The looming drought

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THERE is a small river running along the eastern edge of my piece of land in Centenary with pools that never dry up because just before they do, they are replenished by the rains of the coming rain season. Sadly, the pools dried up this season and the farm workers caught fish that we didn’t know lived there.
I don’t want to exaggerate our predicament because in Mashonaland Central, the situation is not as desperate as it is in the south. Last week on television, there was a story of a man up a tree in rural Masvingo, cutting down branches to feed his hungry cattle waiting below. That is how bad the situation is down there.
In the visual images accompanying the story, old men and women wore brave faces, downplaying the devastating effects of the drought. But you saw the desperation in their eyes and the anguish in their voices. And behind them, the bare land stretched on and on, without a single blade of grass or clump of bush in sight, just rolling, naked land.
In our case to the north, the crops are struggling in the sun but the forests are clothed in green. If the crops fail, the cattle will survive.
Yet we had been warned about the looming drought for months. The news on the radio and television and in the papers had warned about the El Nino building in the Pacific Ocean as early as January last year. The message was clear: Southern Africa faced the possibility of a severe drought. We believed the forecast and agonised at the ominous prospect but a defiant part in us remained hopeful it will be another normal rain season. The unique feature about the human spirit is the enduring hope. If we stopped to be hopeful, we would die.
Micho, the rain making spirit medium in Chiweshe, died last year and the problems began. For instance, the drought now straddling us, many people are already arguing. Each year towards the beginning of the rain season, people gathered at the foot of the mountain behind the little town of Centenary to send Micho up the hill to bring down the rain. He stayed in the mountain, some said in a cave, talking with the gods, pleading with them to send us abundant rains the coming season. There wasn’t one such ceremony this season.
I remember Micho very well. I remember a small man draped in black, holding a long shining wooden stuff. I remember his soiled dreadlocks and the ceaseless chanting as he, we were told, tried to link with the gods. I remember the stiff straight back as he disappeared into the mountain. And now there is rumour the cave he was interred was vandalised and the sacred artefacts he was buried with, stolen.
There is a frightening drought standing on the door, staring at us inside.
The perception that most beneficiaries of the land reform programme are not interested in the land is a fallacy. Those that I know are passionate about the land. Right now, they are standing in small, miserable groups across the country, whispering dejectedly about the rain that is not falling. Historian and former UZ lecturer, David Beach admitted the relationship between especially the Shona people and their land is so intense outsiders may find it difficult to understand it. Ian Smith believed we were the happiest Africans on the continent because he managed us well. He believed all the black man needed to be happy was sufficient food on the table to feed himself and his family and enough clothes to wear. And above all that we should be grateful the white man took us out of the bush and civilised us. He didn’t know we needed something greater and more profound than food and clothes. We wanted our land.
At a meeting recently by the Ministry of Media, Information and Broadcasting Services with independent film producers, there was disagreement over control of the storyline. The film producers wanted the ministry to give them money even if it didn’t agree with the producer’s storyline. And they called that freedom of expression!
And yet the Cultural Fund, Hivos, USAid and all other similar funders will not give them money to produce films whose storylines they disagree with and our producers have no problem with that. USAID or the EU will not give you money to make a film that celebrates the African identity. Our producers do not have any problems with that. It only becomes a problem when George Charamba asks for the same thing. Then they claim they are being denied their fundamental freedom! Such dishonesty, or is it naivety, makes me sick.
In an article that appeared in The Herald a few days ago, Julius Malema called it the ‘black condition’. The condition where you accept being humiliated, being abused and being discriminated against by the white man because it is the way God designed the order in the world.
If David Coltart or Fr Nigel Johnson or Fr Oscar Wermter pretend not to see the glaring anomaly, it is because this anomaly has guaranteed and protected the privileged position of the white man since time immemorial. But I would be angry if Obert Gutu or Alex Magaisa pretended not to see the anomaly because they have the capacity to see it.
There is a frightening drought standing on the door, staring at us inside.
The nation is in the middle of several days of prayers for the rain. Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, accompanied by leaders from several religious denominations kicked off the prayers in Bulawayo on Sunday and it rained cats and dogs the same afternoon.
There is no contradiction between Christianity, tradition and science. They have a fine convergence point. It was Christianity’s woeful attempt to demonise African culture and tradition but that is understandable. Converting the native to Christianity and taking him away from his beliefs and value systems was a critical and integral part of the process of colonisation.
The bottom line though is the patchy rains and scattered showers across the country this week were mentioned in weather reports as far back as December. Whether VP Mphoko and the religious leaders knew this information before they gathered in Bulawayo to pray for the rain last week is not important.
The frightening drought standing on the door was foretold several months ago to prepare us for it.
He didn’t come down if it didn’t rain. If he came down when it hadn’t rained, it would be a few days before it rained.

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