RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (1)
When almost eleven years old I left my personal Garden of Eden, the island of Tristan da Cunha on a huge BP oil tanker. I had lived there for three and a half years with my family, running barefooted in summer, untroubled by any form of motorised traffic, paved roads or civilization’s dangers. The mighty South Atlantic was never out of earshot and albatrosses soared.
After nine months in England we all headed for what was to become another personal Garden of Eden to me, rural Zimbabwe. In those long distant days it was called “Southern Rhodesia” and was a part of the “Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland”.
St Bernard’s Mission
There my father became priest in charge of a large mission district. Its headquarters was a mission station called St Bernard’s situated about twelve miles from a town then known as Marandellas, now Marondera. To my boyish eyes it was a beautiful place to grow up in and to learn to love Africa. It was set amidst lovely brachystegia woodland, a bird-watcher’s paradise, and among the baboon and dassie inhabited granite bouldered kopjes that are so typical of Zimbabwe. I loved it there
In “Southern Rhodesia”, then “Rhodesia”, then “Zimbabwe-Rhodesia” and finally “Zimbabwe” I remained for twenty seven years. I left as a young man for five of those years to teach in London for a year and a half and then to study theology in South Africa. Zimbabwe helped form me and educated me. It also filled me with a love for Africa and Africans that I still have.
Inevitably then, as a part of my very recent six month nostalgia binge (courtesy of St Gough Whitlam and his greatest legacy “long service leave”) I determined to return and visit again my second personal Garden of Eden.
To what purpose though? Why revisit a country so beautiful in one’s memory and so tortured by bad politics and evil government in reality now? Didn’t Jesus himself say “leave the dead to bury the dead....” meaning perhaps that we should leave the past to the past and get on with living the present and that to look too much over your shoulder could well dessicate you, turn you, like Lot’s wife, into a pillar of salt!
Demythologising the past
But then we are products of the past, are we not? Who we are is determined largely by the past. Essentially we are the sum total of all our experiences. So truly to understand ourselves we need not only to acknowledge our past, but also to be informed and knowledgeable about it. More than that, we need, possibly and above all else, to demythologise our past, that is, to divest it of silly romanticism, wish-fulfilment, and sentimentality, to smash nostalgia’s rose-tinted spectacles in order to see our personal history more for what it really and truly was and is. Then perhaps we will be truly enabled better to see ourselves for who we really and truly were and are.
The sad victims of Alzheimer’s disease eventually cease to be who they are just because they begin first to lose their immediate past, their short term memory, then even their distant past, their long term memory. Not knowing who they were means that ultimately and tragically they can no longer be who they are.
Revisiting the past, refreshing and renewing one’s view of old places, recalling old times, so long as it is not obsessive, so long as it is more critical than it is worshipful is, I like to think, an important part of intelligent and sensible living.
So over the next few months, in pew-sheets and sermons, I shall be doing a lot of recounting and reflecting upon the recent journeys I have made into my English and African past.
The Christian Faith is built on narrative, on story. It is about people and what happened and in the telling of what happened, in the telling of the story, finding meaning, purpose, direction and God. The Christian Creed and the whole great, sophisticated edifice that is Christian theology, grows out of telling and retelling, living and reliving, acting and reenacting the events and happenings recorded in four little stories to do with the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is pattern and meaning and God to be detected in personal history, in yours and in mine, for after all we walk our life, as Christians, hand in hand with God. To be a Christian we need to be story-tellers, lovers of stories.
Gateway to paradise
Diana and I, after an eventful and very busy period based in ethnically diverse and people-teeming Tooting in London, headed for respite, relaxation, honeymoon and adventure in Cape Town. Cape Town is one of the very loveliest of the world’s cities, and to me has always been a gateway to the Garden of Eden. There we based ourselves at the most amiable and convivial home of my sister Susan and her husband Bob. Their house in Muisenberg is a mere few hundred yards from a glorious beach on False Bay which when we arrived was alive with blowing Southern Right Whales, sporting amorously very close to shore. While there we began to plan a trip to Zimbabwe and Lesotho. Lesotho was where a young Diana and her late husband Michael served as young missionary teachers and so a nostalgia tinted Garden of Eden to her.
We would have loved to repeat the three days and nights train trip to Southern Rhodesia that I had made with my family in late 1956. The trains then had a little verandah at both ends of each carriage from which you could gaze at lovely Karoo sunsets as the train engine’s plume of smoke slowly smutted your brow with specks of soot. One of the reasons I love Devenish, on the back road to Wangaratta, is because it reminds me of those little Karoo railway towns at which the steam engine stopped to pick up water. We soon learned, however, that the trains were not running at this time and also that car hire companies in South Africa baulked at allowing their vehicles to cross into Zimbabwe. We did investigate one hire firm that allowed the crossing, but it appeared a shonky and dubious organisation and so instead opted to travel by bus, travelling light, a mere haversack each. This has always been Diana’s way and she is a very experienced traveller. I did not take my laptop computer, just a tiny little pocket notebook and biro for diary entries. We took few clothes, little worth stealing and body belts for cash.
We flew up to Johannesburg and took a taxi to the great central station, arriving with hours to spare before the bus was due to leave. Johannesburg has a reputation for being a dangerous city, hence the taxi. Our taxi driver was a talkative and friendly fellow who told us that as a youngster he and his family had been refugees in Zimbabwe, and so we were able to share reminiscences. The hospitality of Zimbabwe to South African exiles or refugees before South Africa’s independence might in part explain the tolerance of millions of Zimbabwean refugees now by South Africa.
We found Jo’burg, like almost all the cities of South Africa, to be now a “black” city. The whites have retreated to their suburbs to live behind razor-wired walls and to shop in congenial suburban malls. Murder, rape and car hijacking statistics are high enough to curdle the blood. To look carefully at such statistics and understand them, though, shows that per capita these horrendous statistics are not hugely different from many other African and South American countries with huge disparities in wealth and large shanty town settlements. One of the most salutary sights in Cape Town is a shanty town on the way from the airport into that most beautiful of cities. Such townships are now euphemised as “informal settlements”. The murder statistics in South Africa in 2009 were apparently second in the world to Colombia.
Having explored the large bus and railway station and established from where our bus was due to leave and that our tickets were valid we decided to venture out into the city to find its Anglican Cathedral, which is close to the station. We found it easily enough through streets lined with noisy vendors of all sorts of fruit, vegetables, DVD’s and many other more unlikely good. The noise and crowds and litter are very much a part of life in black African cities, and in their way exhilarating and fun, though not the litter. To enter the Cathedral was to step out of hot, vibrant and dirty cacophony into cool, clean tranquillity. It is a lovely building with a fine tradition. We had it to ourselves except for a cleaner. There was little literature available, or signs of the cathedral’s life, but it was good to be there and to sit and be quiet. It appears that a new dean has recently been appointed. A fellow student and friend of mine when I was at theological college in Grahamstown was made dean some years ago. He was a quiet, godly fellow and I believe found the job very difficult. To stand in the tradition of giants like Gonville Ffrench-Beytagh and Desmond Tutu and to attempt successfully to relate the quiet, cultured Anglican tradition to the frenzied world outside the Cathedral’s walls would require personal resources, creativity, imagination and courage beyond most of us, I would imagine.
We left the Cathedral refreshed to await the departure of our well-packed bus for Beit Bridge and Zimbabwe.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (2)
Frugal travellers, we had packed sandwiches enough for our entire journey from Johannesburg to Harare. Some were egg and mayonnaise ones, a nasty trick to play on fellow travellers in the confined space of a bus. However it was in the little bus-company waiting room that we ate our first ration with some gusto, reading our respective books, mine being Rupert Shortt’s excellent biography of Rowan Williams, Diana’s an informative book on Zimbabwe. As is so often the case in waiting rooms, other folk proved to be an interesting distraction, inviting speculation as to their reasons for travel, whether their hair was their own or a wig, or dyed and so on. Interestingly many African women wear wigs whereas men do not, a double standard that would surely offend a good feminist, if there is such a thing. Pride in appearance and demeanour is very evident in modern South Africa, and black is indeed beautiful.
All our fellow travellers turned out to be black, delightful, friendly and very helpful. On long trips such as ours there develops a camaraderie that is heart-warming. Nearly all of them appeared to be returning to Zimbabwe to visit relatives with a huge variety of gifts. So much so that although a mere bus rather than an aeroplane, everyone’s luggage had to be weighed-in and charges were levied for those over a declared maximum. The person in front of us in the queue had with him, among other things, a huge microwave oven, and someone else a strangely shaped, wrapped item that revealed itself eventually to be a department store mannequin, when a rip developed over its left buttock. Oddly there was a sign up to say that empty buckets were forbidden as luggage. Later we observed hundreds of them being pushed through the windows of other buses, obviously very popular and saleable items in Zimbabwe. We ourselves were glad to be so lightly burdened by a mere haversack each.
During our long late-afternoon and evening wait I made a sortie across the great station promenade to visit the lavatory, and was accosted twice by hopeful beggars, or possible con-artists. The first, a bulky male, I brushed off politely, the second, a female whom we later observed wandering around trying her luck with others, had an interesting opening gambit, once she had caught my eye: “Thank you for not swearing at me sir.....”
Before getting on the bus we were required to fill in a customs form which was collected by one of the two bus drivers, and then we boarded, pleased to discover that we had a front seat behind the driver. He was seated much lower than his passengers giving us a clear view of the road ahead and enabling us to note how fast we were travelling. We left well after the scheduled 8.00pm, largely because of one of those voluble arguments, so common in Africa, between the driver and two young passengers from another bus which had apparently broken down some time earlier, and who were therefore owed a trip on our bus as far as Pretoria.
Once on our way I slept only in fits and starts, as is always the case with me, be it on a bus or an aeroplane. Diana, on the other hand, appeared to sleep with enviable soundness. One of the two bus drivers when we were stationary, went outside and let himself into a tiny little sleeping compartment beside the huge luggage hold. Horribly claustrophobic, I would have thought.
The journey through the northern Transvaal, being in the dark, was less than notable. We stopped at Middle Rand, Pretoria and in what used to be called Pietersburg but is now Polokwane. There were also occasional stops for “tolls”, these appear to be a South African innovation that has spread to Zimbabwe. Even on roads that were made and paid for many years ago, tolls are now levied, purportedly for road upkeep and maintenance. Cars are charged a less amount than coaches, the bigger the vehicle the greater being the toll. On the way I awoke to appreciate the well remembered tunnels through the mountain range near Louis Trichardt and then slept fitfully until, in the very early dawn, with just a faint flush of light on the horizon, we arrived at the border, Beit Bridge.
Clearing the border
It took us four and a half hours to clear the border, the first hour being wasted in a great queue of trucks and buses on the South African side of the great Limpopo river. This futile wait ended all of a sudden when, for no apparent reason, we were inexplicably waved through. I spent much of the hour gazing at the first baobab tree I had seen in many years, though it was not the best of specimens. The South African immigration and custom formalities, when once we got to them, were trouble free and relatively easy. There appeared to be a new shift of officials coming on duty at the immigration centre, and they evinced no sense of urgency, showing little apparent regard for the hundreds of folk lined up on the other side waiting to be cleared for entry into South Africa. I wondered if the great pressure of immigration from Zimbabwe to South Africa had aroused in officials a disdainful reluctance to expedite it in anyway. Certainly the demeanour and attitude of the female officer in charge brought to mind the sort of officialdom one reads of in totalitarian states.
Having cleared South African Immigration and Customs our bus lumbered across Beit Bridge which spans the Limpopo. This great river was immortalised by Rudyard Kipling in the “Just So Stories” as: the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, where the Bi-Coloured Python Rock-Snake dwells. Of all African rivers that flow east into the Indian Ocean it is second in length only to the Zambezi. There was a good amount of water in it, especially considering that it was the end of the dry season,
The formalities at the Zimbabwean border post were rather more lengthy than on the South African side, and the whole place looked shabby, unkempt and unloved. Diana and I had no problems personally at all however, we paid our $50 each for a visa, without any noticeable expectation of a bribe, and we had nothing to declare. The currency now in use in Zimbabwe is the American dollar, so the infamous billion and trillion Zimbabwean dollar notes are now valuable only as curiosities. The densely packed bus had to be unpacked completely and everyone’s baggage lined up beside the vehicle. This lengthy task was performed by a strong and energetic man employed by I know not whom, but who later, when he had re-packed the bus with great skill and energy, boarded the bus for well earned applause and tips. Once the bus had been unpacked everyone waited beside their gear until an official came to inspect it all. We were told that this was a mere formality and that his palm had already been well greased by the bus company, but I have no way of corroborating this. It was a lengthy business for a mere charade though.
I had read somewhere that to photograph government installations or activities in Zimbabwe was ill-advised, and so I took only one photograph. A fellow passenger took several and was later interrogated and hassled for half an hour for having done so, presumably in hope of a bribe, which in the end she escaped. This was largely due to the intervention of our fine bus driver who took her side with persuasive eloquence. The woman concerned is a teacher in England, was Zimbabwean born, of mixed race and travelling on an Italian passport to visit her relatives.
Once finally clear of the border and heading north, we took the fork that bears more eastwards for Masvingo and then Harare, rather than the route that heads more westward to Bulawayo. The road was in tolerable condition but deteriorating, obviously in need of maintenance that has been far too long deferred. It was crumbling at the edges and contained a fair number of unpleasant and sometimes almost deadly potholes, however it was certainly not in a direly disgraceful state, so some maintenance work must have taken place during the thirty or more years since last I travelled on it. There was little traffic, most of it trucks and buses, and along the way we passed several burnt-out vehicles, presumably the result of nasty accidents. Vandalised road signs have not been replaced or repaired and so the distance from one’s destination remained more guesswork than certainty. There were also frequent police road blocks. They appeared to be a mere formality and the police were genial, but there was nonetheless something slightly ominous about them.
As we drew nearer to Masvingo, where we stopped for a twenty minute break, so the landscape became more impressive, with many large granite-bouldered kopjes that were well wooded with msasa trees as the altitude became higher, and also dotted with impressive euphorbias The rains had yet to come and so everything was very arid. Most of the countryside we passed through was made up of subsistence farmland, goat devastated and over-grazed. We saw no wildlife except for a couple of monkeys, and although I was delighted to spot my first “toppie” (yellow vented bulbul) and white-necked ravens, even the birdlife was less than abundant, probably more because of the time of year than because of Mr Mugabe’s depredations!
Our late start and the time spent at the border meant that we were obviously going to be very late arriving in Harare and so we borrowed a fellow passenger’s mobile phone at Masvingo and let Biddy Railton, who was picking us up in Harare, know this. From Masvingo we sped through some of the best farmland in Zimbabwe, most of it now uncultivated in any meaningful way, and we arrived in Harare just as the madness of rush hour was at its height. The nearer we got to the city the more numerous became the “taxis”, these being vans driven with cavalier, derring-do and much horn blowing by cowboy drivers who pack them with passengers like pilchards in a can.
We pulled into the teeming Harare coach station at about 6.00pm and the driver wished us all farewell, apologising with heavy irony for “being late”, an understatement which aroused a great roar of laughter from his passengers.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (3)
The first folk with whom we had arranged to stay in Zimbabwe were Don and Biddy Railton. Margaret and I had got to know them when I was Rector of my first parish, Gatooma (Kadoma now) from 1978-1982. They had came to see me about the baptism of their son James, and from then on they became both good friends and excellent parishioners, delightful and vibrant people. For a while they lived at Empress Nickle Mine, a fair distance from Gatooma and to which, in the darkest days of the civil war, I would travel in armed convoy with an Uzi sub machine gun beside me on the passenger seat of my car.
Borrowdale and Highlands
We had phoned Biddy from the bus to let her know how late we were going to be, and taking account of this she was there, in good spirits, to greet and pick us up at the bus station. Time has dealt gently with her and she was instantly recognisable as a lovely and mature version of the young mum I remembered. She whisked us through the crowds to her car, and we sped off and away from the noisy, teeming humanity that pulsates around all African bus and taxi hubs. She and her husband Don reside in a still fashionable suburb called Borrowdale. In my day it was a newer version of the more established and equally fashionable suburb called Highlands of which my father was Rector for seventeen years. He had moved there from the rural mission at Chikwaka, which he had built and managed, in order to be able to afford to put me through university. This not least because to live in the city would allow me to live at home rather than go into a university residence.
Biddy drove us to her home by way of Highlands and past our old rectory. It is almost thirty years since I was last in Harare, so it is little wonder that changes to the streets and roads, as well as to the whole ethos of the place, made orientating myself difficult. I had left a still well-ordered, tidy, uptight, newly post-colonial country and city, of which Mr Mugabe had been president only for a couple of years. This was different: vibrant, garish, noisy, pullulating, black Africa. There were obvious signs of decay and disintegration as well as much litter, but it was also exciting in its liveliness. Even the well-remembered Enterprise road, up the hill of which I had pottered home as a student so many times in my underpowered black Morris Minor, with a stream of impatient cars behind me, had been bypassed, but the church and rectory appeared much the same as we drove slowly past. The two suburbs, Highlands and Borrowdale were notable, even in the hot aridity that marks the end of the long winter dry season, for well established trees and large splashes of bright colour from abundant jacarandas and profuse bouganvillea creepers.
A lovely home
Don and Biddy’s home is lovely, balm to our travel-weary souls. Set in a large and lovely garden it is a well watered and lawned oasis, even at the very end of the long dry season, thanks to their own borehole. The best of several great trees, a magnificent jacaranda was in full flower to welcome us. The jacarandas in Zimbabwe, unlike most of those around Shepparton, bloom fully before the appearance of any leaves and so are breathtaking, the ground beneath, carpeted with fallen blooms, is as colourful as the trees themselves. The single blooms fall to the ground audibly if you sit their quietly on your own. All houses of any substance in Zimbabwe and South Africa need to pay great attention to security, walls and fences are usually razor-wired and gates automatic. Once inside, however, the home is castle indeed, an island of ordered and beautiful tranquillity.
After much talk, laughter and reminiscing, as well as a delicious meal of beef olives, we retired content, to shower and a comfortable bed where we made up for the fitful sleep of the bus journey. I awoke, as is my wont, at about 5.00am and lay in bed for a while listening delightedly to the toppies and Heuglin’s robins singing and warbling away, and then a little later to the cronking of the purple-crested loeries. These are the exotic and colourful close relatives to the grey loerie, the famous “go away bird”. So well wooded and treed are the gardens and streets of the better and well established suburbs of Zimbabwe and South Africa that they provide what is almost a forest habitat for birds, hence the lovely purple-crested loeries.
Hiring a car
After a good breakfast Don drove us to town and then, although pressed for time, being one of those generous sorts who walks the second mile as a matter of course, he took us out to Europcar, on the airport road, saving us from what would have been a very long walk through dubious parts of town. The car-hire firm proved to be a pleasant and customer-friendly place, cool, elegant, and with real coffee on tap, comfortable chairs and so on. The car we had hired and paid for from South Africa was the cheapest possible. It turned out to be a Citi Golf, a version produced by Volkswagen in South Africa from 1984 until 2009, originally known as the CitiGolf or Chico. It had few if any refinements, no air-conditioning, no automatic gears, no cruise control and what is more, the driver’s door lock was shonky. However it suited us fine because in its modesty it did not draw attention to itself, which is what we wanted. When all was sorted out we headed back to the centre of town. There, many of even the widest streets are one-way and so I nearly wrote the car and possibly ourselves off by forgetting this and so cutting across the path of a car passing us in the parallel lane behind, assuming that this lane carried only traffic coming toward me.
Unnerved a little, and finding parking problematic in the centre of town we headed out to “the avenues” to see if number 5 Hadlow Place in Baines Avenue still existed. This was the rather fine dwelling place of Margaret and myself when we were first married and I was a curate at Harare Cathedral. We discovered that it is indeed still there, though unlike in our day it was too well secured behind walls and gates to allow a really close inspection. We parked the car under a tree there and walked into town, a little journey made daily by me to Mattins at 6.00am and then Mass from 1975 to 1977. The pavements nowadays are lethal because no attempt appears to be made to render them safe for walking. Great holes are left unmarked, obstacles obtrude to trip you up and if a line of slabs has been lifted to repair cables the slabs are put back without proper filling and so dip, break and crack. Sight-seeing is dangerous. Lift your eyes from the ground and you are like to fall and break a limb!
We made our way to the Cathedral where I was priested and served for three years. We were pleased to find it open. Diana too is not unfamiliar with the lovely building having paid it a visit in 1987 while on a characteristically imaginative journey with many diversions and byways from St Helena to England with her family. The building was as lovely as ever, though with little evidence of much life. Particularly striking are the painted Stations of the Cross and it was moving to sit once more in the stall of St George’s chapel where for so many years I had said Mattins and Evensong.
The Anglican Church in two of the five Zimbabwean dioceses is in a terrible way. It is a complicated story and some of the details are still a little hazy to me, but because it plays quite a large part in our Zimbabwe sojourn there follows an attempted synopsis of the situation. There are two real and two pretender bishops in both the diocese of Harare and Manicaland. The two real bishops are recognised by the Anglican Communion worldwide, the two pretenders are not. Largely because the pretenders are favoured by Mr Mugabe and therefore by the police as well, they have successfully claimed possession of all Diocesan assets and buildings. This being so, nearly every parish is in the hands of the pretender bishop’s priests, many of whom have been recently and summarily ordained, whereas the genuine bishop’s priests have been evicted from their rectories and with their congregations have had to move out of their churches to worship elsewhere. The Cathedral is therefore largely defunct with only one service on a Sunday attended not by its genuine congregation, but by any visitors who happen to attend and a few of the pretender’s disciples. Likewise in my father’s old parish (of which more later) and almost if not all of the parishes in the diocese!
In Harare diocese the genuine bishop is Chad Gandiya, a delightful, friendly and articulate man whom we were to visit on this our first full day in Zimbabwe. The pretender bishop is a man called Norbert Kunonga.
Electing bishops is a tricky business. I know this from firsthand having played a part in the election of two here in Australia. As you would expect, it is not only God who has a say in what is decided, so too does politicking! When at formal diocesan ceremonies I hear the words: “So and so, by divine permission bishop of so and so....” I find myself thinking, “Oh yeah!”
Norbert Kunonga, the pretender bishop of Mashonaland and a Mugabe goon is by all accounts a man of notable mediocrity. One of my best friends taught him as a student and vouches for this. Clever politicking, however, appears to have circumvented God’s will and secured him election as bishop. This is not a purely African problem, it needs to be said. To me it appears to be something like what happened in Australia with the election of the last Bishop of the Murray, now resigned amidst much scandal! What precipitated Kunonga’s actual fall from grace, however, was that both he and the bishop of Manicaland, without fulfilling the legal requirements for so doing, withdrew their dioceses from the Church of the Province of Central Africa. The reason they gave for this was a supposed diocesan softness on the question of homosexuality, but it appears to have had more to do with power than anything else. (to be continued)
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (4)
We left Harare Cathedral and walked back to the car along the city’s dangerously ill-tended pavements, happy that in spite of the sorry state of the Diocese of Mashonaland its Cathedral at least was still in good condition and open. We were relieved to find the car still where we had left it, and so drove along what used to be unimaginatively called Second Street Extension to Mount Pleasant. There the authentic Bishop of Mashonaland, Chad Gandiya, has his Office. The Diocesan Office proper is in Pax House, next door to the Cathedral, but is occupied by the pretender bishop and his minions.
Mount Pleasant is another well wooded suburb of Harare, dry and longing for the onset of the rains, but brightened, as most of Harare is at this time of the year, by great splashes and dashes of bouganvillea and jacaranda. We parked in the driveway of what used to be a residence, having been admitted by a gatekeeper who accepted our bona fides with little hesitation.
Before entering the house we encountered a delightful, friendly man coming out whom we discovered to be a priest and friend of Fr Joe Chipudhla with whom we were soon to stay in Sakubva. He introduced himself as Fr Boyman someone or other (unfortunately we left Diana’s vital diary containing all our carefully recorded full names and addresses on the aeroplane between Cape Town and Johannesburg on our way home and have been unable to recover it). Fr Boyman is the genuine as opposed to pretender Rector of Borrowdale and so at present is unable to use his own church. He told us that he had been expecting us to come and stay with him, as Fr Joe had informed him that we could well be in need of accommodation. We were able to assure him that we were exceedingly well housed and thank him for his preparedness to put us up. Later on, shortly before we left, we attended one of his services held in a school chapel, but more of that later.
We were ushered in to the Bishop’ office to be most affectionately greeted by a genial and welcoming Chad Gandiya. He remembered me as the young priest I was nearly thirty years ago, with a great big and shaggy red beard, but as so often proved to be the case in my encounters with Anglicans in Zimbabwe on this visit, it was my father’s memory that raised the most positive response. For he had served the diocese for pretty well a quarter of a century as a mission priest, then parish priest and for many years as a widely respected Archdeacon. However, Bishop Chad’s warm response was not limited to me, he was also familiar with Diana, giving her a big hug. She, on her return to England from St Helena, had been a member of the Archbishop’s Board of Examiners, which vetted folk selected for work overseas through the missionary society USPG. Chad, at the time a lecturer at the College of the Ascension, Selly Oak, often attended Board meetings as an adviser, and what is more, for a time Diana had tended the gardens at the College, so they were well acquainted.
We had a long talk about what was happening to the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. The most heartening aspect of this being how far from despondent Bishop Chad appeared. A persecuted church is often a healthy one, not least because persecution challenges the faithful for something more than mere nominal support and often gets it. It appears that many congregations, denied access to their beloved church buildings and facilities, and so meeting in stadiums, halls or the churches of other denominations, are lively and growing. However the unpleasantness of the pretender bishop, Norbert Kunonga cannot be overstated. If only half of the accusations against him in a case presented before an ecclesiastical court are true (they include incitement to murder) he is a very dangerous and unpleasant man. Unfortunately the case against him collapsed for reasons other than lack of evidence. Bishop Chad, who has himself received death threats, refused to vilify him though, his emphasis was on the positive not the negative and he is convinced that cases before the courts will eventually vindicate the right side in the dispute.
We left after a good hour of conversation and a little prayer together and before leaving went next door to meet the Bishop’s wife who heads the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese, an organisation that for generations has provided real backbone to the Church. Members wear a distinctive blue and white uniform with great pride, membership being considered a real honour. Programs and activities are imaginative and singing and worship heartfelt and a valued part of the organisations life.
The University of Zimbabwe
After our visit to the Bishop we moved on to the University of Zimbabwe,. In my day this was a young university, a College of the University of London and so its degrees were London degrees, I am pleased to say. It was called then the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland and I spent four good years there from 1965 to 1968. The first three involved studying for a dream degree that allowed me to study solely English literature (English Honours), and then a year’s teaching diploma which was a requirement of the government grant I took to enable me to pay my way. I cannot say that I worked assiduously or passed with distinction, but I did have a great time and pass I did. I remember the place fondly.
We found the University easily enough, and although there are now many more buildings and the young trees of thirty years ago have matured into fine and shady splendour there was a happy frisson of recognition. The focal point of my social life there, as a non-resident student, was the Student’s Union building, the centre of the campus, a substantial building with all sorts of facilities and a distinctive roof. To my surprise and disappointment this was closed and almost derelict. We were later told that this was a governmental response to student political opposition. The closure of the facility for such a reason, although totally in character for a government such as Robert Mugabe’s, I have no way of corroborating. Thwarted in my desire to have a drink in an old drinking haunt where so many hours had been spent in laughter and debate, we were directed by two delightful girl students to the Senior Common Room. At the well patronised bar of this far more modest establishment we had a welcome Fanta on a hot day, although by rights we should have been denied service for not being official members. We also eyed with wary fascination an insouciant cockroach ambling across the bar’s top.
Predestined to hell
We then made our way to another well remembered building, the Chapel. This building, in my student days, was out on its own and away from other buildings, it was now far more crowded in. As we approached we could hear what appeared to be an impassioned harangue, and it turned out that there was a lunchtime meeting of Anglican students in progress. So we entered the chapel where, many years before, after I had been ordained though, I can remember preaching to a small congregation, one of whom was the Professor of Theology, a certain Dr Craig. He sticks in my memory for two reasons. In his strong Scottish accentl he most decisively, if half jocularly, once ended a friendly argument with a Jesuit at a party I attended thus: “....lets face it Father Grummit, you are predestined to hell and I am predestined to heaven, and that’s the end of it.....”. And then, much later, and to my great surprise, I recognised him as a participant in the wedding of Charles and Diana in Westminster Abbey. It was that strong Scottish accent, delivered with a bit of a spitting sound, that gave him away. He gave some sort of Church of Scotland benediction upon the unfortunate couple which obviously didn’t take. It seems that he had ended up as Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
On this occasion we participated for about twenty minutes or more in a very un-Anglican, less than theologically rigorous session of lunchtime worship. Everyone was very friendly, smiling and welcoming though and a young man was sent to sit with and look after us. As we entered a young male student was passionately exhorting his twenty or thirty fellow students with evangelical fervour and gusto to worship the Lord from the heart. He then introduced a guest preacher, who interspersed his more measured evangelical and not at all to be despised talk, with odd wake-up interjections. There were the usual ones: “Alleluia” and “Amen”, but also an effective if slightly comical interrogatory “hullo?” with a rising, quizzical inflection. We left eventually, before he finished, and were thanked profusely for our attendance by a member of the congregation who followed us out. Such gratitude and appreciation were a feature of almost every encounter we had with Zimbabweans on this visit.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (5)
We were driven from the university chapel as much by rumblings from our bellies as from a surfeit of evangelical preaching and so made our way over to what appeared to be a modest supermarket nearby. Food was being sold from a counter in its wall, and on enquiring as to what was available we were immediately ushered inside to sit down between the serving counter and the very poorly stocked supermarket on hastily collected chairs.
One of the purposes of this warm welcome was to introduce us to a similarly privileged and seated fellow diner, a most impressive, bearded, slightly grizzled, quiet and reflective African man. The menu was limited to about three items and we chose chicken and rice, a large serving of which was soon presented to us with bright yellow cabbage and a banana chutney, the last interesting and not at all unpleasant. Our fellow diner turned out to be a lecturer in mathematics at the university. Because he was grizzle headed and bearded and therefore probably a near contemporary of mine and so a young man during the war of liberation, I asked him what role he had played in the struggle. He said that he had deliberately avoided it, making his way on foot to Botswana where, after six fairly difficult months, he had been able to arrange a trip to Britain obtaining his first degree with honour and ease and then moving on to the United States to obtain his doctorate.
It turned out that he had been taught Latin at school by one of my friends, Michael Stebbing, who was priested with me in Harare Cathedral in 1975, a passionate white Zimbabwean whom I had visited a month or two previously at Mirfield in Yorkshire. He is now a Community of the Resurrection monk and priest in deep grief over the evilly governed mess into which his homeland and mother diocese have fallen. He frequently visits Zimbabwe to initiate or manage imaginative programs and projects to improve the lot of the thousands of innocent sufferers from evil politicians and a despicable pretender bishop. Over our plates of chicken and rice his one time pupil informed Diana and myself that he had been Michael's star Latin student at school and had wished to do his degree in that language, but had been persuaded otherwise. I commented that higher Mathematics is an intriguing form of language in its own right and so the deprivation could not have been total. He whole heartedly agreed. He is still a weekly attending Anglican and he knew of and appreciated my father's role as an Anglican church leader in the late fifties, sixties and seventies. We were able to recall many common friends and acquaintances, and so our luncheon turned out to be one of those memorable meals where fellowship and communion are so realised by the sharing of good food and conversation that they transcend mere eating and talking. Our host, the man apparently in charge of the establish-ment and responsible for the hospitality we enjoyed was himself also an Anglican of a most jovial sort, and after the departure of the mathematician we reminisced for a while with him. He too was more than familiar with friends and acquaintances of my father.
After our meal we wandered the campus for a while longer, briefly visiting the library between whose unlovely, functional stacks I had so often drifted, and then we returned to our little car to head for St Mary's Church, Highlands, where, in the Rectory, I had lived throughout my four years of university and for two subsequent years as a teacher.
St Mary's Highlands
The church and its environs appeared reassuringly unchanged at first sight. The parish hall at the bottom of the hill was exactly as I remembered it, surrounded by great Jacaranda trees in full flower. The church likewise was much the same, though locked and so I could only inspect its interior through the keyhole, an ideally narrow picture frame perhaps for nostalgia's views. We then wandered alongside and past the church to what used to be the Rectory and my home, noting the Garden of Remembrance that my father had designed and the names of people interred there whom I had known.
The house is still owned by the parish, but is let out to tenants who graciously allowed us to wander around the garden. The outbuildings, a part of which was a room that I lived in as a student, were now the home of the parish secretary, a lovely woman who informed us a little about the sad politics of the place. The ersatz Rector lives in what used to be the Curate's house on the front side of the Church. He is one of the pretender bishop's appointments and so the congregation with its real priest has been forced to decamp to other premises, and the services at St Mary's are usually attended only by the usurper Rector and perhaps a friend or two. The secretary herself is employed by the real parish and priest and still maintains the parish office, housed in a room off the hall. She asked if we had seen the caretaker and gardener, Alex, who had been there a very long time and might remember me and so we went to find him. He did indeed remember me and what is more with what seemed to be great pleasure, though I have to say I did not remember him. His predecessor, a delightful fellow, had died one early afternoon while I was dining with my parents. Called by his frantic friend I had rushed off to see him, but when I went into his room to try to shake him awake he was already cold, having taken "muti" which had poisoned him, prescribed by a traditional healer. Alex must have been his successor, but as I no longer lived at home then and was only a visitor from theological college or from my own parish, I did not get to know him well enough to remember him.
The garden is now largely given over to the cultivation of vegetables, mostly maize, but remains a shady and pleasing place. The adjacent block of land to the old Rectory, which in our day provided a large and very productive vegetable garden, has long been sold and so the avocado pear tree and all the mango trees have long gone.
Alex opened the church building and the library next door, enabling us to revisit the choir pews in which I had first learned to sing bass on leaving boarding school. It was the splendid bass line of the Advent hymn "Lo he comes with clouds descending...." that first opened my ears and heart to the joys of parish choir singing. My mentor was a church warden and splendid fellow called Mike Joughin. We both belted that bass line out at the tops or our voices as if attempting to drown the beauty of the soprano melody with the equally beautiful, rolling melody that undergirded it. Mike Joughin was a great bon vivant, who smoked large cigars with gusto and loved beer, good food, laughter, horse racing, the Anglican Church and God. He used to give up beer for Lent and then would sink a bottle or two for breakfast on Easter morning.
it in my father's time, had a leak in its roof that had caused paint to peel off. In the library next door to the church, which was built after our time and in memory of Mike Joughin, there was a portrait of my father on display, as well as a photograph of Mike.
St Mary's Highlands is not the loveliest of churches, but has a tower, is fairly prominent on a low hill and is rendered brick both inside and out. It has played a large part in my life. My sister, brother and self were married there and in it I was deaconed. My mother played its organ and the legacy of my father's seventeen year tenure is huge. It is sad to see it a victim of the machinations of evil prelates, politicians and priests, but the history of the Church is long, and the glory that is the Anglican Church at its best was born in the machinations of evil prelates, politicians and priests. It will survive and flourish once more eventually I am sure.
As we got into the car to leave we noticed two men in dog collars walking past, and divining that they were the minions of the pretender bishop Kunonga I resolved to ignore them. Diana, however, suggested that I approach them to be charitable and so I did. One of them appeared very shifty of eye, the other far more amiable. I greeted them in a friendly fashion and on my enquiring, they admitted to being followers of the dread Kunonga. I asked them if there was any hope of reconciliation between the two factions in the diocese, suggesting that if de Klerk and Mandela could get together and make sweet peace, surely an Anglican Diocese could. They demurred and we parted company a little awkwardly.
Before leaving we decided to ask the parish secretary if she could give us the address of Mike Joughin's widow and so I returned to her residence that was once mine to ask her. I found her in a daze. The two ersatz priests had visited both her and the tenant of what had used to be the rectory and served them with eviction orders! She showed me the document which went as follows (its infelicities of style and grammar I leave uncorrected):
Re: Notice To vacate Church House
I write to inform you that your occupation of our house is not sanctioned by the owner of the property you are therefore advised that since you don't have a lease with us, you are hereby advised to vacate the house with immediate effect and pave way for our priest.
You must consider this issue seriously with urgency. Failure to comply will lead to your forced eviction by any means.
For further information, kindly contact the undersigned.
May God Bless You.
Yours in Christ.
Rev. A. Chisango
She was in a state of shock and had nowhere to go. Because Kunonga is a Mugabe goon he has the backing of the police who, if shown the eviction order, were likely to enforce it indeed. I am only half glad that I did not know of this document when I talked to the two imposter priests for I would have been unable to resist taking issue with them.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (6)
We returned to the home of Don and Biddy Railton, our lovely base in Harare, having witnessed at St Mary's Highlands something of the brutal nastiness of the supporters of the pretender Anglican bishop, Kunonga.
On our way back we stopped in at the home of Dorothy Joughin, the widow of Mike Joughin, one time Churchwarden of St Mary's and the man who taught me to sing bass in its choir. We were informed that Dorothy was away in England and so left a note under her door and headed back down the Borrowdale Road.
Africa's new colonialists
Opposite the close where the house of our hosts is situated there is a high, lengthy, bright pink wall with a large gate. It surrounds the Chinese Embassy, a garish reminder of a new form of colonialism in Africa, this time from the east rather than from the west. Hard-headed, pragmatic and purely economic it is likely to be as harsh, in its own way, as European colonialism.
Don and Biddy treated us to a lovely family meal, providing an opportunity to meet both Carleigh and James, the two of their three children whom I had first encountered in the very early nineteen eighties. I baptized James back then and Margaret and I became friends with Don and Biddy. Their third child, Michael, we were to meet only later on his way from a job in Johannesburg to take up another in London.
All conversations in Zimbabwe return again and again to politics, race and the dire situation in that benighted land, but at Don and Biddy's this was nowhere near as much as elsewhere. We talked too of religion and faith, gardening and business matters, as well as of our respective families and our common and largely very happy past in Gatooma and district. Both Don and Biddy are active and proud Christians and so talk of Church and faith is natural and open, rather than apologetic and self-deprecatory, as too often has to be the case with so easily embarrassed non-believers. Carleigh and her husband have returned from England to Zimbabwe to live and work, a fair indication of optimism, albeit cautious optimism, as to the country's long term future. They do, however, plan to return to England for a short while to enable their expected child to be English born. A lovely evening.
The next morning we set off in our little hired car on the next stage of our nostalgia trip. First we made our way back to Highlands, in my father's old parish, to visit the agents of a "time-share" scheme to which Don and Biddy belong. Our visit was to formalise their generous offer of four days and nights in a lodge at lovely Troutbeck in the Eastern Highlands. The suburban roads in Harare, and elsewhere for that matter, are in a disgraceful state, full of potholes and apparently hardly maintained at all. Local municipalities have been politicised, it seems, and also corrupted so that cash for most desperately needed work is simply unavailable.
St John's Chikwaka
After this we left Harare on the road north east that leads eventually to Mtoko and then Mozambique. Our first intended destination was St John's, Chikwaka, a mission station established by my father in the early sixties, and where I lived during school holidays for much of my secondary school career.
It is interesting to have your memory refreshed by travelling again, after many, many years, a once much traversed road. My memories were all of rainy season lushness, of well treed hills and acre upon acre of deep-green, tall and vibrant maize crops. This trip, at the end of the long winter dry season, was a good corrective. The grasslands were bleached yellow-white, much of the country-side had been burnt by indiscriminate and irresponsible firing, and although there was still much evidence of productive farming, most fields were either fallow or stubbled from already harvested, irrigated winter wheat crops. A great deal of the land in this area is heavy, red soil more suitable for maize and wheat than tobacco.
The landmark that I was looking out for to remind me of the turnoff to St John's was "Oribi" or "Bora" store, but it no longer exists. Fortunately however there was a clear sign marking the road and so we did not miss it. The mission station is only three or four miles down what in my youth was little more than a dirt track, though a significant one nonetheless for it was the stretch of road upon which I learned to drive in an ancient, short wheel base Landrover. It is still a dirt road today, but now more heavily used, wider and corrugated.
In days gone by the approach to the old mission station was down a steep gully and through a ford in a little river that flows below the hill upon which we built our house. I loved the river because along it I used to tramp for hours bird-watching, and by a little weir on it would lie watching whiskered "catfish" drift and feed and once spied a rarely seen African otter. The ford has now been replaced by a low bridge and passing over it we came to the mission which appeared much as I remember it, bare, red earth, bleached grass, very rocky and well treed with lovely Msasas. The buildings appeared much the same too, though several of them rather more ramshackle and dilapidated than my father would ever have tolerated. There was the church up on the hill's summit, various small houses, the primary school classrooms, what used to be the assistant priest's house, but which now is the priest in charge's residence and a substantial orphanage. On the other side of the road from the old mission there is now a secondary school.
As we drove in we met a car driving out and it turned out to be the mission priest, Fr Mutukwa and his wife and two little children. They were on their way to collect people to take to a funeral. A delightful and friendly man he is a member of Bishop Gandiya's genuine diocese as opposed to that of the deposed bishop Kunonga. Although pressed for time he insisted on greeting us and swapping stories, proving to be far more positive than negative about the appalling state of things in the Anglican church. It was clear though that he did labour under local manifestations of the difficulties inherent in the diocesesan turmoil, not least of these being the insecurity that arises from official and police backing of the Kunonga faction which can lead to eviction at any time. We were to meet him again before we left because he hurried back to invite us into his home for a chat in spite of his tight schedule. Luckily I recorded his name on a photograph, for had I not done so it would have been forgotten, because most of the names of people we encountered we recorded only in the notebook that we later lost on the plane returning to Australia. We hope to contact Bishop Gandiya to obtain a list of names and addresses that will enable us to keep in touch with some of the amazingly resilient and friendly Christian folk we met on our travels.
A favourite church
Having parked the car in the shade of a substantial msasa tree we made our way up to the church. This church is one of not a few in my life that has helped form my faith and make me who I am. Whenever I was home from boarding school I went across to it with my parents to join the local catechist in saying mattins and evensong, pretty well every day. On Sundays I would sit in the crowded nave on a rickety bench enjoying the fervent singing, the holy smoke, the birds calling from outside and the almost casual and natural way the large congregation worshipped, many of the young staring at my brother and me for almost an entire service for being so strange of colour and demeanour. There was no need for any pious posturing, because everyone believed and so could take God for granted and be natural, relaxed, honestly bored or fervent, and thoroughly at home in their worship and in the practice of their faith.
On entering the Church this time we found that it was doubling as a school classroom and that about fifty adorable and tiny children were being drilled in English by a wise looking and elderly female teacher. They were all delighted by our presence and could hardly keep their eyes off us as we wandered around the church, soaking in that plain and simple holy space which, because of its associations, is more significant and lovely to me than even Salisbury Cathedral or Sherborne Abbey. Their teacher was the wife of the manager of the orphanage and she directed her little charges to sing us a heart-rendingly lovely little song of welcome. Before their class ended, a team of the children swept and polished thoroughly with rags the floor of the church, on their hands and knees, singing as they did so. Class sizes in Zimbabwe are large, this one was well over fifty and we were told that two teachers had to cope with over two hundred infants.
We left the church to a chorus of goodbyes and made our way up a short track to what used to be my home. This was built by my father with a great deal of help from a skilled African builder and a little unskilled, holiday help from my brother and myself. It is a large house with an asbestos roof and in our day had a garden that was well treed. In the kitchen my father's great delight was an Aga stove which supplied hot water for the whole house and in the oven of which my mother cooked traditional and lovely meals and a batch of bread every three days. For a long time we relied upon paraffin lamps to see and read by at night, and so the smell of charring insects attracted by the light to their immolation is another strong memory.
The house is now inhabited by school teachers who were most welcoming to us and allowed us inside to look the place over. The Aga has gone, as too has the garden and most of the trees, there is a sad air of dilapidation and neglect about the place. The views are still as good and refreshing as ever though and it was lovely to revisit a home made all the more precious to me by my enforced and long absences at boarding school.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (7)
After visiting the house we had built on St John's mission Chikwaka almost fifty years ago, and in which we lived for four or five years, we walked down the hill to visit the Shearly Cripps Orphanage. This is now a substantial institution, caring for about eighty children, many of whom have lost their parents to AIDS. We were welcomed and shown around by Sister Dorothy, one of the friendly Anglican nuns who help to run the place. Although by Australian standards the facilities would be deemed unacceptably primitive, it has a lovely atmosphere and seemed to us to be clean and wholesome. The Anglican nun, Sister Dorothy, who showed us round was a cheerful and welcoming delight and the children we encountered appeared happy, lively and contented. As I hope the photograph shows the orphanage has its own simple architectural beauty, though like nearly all worthwhile institutions in Zimbabwe it suffers from lack of funding. There have been several online campaigns to raise money to help keep it afloat, as well as to support other ventures and projects in the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. The best of them are under the auspices of the remarkable priest I was ordained with, Father Nicolas Stebbing. There is much further information about these, as well as accounts of his frequent visits to Zimbabwe on the following website, if anyone is interested:
The home is named after Arthur Shearly Cripps, one of Anglicanism's great, if largely unsung, heroes.
Colonialism and the activities of early missionaries are denigrated and decried by the politically correct, but nearly always there is a good as well as a bad side to humankind's activities. Throughout the British Empire, many, many well educated, brave and idealistic men and women felt themselves called to sacrifice their comforts, prospects and even their lives to aid rather than to exploit indigenous people. Arthur Shearly Cripps, a priest, short story writer and poet was one such.
Arthur Shearly Cripps
He is something of a legend in Zimbabwe. Born on the 10th of June 1869, he died on the 1st of August 1952. He read history at Oxford, trained as a priest and became a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (as much later did my father). Intent on working in Mashonaland, after reading Olive Schreiner's Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland, a strange book, it is fiercely critical of Cecil Rhodes and his methods. From 1902 Cripps was priest-in-charge of Wreningham Mission near Enkeldoorn (now know as Chivhu), proving to be a doughty defender of the rights of Africans and coming into conflict with the British South Africa Company over land distribution. He was given the Shona name Mpandi, or ‘the man who walks like thunder' and was one of those wonderful, eccentric Anglicans that bureau-cratic bishops and procedures, as well as political correctness have all but leached out of our wonderful church.
In my first parish as a priest in Mashonaland I was privileged to have as a parishioner probably the best poet I have ever been at all close to, a splendid Anglican in his own right called Noel Brettel. In his remarkable book which he calls "an essay in autobiography" entitled "Side-gate and Stile", he devotes an eloquent and perceptive chapter to Cripps and to his old Mission Church, euphoniously called, Maronda Mashanu (The Church of the five Wounds). Noel Brettel was for many years the headmaster of a school in Enkeldoorn (Chivhu) and used to visit the ancient and all but blind Cripps to read verse to him. He says of Cripps: .....he was to follow the barren and often bitter path he set himself, striving to identify himself with his people with a ruthless, logical self-surrender that was to place him well-nigh among the saints. From Wreningham began those ceaseless journeyings along interminable winding footpaths that are perhaps even now, for the evangelist, the explorer or the exploiter, the only sure way into the heart of Africa. It must have been a life of incredible hardship for one so genteelly nurtured and he took an austere joy in making no concessions. He fed only on the coarse food the people could give him,
Trudging her hill-paths,
From sun-up to sun-down,
Gnawing her corncobs
And munching her groundnuts.
Mealie-meal, millet-meal, munga-meal (tasting, he said, like new-baked bread savoured with wood-smoke) was all he expected when he saw at the end of his day's path in the dusk, the line of huts ‘spearing the skyline', that and a bed of rush-mat on a mud floor, or as often as not, a ‘roofless night-bed walled by boulders gray'....
That there should be an orphanage named in his honour is wholly right and fitting and it was lovely to revisit it and be made so welcome.
Mangwendi to Marondera
Before we left St John's we were invited into the office of Fr Mutukwa in the second house we had built at St John's all those years ago for my father's assistant priest, a splendid man called Onias Chikandiwa. Built of stone rather than the local, homemade brick it was nonetheless in obvious need of repairs to its ceiling and roof. We had a brief chat about his work and life and the troubles of the diocese and we pledged to keep in touch.
From St John's Chikwaka we headed back to the main Mtoko road, turned right towards Mtoko, crossed the well remembered Inyagui River, though on a high bridge these days, rather than the low and far more exciting one, subject to flooding during the rainy season in days gone by. We were looking for a road that would take us through Mangwendi tribal lands to Bernard Mizeki College, not far from Marondera. Bernard Mizeki College is an Anglican School built on what was once St Bernard's Mission Station, where we were first resident in Southern Rhodesia.
The Marondera district is lovely, much of it more than five thousand feet above sea level and madu up of brachystegia woodland or savannah, dotted with granite kopjes and dwalas. The old road that I fondly remembered was of dirt and skirted a long and massive dwala, (massive, smooth, exfoliating, solid granite mountains, this particular one nicknamed in our family "The Slug"). There is now a tarmac road across from the Mtoko Road, far less interesting and bone-shattering, but a good deal more speedy and with hardly any traffic at all. It was good to be once more right in the heart of traditional, rural Zimbabwe, with so many the family kraals of rondavels "spearing the skyline", and the neat, colour-washed schools appearing romantic and idyllic, though in fact life in these parts is very far from pastoral bliss. Most villages have no electricity or running water and are miles away from rural clinics of any description. River water is usually death-dealing bilharzia ridden, and what food can be grown is entirely dependent upon fickle rainfall.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (8)
Travelling along the Musami road on our way to Bernard Mizeki College, near Marondera, through what used to be designated, in the bad old days, the Mangwende Tribal Trust lands, and now in the bad new days, I know not what, but probably the same, was a true home-coming. This was the area that first ignited my love of Africa as a boy.
When we first went to Rhodesia in 1956 my father was based at what is now Bernard Mizeki College, but his responsibilities as a "mission priest" included the oversight and care of all the Anglican schools and churches in a great swathe of country to the north and east, an area fifty of so miles wide and three hundred miles long. When on holiday from school my brother and I would sometimes accompany him on the shorter of his regular treks to distant schools in the rattling utes he drove over terrible roads. It was these vehicles and roads that eventually ruined the vertebrae in his neck, giving him a permanent "jitter" and painful pull of the head to one side that no specialist was able ever to do much about. It was a legacy he lived with from about his mid forties until his death at 89, one of the costs of mission priesting.
Travelling in such lovely country over such roads was fascinating to young boys. The beauty of the granite "dwalas", inhabited by baboons, leopards and dassies, the lovely msasa-tree savannah lands and the friend-liness of the local people living so close to the breadline in romantic seeming, but often horrifyingly primitive conditions, are an irresistible backdrop to a happy childhood. It was good to be back, even though the eyes of an adult are more perceptively critical and the unhappy politics of a troubled land bring an awareness of deep divisions and social unrest that must have been there even in my youth, though in a different form because the Mangwende district played its part in the eruption of the civil war that led eventually to the downfall of Ian Smith.
When eventually we found the turn off to Bernard Mizeki College, the frisson of recognition was faint because so much has changed in fifty or more years. We passed the College itself and found our way, with little difficulty and a bit of advice, to the Primary School, where we parked our car and ate some fine sandwiches, perching ourselves on some convenient stones, enjoying the sunny and breeze-rendered lovely day.
Bernard Mizeki College
The building of the "College" had been the cause of our move from St Bernard's Mission to Chikwaka all those years ago, because my father was against the whole project. Bernard Mizeki College was originally conceived as an elite school, a sort of African Anglican "public school", the brainchild of two English public school educated Anglicans called, I seem to remember, Canon Grinham and Maurice Carver. Doubtless a pair of fine and idealistic Christians, they nonetheless became our family's bete noirs, especially my pugnacious and doughty mother's. My father considered the importation of elitism into an Africa crying out for universal education, especially of girls, was iniquitous. However, being far from diocesan headquarters the forces in favour of the College were able to outmanoeuvre him, and so he shifted his mission headquarters to Chikwaka, having negotiated the grant of a sizeable block of land from the local chief.
On finishing our lunch we attempted to find the first house I had lived in, in Africa, but were unsuccessful, even though we enlisted the help of a local lad. His English was too poor really to understand what we were looking for. He did show us the new church, however, not a patch on the original one, which remains as lovely in my memory as the finest of English parish churches. It was destroyed or fell down years and years ago, but was steeply thatch-roofed, with ragged eaves supported by spindly msasa tree posts. Termite ridden, cement floored and with large, unglazed windows, it brought heaven very close to earth when filled with African school boys singing Victorian hymns in lush harmony, as outside the cicadas shredded the air, the black collared barbets called and called, and great blue headed lizards on the tree trunks bobbed their scaly heads.
The house we couldn't find was a modest one and our inability to locate it was probably due to its ceasing to exist. Our hot water system had comprised in those days a pair of forty four gallon drums on their side in a brick kiln outside the house and plumbed in. A wood fire was lit underneath the drums, as necessary, and hot water was hot indeed. My father built an external office and storeroom for school text books outside and away from the house. To my delight a pair of beautiful bee-eaters burrowed into the pile of building sand next to it to nest.
Bernard Mizeki Shrine
Because we were on a tight schedule, needing to be in Mutare before nightfall, we did not linger looking for a house that in all probability had long been demolished. After a quick look at the church, we pressed on down hardly remembered dirt roads to find the "Bernard Mizeki Shrine".
Bernard Mizeki was born in Mocambique in about 1861 and martyred on the 18 June 1896. He went as a child to Cape Town and influenced by the Cowley Fathers became a Christian. He trained as a Catechist, proving to have a great facility for languages. In January 1891 he accompanied the new missionary bishop of Mashonaland, George William Knight-Bruce, to Southern Rhodesia as a lay catechist among the Shona people and was sent to work in the Marondera district. There he built a home and took people who wanted to learn into his house to teach them the Gospel.
During the Mashona Rebellion of 1896, all missionary workers were ordered to safety, but Bernard chose to stay on. On the night of the 18 of June 1896 he was dragged from his home and stabbed. His wife found him still alive and went for help. Before she could return, she and others reported seeing a great white light all over that place, and a loud noise "like many wings of great birds". He is now widely revered as an Anglican martyr and saint.
His work among the Shona bore fruit. After long years of earlier mission work in Mashonaland by white missionaries, the first Shona convert to be baptised was one of the young men whom Bernard had taught: John Kapuya. John was baptised only a month after Bernard's death. The shrine, close to Bernard Mizeki College is a lovely, simple, white-washed, thatched chapel, open to the bush. Every year on the anniversary of his death, Anglicans as well as other Christians congregate in great numbers to celebrate him and the faith, camping joyfully in the bush. It is a wonderful occasion to experience. The smell of wood smoke from the campfires and of cooking, the sound of laughter and singing and the music, reverence and fellowship of the great celebratory Eucharist are unforgettable.
We were told that the worshippers in 2010, although assured of ready access by the authorities were denied it by the police and so their authentic celebration had to be held in a stadium in Marondera instead of at the lovely Shrine. This gathering, by all accounts, was nonetheless a great success, to the chagrin of the pretender bishop Kunonga and his followers.
We found the Shrine as lovely as I remembered it and we were made most welcome by the friendly caretaker. Its open armed and all-welcoming altar, its hilled and sylvan setting, simple layout, and rural quietude are all that one could ask of a shrine to a remarkable Anglican hero.
We left the shrine and made our way back to the main road that runs along the high veld from Harare to Mutare. Because of our visit to Bernard Mizeki College and then the Shrine, we had by-passed Marondera itself, but would visit it on our return journey. The road to Mutare runs through some splendid country, especially as you approach the eastern mountains and Mutare.
On the major roads in Zimbabwe vehicles are stopped periodically, either for a toll or by police for inspection or quizzing. The tolls appear to be a way of raising revenue to maintain roads that appear to be barely maintained at all. You are warned well in advance of an impending toll stop and usually are directed by signposts or by a row of boulders across the road onto a dusty detour around where eventually a proper toll booth will be built. The cost levied per car was an American dollar, more for mini-buses, more for large buses and trucks. The collectors of the toll, and their numerous hangers-on were unfailingly genial. So too were the police at their road blocks. There would sometimes be a uniformed man in the background with an AK rifle, but we were always greeted with courtesy and waved through. The likes of us were not the object of their interest. Buses, sometimes trucks and nearly always crowded taxis seemed to be of far greater interest to them.
TO ZIMBABWE (9)
The journey to Mutare is one that I made frequently for the two years that I taught English at Alan Wilson Technical Boy's High School in Harare, after leaving university. I had a remarkable girl friend at the time, a fellow student in my post graduate teacher-training year. She went on to live with her parents in Mutare while teaching there and she proved a great attraction to that lovely city on the border with Mocambique.
Excursions into Mocambique
I would potter along the two hundred and fifteen or so kilometres from Harare in my little Ford Prefect to stay for leisurely weekends with her and her family. The two of us made frequent trips over the border into Mocambique to lounge by the swimming pool at Vila de Manica, baking ourselves bronze in hot sunshine as we sipped wine and supped spicy Portuguese food and then headed back over the border, smuggling wickerwork demijohns of vinho verde to take home to delight my father and mother. I was eventually and inevitably searched and caught and fined, and so this particular flirtation with dishonesty came to an end, because thereafter I was almost always searched. Great days, happy memories. I owe a lot to the girl friend, for it was she who prised me out of Africa to Europe, a necessary step in the journey to my eventual, true vocation as an Anglican priest.
Like here in Victoria, Australia, so too in Zimbabwe, the further you travel east the more mountainous and interesting becomes the countryside. Once we had passed Rusape the hills, kopjes and great dwalas became more and more impressive, though sadly, it being the end of the long winter dry season, almost all of the country had been burned black or was in the process of being so. The air was hazed with smoke which did at least make for spectacular sunsets.
The steep descent by way of the Christmas Pass into Mutare takes you down from the high veld into the foothills of the mountains and is especially impressive, offering spectacular views of Mutare. We arrived in the city with the speedy twilight of the tropics and had to hasten without lingering in order to find what used to be, in segregated Rhodesia, the solely African township of Sakubva. We found our way there with little difficulty, discovering that in appearance it has hardly changed from the bad old days, its tiny houses, many of them ramshackle, still separated by narrow, potholed, untarred streets and crowded with people. In a first world country it would be considered little more than a slum, but compared to the crowded slums of elsewhere on our planet it has its attractions, not least a pleasing vibrancy. We took a couple of wrong turns, but we asked for and received directions to the Anglican Church of The Holy Name and then found it easily, right on the township's edge, near to the main road that leads south west to Birchenough Bridge, along which road in a few days time we would be travelling.
Our reason for going to Sakubva was to meet up and stay with an old friend and his wife, Fr Joe and Zillah Chipudhla. Fr Joe had been a curate with me at the Cathedral in Harare, way back in mid nineteen seventies. He is six or seven years older than me, but had arrived at the Cathedral after I did and we became friends almost immediately, not least because we had a common enemy in our boss, the dean, who was a talented, but very insecure bully-boy.
Joe reminded me of how on his arrival the allowance granted to him for entertainment and suchlike had been considerably less than that granted to me, and how I had confronted the Dean and insisted on equality between us or I would refuse my own allowance and trumpet why. Equality was granted. This illustrates just how insidious and all pervasive racism was in the Rhodesia of 1976. It was good to be reminded of my part in that little triumph, because I am uncomfortably aware that racism was a part of my make up too. Simply to be resident in white Rhodesia was to be complicit in legalised racism, but in most of us it had insinuated its way into more than mere complicity.
When I eventually left the Cathedral to become rector of Gatooma, Joe remained behind, but later became priest in charge of the township adjacent to Gatooma, called Rimuka. Because my parish had been left a fifteenth part of a third share in a local gold mine, it was wealthy at that time and so we built his parish a new church and rectory. Joe and his wife and family came down and stayed with my family in our Rectory for several weeks before moving across to the new rectory, which we built before the church.
With Joe and Zillah Chipudhla
As evening fell we entered the church compound at Sakubva, passing between the present church, on our left, a plain, whitewashed, iron-roofed oblong, reminiscent of so many vibrant African churches, and on our right the foundations of a more ambitious new church, hexagonal in shape, its walls up to about waist level. This is being built in stages as money is slowly and arduously raised for it.
The simple rectory beyond was welcome to us and welcoming of us. We were greeted with joy and delight by Joe and Zillah and enjoyed an evening meal together with much animated talk and reminiscing. Joe is now in his early seventies, still in fine and fiery fettle, standing up to the problems of the persecuted Anglican Church with calm resolution and courage. Zillah, his wife, the kindest of people, has mobility problems to do with a shonky knee. This is a problem that would easily be operated upon and fixed here in Australia with the help of Medicare, but in Zimbabwe it would be exorbitantly expensive and so is far beyond Zillah's reach. She retains one of those kindly faces that simply to look at warms the heart. We were able to meet their lovely, graceful third and final child, Tracey, an afterthought. Their other two children, whom I had known as little ones in Zimbabwe are now married and live afar, Tendai, in Canada and Tsitsi elsewhere in Zimbabwe.
Zillah does not let her mobility difficulties deter her from hard work. She gets up at 4.00am every morning to make great big doughnuts which are sold to early risers on their way to work, a sort of breakfast on the hoof. The money so raised helps augment what by Australian standards is an extremely a meagre income.
Incompetent and evil government
The mess that the Mugabe government is making of Zimbabwe was immediately apparent to us in Sakubva. There is no running water in the township, the network of pumps, pipes and plumbing has not been maintained or upgraded for years and so has collapsed. An ancient and kindly parishioner brings great plastic flagons of water to the Rectory in his vehicle as needed, collected from elsewhere. The water is carefully decanted and stored in the bathroom and kitchen for sparing use as necessary. We had to learn once more to wash ourselves with the barest minimum of water and to flush the toilet only as necessary, with a carefully calculated, modest waterfall of bucketed water. Added to this huge inconvenience is the arbitrary loss of power. Usually every other day there is no electricity for as long as twenty four hours, the power is simply turned off, the lights go out and that is that. It is little wonder that no one we spoke to in Zimbabwe evinced any enthusiasm at all for Zanu PF, the ruling Mugabe led party. If there were to be a truly free election Mugabe would be history, I am certain. A free election, however, is unlikely and it seems that it is only old age that will do for the hideously uncaring, amoral and incompetent despot. (To be continued.....)
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (10)
Our three day stay in the modest Anglican Rectory of the high density suburb Sakubva, was pivotal to and a highlight of our Zimbabwean stay. This is because it took us out of the world of privilege and wealth, which is all that most tourists experience, and gave us an insight into the life of more ordinary and struggling Zimbabweans, though by no means those right at the bottom of the pile, the poorest of the poor.
Sakubva, which apparently contains nearly half of Mutare's population although occupying an area rather less than four square miles, is officially the poorest of Mutare's neighbourhoods. It contains thousands more of the unemployed than the employed and its economy is centred around a large outdoor food and flea market, but there are worse places to live, by all accounts. Five or six years ago Mugabe "cleaned up" high density areas like Sakubva, all over the country, destroying illegal shanties and dwelling places and dumping their inhabitants elsewhere, promising the earth and delivering little except earth.
We returned to the Sakubva Rectory of the Holy Name for a lovely meal by candlelight that was not ornamental but necessary, for the electricity had been off all day and would not come back until the next day.
A talented diaspora
The Shona people are extremely inventive and resourceful folk. They come up with all sorts of ways to keep body and soul together. Even in the poorest of neighbourhoods laughter is to be heard, some sort of a living is scratched, and tales of heroism and stoicism are told. Many of the best educated and able in the country have escaped Mugabe's disgraceful wrecking of the economy to form a worldwide diaspora of talented individuals, some of whom are to be found in Shepparton and indeed in the congregation here at St Augustine's. Today, at the 10.30am service we will be baptizing an Australian born and robust little Zimbabwean baby called, Blessing Nhanhanga. His father, Handson is one of the most capable and genial of nurses at the local hospital and his mother Lynette is about to undertake a Masters degree at Bendigo. Her first degree was taken at the University of Zimbabwe, where I too studied, many years before she did. Zimbabwe's loss is Australia's gain.
Wandering around Mutare
After breakfast on our first day, in already hot sunshine, we took the car into town to have a look around Mutare itself. I remembered it as a clean, crisp, proud Rhodesian city, with most of its vibrancy and pullulating life hidden away and suppressed in policed ‘townships' like Sakubva. It is now not at all clean or crisp, but to compensate it is certainly vibrant and lively with street vendors galore, most of them selling fruit and vegetables, but all sorts of other items as well and all of them only to eager to tout for custom. As always on this return to Zimbabwe I found myself caught between regrets for the cool efficiency and order of long-gone Rhodesia and joy at the resourceful, uncorked fizz and liveliness of black Africa. The touts for the street vendors were insistent but never rude, urgent but never threatening and always ready to dissolve into laughter at the merest suggestion of a joke. We eventually bought some reasonable peaches and a pocket of oranges that proved to be pretty nasty, possibly due to under-watering, the membranes of each segment needing to be pulled off to render them at all palatable. We ate most of them on hot drives, during which even the worst of oranges proved refreshing.
Diana and I enjoyed walking up the main street, simply looking into shop windows and enjoying the city's backdrop of crisply outlined mountains, and the many glorious jacarandas, in full, heavy bloom, their flagrant blue not so much vying with the sky's blue as brilliantly complementing it.
It was fascinated for me to be reminded of some of the shops and stores from my youth, for they still exist: OK Bazaars, Meikles, Kingstons, Edgars and so on. The mere sight of them rendered me nostalgic and even brought back to mind their advertising jingles of thirty or forty years ago on the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation's, television channel. Poor Diana had to suffer not a few snatches of these ancient and unimaginative ditties, wobbled rather than warbled from the cracked throstle of her husband. (As a matter of little interest I am sure, the word throstle is the English song thrush turdus philomelos, sadly very much in decline. It was always, however, my father's favoured word for throat. He never, ever suffered from a sore throat, it was always a sore throstle, hence my idiosyncratic use of the word.)
At the top of Mutare's main street Diana pointed out to me a colonial relic worthy of a photograph, a red pillar post box with E.R. inscribed upon it. Diana likes to give little presents that are useful to any folk we stay with, rather than things edible or flowers, and so we explored some of the stores looking for a decent frying pan for our hosts, having noticed that they used a bashed in specimen with no handle. Stock in the stores seemed sparse compared to Australia, though what there was was skilfully and artfully spaced to give the impression of more rather than less. In the supermarkets there would be whole shelves of a single variety of soap, for example. It appears that since the Zimbabwean currency was abandoned in favour of the American dollar and the advent of the uneasy and very far from equal coalition with Morgan Tsangirai's "Movement for Democratic Change", there has been some improvement in the flow of goods into the shops, and that shortages are far less than used to be the case.
Currency and gardens
The supermarkets were crowded with shoppers, and because the smallest unit of currency is the paper American dollar, any change given has to be either in the form of cheap lollies or in coins of South African currency, at a poor exchange rate. One and two dollar notes are nearly always disgusting from over use, filthy little dish cloths, sweaty finger sodden, they made me most appreciative of Australian plastic notes. There were no green bags on sale to help limit the use of plastic bags, which contribute so nastily to a widespread litter problem. However, typical Shona ingenuity was evident in the good number of folk outside most large supermarkets offering for sale flour, rice, or mealie-meal bags, washed and with handles sewn on to them for those with enough purchased goods to require sturdy support. We did eventually find a decent frying pan after a thorough search, and also purchased a simple lunch, a part of which was a monster Chelsea bun, eaten appreciatively in the city's park, wary of monkeys desirous of a shared lunch and watching a lovely Heuglin's robin forage for insects. Valiant attempts are being made to maintain the lawns and gardens of the park, but obvious under funding has rendered it a sad reflection of its former glory.
Among the many strange quirks of middle-class English folk is a fascination with railways. Diana is no exception and so she insisted on a visit to the railway station. We found it with little trouble, the streets nearby dreadfully potholed. There seemed very little activity, but we wandered around and established that there was a passenger train service to Harare only on alternate days, with sleeper compartments if desired. We also goggled at a huge steam crane, used for lifting and turning rolling stock. We were amused too by the "first class waiting room", for it was remarkably bare and containing a single lounge sweet, still wrapped in the plastic it was presumably delivered in. This reminded me of the old men of my mission-station youth, who on buying with their hard to come by cash a good felt hat for important occasions, would wear it with its plastic wrapping on to protect so valued and valuable a personal item from sun-fading or sweat-soiling. (To be continued...)
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (11)
While staying in Sakubva with the Chipudhlas, as if we were Jews, we made Saturday our Sunday because we were to be on the road heading for Great Zimbabwe on Sunday proper. The simple early Saturday morning service proved to be a highlight of our trip.
Fr Joe holds a Eucharist every Saturday morning to which come members of the Mothers Union, in their distinctive blue and white uniforms, to pray for their parish, church and country. Fr Joe apologised to us for there being fewer present than normal. Such apologies are a common failing of the clergy, because we cannot help ourselves from seeing poor numbers as a reflection of our own ineffectiveness. We need constantly to be reminded that we are called to feed the sheep not count them.
There were seventeen of us present on this particular Saturday, which is about eight times the number present at Saturday morning Eucharists in St Augustine's, Shepparton, a comment that I should have refrained from making, if indeed I am called to feed the sheep not count them.
The plain, concrete-floored, corrugated-iron roofed church, so well swept and loved, and the quiet reverence of the worshippers brought back many such churches and services from my mission-station youth. When Fr Joe walked in and said: "gatinamate" (let us pray), I could hear again my father's Derbyshire-flavoured Shona opening the worship in similar churches on hundreds of occasions. There are little phrases like "gatinamate" that are a part of who I am, evocative of so much that I hold dear. "O Lord, open thou our lips...." is another one, it began the old rite version of mattins and evensong that we said together as a family for years when I was a child. I have never been able fully to forgive the prosaic compilers of our new liturgies for discarding it. My regrets are more than just nostalgia, the phrase is euphonious, biblical and profoundly sound theologically. Fr Joe's "gatinamate" in the Church of the Holy Name Sakubva thrilled me, and called me to pray indeed.
The singing, as is always the case, was lovely, a tuneful, reverently sung little hymn, acapella except for percussion provided by a gentle beating of hands on books. It was a lovely little service that whisked me imagin-atively straight back to St Bernard's and St John's missions. The reverence of the women was in no way feigned either, the devotion of these African Anglicans is remarkable. They fast all day every Friday, all of Lent is a Ramadan-style fast and from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday nothing at all is eaten. The money slowly being raised to build the new church comes from almost empty purses and is sacrificially given. In our affluence we tend to give reluctantly, in their poverty they give joyfully. When we left Joe and Zillah's we were asked, with the utmost naturalness, to hold hands together and pray for each other. We felt very close there to what the Faith is all really all about.
On the way to Great Zimbabwe
Our next stop was to be Great Zimbabwe near Masvingo. This is the tourist spot in Zimbabwe to which I most wanted to introduce Diana. The country's game parks and natural wonders, such as the the Victoria Falls, she had seen on previous visits many years before, but not Great Zimbabwe, which used to be known as the Zimbabwe Ruins. This became a great symbol of African achievement and culture during the struggle for independence, hence the changing of the country's name to Zimbabwe from Rhodesia, the latter a name redolent of arrogant colonialism at its worst. During the colonial period an all pervasive racism gave rise to political interference in archaeological and historical interpretations of the site. So great an African architectural achievement was dis-comfiting to racists who maintained that the ruins could not possibly be African in origin and so Phoenicians and Arabs were put forward as likely builders and even King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba were linked to the site's origins! It was all racist nonsense. Archaeologists are now convinced and can demonstrate that the buildings are Bantu in origin and are the remains of a city that was once the capital of a Kingdom of Zimbabwe that existed from around 1100 to 1450 AD during the country's Late Iron Age. The monument apparently spanned an area of 1,784 acres and is likely to have housed as many as 18,000 people. It is thought to have been the site of a royal palace for the Zimbabwean monarch and the seat of his political power.
We made our way to Great Zimbabwe along a 300 kilometre road south and west through the low veld, across Birchenough Bridge which spans the great Save (Sabi) river. Completed in 1935 and1,080 feet in length, it was the third longest single-arch suspension bridge in the world at the time of its building. More interestingly its designer, Ralph Freeman, was also the structural designer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, so it is hardly surprising that the two bridges bear a close resemblance, although Birchenough is only two-thirds as long as the Australian bridge.
Baobabs and roadblocks
Our trip on a sunny day was most enjoyable, not least because the countryside on leaving Mutare is mountainous and impressive. Once we had dropped in altitude to the low veld, great Baobab trees, many of them in soft, green new leaf, began to raise their grotesquely crooked limbs above the level of the thorn and Mopane trees. The mighty trunks of nearly all of them were scarred from having their bark stripped to make fibre mats, many of which were displayed by vendors along the road. Apparently the bark-stripping does not harm the trees even if a tree is completely ring-barked. We stopped along side one particularly fine tree in new leaf to pluck a spray for Diana to study and draw. We also collected some of the large, velvety seed pods, poor specimens, already eaten out by insects. I look forward one day to seeing the Australian version of this tree to compare the two species.
We were stopped at police road blocks eight times, but always allowed through with courtesy and no fuss, though in the background there was often at least one man with an AK rifle. These frequent stops indicate just how tight and vigilant a control the government maintains of local movement.
Much of the country we passed through was tribal trust land, and cattle and goats often strayed on to the road to slow us down. The land was parched, dying for the rains to start, and the only wild life we saw was one small troop of baboons. As we approached Masvingo and our altitude gradually increased the baobabs disappeared and msasa trees returned, as too did the lovely granite kopjes. When we arrived in Masvingo, our second visit for the bus on our way to Harare had stopped there to give us a break, we bought some basic provisions in the OK Bazaar, yoghurt, bread, juice, peanut butter, jam and biscuits and we then headed off for Great Zimbabwe itself, about half an hour or so away.
In on the Lake
Our plan was to find somewhere pleasant to stay, either for one or two nights, before pressing on to my old school, Guinea Fowl, near Gweru and then travelling back east to Troutbeck in the highlands. We decided to look first at the hotel right on site, the Great Zimbabwe Hotel, a beautifully kept and lovely looking place, but at $136 American dollars a night with breakfast (this a higher price for non-Zimbabweans) we decided that it was not only too much for our tight budget but also objectionable for victimising us as tourists, so we pressed on to look at the self-catering Lodges close to the ruins, but a part of the hotel, a mere $60. We almost accepted one of these, but they did appear a little seedy and so we thought we would look elsewhere before making a final decision. We were glad we did because we found a lovely place, the oddly named, "In on the Lake Hotel", overlooking the great dam that used to be known as Lake Kyle but is now Lake Muturikwe. This cost us only $80 with a full breakfast and was well sited on a heavily Msasa-treed hill in beautiful gardens. Our room, separate from the hotel, had a splendid view of the lake and the hills beyond past a lovely euphorbia tree. The calls of birds, the livid green of well-watered lawns and the blossom-filled flower beds were balm to our souls. (To be continued)
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (12)
After living simply in a house with no water and as often as not without electricity as well (thanks to the incompetent and neglectful government of Mr Mugabe), and after a long, hot but interesting drive from Mutare to Masvingo through the baobab studded lowveld, it was good to unwind, and relax in the luxury of a beautifully sited, well-gardened and yet reasonable hotel. We showered with great enjoyment for the first time in several days, ate a simple meal of bread, peanut butter, jam and yoghurt, all bought in Masvingo and then, as a swift twilight descended, drove down the hill upon which the hotel is sited, and along the shoreline of the lovely Muturikwe Dam, formerly known as Lake Kyle.
Patron of irrigators
This is a substantial lake covering about ninety square kilometres. Its curved, concrete wall was built in 1960 to provide irrigation water to the vast sugar cane estates on the lowveld in southwestern Zimbabwe, around the town of Triangle. Last Sunday at the Eucharist, here in St Augustine's, we heard of the rivalry between the followers of Apollos and of Paul in the New Testament reading. If I remember rightly the Anglican Church at Triangle is dedicated to Apollos because St Paul, in that reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, says, I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth...... and so Apollos, was wittily assumed, to be the perfect patron saint of irrigators and therefore an ideal patron for an area in Zimbabwe which, like Shepparton, is heavily irrigated.
We crossed the impressive dam wall in the gloaming and parked overlooking the wall and lake. Distant lightning promised rain that was not to be delivered during our stay, it being rather too early for the rainy season's longed for advent. It was very tranquil and beautiful with the dark gorge on our left barely visible except for a great gushing arc of gleaming white water flowing from the dam, and ahead over the wall's top a glimmering silver and violet lake with flickering lightning playing over distant hills and clouds. We returned in the dark to enjoy a hot drink on the flower-scented hotel verandah and a peaceful read, before retiring for an early and comfortable night's sleep. We were intent on exploring Great Zimbabwe as soon as its gates opened in the morning, hoping to cheat the heat of later in the day.
The hill complex
We arrived at the entrance to Great Zimbabwe at the advertised opening time and had to wait about fifteen minutes in the company of a several workers who assured us that the one responsible for granting admission fees and issuing tickets was on his way, having been summoned by mobile phone. He turned up pedalling so furiously we forgave him his tardiness and having been granted entrance parked the car under a shady tree and headed towards the "Acropolis" or "Hill Complex", which is that part of the ruins I have always most enjoyed. It is sited on top of a typical granite rocked kopje and contains some hugely impressive dry stone walling. The walls include or accommodate the huge boulders of the kopje, making a wander around fascinating and convoluted, and the views are wonderful. Part of the fascination comes from awe at the sheer achievement of such complex and monumental dry stone walling on so complicated and precipitous a site, but also from the sense of mystery that permeates the whole of Great Zimbabwe, not least because it defies any easy or single interpretation of the obviously impressive culture that gave rise to it all.
We climbed up the "old route" to the Hill Complex in the relative cool of the early morning, the only visitors on site. At the summit we wandered all over the complex in a leisurely fashion, observing with interest the exfoliation of the great granite boulders at a thickness similar to the stones used in the building of the great walls and which therefore might well have helped determine the dimensions of the individual stones. After thoroughly absorbing the pleasingly eerie feel of the place we descended the hill by way of the "new route", which appeared older than the old one, and at the bottom encountered two young women on the way up, the only fellow tourists we encountered while there.
It seems that the stone buildings of Great Zimbabwe were begun in the 11th century and that building continued there for about three hundred years. They include some of the oldest and largest structures in Southern Africa. At its peak, estimates are that Great Zimbabwe had as many as 18,000 inhabitants. The ruins that survive are built entirely of stone covering an area of about 1,800 acres with a radius of 160 to 320 kilometres.
Easily the most important artifacts discovered from the ruins are eight "Zimbabwe Birds" carved from soapstone and originally seated on monoliths or steles the height of a person. Slots in a platform in the Eastern Enclosure of the Hill Complex are thought to have been fashioned to hold the monoliths with the Zimbabwe birds. These birds have become symbolic of Zimbabwe and stylised representations of them appear on the national flag, on the now abandoned coinage and here there and everywhere on tourist nick nacks and garments. There is a fascinating article about the return of part of one birds to Zimbabwe from Germany which contains a lot of more general information about the birds. The site address is a complicated one and so it would be easiest to google "Zimbabwe birds" and follow your nose if anyone is interested:
The Great Enclosure
Before making our way to the famous Great Enclosure, we wandered over to a reconstructed village built on the surface of a submerged granite dwala, and made up of little mud and wattle rondavels. It was attended by a trio of local folk who on our approach began to beat a drum while a female launched into a leggy dance, presumably to elicit tourist cash from us.
We then headed for the Great Enclosure over cropped grassland crisscrossed with tumbled-down dry stone walls and studded with impressively tall agaves. The walls of the "Great Enclosure" reach as high as 36 fee and extend approximately 820 feet, which make it the largest ancient structure south of the Sahara Desert. The great and younger "outer wall" shows signs of improving building skills, and the best of its stonework is superb. There is an older "inner wall" encircling a series of structures one of which is the famous "Conical Tower" its purpose never having been satisfactorily explained, to my knowledge, though predictably it has been labelled as phallic, which is unlikely.
There are apparently two theories as to the origin of the name Zimbabwe. The first holds that the word is derived from Dzimba-dza-mabwe, translated from the Karanga dialect of Shona meaning "large houses of stone" (dzimba = plural of imba, "house"; mabwe = plural of bwe, "stone"). The second theory suggests that Zimbabwe is a contracted form of dzimba-hwe which means "venerated houses" in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, and is usually applied to chiefs' houses or graves.
Having wandered happily over the main buildings and ruins we returned to our hotel to enjoy a large breakfast before heading off in the direction of Gweru to look over my old secondary school that still rejoices in the name “Guinea Fowl”. (To be continued)
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (13)
On leaving Great Zimbabwe we were heading from the sublime to the ridiculous. The purpose of our trip westward along the road to Bulawayo through the mining town of Mashava and then north to Gweru (Gwelo), passing through Shurugwi (Selukwe), being to visit Guinea Fowl, my old Secondary School.
Guinea Fowl Boys High School
My brother and I had been sent to Guinea Fowl in the middle of 1961 when we were asked to leave the home for missionaries’ children in Harare to which our parents had misguidedly sent us on leaving primary school. Our requested departure had far more to do with my brother’s insubordination than mine, for he had a rebellious streak and an insolent air that infuriated those in authority, something I more than half admired, but could never emulate.
Guinea Fowl was a boy’s boarding school (whites only of course, in those segregated days) set in the bush ten miles from Gweru. It was a converted Second World War, Royal Air Force training camp, so our dormitories were cream-painted, corrugated-iron walled barracks and there were the crumbling, weed-infested remnants of runways here and there in the surrounding bush, where we roamed attempting, sometimes successfully, to capture as pets wide-eyed and lovely little night-apes and lemurs. In a lot of ways it was a good school, although the last step before the borstal for city school rejects.
Sporting prowess was held in far, far higher esteem than mere academics, and if ever our First Rugby XV lost its Saturday match all of us, without exception, went into mourning. We were all dragooned into watching the Second and First XI rugby team matches and whenever it was felt that the players needed an a boost a prefect would head out to stand in front of the massed schoolboy audience to orchestrate the chanting of a nonsensical school war-cry of which we were expected to be very proud:
Audience: Wha (roared)
Audience: Wha (roared)
All: Unimunie cunimunie unimunie see! Wha wha whisky, who are we? Ekka bekka wha wha wha. We are, we are, Guinea Fowl. Who are we? Guinea Fowl! (roared)
I remained at Guinea Fowl from 1961 to the end of my school career in 1964, a school prefect for two years and head of house for one, a notable achievement given my lack of interest in sport. My brother left after very successfully completing his O-levels and went to Churchill School in Harare to do his A-levels, as our parents by then had moved to the city.
Public public schools
Most if not all white schools in Rhodesia tended to be run on English “public school” lines, and in Guinea Fowl’s case this was most certainly a government school attempting to silk-purse a sow’s ear, its pupils being largely fairly rough miners and farmers sons. Discipline was strict, fair, brutal and largely effective. The prefect system was adhered to with some fervour. I remember with particular amusement and some distaste how coarser prefects required their little first year “skivvies” to warm up a lavatory seat for them on cold winter’s mornings!
As well as the expected rugby and cricket fanaticism, all senior boys were required to participate in the Cadet Corps, with a teacher of Afrikaans, “Zonks” Badenhorst, yelling commands at us in a heavy accent as we shouldered our ancient, bayoneted 303 rifles and marched for the sake of marching in spit and polished boots, putties and blancoed belts.
The school’s pupils came from all over the place and were a robust and aggressively normal mob, a good percentage of them of Afrikaans stock, who imparted to me not only a generous selection of Afrikaans words and slang, but also a certain respect for their basic humanity and decency which belies the world’s contempt of Afrikaners as the architects of apartheid. Bullying was not too vile or rampant and only a very few children proved too sensitive to stand so uncompromisingly macho an environment and either ran away or had to be extricated.
The school’s greatest gift to me personally was to instil a life-long love of Scottish Country Dancing. There was an eccentric Scotsman on the staff with very white, nimble, dance-toned, well-calved legs and a handle-bar moustache who was brave enough to stare down the derision and contempt of his butch, sports-mad fellow teachers to instruct uncouth yobbos in the robust but intricate, uninhibited and yet courteous and controlled niceties of Scottish Country Dancing. We referred to this pastime as “Scottish Bop”. Part of his success was to due to participation in dancing providing one of the few opportunities to meet girls. This noble teacher was called David Couper, and I am still in correspondence with him. In his mid eighties he lives with his wife in a lovely, very ancient stone house near Knockando, the home of a highly regarded single malt whisky.
This return trip to Guinea Fowl from Masvingo took us through what was once a thriving asbestos mining area of Zimbabwe and not a few of my fellow pupils at Guinea Fowl came from the chrome and asbestos mines around here. It seems that there is still some asbestos being mined today, though the country is supposed to have banned its production. Certainly our host in Sakubva, when telling us proudly of the home he was building for his retirement, mentioned using asbestos in its construction.
Much of our journey from then on was through dry, over-grazed tribal trust land, until we came to the escarpment that took us up to Shirugwe, which was well wooded and much leafier, and then on to the highveld around Gweru. It was somewhere in the Shirugwe district that Ian Smith’s family farm was situated, to which he was allowed to retire until his death in 2007.
We found the school with little difficulty and crossed the railway that in days gone by, at the nearby Guinea Fowl siding, had disgorged a great crowd of blue-shirted and grey shorted boys who included two Neaums at the beginning of each term. Those trips by train were fairly wild with school boys vying for the attention of school girls destined for other schools in Gweru. As each carriage passed over the Hunyani river outside Harare, the hard green cushion-/pillows provided in each compartment could be seen sailing through the windows into the river.
The school today
There was a boom gate at the school’s entrance with a genial woman attendant who, on hearing that I was an old boy of the school, had no hesitation in waving us through. We were pleased to see that it is still called Guinea Fowl because the school had closed in 1978, due to falling attendance and a worsening civil war, only reopening in 1998, after having been used for military purposes of one sort or another. In 2001 it had been renamed Nelson Ndamere High School, but it seems that this name has not been adopted.
The old administration block was just as I remembered it, though much else appeared different except, to my delight, the uniform. Passing students were dressed exactly as we had been all those years ago in blue shirts, grey shorts and navy blue blazers adorned with the school badge sporting a red guinea fowl on top and the motto “Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re” (Gentle in manner, vigorous in deed), the first half of which was most definitely more aspirational for us than descriptive of us.
The students nowadays, as you would expect are all Zimbabwean and the two boys we stopped to chat to were delightful and polite. We parked the car and strolled around. Although very different now, with many of the old buildings gone, including the well remembered ex-barrack dormitories, the place nonetheless felt much the same to me. The tarred network of avenues between the buildings, well treed with huge jacarandas still in flower, felt little different and a few of the old corrugated iron buildings, though now put to different uses, mostly as residences, presumably for teachers, were still standing. The school is now apparently much larger than in my day, with over five hundred boarders and two hundred day scholars. It is also coeducational, as had been the original school, though not in my time.
As we wandered slowly back to the car someone pointed out the headmistress to us, returning from church, and so I chased after her to have a chat. As always with Shona people she was most friendly and appeared delighted to meet an old student of the school. What was most touching was her awareness of the school’s tradition and her desire to revive its reputation and prowess, not only in academics, which you would expect, but also in sport, not least rugby, a game that Africa has never really taken to heart. There was the familiar and justified Zimbabwean lament about lack of money for “infrastructure”, and she kept apologising for the state of the place, saying again and again how she wished to return it to its former glory. She seemed a most competent and lovely woman with her heart very much in the right place, but labouring under great difficulties as are nearly all Zimbabweans.
There is an “Old Fowlers” association very much alive and well in Australia, but like most “Old Boys” or “Old Girls” societies devoted largely to nostalgic partying, or so it seems to me, and I play no part in it. It would be good if they took on the new school as a project, funding worthwhile initiatives designed to preserve what was good in the old school and tradition, rather than deploring the present in favour of the past as is nostalgia’s wont. I am determined to contact the organisation and suggest this.
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (14)
We left Guinea Fowl School to make our way to Gweru, a short journey of about ten miles. It is a journey that I made by bus every school day for the two years during which I did my A levels. In the Gweru district we Guinea Fowl School sixth form students were required to combine with the students of other schools, those of us who opted for the "Arts" went to Chaplin and those who did "Sciences" to Thornhill, both these schools being in Gweru itself.
There were only three of us in my year who went to Chaplin from Guinea Fowl. Chaplin was coeducational and so there was an added and exciting new dimension to our schoolboy lives there, it was also our greatest rival at rugby, and so we swaggered and strutted around, distinctive in our blue and grey uniforms among a mass of khaki and green.
Gweru is the third largest city in Zimbabwe and capital of the Midlands Province. It is situated on the highveld at more or less the same altitude as Harare and so is relatively cool and healthy. It always seemed to me to be an uninteresting and unremarkable town, though in my school days crisp, clean and well maintained. On this visit it was dusty, littered and ill-maintained. There was no temptation to linger, and I didn't even bother to search out Chaplin School to see if the school library was still standing, in the which I chatted up, with some success, my first serious girl friend.
We were happy to leave the city, finding our way to the road that took us back east through Bvumu and Chivhu with little difficulty. Once clear of the town we stopped for a less than memorable lunch in a less than memorable spot as a few great and dusty rain drops fell on the windscreen, herald of a rainy season still reluctant to begin.
We had been informed that the only accommodation in or around Chivhu worth trying would be "Denise's Kitchen", a few miles south of the little town. We found the turn off through an impressive gateway and then, but a short way from the road, encountered a rather pleasing looking cluster of thatched lodges and fine looking barbecue facilities set in a compound of well mown lawn behind a high fence with peacocks strutting around. The main building was impressively thatched all the way to the ground with spaces cut for windows. Although very pleasing to the eye the buildings were nonetheless not exactly in mint condition, the thatch appearing here and there to be in need of repair or replacement. We discovered, once signed in, that this reflected the state of the place generally, it had peaked, was past its best and in decline, though we enjoyed our night's stopover there and the staff, entirely African, were thoroughly delightful and accommodating.
We selected our lodge, had a look at the menu, decided against it in favour of a good breakfast in the morning, and settled instead for a cup of tea to civilise the odd assortment of travelling food we had brought with us in the car. We ate and drank on the little verandah enjoying a perfect African sunset, a welcome cool breeze and the antics of the peacocks, peahens and two guineafowl. The door of our lodge had fallen on its hinges and was difficult to open, the fine, large bathroom and shower facilities were falling into early signs of decay, revealed most clearly in the toilet which only barely worked. In the morning I stood on the cable to the television with a bare foot and got the thrill of my life because the wire was bare and the current set my leg all a tingle. We left a note warning any future visitors of the danger and informed the management, though to what effect I know not. We slept well and long while pretending to watch a less than absorbing film on the single channel available on the television set. The lodge had no ceiling, as is usually the case in such buildings, instead we looked up to black rafters and neat thatch, the rafters studded with the little white blankets that the local spiders spin over their egg clusters. The cricket-trilled night was periodically shredded by eldritch shrieks from the peacocks, one of which was an albino and so splendidly ghostly looking in the dark.
In the morning we made our way across to the main lodge for a breakfast that was so ordinary we were glad we had not risked the dinner. Overdone steak, overdone egg, boerwors sausage, no marmalade, but all served with a naive charm that dispelled any desire to complain.
We left straight after breakfast with me burping faintly over the boerwors sausage, Diana had generously handed her great gristly link over to me, so my burps were excusable. Our destination was Troutbeck in the Eastern Highlands where Don and Biddy Railton had kindly treated us to four days in their time-share house overlooking the lovely Mare Dam. Our route was across the seemingly infrequently traversed road to Inyazura, then back to Rusape and up to Inyanga. The road was tarred all the way, though initially this was only a narrow, nine foot strip with eroded edges to test the car's suspension whenever the offside tires had to leave the tar to allow oncoming cars to pass. One pothole in particular shivered our timbers and rattled our teeth. After a while however the road widened and the going was good. There were no tolls either, presumably because traffic was too thin to allow it to be profitable. The further east we travelled the more interesting became the scenery, great rock kopjes almost achieving the status of mountains. Most of the land appeared to be tribal trust land and there were plenty of stray cattle and goats to watch out for. As usual there was lots of smoke haze and burnt land. Not too far from Inyazura we hit a boulder on the road with a great bang and a little while later realised that we were punctured. In hot sunshine we were relieved to discover that the spare wheel was in good condition and so changed wheels efficiently and effectively, finding that the punctured tyre was irreparably gashed and the wheel rim dented.
Stocking up in Rusape
We drove the remaining seventy or so miles to Rusape with extra care. There, with a bit of negotiating, we managed to buy and have fitted a new tire for $85 American, We also realised that we needed more cash, and so for the first time in Zimbabwe decided to attempt to access some. We visited Barclays Bank, secure behind its bright blue iron fence and with an armed guard in attendance. We approached its ATM with trepidation, the pessimist in me already decided that in so remote a part of a ramshackle nation any cash I might possess would be unutterably beyond reach or call. Modern technology punched my pessimist self in the face, presenting me promptly with a pleasing little wad of American dollars and also informing me in pounds sterling exactly how much money was left in my English account.
We needed to stock up with food for our four days in the time-share house at Troutbeck and so wandered about looking for a decent supermarket. We settled on the OK Bazaars which was not at all a rewarding experience, poorly stocked in both quality and variety. We decided that meat would not travel and it looked unappetising anyway, so we stocked up with basic stuff, soya mince (ugh), bread, spaghetti, eggs, baked beans, marge, drinking chocolate, garlic, dried milk, biscuits, carrots, kale and fruit juice. This was not the stuff that luxury holidays are made of! We also visited a street market where we bought two splendid avocados, each of them the size of Einstein's head, some bananas and tomatoes.
We then headed up to Inyanga and Troutbeck. The road was among the best remembered of all those revisited on this 2010 trip because Inyanga and Troutbeck had been frequent holiday destinations for the Neaum family throughout their many years in Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. It is a lovely and scenic drive and towards the end as the altitude increases, the great Msasa trees give way to miniatures of themselves, hardly six feet in height. We arrived at Troutbeck in daylight and were delighted with the house we had been given the use of. (To be continued)
RETURNING TO ZIMBABWE (15)
The time share house we were kindly given for four days at Troutbeck proved to be one of a dozen or more that are erected on land occupied by a fine hotel that overlooks two tranquil and lovely dams, well stocked with trout and surrounded by its own lovely golf course. The hotel was built forty five years ago and is now one of a chain of classy hotels and resorts that trade under the name “African Sun”. The open fire burning in the hotel’s foyer, even during this hottest time of they year, has apparently been burning for all the forty five years of the hotel’s existence. The name “Troutbeck”, which of course originates in England’s Lake District, represents colonial nostalgia for a nearly always fondly remembered homeland.
Because the Troutbeck district is in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands and so greater in altitude and much cooler even than the highveld upon which Harare is built, has always provided those who wilt in excessive heat with a favoured respite during hot summers. It is noted for its beautiful mountains, almost invariably crisp mornings, trout streams and lovely walks. Even in winter it provides invigorating, very frosty and often misty weather of the sort that nostalgic English folk remember with selective longing, gloriously autumnal rather than numbingly, drearily and interminably wintry.
When I lived in Zimbabwe we often holidayed there. Too poor for a hotel of course as the dependent son of a poorly paid mission priest, then an impoverished university student and finally a modestly paid priest myself. We either camped, or stayed in a “chalet” owned by a doctor friend of my father’s, a fine though slightly dilapidated, double storeyed building with a wood-shingled roof. It overlooked a rushing stream and its very own waterfall. Those Troutbeck holidays were very good.
My childhood was lardy rather than oily. Whenever we went on holiday we took a sack of potatoes and the chip pan full of solidified lard, and so ate lots and lots of chips, the best in the world. It is not only nostalgia that makes them so. Lard cooks at a temperature high enough to blister spuds in a mouth-watering fashion. I remember, incidentally, that my eccentric grandmother made delicious chips, against all odds, by simply putting raw, chipped potatoes onto the solid lard of the chip pan and allowing them slowly to sink as the fat melted. By all calculations they should have been soggily foul, but they were not.
Patrolled and protected
The Troutbeck Resort with its hotel and “time share” houses is situated in an unobtrusively policed, spacious and beautifully maintained grassy and treed compound, entered through a boom gate manned by uniformed ex-soldiers of an extremely amiable sort. One of them in particular amused us hugely with his meticulous, if exaggerated, marches from the little guardroom to the gate and back, smartly saluting us every time we drove through. The whole complex is beautifully maintained and managed, a sort of first world enclave in a third world country, one to which only the privileged and tourists would be able to afford access. We later discovered that the whole area was patrolled at night. So much so that we would sometimes be startled by a knock on the french door of our house well after dark. This was to inform us if we happened to have left outside even only a cup in the barbecue area, where earlier we had sat and dozed overlooking the beautiful lake and hills beyond.
The house had three bedrooms, one of them on a mezzanine floor above the kitchen. There was a large open fire place in the lounge which the servant allocated to the house offered to light for us, but we declined, for it seemed too warm for this. The servant looked after several houses as well as ours and would have attended to all our needs had we asked him to, but again we declined preferring to look after ourselves. I did however successfully enlist his help in procuring some salt, desperately needed to do justice to the two most delicious items on our menu, avocados and eggs.
Because of Zimbabwe’s frequent power outages, usually one full day in two, there was a two-ringed gas cooker provided as well as a sort of battery device that allowed the television and a few lights to work even when the power was cut. The views from the house were very lovely and for the first day we did little except lounge and relax, taking just a gentle walk around the first of the lakes.
Our first sortie by car was to Inyanga village where we hoped to find a decent supermarket or store from which to augment and render a little more exotic our store of foodstuffs, but to no avail. The village is now no longer in any sense at all a touristy place, and what open stores there were catered for the masses, offering little to attract or entice the likes of us, with our taste for good cheeses, imaginatively marinaded olives, smoked salmon and fillet steak. We wandered around happily enough though and then pressed on to the Rhodes Hotel, not quite so high in altitude as Troutbeck, but a lovely, well remembered and older hotel, once the homestead of Cecil Rhodes. His estate that went with the house is now a national park. We stopped for a brief look at the hotel, and then made our way to the dam where we parked the car and went for a walk in lovely countryside, disturbing a duiker and encountering a troop of baboons. We ate a snack on a little footbridge, not far from where we had spied the baboons and then scrambled through thick bush to a cluster of lodges and to the dam wall. There we lingered awhile, admiring the intricate handiwork (beakiwork or billiwork) of the masked weavers, whose nests are cosy masterpieces.
We later walked right round the two dams in front of the Troutbeck hotel, a beautiful walk during which we sighted a hammerkop, a largish brown bird with a crest that gives its head the appearance of a hammer, hence its Dutch name. They eat frogs and tadpoles and build huge, scruffy nests in which reside several generations. They are regarded with some awe by the Africans and I have always loved them.
The Honde Valley
For our big trip while at Inyanga we decided to avoid the usual touristy circuits and instead head down the Honde Valley. The one and only time I had travelled down there before was with bishop Paul Burrough at the height of the Civil War. I went to keep him company, taking supplies to our church people in the valley at a time when forcible removals from villages into fortified camps were being made, and when the threat of landmines, referred to by the locals as “sweet potatoes”, was very real.
To get there Diana and I travelled down a steep escarpment, dropping a thousand feet or more. The soil was red, rich and well cropped with bananas. There were also many little paddocks or patches ploughed and sown, waiting for rain. The population seemed more dense than in any other of the tribal trust lands we had traversed so far, presumably because the land is more fertile and the rainfall heavier than anywhere else in Zimbabwe. Once down on to the valley floor the mountains of the Eastern Highlands on our left loomed large and impressive, while ahead and to our right were less high but fascinatingly shaped mountains in Mocambique. We pressed on, careful to avoid the large number of pedestrians on the road, until we left behind the communal lands and arrived at the well manicured Aberfoyle tea estates which are beautifully green. Like low hedged mazes, they covered the hill sides for miles. Obviously the rain fall here is much higher than elsewhere and the little remnant patches of uncultivated or cleared land appeared to be densely fecund rain forest.
The tea plantations seemed well managed and entirely by local people, though we did not go right up to the headquarters of the Estate. At a processing plant we enquired as to whether we could look around, but were told by the gate manager that she would have to ask her superiors and that they had gone off to lunch. Eventually we turned round to make our way home, stopping at a bakery and supermarket in the middle of nowhere, hoping to buy a Chelsea bun, because on the way down we had stopped to photograph the mountains there and the scent from the bakery had watered our mouths. Unfortunately they were sold out, and so we ended up buying a packet of junk food to stave off the demons of hunger. On the way out of the store we were called back by a security official to have our invoice scrutinised, something that happens in Shepparton if you purchase anything at the garish emporium vulgarly named “Wow”.
Mr Mugabe’s cataracts
I gather from the latest “Spectator” that Robert Mugabe celebrated his 87th birthday last week, telling his guests that even if his body “may be spent”, his ideas are still those of a young man. “The night before, “ writes columnist Petroc Trelawny, “he’d flown back into Harare airport, having commandeered an Air Zimbabwe Boeing to take him to Singapore for a cataract operation. Given events further north, and Mugabe’s well-known friendship with Colonel Gaddafi, it is a brave time to leave home. Or perhaps, as one local blogger observed, the removal of his cataracts might enable him to see the truth for what it really is.” (To be continued)