expensive and although everything is now available, finding the money for daily needs is very difficult. But the main problem is that relentless dry sky and the absence of real hope that the rains of change are coming.

Yet it is in these days that we must prepare for what we must believe, in faith, is coming soon. During the bush war in this country between 1972 and 1980, it was always an inspiration to me to travel through the farming districts and see farmers preparing their lands, planting seed beds and getting into stock all they would need once the rains broke. To me this was always an act of faith. Here was a community of people who believed that the rains would come, that the dry barren earth would yield its plenty if nurtured. A community that was not dismayed by mandatory UN sanctions against their products; not dismayed by the nightly attacks on their remote farms and the constant call outs.

In politics, this is our winter, we need to believe that the rains are coming and we must prepare for their advent because if we do not, we will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities they present. The transition of power from the Mugabe era has started at last. There is no doubt in my mind that Mugabe is yesterday’s man today. Events are still swirling about him but he is less and less involved or able to direct matters. The only questions are of timing and the outcome. It’s just like the beginning of the rains – we can never be certain of when or how much rain will fall.

My own view is that there are now four possible scenarios – the one on the table supported by the SADC and the AU of a free and fair election after all the agreed reforms are implemented. If this transpires then we are looking at a final transition towards the end of 2013. The second scenario is that the hard liner faction in Zanu PF succeeds in their call for an election in the immediate future that they can control and manipulate. The third would follow the incapacitation in some way, of President Mugabe which would trigger a transition. The final option, which I still think is a real possibility, is a negotiated solution that accommodates the fears and needs of all the stakeholders but achieves a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to new leadership.

As in the past, the outcome will be determined – not so much by the weather inside Zimbabwe but by the winds of change that blow regionally and internationally. External pressure has always been critical in order to break the log jam in local politics. That was true in 1976 when Kissinger intervened using his global power and reach and the support of key African leaders, in 1989 it was Mrs. Thatcher who forced the final resolution of the South African crisis and gave them a new beginning.

Right now for ordinary Zimbabweans it looks as if this winter will never end. They struggle every day to make a living and keep a roof over their heads. They watch the endless maneuvering of the local political parties and despair of progress or real change. They wonder, will the rains of change bring relief or just another form of the old crisis of governance that has hitherto robbed us of our future?

It is in times like this that we must, each of us, take out our tractors and go and plough and prepare our lands, we need to make plans for early planted crops by servicing our irrigation equipment and getting the inputs ready. In 2008 the international community, led by the diplomats in the Fishmonger Group, imported a million tonnes of maize, thousands of tonnes of pulses and vegetable oil in preparation for the traditional hunger season here and in anticipation of change. When change came they were ready to keep the country stable by feeding over 70 per cent of the population. In this way they keep the country stable and avoided mass starvation during a time of real crisis. Regional leaders, acting in the space created by this foresight, took the lead and ushered in the GNU and tried to get the new Government to work on the longer term solutions.

That this has not happened is no fault of theirs – the fault lies with those who hold the guns and the diamonds and who have everything to fear from a new season. They are not preparing to plough, they are preparing for war: a fight on the ground that will support their control of any new election in Zimbabwe. Can they pull this off?

I do not think so; history is stacked against them, just as it was in 1976 against Ian Smith and in 1989 against the Nationalists in South Africa. The key lies in Pretoria and I know that the global powers are not only maintaining a watching brief but are also applying the required pressure and resources. As in all such local conflicts we have to deal with the hardliners and to accommodate their fears. Some compromise is essential and this is not understood by those who have suffered at the hands of the old regime in the past – and they are many!

What we are doing is to try and get ready for change – so we have been working on the detailed policies and work programmes that will guide the new administration as we tackle all the problems of a failed State in Africa. These are nearing completion and we then go out to consult our structures to get their agreement on the vision the MDC has for a new Zimbabwe. Hopefully then, when finally the rains of change break and we can smell the sweet fragrance of the wet earth after this long winter, we will be ready to take advantage of the changes in the weather and make a success of the new season in our lives.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 3rd September 2012