Cathy Buckle – Spring doesn’t come quietly

1st September 2012

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

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.

Copyright Cathy Buckle.

For information on my new book “IMIRE”, about Norman Travers and
Imire Game Park, or my other books about Zimbabwe: “Innocent
Victims,” African Tears,” “Beyond Tears;” and “History of
the Mukuvisi Woodlands 1910-2010”, or to subscribe to
Cathy’s letter, please visit the  website or contact [email protected]

See other recent posts from Cathy Buckle

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