Life in the White Water

The gorge below the Victoria Falls runs down to the Kariba dam and in the process cuts through a 200 meter deep gorge that must be one of the most spectacular sights in the world.

Jacob Zuma

Unlike the Grand Canyon in the USA, because it represents the work of the river over thousands of years in wearing a channel for its flow through a massive sheet of black basalt rock laid down by volcanic activity, it is a narrow slit in the earth and winds its way through the basalt along weaknesses in its structure. If you go back up to the Falls themselves you will see that the river is now cutting back a new section of the gorge on the Zimbabwean bank of the river.

The volume of water is enormous and at the bridge just below the Falls it has been measured at over 40 meters deep. In places, it runs at over 20 kilometers an hour and in the process, creates some of the best white water rafting in the world. Huge whirlpools occur in places that can be quite terrifying and deep. Waves reach over 3 meters at times.

I did the white water “thing” once and it was just amazing, I enjoyed every minute. Our guide was an American lady from Colorado who said that in her view – this was better than the Great Canyon white water experience. She was also a Geological Graduate and she found the geology fascinating every time she went down the river with clients. I was thrown out several times and spent about a third of my time in the water – the 9 rapids we transited were all different and dangerous – only added to the experience. The worst part was climbing out and if I were a millionaire I would have ordered a helicopter from the Falls!

Zimbabwean politics for those of us who live here, is a bit like white water rafting, at times fast and furious and at other times slow and steady with no knowledge of what lies around the corner. In the past three weeks for example, we have had a riotous Zanu PF Politburo meeting where the two factions fought each other and the President tried to referee. It broke up with the undertaking that at the next meeting the Crocodile would strike back.

Then the rally 10 days ago where the President’s wife attacked everyone in sight and called for her husband to wake up and pick a successor. Her speech outraged almost everyone in the power circle and the following Monday Mr. Mugabe was confronted by his own Security Chiefs and senior colleagues with the demand that he curb his wife’s activities and speeches. A visibly tired and shrunken Mugabe tried to quieten things down and failed. Calls were made and President Mbeki rushed up to Harare for the day for “private consultations” with Mr. Mugabe and the Service Chiefs and then hurried home to consult the South African leadership. On Wednesday, the President could not get out of his chair at State House to greet three new Ambassadors who were presenting their credentials.

The following day he fled Zimbabwe for Iran and perhaps Singapore on some pretext and is not yet back at home where another furious Politburo meeting awaits.

While all this was going on – the Opposition was making deals – eventually after many false starts – Mr. Tsvangirai signed an agreement creating the “MDC Alliance”. Joice Mujuru was absent and is now in the wilderness – in my analogy she has left the raft and is sitting on the river bank waiting to be guided out and back to the Falls. The raft in the meantime has gone on without her. The big surprise on the day was the arrival of Tendai Biti, not that he was not expected, but he had his pen with him and signed the deal – that was not expected.

The day after the signing in front of 15 000 fans, three senior leaders of the MDC held a meeting in Bulawayo drawn from the “Matabele Provinces” and this was disrupted by young MDC members who suspected their motives and intentions – Vice President Khupe was manhandled and a social media storm erupted. It really was a minor incident but created a lot of noise and the Party leadership was furious because it diverted attention away from the main event – great press headlines and sales but little else. Immediately another group of the dozens of opposition parties we have, claimed a competing coalition. The more the merrier.

Now we hear that the three leaders, having attracted just 35 or 40 people to the meeting of the three Provinces, have gone to South Africa and refused to be summoned to Harare to explain themselves. Why South Africa? It is the center of power for the Nguni peoples of southern Africa which include the Ndebele in Zimbabwe. No doubt it is to seek funding for a potential break away and the formation of a Party (more the merrier) representing this small ethnic grouping. They arrived in Zimbabwe in about 1830 as perhaps 40 000 people fleeing the Zulu King Shaka Zulu, once ensconced they simply wiped out the minority tribes they found occupying their adopted home and subjugated the rest. Imposing their language and culture. They will find that more difficult today.

If you were in this southern African raft and were bored during a long run in quiet deep water with crocodiles on the river banks – seemingly fast asleep, you would have been suddenly woken up by the vote of no confidence in President Zuma in South Africa. It was all the fault of the Chief Justice and the Speaker. They decided the vote was to be by secret ballot. Suddenly Zuma, the Zulu Crocodile, looked vulnerable.

You talk about white water – we came around a bend in the river and all hell broke loose. The phone lines burned, social media was boiling with activity and speculation was rife. The consensus was that he would get through – but at what cost? Deals were being done and the tension on the streets escalated as pro and anti Zuma elements marched and sang.

Then we broke through the rapids and into clear water and could assess the damage – it was quite considerable. There are 400 members in the House of Assembly – on the day 384 pitched up – three were in hospital and could not attend that means that 13 elected to walk on the river bank and watch the guys in the raft. In the outcome 177 voted for the motion and 198 against. 9 Members abstained and joined those on the river bank.

If you assume that those who elected not to vote or abstained would have voted for the motion (likely) then Zuma would have lost the vote by 2,5 per cent. As it was he won by the margin shown above – 21 votes or 5,2 per cent. No doubt he is bruised and his future as President of South Africa prescribed.

That is white water rafting in southern African politics.

How do we cope with all of this – what I do is trust God and His laws of nature – strap on my helmet of salvation and my life jacket of faith and let the water itself bring me to the surface and the river to take me down stream to my destination. The crocs in the river with me are just as busy trying to survive the white water and can be ignored – they have their own problems.

While you do that, do not forget to enjoy the experience (you never get bored here) and the scenery and the people. White water rafting is just like that – great experience in a wonderful environment and we all survive in the end. What scares me a bit is that damned climb out of the gorge at the end – when we finally get to the end of this circus we will have a huge job putting our country back on the straight and narrow, restoring economic and monetary stability and getting the country growing economically.

Just do not take off your life jacket and helmet yet, there is more white water around the next corner.

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