Spring in Zimbabwe

We have many problems to contend with on a daily basis in Zimbabwe. Sometimes it feels as if this situation will never end and we cannot see what the future holds. Then nature intervenes and suddenly there is a new perspective on things.

We have about 5 months of rain each year and 7 months of dry weather. The long dry season starts in March or April and runs to November or December. Our autumn comes slowly as the veld dries out and day length shortens and temperatures decline. Unlike many places in Africa we get four very distinct seasons as they do in the northern hemisphere, the great difference is that our winter is dry and our spring very hot.

Each of these seasons has a special character, summer with the tropical storms, towering cumulus and rain that comes with a rush and vanishes just as quickly – life explodes and suddenly the nights are full of insects of an endless variety, baboon spiders running across the floor, birds nesting and migrants arriving from far off places.

Then autumn; temperatures dropping but the veld still green and rivers running clear, the air is clean and crisp and for two months we enjoy the most amazing weather, with startling blue skies and a blaze of stars at night. The migrants depart for the Congo and Europe and the whole country gets ready for the dry season and the hot months that signal a new summer in gestation.

Because I am in Parliament I have to travel to and from the Capital every week and some three weeks ago we left our flat in the leafy suburb of Chisipite and drove to Bulawayo, returning just four days later. We left a garden that was a dry, leafless wilderness. The Msasa trees were leafless and dead. When we came back it was suddenly spring. The Msasa trees were out in every shade of pastel green, brown and burgundy. In two weeks the garden was transformed and the deep shade under the trees created by a canopy of leaves that are miraculously covered in a fine sheen of soluble wax that limits evaporation until the rains come and in the meantime give the trees a luminosity that delights artists.

At home in Bulawayo, the main road to our home is lined with Wild Wisteria trees – normally a scruffy, untidy tree that would hardly ever catch your attention. Suddenly they put out pale green shoots and then clusters of pale purple flowers so delicate that they look unreal. Close up, every shower of flowers is worthy a picture for a calendar.

It does not end there – in the dry barren bush, the trees along the sand river banks burst into thick yellow showers of flowers. These serve as food for the Giraffe as everything else is still dry and barren with little sign of life until the rains come. In the towns the Jacaranda trees shower the streets with a purple carpet of flowers, often contrasting with the Bougainvillea of every shade and colour. Sometimes the brilliance of the colours is so great that you almost have to shade your eyes when looking at them in the bright sunlight.

I recall a time in the Save Valley, an area that is almost desert it is so dry and barren, when suddenly in October, the hottest month of the year and the height of spring, a small indistinct shrub comes out in a mass of flowers which are the most brilliant shade of yellow you will ever see anywhere in the world. They literally glow in the bush and against the backdrop of the dry Mopani veld and thickets of thorn bush and brown rocky earth, the contrast is startling. I have no idea what it is called and 48 hours later the flowers are dead and litter the ground under the thin scrub.

Every season has its special features and delights, an endless variety of colours and shades, some so delicate they do not look real and are difficult to paint and capture in print form. Right now, where the veld fires have not run riot, the grass is a pale yellow – impossible to describe, almost white, not quite the same shade as an Elephant tusk. We know a local artist who captures these colours but has to use an amazing and complex formula of colours to get the right shades and features.

Who can forget an early morning walk in the open veld, with a gun for protection or something for the pot, boots sodden with the dew, the call of the night jars as you make coffee over the fire before sunrise and then the early calls of the birds in response to the rising Sun. Coming back at 10 just when it’s getting impossibly hot for a big breakfast including eggs, steak and fresh kidneys and more thick coffee or tea.

The seasons tell us as Africans that there is a time for everything and that as the seasons change, so does our lives and for me the beauty of our flowering trees and shrubs is a constant reminder that even in the deep of a dry barren winter, life can spring surprises and there is always some magic in the air.

We live in a country at war with itself, poor governance, bad policy, lousy leadership and rampant corruption have created conditions that have made us one of the poorest countries in the world. Our statistics abound with examples of our record breaking tendencies of a negative nature – the biggest decline in living standards in the world in the past 20 years, the highest infant mortality for children under 5, at the bottom of just about every survey that is conducted of counties in whatever field you can name – ease of doing business, income per capita, corruption, the highest rate of inflation in world history.

But against that backdrop, like the barren backdrop to the yellow flowers in the Save Valley, we have brilliant bursts of colour and talent and achievement that still make us an exceptional nation with great character and ability. When faced with unbelievable hardship and poverty, we turn to prayer and our bibles, when harassed by the authorities and beaten on the streets, we turn our backs to them and give them our forgiveness.

We play world class cricket and win gold medals in swimming and other sports. We turn to the informal sector for a living when our formal jobs disappear and work hard with great innovation creating a hidden economy that is much bigger than the formal one and leaves experts and economists struggling to understand how we survive.

Right now I can sense the start of a new season in Zimbabwe, talks are underway and our leadership is changing hands. We have no idea what sort of season awaits us this year or next, but we know, that when it happens everything will change and anything is possible. We all know this and can feel the country stirring again after a long hard, dry winter.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 27th September 2015