In great contrast to the Borgia world of Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Grace Mugabe — the subject of last week’s column by International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe — is the skill, imagination, talent, determination and sheer hard work that ordinary Africans have to employ to survive and succeed. Manthorpe offers a tale, One man’s thrust for survival in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Excerpt:
It was mid-December, the height of yet another summer of drought in Zimbabwe, and I was making the early morning coffee when there was a loud cracking and wrenching noise from the garden.
It was a noise I’d never heard before, so loud and tortured it was clear something momentous had happened outside. I walked through the house to the French doors and out on to the tiled patio, the terra cotta red of the African earth. It was an extraordinary sight. The trunk of massive, old Albizia tree down by what passed for a swimming pool had split in half down its whole length. The Albizia is known as the “flat crown tree” because its branches spread wide and grow up to an almost equal height, making it one of the most popular shade trees in Africa, for humans and wildlife alike. For this one, however, the weight of its spreading branches had suddenly become too much for the trunk to bear and it had wrenched itself apart.
Nefius, our gardener who lived in a three-room shamva at the top of the garden, and Phillip, our overnight security guard, who was just about to set off on his two-hour bicycle ride home, were already examining the wreckage and laughing loudly. And indeed, there was a comic, burlesque quality to the dramatic way the tree had suddenly decided to give up the ghost. But it was also very inconvenient. My family and I were due to fly out of Zimbabwe that night on our annual three-week leave. The wood from the tree would be an excellent stock of fuel for the fireplace in the house — very necessary in the chilly winters at Harare’s high altitude – for Nefius to use for cooking and for our brais – the southern African word for barbecues. But this was clearly too big a job for Nefius alone with just our bow saw and axe for tools. Phillip volunteered to help Nefius cut up and stack our windfall if he could have some of the wood. … log in to read more (paywall*)
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