Damp squib

Dear Family and Friends,

The day before the official opening of Zanu (PF)’s Bulawayo conference, the collapse of a tree in Harare got tongues wagging and left the superstitious running for cover. A Musasa tree, thought to have been nearly 200 years old, collapsed on the road near State House when it was hit by a vehicle.

The tree, which was a National Monument on a declared Historic Site, has for many years been called the Hanging Tree, despite the fact that historians disputed stories that famous Zimbabwean ancestors were hanged from its branches in the late 1890’s. One historian said the Hanging Tree was an urban myth, but even so there can be few of us who haven’t stood under its branches at one time or other and wondered, goose bumps covering our arms.

In a magnificent article, journalist Angus Shaw described how a n’anga arrived and performed a ceremony over the collapsed Musasa tree, witnessed by crowds who had gathered, many of whom took away leaves and pieces of bark as momentos. Shaw wrote that the Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association said the “tree represented "powerful forces" in the nation's social and political life.” He said that a street vendor nearby said the collapse of the Musasa was surely a sign that “something big was going to happen”.

On the same day as the ‘Hanging Tree’ collapsed in Harare, Mugabe was in Bulawayo, planting a tree on National Tree Day. All eyes were on him and Bulawayo as Zanu (PF) held their annul congress. This was the most important gathering of senior members and leaders of Zanu (PF) and this year it had the potential to be explosive to say the least. Zimbabwe held its breath.

A year of damning Wikileaks cables had shown that most of Mugabe’s high level colleagues had betrayed him and indicated that he should step down, including his Vice Presidents. Everyone thought that the Bulawayo gathering would be the place where the betrayers would be held to account and lose their positions in the party’s leadership, but nothing happened.

Delegates had a unique chance to change the leadership of their party, but did not do so. They unanimously endorsed Mugabe as their presidential candidate in the country’s next election. Mugabe is 87-years-old.

Wearing a baseball cap and a red and white Zanu (PF) jacket, Mugabe addressed the party he has been the president of for 31 years. He spoke to the four or five thousand delegates for two and a half hours, and television cameras showed a very restrained and subdued audience – not a reaction we have come to associate with these events.

Despite anticipation and expectation, the Bulawayo gathering appeared to have been a regurgitation of more of the same. Mugabe described the present government of national unity as “a drag on our nation,” saying it shouldn’t be allowed to continue. He spoke repeatedly of an election in 2012. He said there was no turning back on indigenization laws and that they were not an election gimmick. Mugabe said all mining companies would be forced to hand over at least 51% of their shareholdings to black Zimbabweans.

At the end of a week when we expected huge fireworks but got a damp squib, you have to wonder if the collapse of the 200 year old Musasa tree is a sign that something big is going to happen. That grand old tree will be missed, but reminds us that nothing and no-one is immortal. Until next time, thanks for reading, Ndini shamwari yenyu.

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