Golden grass, glittering rock pools and sacrifice – Letter from Zimbabwe

Dear Family and Friends,
Travel East of my home town on a Monday and it’s beer day. Travel West on a Tuesday and it’s their beer day. Hard to believe that this one simple event, using such primitive methods still goes on in this modern world. A rusty, battered ox cart loaded high with blue plastic crates each filled with brown plastic beer bottles emerges from the long grass alongside the highway. It’s usually a couple of young men who are doing the chore: unload the empty beer crates on the side of the road, let the oxen graze under the tree and then sit and wait for the brewery truck to arrive. The young men should be at work but there aren’t any jobs and so this is their lot in life. When the truck comes the crates are swopped, empties changed for full, a handful of dirty US dollars, the oxen whipped into action and off they go with their load of beer: back into the long grass.

It’s glorious out there on the country highways at the moment: the grass is golden, the sun warm and the lucky bean tress ablaze with red flowers. Overhead eagles soar, glide, circle and swoop in the deep valleys and across the wide open plains. Savannah the geography teachers called it; to us it’s just the magnificent African bush full of delights, secrets and surprises. As you cross over rivers there’s almost always someone to see: washing clothes in the pools, collecting water in bright plastic containers or kids stripped off and lathering up for a bath or having a splash about if it’s warm. The wet rocks glitter in the sun, our jewels in the bush. Further along the road two little poppets walk to school; small pink satchels on their backs they try and hitch a lift from every car that passes – regardless which direction it’s going in. A woman appears out of the long grass, a twenty litre yellow plastic container of water on her head, a little lad at her side carrying a one litre orange juice bottle filled with cloudy brown water.

Seeing things like this in 2014 makes you feel like you’re stuck in a time warp: the rest of the world has moved on but we’ve stood still. Or some of Zimbabwe has because while men carry beer on ox carts, and women carry water on their heads, the corruption, scandals, political squabbles and national looting carries on at an obscene rate. This week it’s the ex Minister of Mines (now Minister of
Transport) on the front pages quoted as saying he was too rich for bribes, denying he’d demanded a 10 million US dollar bribe to approve a diamond mining business. You have to wonder if he ever notices the soapy kids in the rock pools, the ox cart full of beer or two little girls walking miles to school in the middle of nowhere.

It is with great sadness this week that I say a final goodbye to Gerry Jackson and the team at SW Radio Africa who two weeks ago stopped their radio broadcasts to Zimbabwe. The silence they have left is a crushing blow. For me Gerry’s honeyed tones take me back to doing stock take in my little farm store in 1997. With goose bumps I listened to Gerry Jackson’s historic broadcast on Radio Three when for many of us this crisis all began. War veterans demanded and received huge $50,000 payouts; the President sent our troops to war in the DR Congo and we exploded into food riots. In between music tracks from Canned Heat and Jethro Tull Gerry warned listeners to stay away from parts of Harare where cars were being stoned and people beaten.
She was fired for that broadcast, for telling Zimbabwe what was really happening. This letter is for Gerry and her team. They’ve carried on telling us what’s been going on all these years whether we’ve been in towns or villages, on ox carts in the golden grass or splashing in rock pools. We thank them for their sacrifice. Until next time, thanks for reading, love cathy. 1st August 2014. Copyright   Cathy Buckle.

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