December lived up to its Swazi name: "the time to pick teeth for a harvest." The veld lay parched in the midsummer sun. Hillsides and grasslands rotted rustily. Scorching winds raised dust from the river beds. By January even the mighty Orange had shrunk to a feeble trickle. A throttling drought gripped South Africa.

Almost a hundred districts had been officially declared stricken. The staple summer crop, corn, had failed and the country faced famine. At best the harvest could be no bigger than half the 22 million bags needed.

In the kraals...

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