I lived in Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) for over 30 years, and we had droughts quite regularly every three or four years – some went on for several years at a time.

But even during the worst of the drought years, we were still the “Breadbasket of Africa”, and exported food to neighbouring countries every year regardless of drought, because scarce water resources were carefully managed and conserved.

Reservoirs, pipelines and irrigation systems need regular maintenance and renewal.  Since Mugabe’s seizure of commercial farms, there’s been precious little of either – so the frequent droughts that we used to cope with are now catastrophic.  Sadly, this is a problem not confined to Zimbabwe – it seems to happen everywhere in Africa.

One wonders why Mugabe (in 2003) took control (see Telegraph Report) over publication of Zimbabwe’s weather forecasting and records.  I suspect that move had something to do with Mugabe trying to fool the world into believing that Zimbabwe’s growing and ongoing food shortage is not caused by the land grab, but by never-ending droughts.

Cathy Buckle’s latest weekly letter reports that “The first real rain of the new season fell this week…”  She follows with an excellent description of this storm, the likes of which I remember to this day – thunder, lightening, hail… and 2 inches of rain in the first hour.  This year’s “rainy season” has started early.  In my days out there, the first rains didn’t usually fall until November – sometimes on Guy Fawkes night (November 5), to spoil the fireworks and outdoor celebrations.  Except that we never minded getting soaked, because the first rains of the season were themselves a cause for celebration.  Will this be a good rainy season (plenty of rainfall) or a bad (dry) one?  The season usually ends in February or March, with December and January being the wettest (and best for growing crops) months.

This year the quality of the rainy season will (I hope), make a positive difference to subsistence farmers in rural areas.  And good rains may allow some lucky urban dwellers, who have enough space to grow a few crops, to help feed themselves.  But sadly, no matter how good the rains are, the commercial farmers have gone, and the country will still need foreign food aid.  Furthermore, many subsistence farmers have used all their seed stock for food and will have none to plant – so no crop will grow.

Meanwhile the people I care most about are the old age pensioners.  Imagine retiring five, ten, fifteen years ago, on what then seemed a perfectly adequate pension.  With inflation last reported at nearly 8,000 percent, a pensioner with an income of ZW$50,000 a month (good money just a few years ago), now has to find ZW$77,000 for 500ml (just over a pint), of milk.  Life is tough out there for young people, trying to make inadequate wages pay rapidly inflating food prices, but what about pensioners on fixed incomes?  And pensioners can’t easily leave the country where they have worked, and saved all their lives…
I am trying to get details of charities that provide food, and other basic necessities, to pensioners.  I hope to have details that I can publish next week.

Meanwhile, according to London’s TimesOnline, the last international airline to fly to/from Zimbabwe (British Airways) has ended its 62 year service between Harare and London.  I can’t even suggest that the last person to leave Zimbabwe should turn out the lights – electricity blackouts are daily occurrences already.

END

Peter Davies was a soldier in Rhodesia from 1963 to 1975, where he took part in the capture and interrogation of terrorists.  Davies’ novel, Scatterlings of Africa, is based on his own experience during Rhodesia’s war on terror, and personal observations of how terrorist activities impacted Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and its people.

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