Dear Family and Friends,

This is a story of the wild and beautiful face of Zimbabwe. I hope you will walk with me into this stunning wilderness today and that it may bring you solace and hope after the despair of our latest election fiasco.

At last light the elephants appear out of the leafless treeline. They walk faster as they get closer, almost running as they approach the water, their thirst palpable. As the sun turns red and slips into the horizon, darkness draws in and they can wait no longer. Side by side the huge elephants drop their trunks into the water, suck, lift, pour, again and again. As each herd comes so another waits in the treeline for their turn. They come sometimes twenty at a time, other herds are 50 or more strong. Long into the night the elephants keep coming, big bulls, cows and babies, lots of babies; the only sound in the darkness is the rustling and splashing of their feet and trunks looking for a place in the water. More than 300 elephants come that night, by the end of October they say the number will be double that.

In between the elephant herds the buffalo come, eerie black columns trudging to the shimmering waterhole. We count as best we can as they arrive: 30, 50, 200, 300, the warriors of the African bush must also drink. Will the water last, how can it withstand such demand?

The yellow, half-full moon rises higher into the night sky. The bread baked in the fire is done and cooling, ready for whatever adventure comes tomorrow. My tent is calling. Sleep is slow in coming, it’s a noisy night, the exhaled grunts of a lion loud in the darkness, the predator is close, danger lurks. The hairs on my arms prickle. The agitated trumpeting of an elephant, the sound of running hooves, a strangled scream and then silence. Killing and surviving is the harsh, inevitable reality of the wild.

Long before sunrise I am up writing this letter so that you can see this through my eyes, share this encounter of life in Zimbabwe with me. This is the other side of the story of our country and how some dedicated people are doing whatever they can to save the wild places and wildlife. I type faster before the stars fade, a score of annoying insects sharing my tea, attracted to my little light in the darkness. At 4.00am I hear the short, sharp yaps of wild dogs calling to each other, it’s time to run, to find the kill or to make their own. As soon as it’s light enough, I go looking for the signs in the sand, to see what happened overnight. There are the huge, soft tracks of the elephants, some smooth with deep ridges, others mapped with fine creases; old and young walked here in the night, so close to my tent that I was sure I could feel the vibrations of their rumbling. The deep hooves of running buffalo are here too and there it is, the distinct, menacing spoor of lion, so fresh that I look over my shoulder, just in case, and then I see little paw prints also, a cub walked here. The tracks of the wild dogs show clearly where they ran and where they turned into the golden grass following the invisible smell left by the events overnight.

When it’s light enough we go looking for lions, the bush is thick, the grass tall. We see the lions’ spoor; we know they are here. In the far distance vultures are sitting high in the trees but we can’t get there; this secret is destined to stay hidden in the golden grass. Through the heat of the day we watch the waterhole. Five magnificent sable arrive, nervous and alert, their sweeping horns glinting in the sun; they bend and drink and then they are gone, melting back into the bush. A dozen zebra come, then kudu, a roan antelope and a little steenbok. Yellow-billed Kites and scores of doves also come to drink, too many to count. Vultures drop down and drink and then, in the baking midday heat the baboons arrive. I count 72 of them lining the water’s edge, heads down, bottoms up.

The waterhole is the heartbeat of this amazing place. It has man’s hands behind it; solar panels high on a stand bring power to a solar water pump as long as the sun is out. Precious water is sucked up from ninety metres below ground into the waterhole. The financial investment providing this lifeline to so many animals is incalculable. Every day it gives water and every night the animals get life.

Late in the afternoon we go looking for lions one more time and come back to camp having seen nothing. The Camp Attendants are waiting for us and put fingers to lips and just point. There she is, right in front of us, a heavily pregnant lioness is at the waterhole, the setting sun behind her. ‘We were crying for you to come in time’ the Attendants say and we all smile.

An unforgettable time in an unforgettable place, thanks to a handful of dedicated people who have such hope and belief for the future of Zimbabwe. Thank goodness they do because these are the memories of a lifetime that forever entwine Zimbabwe into your heart. Despite everything in our country there is hope. This is Camp Silwane, come if you dare, you’ll never forget it. 

There is no charge for this Letter From Zimbabwe but if you would like to donate please visit my website. Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe now in its 23rd year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, a country in waiting.

Ndini shamwari yenyu (I am your friend)

Love Cathy 28 September 2023. Copyright © Cathy Buckle

All my books are now available on Amazon, Kindle and LULU with the hardback edition of my evocative Photo-books “Zimbabwe’s Timeless Beauty” (the 2021, 2022 and 2023 collections) available exclusively on LULU. My new Beautiful Zimbabwe Calendar for 2024 is now also available. Please visit my website for full details or click here: or here