Africa in April

Those who are fortunate enough to live in Africa and regard Africa as home, share April as a special time. The veld is still green, temperatures moderate and the skies clear and a deep hue of blue. Rivers are running and the bush is starting to turn into its winter colours – the grass is thick and yellow and the light, especially in the late afternoon is very special.

Other places are as beautiful – even spectacular but no places on earth can hold a candle to Africa in April. I love Washington DC and have seen it in all its phases – deep snow, then in the spring when the trees come out it is spectacular, but apart from the pollen count and temperatures with humidity at levels where you can see the atmosphere. The Rockies and the Alps – stunning but still do not hold the same mystique as the unique blend of elements that come together at this time here in Zimbabwe.

We were out in the Matobo Hills at the weekend – the air was clear, humidity near zero, 25 degrees c. Streams running clear and sweet, grass that golden hue and the trees and shrubs in every colour you can imagine. Then late in the afternoon as the sun sinks, the sudden emergence of that light that seems to enhance every colour and illuminates the granite and the tree trunks. If you painted that it would look unreal to all who have not seen it for themselves.

Last week one of the Committees of Parliament – the Public Accounts Committee, held a four day workshop at Leopard Rock – a small hotel in the Vumba Mountains. We worked hard starting at 08.00 hrs and running to 17.00 hrs or later in the evening and I thought our time was very productive. The Committee is a sort of Audit Committee for the State and we supervise over 200 State Departments and agencies.

But those of you who have been to the hotel will be interested to know it has been taken over by a group of young businessmen who have refurbished it and jacked up the management – a similar arrangement now applies at the Montclair in Nyanga. The hotel was superb – food was excellent and the service great. The golf course is one of the best in Africa and they now have a wild life area next door where the coffee plantations used to be with a wide variety of plains game including Giraffe, Eland, Kudu, Impala, Wildebeest and Nyala. The gardens were in great condition and the winter aloe flowers starting to show.

We have our problems, many of them, but these are the compensations. An American tourist – travelling through Africa and just arrived from South Africa, said to me on a walk in the hotel grounds that when she crossed the border into Zimbabwe she immediately felt that she was in a different country. I know that feeling well, I always feel it when I get into the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport on the way home or at Beitbridge. Our people are friendly and courteous and this tourist said that she has felt safe while travelling around Zimbabwe – something she did not feel in South Africa.

The young businessmen who have bought the hotel are Zimbabweans, the Manager was an attractive middle aged woman who was clearly in charge and making things happen. To me this is hugely encouraging and shows that if we can do it in a hotel operation, we do it across the country and even the continent. It just takes time.

In 1975 under a programme mounted by the South African government, a number of long term political detainees were released in an effort to try and find a solution to the Rhodesian crisis and end the war. Ndabaningi Sithole was among them and after his release he travelled to Lusaka in Zambia to see President Kaunda. He was picked up at Salisbury Airport by private Jet and then taken to State House by helicopter. All the staff and crews were black. After the trip he returned to Salisbury and came to talk to the Council of Churches in the City. I was a member and attended.

He talked about the way forward and the outcome of his discussions with Kaunda and then described his feelings about being taken on his trip by a totally black crew – first in the Jet and then the helicopter. One elderly Pastor asked at the end of the talk, “What qualifications does a person have to have to become a pilot?” Ndabaningi responded “Umdala, Independence!” I have never forgotten that brilliant reply; it summed it all up.

Now when I see bright, well educated and confident young people in offices, in banks, in hotels; all doing a great job and showing no hint of feeling inferior or less than adequate, I remember those words again – it could not have happened without Independence. It is sad but true, when we, the white Africans were in charge, we did not create the conditions for black people to flourish and thrive in the environment of a modern economy. It is astonishing how rapid the changes have been taking place and how quickly the new generations – the “born free’s” have found their feet in this new society, this new world.

Sure we have failed in many ways – the country has become deeply corrupt, we are poorer and our society is less equal. The roads have potholes and we have problems that were not there before, but ask any young black Zimbabwean if they would go back to the old days and the answer is no. At least now they have their dignity and opportunity and the right to make mistakes and slowly they are discovering how to make things work. We are not killing each other (yet) and have begun to forge a new alliance and society and eventually, a new economy.

But many things have stayed the same – the weather, the open veld, the smell of the first rains on the dry earth, our people – generally hard working and pleasant and always ready with a smile and a wave. The other things we can and will fix, but we could never create what is already ours in the continent we have adopted as home.

Eddie Cross
Harare 24th April 2014