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African Tears Beyond Tears Innocent Victims Imire Can you hear the drums, by Cathy Buckle


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Wasted all these years
April 23, 2011, 8:39 am

 

Dear Family and Friends,

A day before the start of the long Easter weekend, I gave a friend a lift to his rural village. It was very slow going through the nearby town as huge queues of people were again trying to withdraw their April salaries from building societies and savings banks. It had been government pay day the day before but that had coincided with an extensive power cut. Every time the electricity goes off, the computers go blank and salary withdrawals come to a standstill – a bitter pill for people barely earning enough to survive on, made worse because it was the start of the Easter weekend. One startling image, hard to miss in the crowds and queues, was the large number of khaki police hats that could be seen right at the front of the masses – not to keep order but to withdraw their own pay.

At every intersection on the way out of town the roads were thronged with people trying to get lifts. The commuter minibuses were overflowing with passengers, packed in, sitting sideways, like sardines in tomato sauce, the roof racks loaded high with bags, furniture, bicycles and suitcases.

Before long, under a startling blue, cloudless sky, we were heading into the country. All along the road, for mile after mile, the grass stands higher than a man and it took a little while to understand why. There is nothing here to eat the grass anymore. The herds of beef cattle, dairy cows, sheep and goats that used to graze these commercial farms and crop the grass to ground level have long since gone to the abattoirs and not been replaced.

Every now and again, in the dips and rises of the road you catch a glimpse of a mud walled hut with a thatched roof. Nearby these primitive homes are little patches of stunted brown maize plants surrounded by an ocean of towering grassland. My friend and I talked about the yields from these little maize fields on the seized commercial farms; he says they will be lucky to have grown enough to support their families through the seven, long, dry months ahead. Not a chance there is surplus to help feed the country’s population. He tells me that in his village less than 10 of the 120 families resident there have been able to grow enough maize for their own needs this year. Many planted too late and their crops couldn’t stand up to the heavy rains. Most simply didn’t have the money to get enough fertilizer to boost their crops.

We pass mile after mile of dense grassland where all the fences have been stolen. We don’t see animals or people; we don’t see tractors or combine harvesters; we don’t see gangs of farm workers harvesting summer crops onto trailers or even walking in the lands. All the seized farms here are overgrown, barely utilized and all but deserted. A single monkey jumped out of a tree and ran across the road in front of my car and for a moment I felt like we were in a time warp, in a country that has gone back in time by a hundred years or more.

Arriving at my friend’s village the contrast was dramatic. The grass is shorter, chickens scratch around immaculately swept yards, goats and cows are out in the fields. There are warm handshakes all round, smiles and jokes and everyone willing to lend a hand with unloading and carrying. Everywhere you look you see people busy: harvesting their maize; fetching water, pushing wheelbarrows, tending vegetable gardens. On two sides the village is bounded by seized commercial farms but the villagers tell me they are not welcome on those farms. They cannot graze their cattle there, fetch water when their wells run dry, cut grass for thatching their houses or even gather firewood. “They share nothing with us” the villagers say as they look with contempt at the long grass and inactivity on the seized farms on their boundaries. “They have done nothing, those people, only wasted all these years.”

I end this week with a message of condolence for the family and friends of Rwisai Nyakauru, the 82 year old headman for Nyamaropa in Nyanga who died after being kicked and beaten by war veterans and Zanu PF youth and then spent 25 days in leg irons in police custody. May his soul rest in peace.

Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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