Springtime

In the northern hemisphere the last days of summer have come and gone. I once asked a Canadian when they thought summer was and he replied – “I think we had summer last year on the 17th of August”. He came from Calgary and they have a mean variation in temperatures from mid-summer to mid winter of over 60 degrees Celsius. Beautiful place: lousy weather.

Many people say we have the best weather in the World in Zimbabwe, our Winters are chilly at night, but warm and dry in the day, our summers are wet and warm – but humidity is never a real problem and you can play golf just about every day of the year. Perhaps the worst season is spring – hot days, zero humidity, often there is a thick blanket of smoke and dust haze, wind and glorious sunsets. But every season has its compensations and ours in spring are the flowering trees and shrubs. The Jacaranda trees, an import from Brazil, are coming into flower and soon the avenues will be a blue and purple haze with a carpet of flowers in the early morning.

In the lowveld there is a tiny shrub which is absolutely nothing to look at but which bursts into a blaze of yellow in spring – yellow so rich it defies description. Then there are our other flowering shrubs and creepers and the amazing variety of pastel colors in the Msasa and Mountain Acacia forests. In the hotter and drier regions the Knobthorn comes out in a mass of pale yellow flowers – so thick that they seem to provide a cloud of color along the river banks.

We were in the Matopo National park recently on a clear blue sky day, warm and mild and just magnificent. The trees in their new foliage and the grass yellow and white, birds active with nesting and the granite hills basking in the sun, showing no sign of life but simply hibernating and waiting for the first rains when they will come to life overnight.

But something is missing – the farms are silent, desecrated and abandoned. In earlier days when the country was just as much in crisis as it is today (was it ever any different?) we could always retreat to the rural areas where the farmers were out in their fields, plowing and planting, sprinklers running on newly planted crops. Cattle were out on the veld – cows dropping their calves and everyone racing against the time when the first rains would fall, that marvelous smell of fresh earth and rain that comes with it and the fact that we could all look forward to another year.

Somehow you knew that if a farmer was doing his land preparation that he would be there in a year’s time. You knew that if he was planting trees he would be there in 10 to 20 years. If he was building a dam or a new homestead that he was thinking of the next generation. They were symbols of the fact that life goes on and that faith in the future is not displaced. Somehow this year is worse than before and there is very little in the way of land preparation under way anywhere.

Zimbabwe is waking up to the fact that this is not the spring we all hoped for and expected. Yesterday I went to Parliament to e sworn in for my second five year term to be confronted by hordes of people clad in yellow and green and waving their fists at me. I ignored them, went into the House, had my name called and then took the oath of office with other members. When I signed my name in the huge register, I could not help feeling that I was doing so after all who had gone before, Ian Smith once stood here, Garfield Todd, Lord Malvern who had been Prime Minister for 35 years.

We left Parliament two months ago – then holding a majority in the lower House, have come back as the Opposition with 72 seats in a House of 270 Members. Unable to block legislation if we want to but providing a voice for the majority in this beautiful, but broken land. After 13 years of struggle, 5 elections and 4 years of the GNU we are no further forward than we were in 2000, in fact we are further back than we were then. Now we know that the regions commitment to democratic norms and values is seriously compromised and that they are not prepared to support the rule of law in regional States if it encumbers the entrenched oligarchies that control power and privilege.

Our major achievement in the last four years was to win the new Constitution – only to have this great advance compromised by the blatant manipulation of the Constitutional Court, the very Court that is charged with interpreting and protecting the Constitution in our society. Despite their clear obligation to do so, ZEC still refuses to release an electronic version of the voters roll used in the past election or the records created on the day and now stored in some 30 000 boxes in a State warehouse. Both are “smoking guns” and would give us the story of what happened in the elections and how the peoples will was subverted.

We now face many challenges – failed agricultural reform, dying industry and fragile banks, a huge import bill for everything from bread to toothpaste, collapsed infrastructure – Gweru has not had water for a week; Bulawayo is running out of water, half of all residents in Harare, one of the great cities of Africa have no water. The State is bankrupt, our foreign relations nonexistent and there is no confidence in any of our institutions or future. Capital flight is rampant and investor inflows frozen in its tracks by renewed threats of indigenisation and expropriation of private assets.

This situation is not made any better or easier by the deepening crisis in South Africa where a quarter of a million workers are on strike, the loss of incomes must be running at $100 million a day and confidence is declining rapidly in all sectors. Suddenly the ANC looks insecure and although they are unlikely to be unseated in 2014, 2018 looms large and threatening with the possible emergence of a new, leftist workers Party which will seek to challenge the ANC.

The “Arab Spring” is rapidly turning into a long winter’s night in the Middle East and any military strike in Syria is unlikely to speed the dawn of a better day. The same threats apply in Zimbabwe and it is time for leadership; leadership that will recognise that if Africa is going to find its spring, that we need to end our long winters night. Our people are weary and dispirited, they need direction and hope and so far both are absent.

Eddie Cross
Harare 4th September 2013