Reviewed by Dusty Miller
By Eric Harrison
Maioio Publishers (Pvt) Ltd.,
ify>ISBN 1 920 783 49 0
271 pp limp back
IT was probably cathartic for Eric Harrison to write Jambanja (“fighting”, “chaos”, “terror” in Shona), an unusually crafted 271-page limp-backed book and then take the expensive gamble of self-publishing another volume about the state-inspired wholesale occupation of working commercial farms and agriculture’s subsequent demise in Zimbabwe.
It may not be so much of a gamble, as I can foresee many of the thousands of white Zimbabwean professional farmers who lost their land, homes, businesses, crops, livestock, future — and their children’s inheritances — wanting a copy, and the author printed far fewer volumes than there are dispossessed farmers and families.
It is a harrowing story of sheer government-inspired violence and vandalism by so-called war vets, many still unborn when the Bush War ended. The politics of envy and greed are obvious and written exceedingly clearly on most pages.
Harrison — writing in the third person as “Harry” in what could at first glance be taken for a novel — relates the struggles and sacrifices he and his family made over many decades to finance, finally buy and carve out of raw bush Maioio Farm at Mkwasine in the lovely, once game-rich Lowveld.
It grew plentiful supplies of export quality sugarcane and citrus, both now scarce and expensive items on the local market. As rain is always problematical in the parched south-east of the country, “Harry” installed no less than 360km of drip irrigation to ensure the viability of his crop.
This story — like possibly 4 500 others as yet mainly unwritten — relates how Zanu PF thugs systematically terrorised the farm and neighbourhood and totally destroyed that viability, stealing, breaking or burning that which they could not eat.
His frustration as the laws of this land were routinely ignored or broken and police brazenly sided with law-breakers is tangible through the stress-wrought words capturing the frustration and tension of life on the land from the first tentative occupations by the so-called landless in Masvingo province in 2000 to the unidentified (in the book) date (September 2004) when he finally, reluctantly, and no doubt tearfully, says goodbye to his life’s work and the farm on which he hoped to be buried after being forced to shoot his faithful dog, Banger.
I edited the award-winning magazine Tobacco News (briefly Tobacco News and Zimbabwe Farmer) for its last six years, before a lack of tobacco and the imminent death of modern Zimbabwean farming reduced it into yet another statistic of the so-called Third Chimurenga.
My desk was thickly covered each day with heartbreaking sitreps and communiqués from front line farmers, the increasing headless chicken-like and apparently spinelessly conciliatory CFU and the often blustering journalism of JAG (Justice for Agriculture.) I found the month after month stories of unbridled death and destruction, rape, pillage and looting more depressing and debilitating than anything I had ever handled in almost four decades in the media.
Jambanja certainly captures that sense of doom but (in its flashback techniques to Harrison’s earlier life: school at “Ay Dub” — Allan Wilson — national service at Llewellin, tobacco farming in Angola, sports, the cadet corps, musical activities, the courting and winning of his bride) there is much humour and lighthearted storytelling.
It is a tale full of reminiscent journeys down memory lane. It had to be told and should be read by everyone with an interest in this country’s past, present and future.
Eric says the book was professionally proofread in Australia.
I have the greatest respect for Ozzie and Kiwi journalists, who you meet on every newspaper, magazine and radio or TV station in the world, but if Jambanja was “read” by an antipodean corrector of the press, that calling has much room for improvement “down under”.
* On call-up at Llewellin in 1959, we have a “gentle Scotsman” (surely an oxymoron?) singing “Flower of Scotland”, the now unofficial Caledonian national anthem. Yeah? Odd! It wasn’t written until 1966: by Roy Williams of the Corries!
* We write about the Copperbelt or Copper Belt, but not Copper belt.
* Hardy’s Hotel (in Gwanda) is written thus, not Hardy’s hotel.
* The Staff Corps, takes a final “s” not Staff Corp (which sounds like a new rank)
* Aircraft hangars are spelt thus with an “a”, not like clothes hangers.
* Dialogue is difficult to capture in print. Harrison struggles throughout the book, but the first attempt to capture Corporal van Zyl’s heavy guttural Afrikaans accent appears pure music hall Yiddish!
* Mielie pips, etc need footnotes for potential foreign readers (as indeed does the title -— or an English sub-title.) Uhuru got away with it, Jambanja is unlikely to.
* Afrikaans is the language Afrikaners the people. The Brits did not fight Afrikaaners in the Boer War. (Not all Boers were Afrikaners and not all Afrikaans speakers were Boers!)
* The First 15 rugby team should be 1st XV.
* Herr Dr Goebbels is the Nazi propaganda chief’s name, not Goebels.
* Clichés should be avoided but if we use them, get them right. One is as happy as a sandboy, not a sandman!
* There were no IRA bombs in Ireland in 1962. The renewed “Troubles” were seven years off.
* A church has an altar, not an alter.
* “Ngutshene” should be spelt “Ingutsheni”; “Mbalabala” was Balla-Balla in the 1960s; “Kimberly” is correctly spelt Kimberley; “the avenues” should be The Avenues; “Chitungwisa” is Chitungwiza; “Nyamandslhovu” Nyamandhlovu.
* You bank on someone chickening out, you don’t back on it. (Professional punters may disagree!)
* Para-statel is parastatal. (At least in this part of the world, Spellcheck’s never heard the word!)
* The clerk of the court (not Master of the Court) yells for all to rise.
* GBH is grievous bodily harm, not gross bodily harm; during the Hondo, planes acted as Telstars, not tellstars; paratroopers are airborne soldiers, not airbourne; aircraft passengers are “pax” in slang, not “packs” ; I am pretty sure the Joint Planning Staff (not Ministry of Defence) issued communiqués before the birth of Combined Operations HQ; similarly I think the first farm attack of the Bush War was at Altona Farm, Centenary, not Whistlefield Farm.
I am not sure how to deal with Harrison’s use of names. Some are authentic and accurate: no one who knows the Lowveld doesn’t know Digby Nesbitt, for instance. Some may have been changed (to protect the innocent?).
But surely the author would be aware his Mkwasine section manager neighbour “Dick Tindall Bristoe” was Dick Tyndale-Biscoe, a descendant of the young Royal Navy officer who raised the flag in Cecil (Africa Unity) Square on Occupation Day 1890 and scion of one of Britain’s most noble families?
Pete “Nell” could be spelt thus, but the more common version is Piet Nel; “doctor O’Grady” is of course Dr O’Grady; Carol Heurtley (later Senator Heurtley) was president of the Rhodesian Tobacco Association (not “Authority”.) Is “Carol Hurley” an error, or a weak attempt to fudge identity?