via Detour to nowhere – The Zimbabwean 27 February 2015 by Cathy Buckle
Dear Family and Friends,
My eyes are not on the huge 91st birthday party of Zimbabwe’s president at our country’s World Heritage site, the Victoria Falls, this weekend.
Frankly it’s hard to stomach the idea of 20,000 guests, a 91 kg cake, meat from 2 buffalo, 2 elephant, 2 sable and 5 impala, a lion trophy and other extravagant excesses at a time like this in our country.
Instead my eyes are on the sad, sad situation unfolding on Zimbabwe’s roadsides; there for all to see, if only they would look.
Two months before harvest time, most crops on small scale, acquired farms are in a very sorry state. Late rains, long dry periods, heavy rains and flooding have all made for failed crops. In some places the maize crop has not got above knee high and is brown and dying. In other places the crop is spindly and yellow where nutrients have been leached following flooding and waterlogged fields.
In many cases the maize cobs are few and far between. One small scale farmer told me he’ll be lucky to harvest 6 bags of maize this season, he needs 15 bags to feed his family until the 2016 harvest. He said most of his neighbours will be hard pressed to harvest even one bag of maize from their fields.
And then there’s the politics, always the politics, making a bad situation much worse. On a 90 kilometre trip heading east this week there were eight police road blocks. Only two had warning signs of police ahead; the others involve two or three policemen stepping out into the road and waving you down. It’s a treacherous absurdity on the open highways. You’re doing 120km/hr when a policeman suddenly emerges from the long grass and indicates for you to stop.
Is this even legal, you ask yourself as your tyres squeal to a dead stop. How they don’t get run over is a miracle and how you don’t get hit by the car behind is equally unbelievable. What the police are looking for, aside from their iniquitous “spot fines” is a mystery but you stay quiet because this is an area where the senior politician who controls most of the seized farms has been expelled from power, out of favour with the ruling party.
A whole new land grab is brewing and bubbling around here. Everyone hears of the remaining white farmers being at risk but little is heard of the fate of the ‘settlers’ on acquired farms. People who supported the now expelled politician and grabbed farms under his protection are at risk; new political contenders for the area are moving in and want the grabbed farms for their supporters.
So instead of everyone focussing on growing short- term, small grains and legumes to supplement their failed maize crops, people are more worried about being evicted from land they evicted other people from ten or fifteen years ago.
The vicious cycle of land grabs and evictions that will inevitably continue until property rights and Title Deeds are restored, still plagues Zimbabwe, condemning us to yet another year of importing food.
Pulling off the highway and taking a short detour to nowhere, I stopped to look at this country I was born in and where I have lived all my life. A long-crested eagle, distinctive white windows in its wings, circled overhead before dropping down to rest on a telephone pole. In a swampy patch near a railway line a heron stood knee deep in a puddle while fifty or more swallows sat in a neat line along overhead electricity cables. Heading back to the highway I passed a ‘hotel and cocktail bar’ where at least fifty cattle grazed up to the doorway and in the now derelict gardens.
The sight burned into my brain on the same weekend as our President’s 91st birthday party however, is of a dozen rural primary school children. It was mid-morning break-time and they had made a skipping rope from lengths of tough grass runners knotted together. In their bright blue dresses the little poppet’s jumped happily over the turning grass rope, while others watched, clapping, singing, waiting for their turn, not a care in the world. Until next time,
thanks for reading, love cathy. 27th February 2015.