By Nevanji Madanhire,
One of the most memorable book openings of all time was this by South African author Alan Paton in his classic novel Cry, the Beloved Country: “There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.”
Zimbabwe is lovely beyond any singing of it! But do we love it?
Yes, we Zimbabweans love our country very much in the nationalistic sense, that is why “we died for this country”, so to speak. To the uninitiated, when Zimbabweans say they died for their country, they are talking about the war of liberation that began with the first nationalist movements in the 1950s and ended with a bloody armed struggle in the 1970s, that ended with independence in 1980 ending colonialism.
The exact number of people who perished during that struggle will never be known, in one way or another, we all died in that struggle. For that, we love our country, cherish its independence and are willing to die for its sovereignty hence, the jingoistic language of the past 13 years.
But, what makes our country lovely beyond the singing of it? Tourist brochures talk about the lovely flora and fauna and about the climate which is about the best in the world; they also talk about the friendly, hard-working people. They talk about our rivers and mountains and our history whose main symbol is the Great Zimbabwe Monument.
All these, as a collective, make our country beautiful. All these co-exist in the habitat called Zimbabwe literally eating each other but in a sustainable manner; the population of predators and prey always in such a ratio so as never to cause the extinction of the other. Put simply, it’s called the balance of nature.
Unfortunately, people are at the top of the food chain and are, because of our human nature, exposed to the vagaries of the seven cardinal sins. Catholics say these sins are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. It is because of these sins that we humans have a tendency to upset the natural equilibrium that exists in our environment.
We should love our country not only in the nationalistic sense but also in the aesthetic sense. A young artist recently sang a song in which a beautiful woman is an image of Zimbabwe; the relationship between the young man and young woman is the metaphor for the love Zimbabweans should have for their country.
This weekend, together with our northern neighbour, Zambia, we hosted the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) conference, touted a once-in-a-life time event since the next time we will be able to host it will be in about 300 years’ time. The significance of the conference is not that thousands of people will come to see one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, the Victoria Falls — and pay for it — but that we as a country wish to showcase the relationship we have with our habitat.
In other words, we have been singing about our environment in brochures, tourist magazines, on radio and television, but by inviting thousands to come over and experience it, we have gone “beyond the singing of it”.
But the UNWTO conference has also presented a great challenge to every Zimbabwean namely, that we should love our environment.
In the recent past the tendency among Zimbabweans has been to extract every bit of juice from this young woman called Zimbabwe without a care in the world about her regeneration. People have gone to absurd ends to exploit Zimbabwe for short-term benefit; some have even burnt the whole veld in order to trap mice!
This may be laughable but it has replicated itself at a grand scale, even a government level. The destruction of forest by mice-hunters is no different from the destruction of say, wetlands, by the construction of huge structures in places where there shouldn’t be any buildings.
One thing that has blighted the Zimbabwean landscape especially in the cities has been the construction of structures outside the city master-plan. In all civilised countries every building should conform to certain standards and should be put up in such a way it doesn’t affect the beauty of the environment.
During the run-up to all elections in the past decade or so, people have been encouraged to put up permanent structures in all open spaces in the cities and towns, all this so they could vote for certain individuals. The result is that most towns and residential areas have become jungles of concrete with no semblance of order. Not only has this made our habitat cramped and ugly, but it has also strained services which have not grown in tandem with the population.
The obvious effects of this have been uncollected garbage, burst sewer systems and filth strewn all over the place. As a result, our cities haven’t left the 20th century, where waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid are the order of the day. Most painfully, this has led to properties losing value and thereby destroying some people’s life investments.
In the countryside unsustainable agricultural practices are the order of the day; there is the wanton cutting down of priceless trees that can never be replaced. There is unbridled cultivation along rivers that have led to siltation. The ripple effects of these are too ghastly to think about. All the plants and animals that thrive in water or are sustained by river systems will be destroyed.
Eventually this will affect humans as sources of food dwindle.
The uncontrolled denudation of the countryside will negate any gains made in the agricultural revolution that saw thousands of people getting access to land. The land reform programme which is showing good signs of success will fail, not because of anything but because of itself, if the importance of the environment is made secondary to the earning of a quick buck.
It is important therefore that the new government put in place an environment master-plan that seeks not only to protect what is left of our habitat but also regenerate it so it returns to the pristine state that it was a few decades ago. Laws must be enacted that are stringent enough to deter any offenders who seek to destroy the environment. Ecocide must be an offence equal to any crime against humanity. People who love their country cannot be seen to be committing crimes against its environment. We are because of our environment!