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Spring doesn't come quietly
September 1, 2012, 10:33 am

 

Dear Family and Friends,

It’s red in Zimbabwe at the moment, all shades of cool, warm and hot red.  A fortnight earlier than last year the Musasa trees have thrown off all their old dusty leaves and announced spring.  In a perfect artists palette the colours of the new leaves range from a soft delicate pink to shimmering orange, hot crimson and  deep earthy red.  Underfoot is a carpet of Musasa pods, curled, split, furry inside with little shiny circles where the seeds lay before being ejected far and wide. Spring doesn’t come quietly in Zimbabwe, our days filled with the explosions of cracking pods and shiny brown seeds rattling on roofs and pinging against  windows. The not so nice red also filling our lives at the moment are the clouds of red dust that lift up, rearrange themselves and then settle on everything below. No sooner do you wipe off one layer than another one settles. Then there are the blood red sunsets which announce the end of almost every day at this time of year. Not long before reaching the horizon and as it sinks through the dust and ash of countless uncontrolled fires, the sun suddenly turns bright red. You don’t have long to watch it, less than ten minutes, before its gone leaving a sky streaked with pink and orange and gold.

Watching a blood red sunset this week I was struck by the commonest sight at this time of year which tells so much about life in Zimbabwe. Its taken less than a decade of turning a blind eye by an urban municipality for a fragile and delicate wetland to be unashamedly taken over by a couple of dozen people. Unchecked and uncontrolled, anyone who feels like it has  apportioned themselves little plots all over the wetland. Every year the trees and shrubs decrease and retreat as places are cleared for cultivation. In the last four years while town authorities have squabbled over politics and jostled for position, the last of the precious indigenous herbs, sedges and water purifying plants have been eradicated from the wetland.  Gone too because their habitat was destroyed are the countless  birds, insects, reptiles and mammals that make up the particularly special diversity of wetlands. Nature’s own unique water storage and purification system has been replaced with strips and squares of kitchen gardens. Here everyone does their own thing.  One woman has dug two shallow wells  from which she waters a few lines of green vegetables.  Another has scooped out a waterhole where she does laundry for herself and others, the soapy scum draining into the ground, seeping into what’s left of the stream. Others have chopped down decades old Musasa trees and planted sugar cane in their place. Every day fires are started and left to burn, consuming everything in their path, exposing yet more land.

In front of a deep red Musasa tree  and with a blood red sun setting behind him, I watched a man bent over his hoe, turning the soil in a newly exposed square on the outer edges of the wetland. As the sun dropped into one horizon, a spectacular full moon rose on the other, so big and so close you felt if you reached out you could touch it.  In the same week that the first man to walk on the moon died, another man toiled in the dust beneath it, hardly seeming to notice the splendour around him or even realising the damage he was doing. The tragic irony is that while fragile urban wetlands are being destroyed, the country continues to import 80% of its food needs and all along the country’s highways mile after endless mile of seized farms  stand underutilized, un-worked and derelict.

The colour red has infected our politics this week too. A ‘deadlock’ has been declared over the draft constitution. Mudslinging and insults fill the local  media while SW Radio Africa broadcasts are being jammed again. For the thirteen year in a row, political fighting has reached fever pitch at the very time of year when every attention should be on the land: preparing fields, stocking up on inputs, getting ready for the rains and growing enough food to feed the country. Will we ever learn? Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy.



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