JOHANNESBURG — Despite its problems from Cape to Cairo, Africa is still a beautiful place. It’s easy to forget the beauty that permeates the continent. Zimbabwe, as an example, is an economic basket case – but its natural beauty highlights its huge future potential as Cathy Buckle highlights in this piece. – Gareth van Zyl
By Cathy Buckle*
Leaning against a red and white boom in the baking midday sun a bridge keeper awaits the next vehicle. Motorized, pedal powered or animal drawn, the man controlling the boom is responsible for ensuring that there is never more than 25 tonnes on the bridge at one time.
The white pillars at the start of the huge arched bridge could do with a lick of paint but you turn a blind eye because the place is steeped in history and the people here are so friendly that you just can’t help smiling at everyone you meet.
The mighty Save river is very wide here with vast stretches of sand interspersed with meandering silver trails of water, sparkling in the sunlight. Holding my hand out to greet a little girl, her Mum asks if she can take a photo and with the huge Beit Bridge in the background we hold hands and smile into the blazing sun before going our separate ways.
The Baobab trees down here are a wonder to behold. Standing like giant prehistoric sentinels lining miles of roads and kopjes, the upside down trees are bare of leaves at this time of year and many are adorned with fruits: woody, brown green, pendulous cream of tartar fruits, (Mauyu/Umkhomo), which the kids sell in bundles of five, tied together with strips of bark on the roadsides.
The dust is thick and red and hangs in the still air while goats and donkeys saunter lethargically on and off the pot-holed tar; they have right of way down here and the bored, arrogant look in their eyes lets you know it!
When three little piglets trot up to the roadside and don’t slow down, you step on the brakes hard and can’t help shaking your head and laughing as they cross the road while you wait, one behind the other, two pink, one black.
Ever further you go, heading southwards where the grass is dry, brittle and blonde; leafless thorn bushes line the roadsides and river beds are dry, rock strewn and full of sand. As it was two or three hundred kilometers before, people are friendly down here, returning waves and smiles amid what is obviously a very hard life. Every now and again there’s a “growth centre” or “business centre” where a handful of dark and dusty stores with peeling paint line the roadside: butchery, bottle store and general dealer: the triplet shopping combination repeated in every corner of the country.
A few more hours down the road the goats, donkeys and little pigs are replaced by elephants, antelope, thick Mopane bush, spectacular scenery and unexpected encounters. If you are lucky you may get a glimpse of the yellow stockinged legs of a nyala, the tawny russet of a lion’s mane, the dappled spots of a leopard in the shadows. All day hippos grunt from their deep pools and channels in the river and fat bellied crocodiles lie on sand banks in the baking sun, mouths wide open. At night under an immense star studded black sky, shooting stars fall from the heavens, lions roar, hyenas ‘wu-oop’ and giggle and in the morning scores of footprints criss-cross the sand: the silent, unseen visitors that came in the night.
This is another view of Zimbabwe in September 2017, one filled with natural wonders and raw, spectacular beauty that is good for your soul and revives tired, flagging spirits. Zimbabwe is held in the death grip of a political elite in power too long, far too long. During their nearly four decade long watch our economy, industry and business have been brought to a standstill and their policies have left us going backwards. But look away from them and you see the magnificence of our beautiful country, the stunning flora and fauna and everywhere
the ordinary, smiling, waving, struggling people; people trapped in poverty and unemployment, desperate for a future. We are a country with so much to give, to share, to be shared if only the politicians would loosen their grip and cease their self-enrichment and greed.
- Cathy Buckle is the author of four children books. She has also written the non-fictional African Tears, the Zimbabwe Land Invasions, Beyond Tears: Zimbabwe’s tragedy, Innocent Victims: Rescuing the Stranded Animals of Zimbabwe’s Farm Invasions and Sleeping Like a Hare. The article was first published at www.cathybuckle.com.