April in Africa

Zimbabwe has many moods - the summer months when black clouds gather and lighting strikes light up the whole sky, the early rains when the smell of the wet earth is like an earth scent. The winters when frost covers the ground in the early morning and freezes the water in the birdbath. The spring when the sun blazes down and it gets so hot you can fry an egg on the rocks, the colors of the new foliage on the trees and the early flowers on the river banks.

But the most beautiful month for me is April, when the rains are over; the grass is still green, the rivers running and days warm and dry with vivid, deep blue skies. The grass takes on an autumn sheen, green at the bottom and gold at the top. The trees still have their summer foliage and the winter haze has yet to form from the veld fires and dust. The air is clear and clean and the night skies spectacular with Milky Way stretching across the heavens like a diamond-studded mantle.

I am going to the River in April and taking my family with me. Any Zimbabwean would know where that is - the mighty Zambezi River, flowing from the Congo basin in the north to the coast of Mozambique in the south east - one of the great rivers of the world. Nothing stirs me like the valley; I always stop at the top of the escarpment and look out on one of the last really wild places in the world. Stretching out for hundreds of kilometers it speaks of an Africa that few will see, the dense bush, the Jesse scrub and Baobab trees standing like sentinels. We will spend a few nights on the river in a comfortable lodge and spend the days fishing and just enjoying Africa in April, clean, cool and fresh with elephant in the camp and lion calling at night, with the grunts of the hippo in the river and the wild cry of the Fish Eagle in the sky. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world.

It will take me away from the world of people and politics for a few days. Life has suddenly become very hectic for those of us who are in the struggle to bring democracy back to Zimbabwe. It's a bit like being on the river - gliding down with the current in wide shallow pools where the water hardly seems to move and then suddenly it narrows down to a gap of only a hundred metres, perhaps 30 metres deep and white water roaring and tumbling over rocks the size of buildings.

Since December it's been like that here - the pace of change has suddenly accelerated and the options as to where to go narrowed down to a gap through which the whole of our society is suddenly confined. The referendum has come and gone, 3,3 million votes counted (not cast) and 93 per cent yes. We have no sooner got through that piece of white water when we find ourselves faced with an even greater challenge. Ahead of us is the election and how we approach that obstacle will largely determine whether we come out in one piece or are thrown into the river to fend for ourselves.

Thankfully we are not alone and although Zanu PF is still trying to engineer an early election without essential reforms, the region and the international community are very clear, no election without the required reforms to make the poll free and fair. It's a bit like the 'No Independence before Majority Rule' in the old Rhodesian days only this time, the struggle is not against minority rule but an indigenous tyranny.

The past week the South Africans made it very clear that they will not jeopardize all the efforts that they have made to get us to this point by allowing Zanu PF to stage an election that they can win by well tried and tested electoral fraud. The international community is likewise making its stand clear - the elections must be credible, transparent and supervised.

For our part we have stuck to our game plan - pressure: negotiations: reforms: elections; confident that if we can prepare ourselves carefully for the next white water experience we will not only come through intact but will leave a lot of superfluous baggage and passengers behind to be swept away and dealt with by the crocodiles down stream.

We have until the end of October constitutionally to hold this vital election so there is ample time to do what is necessary to hold a free and fair election campaign and vote. We are targeting the end of July but I think that will prove to be too tight a schedule. Mr. Mugabe will probably get his wish to officiate at the opening of the World Tourism Organisation Conference at the Victoria Falls in August, but it will be his swan song.

When we get through that next white water experience, we will enter a new season - it will be the end of the long hot dry season, the start of spring and with it the new shoots of growth that herald the summer rains and the scent of the earth. Our campaign starts in May and I for one will come back from my favorite place, suntanned, refreshed and refueled for the struggle ahead.

It's April in Africa; don't you wish you were here?

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 29th March 2013