‘Africa 2013. Countdown to the Rains.’
OK, so it’s a common form of shorthand. But not one you find in Europe. I mean, imagine it, ‘Europe 2013: snow’s on its way. Join us as the ski season gears up in Austria.’
Still, I’m looking forward to seeing the series.
Which is about the rains, in Africa.
Not in the Sahara. Nor the Kalahari. Nor the Cape Coast.
No, we’re in Zambia, a place the size of France and Spain combined. It deserves a better billing than just, ‘Africa’, don’t you think?
In fact, to drill down (sorry) further we’re actually in South Luangwa National Park. An unfenced animal playground over 9000 square kilometres in extent and usually approached through Mfuwe, Eastern Province, Zambia, Africa, the World, the Galaxy, the Universe . . .
I’ve spent a lot of time in this park over the last 13 years. It’s a fabulous place.
Here are some of the people who’ve opened up its mysteries to me.
Clement, a wildlife scout, seen here up a tree and also with ace guide Sylvester (who likes to be called Sly), shared some great recipes with me.
Lazarus stayed up all night protecting us when we were given permission to camp way out in the Park for a few nights’ research. His wife Jane does the best roasted groundnuts.
Better known as ‘BJ’ around Wildlife Camp, Joe worked his way up from barman to guide – an arduous process. He sings like an angel.
And here – in a picture taken before the advent of cheap digital photography – is awesome guide and local notable, Patson, holding a very large fish. The skull was going to make a sound box for his music system.
Billy can talk the hind legs off a Crawshay’s zebra.
And I don’t have an image for Philemon, who’s been crusading on the slogan ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ – trying to stop rubbish ruining the local environment.
It’s because I know these articulate, intelligent, amazingly knowledgeable people that I watch ‘Africa 2013’ with increasing dismay.
A black woman features, briefly, in episode one. Student of a white, male researcher, she’s been sticking pictures of animals in a scrapbook as part of her studies.
I think I spy, in the background, a Wildlife Authority scout, with his gun.
And when the rains arrive the drainage ditches are dug by black men. A few of them are even seen peering at the screens over white folks’ shoulders.
The ‘experts’ on this BBC extravaganza include . . .
A white guy, Rob Clifford, who’s lived in The Valley for ten years. He works for one of the elite tour companies, run by one of The Valley’s old families, that’s hosting the BBC.
Simon King OBE. Award-winning (white) cameraman/presenter. Google tells me he’s hosted a black-tie dinner in the Masai Mara – and is available for after dinner speaking.
The impressive Rachel McRobb, (white) locally based vet, does amazing work for wildlife conservation in the Valley (I’ve met her a couple of times, admire what she does).
Then there’s (white) presenter Kate Humble. It’s a bit of a step change from lambing, but she does her best, obviously impressed with the wildlife. And she seems to get on well with the (white) woman who knows about crocs.
Now, as far as I’m aware, none of these (white) folk tells us about Thornicroft’s, the unique species of giraffe found in the valley.
Or Cookson’s Wildebeest. Or Crawshay’s zebra with its narrow stripes – but hey – they’re long programmes, maybe I blink and miss the serious stuff.
Because we’re just waiting for them to kill each other, or die of hunger, or get stuck in what little mud there is left, aren’t we? The animals I mean, not the white folks.
I wrote about South Luangwa in ‘A Wake of Vultures’. One of my characters, roguish vet Jake, (plainly not modelled on real vet, Rachel), is not a native of The Valley. Not one of the old crowd that wields the power. Here he is, in his cups:
God, this place sucks. The Valley. How bloody colonial. Sounds like something out of the 1940s, doesn’t it? Full of f…ing charlatans and w–kers.
The ‘…’ bits are in full in the book. It’s fiction, Jake speaking, not me. And he obviously thinks the days of White Mischief-style ‘Africa’ are far from over.
But Zambia’s not Kenya – and the old elite families don’t own the land. So it is different. Sort of.
And without the big old families The Valley would probably not be the amazing reservoir of wildlife that it is – and Zambia would not have the distinction of being the home of the walking safari.
But here’s what’s really bugging me.
Until the twentieth century people lived alongside the wildlife. The tribes of Kunda, Bisa and Ambo, for example. Then, in the 1930s, the game reserve was set up and in 1972 the National Park was created. The people were evicted from the place where their ancestors had lived for over a million years (which we know thanks to Anthro-man’s work).
These people didn’t vanish into thin air. Some of their descendants live nearby. Some are even – shock horror – educated. And bright. No, honestly, I swear it, not a word of a lie. Bright enough, even, to pass the guiding exams the white folks set up. To know Latin names and everything. Guide tourists around, all on their own, without white chaperones. Yes – golly-gosh – imagine that.
And not a one of them in this programme.
Shame on you, BBC.