Summer finally made its way into Zimbabwe this week and oh how pleased we are to see her. In the highveld the Msasa trees have emerged into new leaf: pink, red and caramel, and in the lowveld the Baobabs are bare and the Mopane trees are shedding their old leaves in a beautiful palette of gold, orange and russet.
As I write this letter it’s a warm and windy September day; the air is full of dust and the horizon is smudged by smoke and haze. A man on a bicycle goes past, calling out that he is buying empty bottles which he swaps for sweets, eggs or single cigarettes. His voice carries in the wind along with the calls of a beautiful black-headed Oriole, newly returned to the neighbourhood with the arrival of warmer temperatures.
The contrast between the struggle of everyday life and the beauty of Zimbabwe is dramatic.
There is a desperate rush going on in Zimbabwe this week after government announced it was opening schools again. Parents earning next to nothing are suddenly scrambling to find money for school fees and books. One desperate dad I met was trying to raise US$23 for a pair of school shoes for his son. US$23 might not sound like a lot but when I put a US$20 note into his hand and his eyes shone with tears as he clapped his hands in thanks, I knew exactly how much that money meant to him.
Last week outside the main supermarket in my home town was a floor-to-ceiling display banner reading: ‘WFP (World Food Programme) Social Assistance Vouchers redeemable here.’ The WFP is giving US$12 a month to vulnerable people in urban areas who are struggling to meet their basic food needs.
The WFP is targeting cash assistance to 500 000 people by the end of 2021 and says it has seen a “30% increase in the average price (in ZWL) of basic food items in the first half of 2021.”
Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s finance minister is under pressure to disclose the source of funding for 19 vehicles estimated to be valued at US$1.14 million just given out to the leaders of 12 small losing political parties who backed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s disputed 2018 election.
The contradiction between cars being given out by our government while the WFP gives out food vouchers to ordinary people is nauseating. The US$1.14 million for cars could have bought 95 000 food vouchers.
At 04:30 I stood outside under a star-filled sky, and a fiery necked nightjar was calling: ‘Good Lord deliver us’, its voice clear and consistent in the darkness. This nightjar, known as the Litany Bird has long been the sound of hope and determination for me, the song of Zimbabwe calling out for deliverance.
With the call of the Litany Bird in my mind I am pleased to announce that I have just released my new book, ‘Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty’ – a collection of photographs and stories showing the country’s enduring beauty. Visit my website for more info.
© Cathy Buckle