Ngomakurira – The eagle

'Of all birds,' wrote Erasmus of Rotterdam in the sixteenth century, 'the eagle alone has seemed to wise men the type of royalty, [yet it is] carnivorous, with great powers of doing harm.' A number of European countries have an eagle in their emblem as does the United States. The Zimbabwe bird is

a fish eagle, chapungu. We are drawn to a bird that soars into the heavens but perhaps we forget those claws and curved beak? In our hearts we long for love and the eternal but for today we are stuck in selfishness and destruction. We attribute traditional communities with a sense of the common good of all. About the time of Erasmus the boy king Edward VI of England was taught by Martin Bucer, ‘neither the church of Christ nor a Christian commonwealth ought to tolerate such as prefer private gain to the public weal, or seek it to the hurt of their neighbours.’ But such sentiments expressed the despairing lament of a world that was rapidly passing away if it ever existed. Already the rapacious march of capitalism was the driving force of the ‘great’ discoveries associated with colonialism and the Industrial Revolution. The eagle developed an insatiable appetite, which remains with us to this day. ‘Man, whether subconsciously or through his own self-centredness, has systematically mutilated the earth since its creation; he has disfigured the countryside by cutting down trees; he has burnt fields and turned what used to be meadows into deserts; he has poisoned the atmosphere, filling the air with smoke and gas; he has poisoned the rivers and seas with lethal waste; he has made animal species extinct, species that used to run free in the forests and soar high above the earth. In short, he has used science to sterilize his soul and erase from it the imprint of God.’ These words, writes José González Faus in a booklet entitled The Kyoto Horizon, which seem to apply to today, are more than a century old. Leo Tolstoy, the Russian novelist who wrote them, was convinced that nature was stronger than man and would recover as the human body does from an injury. What is new today is the realization that nature cannot automatically heal itself from the wounds we are now inflicting on it in our unreflective rapacity. The wounds are just too severe. We are forgetting that ‘the land is mine and you are only strangers and sojourners’ (Lev 25:23). The tradition of reverencing the earth and caring for it, and seeking the common good of all may seem a bit idyllic. And maybe it is only with benevolent hindsight that we attribute it to our ancestors. Yet I believe it expresses a truth about past times. What is evident about the present is the carelessness with which we devour the earth with so little reflection on the un-sustainability of our habits. In Zimbabwe today care for the environment is low on the national agenda.
Africa Day, 2006

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