An Honourable Response

An Honourable Response.

(7767) words.

At first, I struggled to understand what I was hearing as I pulled the covers back, got out of bed, and hurriedly padded across the tiled floor in my bare feet. The sound came from the veranda next to our main lounge, which had glass doors leading onto the lawn. The entire area was enclosed by a twenty-foot security fence. Then my senses kicked in and I heard sobbing.

My father was on his knees, his face buried in the golden fur of Sabre, his favourite Rhodesian Ridgeback. He had raised her from a puppy. She was now 14 years old, and clearly dead. Her body flopped against my father’s torso as his tears and sobs continued. I moved across to him, knelt, and put my arm around his shoulder. He was barefoot, dressed in pyjama bottoms with a white T-shirt, his long but sparse hair moving in the early morning Zimbabwean breeze.

‘Come on Dad,’ I said and knelt down alongside him. ‘Sabres had a good run and you’ve given her the best life possible.’ He looked up and there was anger on his face.

‘Sabre didn’t die of old age. She’s been poisoned. Look at her mouth and the froth. Those bastards.’

‘What are you talking about, Dad?’ He paused, then relaxed, allowing Sabre to rest against his knees. I spoke again. ‘What’s happened Dad? Who are you talking about?’

‘James, I’m sorry, I should have told you before, but when you were in Harare last week, I had some visitors. Truck turned up at the main gate. Two members of the ZANU-PF. Came to tell me they have selected our farm as being suitable for Veterans from the Zimbabwean army and their intention is to compulsory purchase it. However, in their purchasing arrangements, we decide to offer it up for free. Didn’t open the gates to the bastards. Told them to piss off and that this farm is not for sale, now or ever.’

‘What was their response, Dad?’

‘They said that I should remember Martin Old, and if that made little sense then think about Alan Dunn.’ My father paused ‘I know you’ve only just got back from UK, but both were murdered and their farms occupied some 2 years ago. It had gone quiet on that front, so I didn’t bother you or your brother with it. Clearly, things have changed. Where is David?’

‘He’s down in Joburg, sorting out his wedding with Clare. He’ll be back on Monday. But as for knowing what was going on, although away, I still kept in touch with national news. I read about it, and wondered if you’d want to talk, but you’ve always been a private man in such respects, Dad, so your silence didn’t worry me too much. But now it damn well does. This is serious.’

‘They’re not having it, James. Since I left the Army, I’ve spent over 40 years building this home, lifestyle and the business and I’m buggered if Mugabe’s thugs can just walk in here and take over.’

‘Dad, when they took out Martin Old, there was a whole convoy of them. Over 40. He didn’t stand a chance with the police waving them through. They were so confident they even warned his workforce not to come in that morning. Head Boy was with him and tried to intervene, but they took him out as well.’

‘Army veterans? They’re just gangsters in my book. Look what they’ve done to Sabre. Clearly been up to the fence during the night, knew it was electrified, and pushed poisoned meat or something through the mesh. Wouldn’t have dared come in. Sabre would have torn them apart.’

‘Dad, like you, I think they’re scumbags and cowards, but this is just a warning. I’m going to phone David. He may have some ideas. Got a couple of contacts in the Government. One certainly was at Uni with him, and they became friends. Not all Zimbabweans are fans of Mugabe. In the meantime, why don’t you get a place ready for Sabre? Heat’s building up and it won’t be too pleasant soon.’ My father nodded.

‘OK, but I’ve got a job to do, that is more of a priority at the moment.’


‘Get the bloody gun cabinet opened and ready for business. I told the first lot what to do. If it happens again, there’ll be no polite conversations. Let me speak to David when you get through to him.’

David’s response was predictable. ‘I’ll be on the first flight out of Joburg. I’ll let you know when. Can you meet me? OK. Right, in the meantime, I’ll make some calls. This is serious, James, and we need to make sure Dad understands fully what the options are, and in effect, how limited they really are. It sounds as though he’s already preparing himself for Custer’s Last Stand. A good idea in principle, but not in terms of what is happening in Zimbabwe at the moment. This has been brewing for a long time, and we need to tread carefully.’

‘David, if Dad’s got anything to do with it, the only treading will be on carefully planted land-mines. When I saw him last, he was emptying the gun cabinet, checking what we had and what we might need. He’s clearly up for a fight, although I’m not sure he really understands the increasing opposition and what they are capable of, especially with Mugabe seeking re-election and stoking the fires of anti-Colonialism.’

‘Have the workforce showed where they stand, James,’

‘Not sure. We’re lucky in a way that our unwanted visitors came on a Sunday, gives us a bit of time to talk to Tawanda and his team.’

‘How many are living on site?’

‘At the last count, it was six. The rest come from the nearest village each day, but they’re all workers that have grown up with us since we were kids, so would trust them implicitly, David.

‘Me too, James, but history is littered with surprises, so we need to be cautious. OK, I’ll be in touch once I know my ETA at Harare.’

When I walked back into the fenced compound, at the bottom end of the garden, my father was up to his knees in a large trench, with a mound of fresh soil constantly being added to as his shovel dug and lifted. Then I realised that next to the mound, was the grave of my mother, who had died some 5 years ago.

‘What are you doing, Dad? Why are you digging so close to Mum’s grave?’ He laughed.

‘Not as close as you think. Besides, she’ll appreciate having Sabre next to her. Give her company. Might stop her wandering.’


‘Yeah. Haven’t mentioned it before. I often wake up at night and there she is, at the end of the bed, staring down at me. Not saying anything. Just looking, nodding, then leaving as quietly as she came. If she brings Sabre with her next time, then I’ll know it’s for real and not just a dream. Mind you, it’s a pleasant dream. Not frightening at all. So that’s why Sabre is going where he is. Make sense?’

‘I guess so. But how did you get on with the gun cabinet, Dad?

‘Alright, but hadn’t realised how much we’d let it run down. Was a time when we could have equipped a small army. Well, a squad at least. Need to top it up fairly quickly, but I’ll leave that to David. I’ll also want some ‘extras’. Things you might normally find in a farm setting but with different uses.’

‘Such as?’

‘Fertiliser, James. Comes in handy.’

‘People can make bombs with that stuff, Dad.’

‘Really? Didn’t know that, I was thinking of spreading it about a bit. Mind you, James, your idea has lots of merit. Let me think about it.’

‘As if you hadn’t already done so, eh, Dad?’

‘Anyway, when’s David coming back?’

‘Due into Harare about 10 tonight. I’ll meet him.

The Airbus from Joburg was on time, and within half an hour, David emerged from the transit area and we shook hands. He was two years older than me, and worked in global markets and exporting, dealing with the sort of produce we grew on our farm, tobacco, maize, sugarcane and wheat. Prior to Mugabe being elected, he had served in the armed forces for 2 years, on return from university. He spent quite a lot of time on the road, visiting production centres and major farms, attending product auctions and ensuring a smooth flow of exports. It was during one of his many flights that he met Clare, a South African born air hostess, living in Joburg.

‘How’s Dad?’

‘OK at the moment, David. It’s always been difficult to read him, but he’s very calm, and is clearly making plans.’

‘He hinted at that when I spoke to him a while ago, just after you rang and gave me a sitrep.’

‘Let’s get out of the airport and then we can talk properly.’

‘You’re not frightened of eavesdroppers, are you, James? Didn’t think we had sunk that low yet.’

‘Not at all, but I know that all movements in and out of Zimbabwe are increasingly being monitored, not so much from a white perspective, but certainly ethnic groups are closely watched. Think Mugabe is trying to deter removal of wealth since his election. Who knows? Anyway, the jeep is in the nearest car park, so let’s head home.’

‘For as long as home remains so,’ said David, ‘but I’ve picked up some nasty vibes from my contacts in Government.’

The return to our farm took around 3 hours, and as we approached the compound fence, we could see secluded lighting from the bungalow. All curtains looked drawn, although there were glimpses of the interior and rifles stood against the windows. After a brief pause, Dad emerged from the bungalow. His appearance had significantly changed. His hair, now roughly cut, was displayed beneath a green beret, and he was wearing a pair of khaki combat shorts and khaki T-shirt. Desert boots completed his attire as he ambled towards the gate carrying a Remington 870 Magpul shotgun, the Holy Grail of such weapons, and one that carried 6 shells. It hadn’t been used in anger, since he bought it, nearly 10 years.

Unlocking the gate and pulling it ajar allowed me to enter the driveway in the jeep. As David got out of the front seat, Dad moved across to him, and after moving the shotgun over his shoulder with the muzzle pointing downwards, embraced him. There was a visible moistness about his eyes as he finally stepped back.

‘Wow. The three of us what a team,’ he said. ‘Come on in, I’ve just opened a bottle of Jameson’s, been gagging for a drink all night but wanted to wait for you both.’

Dad secured the security fence, then walked into the lounge. Normally he would be quite insistent on family members and guests taking off their footwear so as not to spoil the highly polished redwood floor, the pride and joy of Patience, our Zimbabwean housekeeper. But not tonight.

Patience was the wife of Tawanda, the team leader of the native workforce, and held in high esteem by all of us. When she married Tawanda over 10 years ago, my mother was still alive and insisted they have their reception on the lawn and surrounds of the bungalow. Such an act of generosity was valued by the workforce, and their music, dancing and celebrations on the day had been a delight for us all, but especially Mum, who reminded us regularly of her wedding day in London. It was a Registry Office affair, with a couple of drinks in the local pub. Their black and white photographs showed my father still in the dress uniform of the Royal Marines.

Having carefully placed his shotgun close to the gun cabinet, Dad poured out very generous measures of his favourite Irish whisky and sat down in his favourite chair alongside the log-burning fireplace. He leant forward and with a poker gave the logs a quick poke, which allowed sparks to rise upwards into the chimney area.

‘How did you get on, David? James said you were contacting some people you knew in Government?’ David paused, drank from his glass and then spoke.

‘Not looking good, Dad. There’s been a definite shift in attitude, even within the people I might remotely call acquaintances, let alone friends. The resistance amongst existing white farmers has been far sterner than Mugabe and his minions thought possible. My contact said they genuinely thought that one or two ‘unfortunate’ incidents might lead to a wholesale departure by the white farmers. Hasn’t happened. There was another attack last week, some 70 miles away. The owner of the farm, Marina Joubert, widowed for some 15 years, but still making a damn good job of it, shot in the back, when she refused to talk to two ZANU-PF officials who called on her.’ My father interrupted.

‘David, haven’t briefed you yet, but told James about the two bastards who turned up here last week. Gave them short shrift, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same two weren’t responsible. Evil pair of sods and got very nervous when I called Sabre over. Come to think of it, that could have been them with the poisoned meat. What else did you find out?’

‘Well, clearly the Government is getting more bold, even openly aggressive towards any opposition, both black and white. That Opposition leader is still recovering in hospital from the machete attack when he got out of his car. Mugabe condemns it, of course, especially when the Western media are around, but it’s a mixed message. Openly and publicly, he’s calling upon long established White farmers like us, to negotiate the return of the lands and farms, which were in his view stolen from the Zimbabwean people. He emphasises a negotiated return with inferences that such assets will be transferred at market values, and over an extended period. In reality, with elections looming in 12 months, his foot is clearly foot down on the accelerator, as well as the market value of our properties.’ Dad emptied his glass in one swallow.

‘They’re not just walking in here, chucking me and my two sons out, taking the keys and then marching in their Veterans’ army to take over. They can barely march in unison, let alone run such a massive undergoing. Some farmers have even offered to work alongside the Veterans for a couple of years, showing them how the farms should work, but that’s rejected as reinforcing the colonial stranglehold.’ I hesitated for a moment.

‘Dad, we have to be realistic. Even before I was born, Macmillan had spoken of the ‘Wind of Change’ blowing through Africa. When you compare events in other African countries, we are light miles behind many of them. I hate to say it Dad, and I know you intended it as our inheritance, but I think we’ve had it. What we have today is for today only and our days and the ownership of this home and business is under real, and I believe, inevitable, threat.’

‘James, I never thought I would ever hear you say that in the way you did. You’ve never been one to give up and roll over, and as for scraps, I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to intervene, and not just in conflicts with your brother.’ David spoke quietly.

‘Trouble is, Dad, what James has just said is an accurate reflection of what is coming down the line, not just for us, but for every white farmer and their families in Zimbabwe. I was stretching my friendships with my contacts in Government, and they were clearly nervous about talking to me, but the message was clear.’

‘What message? What message David? Come on, we’re all grown men. What is clear?’

‘There is no prescribed timescale, nor any way to seek an exemption. It’s clear they have already identified our farm. The two scouts you met will report back on our level of resistance. I don’t want any of us to become another statistic like Martin, or Mariana, or those three farmers intercepted in their truck some 62 miles away from Harare. Bandits stole their truck, put them in the back, then offloaded their cargo at over 60mph. Really horrible injuries. I don’t want that for us.’ Dad was quiet for several moments.

‘So, what do we do? Invite them in. Put up some bunting and say, ‘welcome one and all, help yourself to our 40 years of hard work, investment and commitment to our workforce?’ Don’t think so. Do you?’ His question lingered. ‘Do you? James, David, I’m talking to both of you. Is that it? Pack up and resign?’ We nodded in unison.

‘Sad as it is, Dad, I don’t see any other option,’ said David. ‘We could try to sell the farm quickly and quietly before the ZANU-PF visit becomes common knowledge. However, no white farmer in his right mind would buy it in the current climate. Major corporations wouldn’t be interested unless they could insist on experienced and primarily European management being imported on site. African purchasers would be nervous, particularly in view of Mugabe’s stated intent to return all such farms and land to public ownership under the management of Veterans. I think we have to cut and run.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ Dad reached across to the Jamieson bottle and refilled his glass. He nodded at us both, and David held out his own glass, whilst I declined a top up.

‘The harvests are due in around 6 weeks. Let’s not bother about optimizing profits. Let’s harvest as soon as possible, clear the farms, get it to the auction rooms and markets, take what we make from the sale, and disappear. I can minimise any PR about the auction and have the money raised, paid straight into a South African bank. With our other investments, and having cleared out all our accounts, we would have enough to live on for the immediate future. My job is secure at the moment, unless they decide African employees must also absorb European held jobs. There are masses of work for all of us in South Africa, and that includes farm management. Clare’s father has important contacts and would help us without hesitation. Mandela and his government are adopting a quite different approach, more realistic and a proper partnership between black and white residents. That’s our options from my perspective.’ Dad turned to me.


‘I promise you, Dad, that David and I have only had a brief conversation about this on our way back from the airport, and I agree with the major thrust of his argument. Having worked on the farm my whole life, it will be a massive wrench, but I have learnt major skills and expertise from you that if, as David says, I end up in farming in a different country, so be it.’

‘But you won’t own it, neither will it be your heritage like this place is. Eh?’

‘Dad, I rather be alive and watch you in your dotage somewhere. Who knows, you may meet someone? You’re still young, and according to reports I’ve had from the golf club dinner dance, your movements are a sight to be seen.’ He looked at me for a while and then smiled.

‘Depends on the Jameson consumption. Speaking of which, who wants a refresher?’ There appeared to be a lightness in his mood, almost as if he’d been relieved at our response. Maybe, deep down, he didn’t really fancy the gung-ho approach he’d formerly adopted. Whatever it was, we finished the bottle, and then having had one last security check, and with the Remington 870 shotgun firmly tucked under Dad’s arm, we all went to bed.

It was mid-morning before I surfaced, and I reflected on the lack of urgency which usually underpinned our lifestyle. Normally, I would have been up and around by 7 a.m. organising the day’s work, liaising with Tawanda, ordering supplies, and oiling the wheels of our well-run and profitable farm. Today, I realised that already I’d distanced myself emotionally from our current lifestyle, and felt sadness. The unknown hadn’t arrived and yet already I felt unsettled.

Dad was walking across the lawn and looking at the last resting place for Sabre. Tawanda was with him, and they appeared in deep conversation. As I approached them, Tawanda gave me a friendly wave, although his face appeared rather strained.

‘Mr James. How are you sir? Have you had a restful sleep? I have set the team to work on increasing the capacity of the drying rooms. Tobacco is nearly ready to crop.’ Tawanda was in his late 50s, his hair was a shock of grey, and there were significant strands visible in his beard. He’d been part of my life for the last 20 years, and I loved and valued him dearly.’

‘Tawanda, I apologise for my lateness. We had a late night. I had to collect David from the airport, and then father insisted on opening a bottle of Jameson’s. The outcome is a slightly hungover person. However, I am in total agreement with what you have set in place.’ Dad intervened.

‘James, I want to brief Tawanda on certain key issues that have just arisen. I also want to tour the farm, so we’ll take the jeep, and then we can talk on the way. Besides, Tawanda has told me he has just finished making some of his special beer, so once we finish, I’ll go back to his home with him for a while. Tell Patience I won’t be back for lunch. I expect Tawanda can find us something in his kitchen.’

‘Definitely Boss.’ Tawanda replied. ‘It has been a long time since you last tried my beer.’

Dad laughed, ‘Tawanda, the memory is as alive with me today as when I last visited, only this time, I shall be more careful when accepting your hospitality. Right, let’s get the jeep keys and be off.’

As they exited the compound, I saw Dad was carrying a leather rifle case and guessed at the whereabouts of the Remington 870. I found David sitting in the kitchen, eating some eggs and bacon, whilst Patience busied herself preparing food for the later meals. As I told her about Dad’s absence at lunch, I realised she was quite fretful and anxious. Reaching across to her, I tapped her on the shoulder and nodded towards the lounge. She followed me, looking back at David, who by now was on his mobile phone. He nodded as we left the room.

Patience sat down on the sofa and nervously rubbed her hands together, whilst looking down at the floor.

‘What is it, Patience? What is worrying you? Tell me.’ Whilst she had been the housekeeper since she married Tawanda, my relationship with her had deepened when my mother died. She had discretely and sensitively kept a special eye on me, and sensed when my grieving was becoming too much. She would make an excuse to walk into the garden and invite me to accompany her. ‘Mr James, I have found a new plant in the border, what is it, will you help me?’ was a familiar approach.

Patience looked up, and I could see the beginnings of a tear in her eye. I reached across and held her hand. ‘Come on.’

‘Mr James, Tawanda and I have been hearing some horrible rumours. We went to a friend’s funeral yesterday and met many people from other villages. Mugabe is making lots of speeches about people like you, and some things he is saying are very worrying. Some people from other villages were getting very excited and said bad things, but I told them the truth.’ She paused. ‘Mr James, Tawanda and I have the greatest respect for you and your family. Your mother was my best friend, and helped me a lot. People still talk about our wedding at your home. Now though, we hear bad things, evil things, and that is why I am worried.’

‘Patience, thank you for telling me of your troubles. My father is driving around the farm with Tawanda and giving him the latest news as we know it. Some things may be outside of our control. The Government is making it very difficult for white farmers, even those like us who have been working here for over 40 years. We have always valued the hard work and friendship of yourself and Tawanda, as well as the other workforce. Whatever happens, we will do our very best to make sure you are looked after.’

‘Will you lose the farm, Mr James? Others say you will. They say Mugabe will take it from you and if you object, you may be killed!’ As she finished talking, a trickle of tears ran down her cheek. She withdrew her hand from mine, and pulling a handkerchief from her apron pocket, and wiped her eyes. ‘What will happen to us, Mr James? What about us? This is our home as well. It is not just about finding a new job, is it? What about us?

‘My lovely Patience, there is nothing I want more in the world than for you to live out your lives, in the way you choose. My dreams were always about the future, and my taking over from my father, once he retired, and that included both you and Tawanda. I would always see you on the farm, even when you could no longer work, if that is what you wanted to do. Today, at this very moment, I cannot say anything about what will happen in the future, but rest assured, as soon as we know what is going on, we will tell you, and whatever happens we will do our best by you both. Promise.’

Patience stood up, and blew her nose again. ‘Need to get on with lunch,’ she said. ‘I trust you, Mr James and your father and Mr David. I trust you with my life.’ As she left the room, I felt an involuntary surge of emotion, followed by a determination. I knew what my focus had to be.

As Patience left the lounge, David came in. He was still talking on his mobile phone so I sat with him, privy only to his comments and responses to whoever he was talking to. On one occasion, I saw he was becoming somewhat agitated. His face became flushed, and he gripped the phone more tightly. After a further brief exchange, he flipped the phone closed and looked at me.

‘That was my contact in the Ministry of Justice, or non-Justice dependent on which side of the fence you are on. Really quite anxious about talking to me, although we go back some 10 years. He thinks phones are being bugged, and the interior military service are becoming more strident. I asked him straight about our potential to sit this one out, and he strongly urged against it. Now that we’ve had our initial visit from ZANU-PF, we are in the system, and whilst he couldn’t indicate ‘when’, it is no longer a question of ‘if’. I sounded him out about one option I’ve been thinking of, but he was non-committal, which I think means forget it.’

‘Sorry David, you’ve lost me. The Jameson effect from last night has worn off. We were close to determining a couple of options, so what are you thinking about?’

‘I’m conscious of the tremendous loyalty, hard work and commitment of Tawanda and Patience, together with the workforce, and in particular the immediate family of Tawanda. Last we talked about perhaps trying to sell the farm quickly and discretely, before the ZANU-PF approach becomes public knowledge.’

‘But we agreed that was a non-starter. No European would touch it, Africans with sufficient funds would be very nervous, and major corporations would also back off. What are you thinking of?’

‘I’ve not talked this through with Dad yet, but I can see clearly how much this is affecting both of you, as well as Tawanda and Patience. She was in tears when she came out of the lounge. What did you talk about, James?’

‘A very limited future. They’ve already picked up on the vibes about this farm being requisitioned. Locals in other villages are talking openly about it. Some of them will definitely support a takeover, enforced or otherwise. I explained that whatever the outcome, we as a family will do our very best for them.’

‘That ties in with my thoughts.’ David drew a deep breath. ‘Let’s try to donate, handover, call it what you will. Let’s get as much of the farm into the hands of Tawanda, his family and his team as quickly as possible. It might have to be a sale for a nominal $1 to make it legal. If not, let’s make some immediate and discrete legal enquiries about transferring ownership to them. We still sell off all the current tobacco, maize, sugar and wheat by auction, and get the best possible deal for it, so we have some additional working capital. The bungalow grounds and the farm itself would become Tawanda’s. His family and team would inherit the lot and I would suggest form a worker co-operative. So, they get all the outbuildings, equipment, tractors, everything associated with running the farm. It’s theirs to look after, manage and develop.’

‘What about the ZANU-PF?’ I could feel an excitement about David’s plans and yet it was tempered by the likely reaction from the Veteran’s Army. David’s reaction was immediate.

‘We’ve been missing the most obvious. Don’t forget that before he came to work for us, Tawanda was a member of the Zimbabwean army. They may not consider him a veteran in their terms, but not only has Tawanda served the Zimbabwean cause, so have several current workforce. That would give them a powerful argument if the authorities in future tried to seize the farm, from Zimbabwean owners, and former members of their armed forces.’

‘David, that’s a brilliant idea. We need to talk to Dad as soon as possible. He’s out with Tawanda for the day, touring the estate, and indulging in some beer tasting in Tawanda’s home, so let’s presume that such discussion won’t happen till tomorrow. What about the discrete legal advice we need? Any contacts?’ David paused for a moment, then flipped open his mobile phone, activated it and then spoke.

‘Jonathan, old chap? Yes, it’s David. I know it’s been a bloody long time. Just wanted to invite you to my wedding. Clare and I are getting hitched soon.’ He paused. ‘We’ll be really chuffed to see you. Invites are on the way. Now, having got the good stuff out of the way, I need some advice. It has to be discrete, reliable, and competent. Know anyone? What you? Oh, that would be terrific. I’ll send you an email immediately with the problem and the advice we seek. Keep your fees low, and you might get a seat on the top table, instead of the tent on the lawn. On its way mate. Caio.’ He closed his phone and winked. ‘Right, where’s the laptop?’

It was getting dark when there was the sound of a hoot from Dad’s jeep, and I hurried to open the enclosure gate. He lurched to a halt on the driveway, the front wheels nestling against the borders of the lawn. There was a long pause, then the driver’s door swung open. Dad swung himself slowly down onto the gravelled surface before reaching into the vehicle and withdrawing the leather rifle case.

He walked slowly towards the veranda, then appeared to have problems in negotiating the steps which were inset into the façade. David emerged from the bungalow, saw what was going on, and reached back into the building. Suddenly, there was a cascade of lighting across the enclosure which silhouetted Dad’s figure next to the steps. Looking down, he waited for a moment, and then in a series of quick steps scampered up onto the veranda decking, clutching the leather rifle case to his chest. He paused for a moment.

‘Going to bed. Speak to you in the morning. Bloody beer!’ with that, Dad lurched across the veranda, passing David, who stood aside, simulating a bullfighter pose, as his father went past him.

‘How the mighty are fallen.’ I said. David burst into laughter, then adopting an Aussie accent, replied ‘Too bloody true mate. Sod the Amber Nectar! Anyway, James, time for a final security check and then we’ll follow Dad to his designated place.’

Dad was clearly hungover when he emerged from his bedroom the next morning. He was still wearing the camouflaged kit and looked as if he’d slept in it. The Remington 870 trailed behind him in its leather case, and had become a fixture of Dad’s day-to-day lifestyle.

He slouched into the kitchen, nodded at Patience who was busying herself at the range and having poured himself a coffee from the percolator, sat down, shook his head as though to clear it and sipped the coffee. Patience looked back at him from the sink area, then shook her own head in reprimand. Dad looked up sheepishly.

‘Patience, the reason I feel like this at the moment is because of your husband Tawanda and his awful native beer.’

‘No one makes you drink it Mr Boss. My husband not fit to be a husband this morning, either. He blames you. You blame him. Both of you behave like children. Not good.’

‘Apologies Patience, it won’t happen again.’

‘You said that last time, Mr Boss, and the time before. My Tawanda is easily led and you know that.’

‘He doesn’t just work here, Patience. He’s a friend. One of my best friends, in fact. Trust him with my life. We had a lot to talk about. Important stuff.’

Patience looked across the kitchen at me before responding. ‘Mr James, give me some idea of problems ahead, when we talked yesterday. I told him, and I tell you now, I trust you to do the right thing, not just for us, but for your sons and your own future.’ Dad just nodded, then turning to me said,
‘We need to meet and agree on what we’re doing next. Last night when I got home, and despite the beer, I sensed you were both excited about something. Find David, let’s meet out on the veranda. Ask Patience to bring some fresh coffee, and lots of it. My head is feeling worse by the minute, ask her to bring me some Paracetamol as well.’

Within minutes of David outlining his proposal, I could see Dad responding positively. When David spoke of the previous military service of Tawanda and some of the workforce, Dad slapped his thighs with delight.

‘What an angle. That’ll screw the Veteran’s lot, but I can see at once a potential snag.’ He looked at us both before continuing. ‘Whilst Tawanda’s service was legit and recorded, there is a problem.’ After a brief pause. ‘His army was the Army of Rhodesia. His officers were in the main white European, and part of the conflict he saw was regarding some of today’s Veterans, and Mugabe’s key henchmen. Is Tawanda a veteran? Definitely. But in what context might be challengeable. However, you’ve come up with a brilliant idea David. Both of you, really. Well done. Now what about the legal advice?’ David responded.

‘My contact responded this morning. He thinks the idea could work, and we should pursue it as a matter of urgency. Now Dad, on the basis we are all in agreement, we need an immediate action plan for all the developing crops, we also need to make some immediate moves in terms of existing Zimbabwean banks, and shift as much money as possible to South Africa. Clearly, we need to engage Tawanda and his team regarding forming a Worker Co-Operative.’

‘How does that work?’ asked Dad, laughing. ‘Last time I was engaged in a Co-Operative it was back in the UK; there was a shop in most high streets!’ I’d researched the process, so replied.

‘In principle, all interested parties in such a venture, all staff and management that is, have a number of shares in the profits, dependent on what they do, how much time they spend, what level of authority they have. Clearly Tawanda, as the leader, would have more shares than say a farm labourer, but it’s a relatively straightforward process once it’s established. Tawanda and his team take over the management of the farm in all respects, it’s their business, and they share any profits, according to their number of shares.’ Dad reacted.

‘Right, I’ll ask Tawanda and a couple of his team to come up to the house after lunch. James, you can explain what you’ve just said. David, can you draw up a crop schedule and identify the labour we need? I want to get that finished in, say, 2-3 weeks. Everything in terms of saleable produce, off to the auction. If we need extra labour, I’ll allow Tawanda to get them in. He can decide on who he employs. After all, that is his job in the future. Can expect another visit from our ZANU-PF friends soon. Don’t think they’ll come mob-handed just yet, but will clearly keep the pressure on.’

‘Dad, there’s one very personal issue we haven’t covered.’

‘James, what are you talking about?’

‘What about Mum and Sabre? Are we simply going to walk away? Patience and Tawanda would care for their graves forever, but just in case this doesn’t work out the way we’ve planned it, what then?’ For a moment there was a complete silence, with the three of us all looking down, then Dad intervened.

‘That’s one for me to sort out. I have thought about it, and until this all blew up, reckoned on my being laid to rest next to Mum, courtesy of Sabre, of course! Mum had a favourite spot down by the river, just below the treeline. Used to go down there for hours and paint. It’s on our land, it’s discrete, and if we keep the markings to a minimum, she’ll be at rest and not disturbed. Are you OK with that?’ We both nodded. ‘Right, that’s it then. I’ll leave that task till the end, and then we’ll do it as a family and invite Patience and Tawanda. Let’s crack on with what we can do now. I’ll contact Tawanda.’

Shortly after lunch, the jeep, which was used by the workforce, swung onto the drive. Tawanda had three workers with him, Emmanuel, Chido and Bongani. Bongani was married to Chido’s sister and they had invited me to their wedding, although the memories of the event were rather limited, because of the flow and amount of native beer. We sat in a circle on the veranda, whilst Patience fussed around bringing jugs of iced water and fresh melon to the group. She hovered for several moments before Dad turned to Tawanda.

‘I’d like Patience to join us. She has a very sensitive and observant manner and I’m sure will think of things we might miss.’ Tawanda chuckled, then beckoned Patience from the doorway of the bungalow.

‘You got me off the hook, Boss. She’s been pestering me ever since we arrived, wanting to know what’s going on. Now she can do her own listening.’

‘We deal with harvesting all available crops first and marketing them’. David had worked out, that with full worker attendance, and some working extra hours, the job could be completed within the prescribed timeframe. Patience raised her hand.

‘What will we do if all the crops are sent to the auction? Do we starve? She said mockingly.

‘Of course not, Patience. Identify a storage area within the barns, and we will reserve enough food for you all for at least a year. Let me know what you want and how much, and I will ensure you will get the pick of the crops. You will be left with all the freezers, and remember, once we’ve left, you will grow your own food and other produce in the future.’.

It was then the reality set in. Patience began to cry and I could see that other people in the group were also becoming emotional. Dad, reached across and put his arm around her shoulders.

‘Peace, woman, the Boss and his sons will do their best for you. We’ve promised. Now, how about some of that lovely fresh lemonade you are so good at?’ As Patience, still sniffling, left the veranda, he spoke again. ‘There’ll be more tears before this is resolved, but don’t be afraid to show your feelings. All of you. Don’t bottle it up.’

The next few weeks were a blur. We had rigged floodlights over the major fields so that recovering the crops could happen throughout the night and day. Tawanda brought in extra labour who were delighted at the wages we paid, which was far over other farmers. They also went home at night laden down with fresh produce, which included a decent amount of dried tobacco leaves, which I knew they would mix with their native Ganga leaf to produce a really potent, hallucinatory smoke. Once tried, never forgotten.

Despite being considered an early crop, David had achieved significant profits at the auction and these had joined our reserves in South Africa. One issue, however, came as a significant surprise. Dad was sitting in the lounge, with the beginnings of another bottle of Jameson, and filled all our glasses.

‘Tawanda has decided not to move into the bungalow. He wants to remain in his own home down on the farm itself. The area is also where generations of their family are buried, and there is a belief, that leaving, without due cause, is a rejection of the deceased. Patience is in full agreement, and whilst she has tended for, and cared for, our home, for all these years, the idea she might sleep in Mum’s bedroom, is causing her difficulties. Divorcing the bungalow from the farm precincts makes it easier.’

‘Easier? For what?’ David asked. ‘Are you going to sell it?’

‘No,’ Dad replied. ‘I have something in mind but I won’t bother you with it for the moment, but don’t forget tomorrow we move your Mum and Sabre. I’ve been down to the location, and it really is perfect for them. That really is the last act before our departure and the creation of the new regime under Tawanda.’

‘How is he Dad? He’s so like you. Inscrutable at times, and yet clearly boiling inside. How is he, really?’

‘James, we’ve had lots of long talks, especially in the last week or so. He’s nervous, and rightly so, but now he’s met David’s friend, who will advise the Co-Operative, he’s much more reassured and gaining confidence. I’ve told him that no matter how far away we are, we can talk on the telephone, or once he masters the computer, it will make it so much easier.’ He laughed. ‘I’ve also reminded him that if the Co-Operative works out the way we hope, he could become a fairly rich African in his own right, and then he and Lady Patience can come visit us. That’s when the impending change really struck home with him. His own boss for the first time in his life. We’re absolutely doing the right thing.’

‘I’m booking the flights for next Monday, Dad. Harare to Joburg. Alright?’

‘Book for the two of you. I want to have a couple of days on my own to say my farewells to my home for the last forty years. I’ll book my own flights. Just want a bit of time to myself. That’s all.’

‘I’ll book you a ticket you can use to suit yourself, Dad. Transferable to any flight, any day.’ David replied.

Standing on the banks of the river, which bounded Mum’s favourite spot, it reminded me of the majestic beauty of my homeland. The fast-flowing river cut through the adjacent forests, leaping across rocky outcrops and disappearing into a gorge that was as far as the human eye could see. Dad, David, Tawanda and Patience were moving away from the two discrete mounds just below the tree line. Patience had brought a bag of soil from the borders of the garden in the bungalow and scattered it across the coffin and the tarpaulin holding Sabre’s remains. I paused for several moments before following them up the incline to the waiting jeep, only turning one more time to look towards the gorge, and the ever-present river.

Once again, the Airbus service, this time from Harare, was on time, and David and I emerged from Joburg airport precinct. Clare was waving frantically at us from a nearby car park, and as we pulled our luggage across the hot tarmac, her father emerged from the rear of a Range Rover, lifting the tailgate and helping us load our baggage. Clare and David wasted no time in romantics and were embracing one another around the other side of the vehicle. I felt a little envious, and then remembered their engagement party, and Clare’s very attractive, and single, younger sister.

I was sitting in the garden of Clare’s house some three days later, listening to the radio and working my way through some international newspapers. There were a couple of shaded hammocks nearby, which David and Clare occupied, whilst her father busied himself with a heated barbeque. Smoke was swirling and rising, when the radio programme was interrupted with a newsflash.

Police in Harare have confirmed a major shootout between members of the Veteran’s Army and a resident of a farming community in Chegutu, some 3 hours from Harare. Many casualties amongst the militia have been reported. The fighting took place in an enclosed area surrounding a family home, and according to eye-witness reports, following prolonged bursts of fire for nearly an hour, there was a massive explosion from within the home. This killed the sole occupant and many of his attackers, and demolished the building. Further explosions from home-made land mines planted in the grounds caused more casualties. I will give an update in our next bulletin in 30 minutes’ time.”.

The End.

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