Despite past records indicating that it was too early for rain and international long range forecasts predicting that rain was still some weeks away, the heavens opened over much of Zimbabwe this past week.
It didn’t just drip or drizzle, but absolutely pounded down. Thunder and lightning came cavorting in on a high wind, the sky went deep purple, lit with an ominous orange glow, and then the hail rattled down. Small icy balls bounced on the baked ground, clattered on roofs and windows and knocked on doors. When the strange orange light in the clouds disappeared, hail was replaced by torrential rain. That first storm gave us 25 mm (one inch) of rain and in the next two days another 63 mm fell in my home town.
Months of choking dust and wind blown ash were washed from trees and roofs and everything looked instantly cleaner. You could almost see the trees and plants breathing again! The rain brought to life the ‘goodies,’ in the form of Kingfishers, Coucals and Flycatchers, and the ‘baddies’ in large numbers: water scorpions, rain spiders and a plague of very hungry mosquitoes.
The Met Department made an announcement on ZBC TV and Radio news bulletins. “This is NOT the start of the rainy season,” they said but no one paid them any attention. Three inches of rain led to an immediate flurry of ‘mealie madness.’ Everywhere you looked people were digging up roadsides, verges and empty spaces in order to plant a few rows of maize seeds. It’s all illegal cultivation in our urban areas but with authorities perpetually engaged in fighting for their own political survival, the enforcement of many laws remains non existent.
Not long after the first torrential storm I received a call from a family in a village 20 kilometres away. The rain hadn’t got to them but the lightning had. Without warning and from an almost clear sky came one single bolt of lightning. It struck the new, shiny tin roof on the extension to their house that they had finished building just a week before.
Bricks fell off one of the newly plastered walls; a solar panel mounted on the roof shattered; wiring from the satellite dish started burning; electric cables leading into the house caught fire; a battery used to power lights and TV melted and smoke rose from the radio as internal circuits burnt out. In a split second their precious assets had been destroyed by a single lightning strike and the family were in deep shock, not quite able to believe that no one had been electrocuted.
As the shock receded, the reality of the loss sunk in. Without their satellite dish and battery powered electricity, the family had lost their ability to receive international news. They wouldn’t hear the horrific news that children playing football in the grounds of St Paul Secondary School in Lupane had just stumbled upon a mass grave. The ground had caved in at two points revealing human bones. The Minister of National Healing rushed to the scene and described a mass grave five metres wide and five metres long which is thought to contain between 30 – 60 bodies. Local villagers in the areas said these were victims of the Gukurahundi, a massacre to silence opposition, which was conducted in the early 1980’s by the army’s Fifth Brigade. A massacre which human rights organisations say claimed as many as twenty thousand lives, people whose bodies still remain in mass graves in Matabeleand and other areas.
Hard to believe that 30 years later this national tragedy has still not been dealt with. Perpetrators have not been held to account, victims have not been identified and families have been unable to find peace. The MDC National Healing Minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu said: “We must allow our people to tell the story as they saw and lived through it, followed by reburials which should come as a package of national healing.”
How much longer must Zimbabwe wait? is the question we all ask. Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.Post published in: Letters to the Editor