Seasons of our lives
By Eddie Cross
All humans experience seasons – those dictated by the weather and those dictated by our individual histories and events that pick us up and throw us into the future. We have little choice over either except in our limited abilities to pack up and move and at any one point in time 150 million people are on the move from the places where they were once settled and trying to go somewhere else. It’s one of the great movements of human history and it has its roots in all sorts of things – climate change, political upheaval, economic collapse, war and violence, sometimes, just wander lust.
In my own case my family has seen two major shifts in location. The first, when at the start of the Great Christian Mission era, my great grandfather, a young graduate from Theological College in Belfast, accepted the call to pastor a Church in Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. He was one of many thousands and they have changed the character of the Christian Church and today white, Anglo Saxon Christians are a small minority of the global Christian family.
He sailed from England to Port Elizabeth in South Africa by sailing ship and was landed on the beach. He and my Grandmother had a family and he had a fascinating life, hard at times, several wars including the first real guerilla war and freedom struggle – the Boer War at the end of the Century when he, controversially backed the Afrikaners against the might of the British Empire. But what a life, by comparison had he remained in the comfort of his own culture and people, his life would have been very different.
In the process, the Cross clan became South Africans and my Grandfather, and his brothers and sisters made a significant impact on their new country. He, going on to become a close friend and confidant of General Smuts, serving in the South African Cabinet through the Second World War. Other members of the family became wealthy businesspersons, one a Supreme Court Judge. My Grandfather became a Magistrate, eventually becoming the Chief Magistrate of South Africa and a fluent speaker of Afrikaans with many Afrikaner friends in all spheres of interest.
Then came the Great Depression – the massive global collapse in stock markets and currencies that started on Wall Street. My father, a young executive with an American Oil firm in the Transvaal, was told bluntly that he had to move to a new country called Southern Rhodesia. He and two friends in the same position, just climbed onto a train and travelled to Bulawayo – no passports, no exchange control, then just transferred their bank accounts to Bulawayo. He married several years later, and I was part of the progeny, nothing dramatic but part of the human migration all the same.
When he was over 80 years old, Dad told me that he had never really known an extended period of stability. First the Great Depression, then the Second World War, then the formation of the Federation and its breakup, then UDI and sanctions and finally the war of liberation against minority rule. By Independence he was retired and spent the rest of his life living with us and our own family. He had been disabled in a Zanla attack in Harare, but it had little impact on him and how he lived.
So, I grew up as a Rhodesian and then became a Zimbabwean. My, what a journey it has been. I grew up in Bulawayo, going to school on the back of a bicycle ridden by the gardener, watched the first national strike in 1949, not knowing this was the start of the long struggle for freedom and Independence which would end in 1980.
I went to the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and got a degree in Economics from London University (the local University was a College of various UK Universities). There I met a young guerilla just back from military training in Algeria who basically converted me into a political activist while he became a Christian and abandoned the liberation struggle – migrating as a refugee to Germany. I never joined the armed struggle but supported the movements fighting for change politically – in the process becoming a friend of one of the main leaders, Joshua Nkomo and a passing acquaintance of Robert Mugabe whom I rejected as a leftist radical at the time.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a 9 to 4 society, where you get a job and work at it all your life, going on retirement at 60 and dying of boredom at 75. Living in a small house in a large City where my medical and other needs are all provided by a State that provides social security. For many in the modern world that is their ambition – I think it’s almost a nightmare.
‘Life in Africa is not for Ninnies’ says a large billboard in Johannesburg. Life here is never easy or boring and I often refer it to white water rafting on the Zambezi below the Victoria Falls. If you have done that you will know exactly what I am talking about. The river changes character every few metres and you cannot relax for a minute, but its one of the great experiences in life and if you have not done it, you have really missed out. It looks very dangerous, but we do not lose too many river rafters!!
Why then does this country have such a pull? I am constantly amazed by the fact that many families who have fled this country for whatever reason in the past only to find their children coming back, settling and making a new life for themselves and their families. Almost invariably they find themselves self-employed or working with close associates. If this economy opens up and starts to grow and young people born here are accepted as Citizens with all their rights, then I expect this trickle to become a river and it will change this country in every way.
But right now, it is autumn – clear blue skies, little humidity, mild temperatures and the country is green and the rivers running. The next two months are just the most amazing time, weather wise. But all our seasons have special characteristics. Our veld is always spectacular, always changing constantly. Often conditions are very hard, but somehow its beauty remains.
Then there are the people; we are a hard-working, enterprising people who are used to making a living under a government that constantly violates the basic rules of sound economics. Our real economy is more than double the official estimates and the volume of money movement in the informal sector, double the level of activity in the banks. But it’s more than that – we are an open, welcoming society with many characteristics that make ordinary Zimbabweans quite exceptional in the region. Perhaps it is because of the Christian revival that has swept the country in recent years, but its roots lie also in our history.
My own commitment to Zimbabwe is well known, it’s not mindless or political, it’s just that this is such an amazing place and our quality of life so exceptional. We have little money or assets left after 37 years of Robert Mugabe, but so many compensations. We go fishing on the Zambezi or to the Umfurudzi bush or in the Highlands to cold trout streams. We can go into the Matobo Hills just 30 kilometers from home. In three hours we can be in some of the wildest and most spectacular wild life areas left in the world.
At work we have the world at our feet. We are pioneers with opportunities galore. All it needs is enterprise and hard work. Our schools offer some of the best all round education experiences. Just ask anyone who employs Zimbabweans by choice. Zimbabweans coming home from abroad are bringing back world class skills in many fields including eye surgery, medicine and engineering. These are the seasons of life and the real key is what we make of it, where ever we live.