Wednesday, 19 August 2015

A Tale of Blood, Death and a Missing Treasure

Dispatch no. 7 

5 May 2000

Well, here we are still. The world was supposed to have ended (again), on Friday the 5th of May, but it seemed that the doomsday prophets had gotten things wrong again.

I wonder whether they are disappointed. All those planets perfectly lined up, combining their gravitational pull in a vicious conspiracy, aimed at dragging our continents into the sea, or making the earth wobble – and then nothing happened. At least, I hear they’ll have another chance in two years’ time when it is said that the planets will pulling the same trick again.

The old coat of arms of South Africa. 
Our national celebration of international communist day on May, 1st, caused far more excitement than the planets did, and on the previous Friday, our so-called “Freedom Day” was celebrated with most enthusiasm of all. The old South African coat of arms was officially thrown out, and replaced with a cryptic ethnic design that didn’t draw too many favourable comments, it seems. Our old motto used to be “Ex unitate vires” – unity is strength. Now it is something, written in an old bushman language that became extinct more than a hundred years ago. Nobody can read it, because bushmen have sounds that are represented by unusual symbols that nobody knows how to pronounce. The new coat of arms was officially unveiled and bolted onto the walls of the Union Buildings, which is to South Africa what the White House is to America. And then, a night or two later, some law students were caught, trying to steal the brass coat of arms. One can only shake one’s head in wonder...

The new coat of arms of South Africa, bearing a motto which nobody can pronounce.

At the moment, the second covering of snow for the season seems to be melting off the Drakensberg mountains. A second thunder storm erupted, and destroyed the telephone infrastructure a second time, thus taking care of internet communications and the like, yet again. Rain in winter is almost unknown in our hothouse environment, and here it has happened twice in ten days! As before though, the telephone company has really taken its time fixing things. There’s nothing I can do about it, I’m afraid.

The news from Zimbabwe is still pretty much the same. President Mugabe has finally made it clear that one way or another, he is going to disown 50% of the white farms despite all protests. Meanwhile, the United Nations and Great Britain is continuing making plans and arrangements to evacuate all the white people from Zimbabwe, as far as is possible. According to reports, they are even making plans for making a real emergency military evacuation if this should prove necessary. President Mugabe has publically said, however, that he will give all assistance to “get the whites out of the country.” The consulate in Harare has been overwhelmed by applications from white citizens of Zimbabwe for travel documents and foreign citizenships – mostly for England. Mugabe is still blaming the whites in his country for nearly everything that has gone wrong in so far. The farmers have also been heavily criticized for not having planted any winter crops, and it still looks as if severe food shortages and possibly famine might lie ahead for the country. Their economy is now really in tatters, and with Zimbabwe’s 15,000 soldiers still fighting in the Congo, the drain on their remaining reserves must be enormous.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

The new elections should take place by next month, it seems, and the ruling party is taking every more desperate steps to try and cling to power. Even though the farm invasions have been ordered to a halt by the president, they are still continuing. Meanwhile a report has been made public, in which an old Zimbabwe government official is named as being the master brain behind the land-grabbing. This same man is a known mass-murder from the time of the Rhodesian bush war. In South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki has continued to remain silent about the situation of lawlessness in his neighbouring country. Even a lot of the traditionally very liberal, heavily left-wing media and organizations have now firmly concluded that Mr. Mbeki is approving what is happened in South Africa’s neighbouring state, although he might not be entirely happy at all the fuss that has resulted from it.

One of the things that the Zimbabwean crisis has brought, is a yet further devaluation of the Rand. It now stands at the lowest level in many years, and the stock market is still very depressed as foreign investors have been selling off South African money reserves, to a large degree in reaction to president Mbeki’s continued silence and obvious approval. South Africa’s minister of agriculture and land affairs has this week declared that the same thing will definitely not happen in South Africa, but she added that any disowning of land will be “to the advantage of all the country’s citizens...” 
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

The history of Zimbabwe is an interesting one. A very bloody one too. President Mugabe accuses Great Britain of having “stolen the land” from the Zimbabweans. In a way, this is actually quite true, but in a rather surprising manner. In a way, Zimbabwe was “stolen” by only one Englishman, and Great Britain became the receiver of a “stolen gift.” Yes, many people know that Great Britain only accepted the rule over Zimbabwe under great protest. Here’s how it happened:

What we know today as Zimbabwe, was originally populated by primitive Bushmen, and much later still, small numbers of other very primitive black races – of whom only the smallest numbers are still to be found. Some of these ancient races would include the very primitive Batonkas or even the mysterious two-toed tribe of the Zambezi. This is an amazing people who have the distinction of having the most unique feet in the world. Due to a genetic peculiarity, this tribe has a big tendency to have “ostrich feet” – Y-shaped feet with only two massive, long toes in front. One big and long one, and one smaller. Even today, they are a shy and rarely-seen tribe, who speak a difficult and ancient language, and who are noted for being extremely fast runners. But all of that is another story entirely...

After these primitive tribes came the Mashona people, who displaces the original inhabitants and settled in greater numbers. They were a relatively peaceful nation that survived off the land and raised a few crops. They have always been relatively non-violent as a people. For many decades peace prevailed, but then came the early 1800's. Far off in the green hills of Natal, in present-day South Africa, a military dictator by the name of Shaka, king of the Zulu, suddenly rose to become the most feared ruler in the history of sub-Saharan Africa. Shaka Zulu would later be called the “Black Napoleon of Africa.”
Shaka, king of the Zulu who murdered more people than any other in the history of sub-equatorial Africa.

Under his rule, Shaka violently conquered and united many different Nguni races, and called them collectively the “amaZulu” – or people of heaven. The story of Shaka Zulu is incredibly fascinating, and many books have been written about his life. Many people have also seen the television series that was made about his life. What the TV series didn’t really properly show, was how Shake had gone berserk after the death of his beloved mother. His rule had always been characterized by the most brutal of wars, and the most cruel of killings and murders. All done on a staggering scale. During his reign, Zululand flowed with blood continuously. After his mother, Nandi’s death, however, Shaka swept out across the South African highveld, sending his armies across the barren plains like black waves of death that consumed everything in its path. In an effort to make all of Southern Africa grieve along with him, he eventually murdered innumerable multitudes of his own people – not even mentioning most of the neighbouring tribes which he completely wiped off the face of the map, or displaced to distant geographical regions to this very day. The numbers are estimated in the hundreds of thousands, and indeed, have even been estimated to have been in excess of a million people.
Mzilikazi - king of the Matabele and conqueror of the Mashona.

During this background, the groundwork for today’s Zimbabwe was laid. It all began when Mzilikazi, one of Shaka’s great generals and tribal chiefs, rebelled against him and refused to pay Shaka his war booty, rather daring him to come and fetch what Shaka considered to be his. This truly must rank as one of the dumbest moves in history. Shaka move out against Mzilikazi with the ferocity of a wounded buffalo. Mzilikazi, however, must have realized his mistake, and very wisely concluded that his only safety lay in running as far as his legs could carry him. Knowing Shaka, Mzilikazi realized that hell was truly about to descend on him, so he took his cattle, and ran for his life. Mzilikazi fled helter-skelter all across the country, with Shaka’s impis hot on his heels all the time. Yet, instead of simply running away, Mzilikazi killed everything in his way. He slaughtered all and any tribes he encountered, swallowing up whom he could, and adding them to his ranks.

Shaka’s men eventually stopped the chase, but Mzilikazi only stopped running when he eventually reached the land of the Mashona. Until then, his flight had been marked with colossal rivers of blood, but when he reached the land of the Mashona, he slaughtered them most brutally in awesome numbers. This Mzilikazi became the undisputed ruler of Mashonaland, and his people became known as the Matabele people – the rulers of the land of Zimbabwe. After Mzilikazi’s death, his son, Lobengula became king. “Fat king Lob” as the British called him, wasn’t as effective a king as his father, though, and his weaknesses soon manifested themselves.

Then came the late eighteen hundreds, and gold was discovered in Zimbabwe. Far off in South Africa, a young man by the name of Cecil John Rhodes sat dreaming many a day as he watched his workers toil to take out the diamonds from his new diamond claims on the Kimberley diamond diggings. He had come from a humble background, but he had illustrious dreams. It was to combine all of Africa under British rule, and then add the whole of the Middle-East, combine it with Britain’s other colonies such as Australia, India and Canada, and many of the Far East island regions. After that, his plan called for “the recovery of the United States,” and when all of that was completed and the English-speaking world was united, he planned on ruling the world, together with Germany in what he called his “Pax Teutonica” – and have world peace for ever more.
Cecil John Rhodes - the man "who dreamed in continents."

Diamonds soon made Rhodes one of the richest men in the world, and his money and determination also made him the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and thus an immensely powerful man. But Rhodes needed more money still. What he needed was to control the world’s monetary system, and for that to happen, he needed to control the world’s gold supply. He was already in the process of gaining control over much of the world’s biggest new gold find at Johannesburg, (and ultimately he helped to start the Boer War in order to get it) but he needed more. This was when his eyes fell on present-day Zimbabwe.
King Lobengula of the Matabele - possessor of a calabash of diamonds.

Of course, there was another reason too. For years, old king Lobengula of Zimbabwe, had been sending his subjects to go and work at Rhodes’ diamond mines in Kimberley. All his workers were instructed to steal and bring back the biggest and best diamonds they could find, for their king’s treasure chest. In those days, it was reported by men who claimed to have seen it with their own eyes, that Lobengula possessed a very large pot full of the most wonderful gems in the world. By the most popular estimates, Lobengula’s treasure was valued at over ten million pounds sterling. Certainly one of the biggest private fortunes in the world at that time.

Rhodes meant to have Mashonaland, as well as Lobengula’s diamonds, if he was going to rule the world, and he made his plans accordingly. It took several years for everything to work out, but in the end, what Rhodes did was something wonderfully amazing. He actually managed to bamboozle some of the most noted, and most important British public and political figures into financing a tremendously daring scheme for stealing Mashonaland from under old “king Lob.”
The battle at Shangani, during the First Matabele War.
Through methods of blackmail, murder, treason and large-scale trickery, and by even turning Lobengula into a morphine-addict, he managed to obtain from Lobengula the sole right to mine all minerals in Mashonaland. Then he raised a private army, funded by British tax-payers’ money (amazingly), and sent them marching in. Lobengula was driven back and bullied for two or three years, and finally, when he could take it no more, Rhodes forced a war. The battles were short and tremendously bloody. Before Rhodes’ trained army and his Maxim machine guns, Lobengula’s proud and once blood-thirsty army was mown down like wheat stalks, and within a matter of days it was destroyed completely for all practical purposes.

The rest was easy. Lobengula fled into exile, and died of syphilis and a broken heart and spirit. His body was sealed into an unknown cave by his most trusty lieutenants, and so were his diamonds. Nobody has ever found the treasure of king Lobengula, and to this day people are searching for what must surely still be one of the biggest lost treasures the world has ever known. The really funny part is that the British government initially wanted absolutely nothing to do with Mashonaland. But Rhodes eventually forced the gift so hard into its hands, that the British Empire could simply not refuse the enormous gift. Rhodes became one of only two men in modern times, who had a country named after them. The other was Simon de Bolivar of Bolivia.

And this is how “Rhodesia” became a British colony for more than seven decades after. We all know how it ended: Finally, under communist instigation and with communist aid and backing, the black tribes of Zimbabwe revolted against British rule and after a long and very bitter civil war which only ended 20 years ago. The white colonists who had settled in Rhodesia since the 1890's, and had built up and worked the land, had to buy back the land they occupied from the new government, or were legally allowed to keep what they had. And today, just over a 100 years later, they are being blamed for all that ever went wrong in that country’s troubled past, and are being robbed of what they had inherited from their ancestors. Land which had originally been stolen hundreds of years ago, and whose original owners are now extinct as a people.

Of Mzilikazi’s enormous murder-campaigns, and the extermination of the original landowners, the Bushmen, nothing is said. History shows that Mugabe’s people have been just as much land-grabbers as anybody else that they’re accusing. It is just one of those amazing facts of history that stand glowing in its enormity, yet which goes unnoticed by the world. It is a weird and wonderful tale that Mugabe doesn’t like being told. It isn’t hard to figure out why...
Cecil John Rhodes making peace with the Matabele at the end of the Second Matabele War.

And with that, all that is left to be said is that this week hasn’t brought much action with it. In Botswana a young safari guide was killed by an elephant. He was guiding an elephant safari (where excited tourists do game viewing from the backs of tame elephants in a national park), when he was suddenly charged by an enraged elephant. He fired three warning shots, and was then promptly trampled to mush. Strange, because he has known and worked with elephants for years, having made wildlife films in the past. I guess it was a mistake that killed him, more than anything else, though. Assuming that he had been armed with a big game calibre rifle, it would seem that he had fired all his rounds at the elephant, and when he realized it wasn’t just a mock-charge, it was too late: he had no more rounds to kill the beast with. A tragic mistake... Which reminds me, I’ve only got about three brain cells still left awake right now, and it is perhaps a good time to head for bed at this hour. An early start waits tomorrow, and much needs to be done. I still planned on saying something about the Rain Queen and the Elephant highways, but I guess that will have to wait for another time.

Have a wonderful week, try to avoid buying “stolen” property, and always remember never to fire your last shot as a warning shot!

The Great Zimbabwe Ruins.


This picture was taken of the Ruins of Great Zimbabwe. President Mugabe maintains that it had been built by his tribe (the Shonas), but this is such a glaring piece of wishful thinking that nobody even bothers to comment about it. These ruins are very much older, and some archaeologists believe that they had originally been built by the ancient Phoenicians. Similar ruins are scattered all over Zimbabwe. There is, however, an even stranger explanation that is offered these days – the possibility that the mysterious ruins had been built by the so-called “Black Jews of Africa.” The story is a long and complicated one which I can’t tell now, but suffice to say that it is now believed that hundreds of years ago a southern migration of Jews from ancient Israel, had eventually reached as far as Zimbabwe. These Jews, is supposed to have eventually completely mixed into the black nations of Africa. Recently, though, some high-tech genetic mapping has been done, and according to a big study conducted from South Africa, it has been determined that a specific part of the people of Zimbabwe have very definite genetic connections to the Jews of ancient Israel. They reckon there can be no doubt whatsoever that the “Black Jews” had real Jews in their ancestry. Another odd fact is that these “Black Jews” still have many traditional “Jewish” religious rituals, practices and beliefs, despite not having had contact with Israel and the Jewish religion for hundreds of years. The great ruins of Zimbabwe have in the past been believed to have been one of the probable spots where the legendary “Ophir” from biblical times, might have been. The place where King Solomon received his gold from, via his men who sailed with the ancient Phoenicians. Indeed, Cecil John Rhodes believed this very adamantly. Interesting thought. Although many golden artefacts have been unearthed under these ruins, the ancient gold mines there have never yielded very much gold at all. These ruins are awesome to behold, though. Walking through them is an amazing experience – one that mere words cannot describe...

Image credits: Wikipedia.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Elephants, Dog-biscuits,

and other tales of the far side

28 April 2000

The sky towards Leydsdorp
In Africa, information-age technology maintains at best a shaky position. Our country operates on a curious mixture of space-age equipment, superimposed on a reasonable ancient infrastructure. Out in the country regions, such as where I live, fax and internet communication works – but only so-so.

When you get a little bit of lightning, such as we've had for an hour or two a day ago, something inevitable gets fried somewhere. It then takes the technicians a long time to get round to soldering coat-hangers into the gaps, patching things with paper clips clearing wasp nests out of transformer boxes, or do whatever it is they do to make the system work again. That mild little storm had the phones down for six days. As I’ve said before: In Africa, things get fixed SLOWLY.

The general failing of infrastructure in South Africa is something which has been very evident these last few days. I took a visitor to go and see the tiny little town of Leydsdorp this week. The place became famous for a short while back in 1896, when gold was discovered between the sun-baked and dry, but beautiful hills surrounding it. In those days it was a real little hell-hole. Inspired by newspaper reports that made Leydsdorp sound like a gold-studded Hawaii, waves of starry-eyed diggers streamed towards this unknown spot. All the unlucky ones who hadn't struck it rich at Ballarat and Bendigo in Australia, or in California, or Pilgrimsrest – or even those who had arrived too late in Johannesburg – thought that perhaps this would be their big break.

But when they finally reached the searing hot little spot of bushveld it was usually just in time to be buried there. Most of them would have been travelling through the unhealthy bushveld for two weeks already - precisely the incubation period necessary for malaria. And so many a good digger’s remains were buried in the gold-studded earth that they had dreamed of mining.

Today, as far as the visitor can see, Leydsdorp consists exactly of one old hotel and two houses. Across the main street, a herd of jersey cows craze in idyllic peace, while big, friendly Rhodesian ridgeback dogs greet the thirsty traveller with wagging tail. Old president Paul Kruger’s holiday home still stands, although it is now a place that even cockroaches would blush to call home. A few scattered old coco-pans are the only reminders of a great gold-rush of yesteryear.

The hotel still looks exactly the same. Old game trophies against the walls in the dining room, pressed steel ceilings, honky-tonk piano, and thick mirrors in the bar, of which the silver is peeling. It is as if time had stopped in Leydsdorp a long, long time ago. And the same seems to be the case with its infrastructure. It is surprising, really, seeing how many roads lead to Leydsdorp. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a shock to see some really tall grass growing in what used to be a pretty nice gravel road leading to this small little town. The depressed grader that had listlessly scraped across a mile or so must have broken down, because that’s all that it managed to grade of that entire road – one measly mile.

To make matters worse I came to a stretch of road, nearly halfway between Leydsdorp and the next place, which is so insignificant that it doesn’t even have a name, only to find that I had to turn around. During the floods, deep ruts had been pressed into the surface by passing trucks. These subsequently dried and became rock-hard, and so deep that I just couldn’t drive across them anymore.

There were no warning signs such as: “Warning! Road impassable, 20km ahead, except for four wheel drive vehicles. Proceed with caution.” So that was the extent of what had been planned as a scenic drive past Leydsdorp and through the Harmony block. Maybe some official will forget to steal money from the Leydsdorp road fund one day, and then the roads might be fixed. Leydsdorp will wait for better times. It has plenty of time. In fact, time is all that Leydsdorp has a lot of anyway.

And that's where I had to turn around...
So why did the elephant cross the road? 

But speaking about bad roads, I had to go and see a guy and his wife that owns some land nearby. They manage a famous game lodge in the western Transvaal, and only come down to their property here once in a blue moon. His wife told me that during the past floods she had to drive to their nearest town, Zeerust, early one morning. Unfortunately she happened to run into a cow-herd of elephants that was standing in the road. The problem was that these jumbos happened to be in the same kind of mood as fifty Hell’s Angels who had just come from a pot-bar to find that all their motorcycles had been ticketed and impounded. Faced by several tons of bad attitude, she wisely decided to beat a hasty retreat, only to find her small car’s escape being blocked by some big bull elephants. But being a child of the bush, she knew how to handle bull elephants.

She got out of her car and shouted her best collection of obscenities and insults to the big, lumbering beasts, and was rewarded by their hasty withdrawal. In order to get around the cow-herd, however, Ronelle had to take a little dirt-track detour. After a mile or two, her little car got stuck in the mud, and she had to walk back a long way through the bush – alone and unarmed, and as fate would have it – walking all the way on a selection of some really large lion-tracks! All in a day’s work for her, I guess. But she was honest enough to tell of how her walk did inspire her to some serious philosophical reflection on the meaning of life, and about how well she’d fared in it so far...

Oh, the elephants also make me think of what happened next door to us. The southern part of our Balule reserve, has an international tourist lodge called Motslabetsi. Bordering them is a large game ranch, by the name of Tsukudu. Now, Tsukudu and their neighbours never liked each other much. It appeared to be the usual kind of country bitterness that seems to go a long way back and in which seems as if time is making matters worse. Tsukudu also has a famous game lodge, and they’re quite expensive. One of the unique features of this lodge is that visitors can go for an early-morning walk with a small group of tame elephants and lions, and an armed ranger.

The idea is to feel wild and free, and a little daring. You get to take pictures of dangerous critters from close-by, without the fear of being turned into a wildlife snack. At the end of the walk, you then have a champagne breakfast in the bush, after which they drive you home.

Well, this week someone left a gate open at Motslabetsi’s southern boundary, and their one big elephant wandered off to go and visit the neighbour’s lodge for a change in routine. Tsukudu’s people reacted with alarm, followed the tracks, and then promptly came to the conclusion that the bad people at Tsukudu had stolen their elephant. So they raced off in blind fury and a cloud of indignation, to go and open a case of elephant-theft with the police at Hoedspruit – much to the surprise of the officer in charge who had to process the complaint. I’m not sure how the misunderstanding eventually got cleared up, but it seemed that in the end the matter was resolved quite amicably. The manager of Tsukudu was invited over to come and reclaim his Loxodonta africana. But reclaiming an elephant isn’t always as simple as it sounds. The manager had to walk back, all the while throwing dog-biscuits across his shoulder for the massive beast to pick up. He actually had to lure his elephant home! And so one small man and one giant mammal at his heels walked the dusty roads back to Tsukudu, and yet another interesting little bush drama came to an end, much to the amusement of us locals.

Actually, the man and his wife who are lodge managers told me something else I never knew. Apparently our general area is supposed to be rather known for UFO sightings. They said they woke up last year in the middle of the night from a tremendously bright light that was shining through their tent. They rushed outside, to find the entire landscape lit much brighter than even the full moon could. They couldn’t see the source of the light, but it remained burning for about fifteen seconds before it went out and all became dark again. Never heard a sound. It seems that some people across the river at the Mica mine had also previously seen such strange signs and wonders. It makes one wonder a lot. Some things are just too odd to explain. But I have resolved that if ever I had the opportunity, I’d try very hard to be the first man to capture an alien. Don’t know what to do with it, though. Perhaps just tickle it until it screams, and then let it go. I’ll decide when I get one.

The lodge managers also told me a tragic story of a family that had been murdered by black tribes during the Boer War, on the land which they had recently bought in the north-western Transvaal. When afterwards, and old black man came searching through the rubble, he discovered a little four-year old boy who was still alive. He took the little boy with him across the Limpopo to his home in Bechuanaland (today’s Botswana), and raised him as his own. When the boy was eighteen years old, he took him back to the Transvaal, and finally managed to locate his real father, who had been on commando at the time of the murders.

Although the boy joined his father, they said he never forgot the family that had raised him, and for years afterwards, he used to return to his tribe in Botswana, to look after the old man who had raised him. An ironic little tale, and one which has probably never been recorded in print before. One can only wonder at the drama that lay obscured beyond the lack of historical details behind this little story. Actually, one of the local ranchers in their area also nearly lost their two year old little daughter last year. She wandered alone through the bush for nearly three days before they found her. How during all this time, she had escaped being eaten by lions, wild dogs, leopards or any other amount of critters that would have liked to have eaten her, is perhaps nothing less than a miracle.

In Zimbabwe things are still fairly bad. Britain’s Robin Cook at least had the good old-fashioned British honour and common-sense to reject the pay-off scheme that Mugaba and president Mbeki had tried to extort from the UK. The one where Britain, Europe and America would have been paying compensation for Mugabe’s land-grabbing adventures. I guess Mugabe’s government must be in pretty dire straits because he is now having his army capture wild African grey parrots and exporting them to Europe in his military planes. They sell for about R7,000 each, so it isn’t bad business at all. Especially considering that they cost nothing to produce.

The squatters are still maintaining their presence on farms, and a few more have meanwhile been invaded as well. The ruling Zanu PF party is violently intimidating its opposition party, and are promising a civil war if they should be out-voted. For the time-being there seems to be a kind of a truce, though. The farmers and the squatter leaders are having discussions, and things seem to be stale-mate for now. Zimbabwe’s farmers have boycotted the big annual tobacco sale this week. Where tobacco sales bring in 40% of the country’s foreign income, they only sold about 10% of the usual volume this year. Mugabe and his men are furious about this, the squatters are foaming at the mouth at being called “squatters” and not “war-veterans,” a South African journalist has been picked as the man who was supposed to have planted the bomb at Mugabe’s opposition’s newspaper building, and so it goes on. Trouble and drama in the land of the north.

Oh, and an enterprising South African organization is hard at work raising funds for the protection of domestic animals on the invaded farms. They say the squatters are beating the dogs and livestock of farmers to death with sticks. The Farmers Union has meanwhile also announced that the land-invasion has been orchestrated by Mugabe’s feared Central Intelligence Organization. Apparently some of his Stasi-trained agents are even after some of his opposition that live in exile in Europe at the moment. Well, so much for African democracy...

Even here in South Africa, more calls for similar land-grabbing has been heard this week. In the meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s problems have contributed to make our currency nose-dive further, and upset the stock market quite a bit. Zimbabwe’s billion dollar a year tourist industry is now virtually completely dead, and safaris are also being cancelled by foreign hunters. Anyone who is looking for a really cheap safari or adventure holiday in Zimbabwe – now is the chance!

Back on the home front, a couple of 65 was killed near Tshipese in our province, this week, and another farmer and his wife has been killed near Tzaneen, one of our two biggest towns. Near Pretoria, a 24-year old paramedic that was assisting a woman giving birth next to the road, was also shot and killed. His heart has just been transplanted into an old man, and at least his death has made the life of another possible. His young ambulance driver was also shot, and is still fighting for his life in ICU. Nothing was stolen. Apparently they had been killed because they were white.

As usual, my neighbour always has news to tell. His latest contribution for this week is about another HIV case. He was doing a caesarean operation on Wednesday, when the young trainee-doctor that was assisting him, pulled back a flap of skin with her hands instead of with an instrument as it is supposed to be done. In the process she jabbed her hand into the needle if my friend’s syringe. Unfortunately the patient turned out to be HIV positive... So there you go again. More hell for yet another poor young doctor, forced to work in the miserable state hospitals for two years before she can get a medical license from the state...

Yesterday my friend had to drive to one of the other big state hospitals in Bushbuck ridge, hoping to borrow some equipment for their hospital. He says their anaesthesia machine is already a museum-piece, but its all they’ve got. He now has to purchase some new machines, but the situation is interesting. While the State allocates funds for the purchasing of two or three machines this year, there won’t be any funds for consumables. So you’ve got to buy a machine that doesn’t need filters, disposable containers, bags and things that break. Pretty tough in today’s world to find a machine like that. But the government knows best. That’s why we voted for it, after all.

He also had an interesting incident when he had to give anaesthesia to an enormously overweight woman. They use a metal object that looks a bit like a big shoe-horn, called a laryngoscope, to keep the patients from swallowing their tongues and to keep their air-passages open. Somehow, the laryngoscope got stuck in a gap between the woman’s front teeth during a pretty critical moment, and they all first had a good sweat, and then a good laugh after he managed to get the tool out without breaking her teeth. (I’m told that the Cuban doctors working in our state hospitals are pretty good at breaking front teeth in this manner – supposedly not at all an uncommon occurrence.

Well, perhaps it is good that we don’t realize what happens to us when they put us to sleep. His superintendent also forced him to sew up the lips of a drunken man whose mouth had been smashed by a brick - without anaesthesia! The superintendant is a doctor from the Congo who is in charge of this hospital, simply because he wouldn’t allowed to practise anywhere else. He also happens not to like drunks. So my friend had to first cut open the man’s swollen lips with a scalpel and then sew them up, without the comfort of local anaesthetic - something which is tough on both doctor and his squirming patient. Yes, some of these African doctors can be a harsh in their approach. Perhaps medicine in the Congo is practiced differently than over here.

It takes a special breed to become a bush doctor, and I pity my poor friend. The conditions are depressing. In the housing compound where my neighbour lives when he is working at the hospital, one of the fellow-doctors is a man who keeps goats in his yard and in his house. Also, my neighbour’s house maid is continually stealing his coffee, tea, sugar and other household articles. Furthermore, she’s also brewing marula beer when he is not at home, using the high-tech plastic containers that he has bought for the storage of his equipment. He complains a lot, but he regards himself as a child of Africa. An adventurer and a sportsman who heals people for a living, and who will continue doing it for as long as it is possible. It takes all kinds, I guess.

Have a good week you all and next time you’re caught in a traffic jam, be thankful you’re only boxed in by cars and not elephants!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

When the Natives Are Restless

23 April 2000

Dear friends

Words cannot express how good it is to be back home after having spent four days in Johannesburg. It is always good to see the beautiful city lights for a change. To go to the cinema, eat out a few times and browse through the ever more wonderful stores of the Golden City’s beautiful malls. But only for about two days...

After that, one just becomes tired of all the noise, of having to breathe air that you can see. Air which leaves a thin, sticky black film on your car. With crime everywhere these days, Johannesburg makes an interesting little study for those interested in the behaviour of domesticated wildlife. I visited some distant family members who live in a pretty descent neighbourhood. They live in a large, well-burglar-proofed house, yet have been robbed several times over the last two years. Even the washing is stolen off the washing lines, so it can’t be hung outside anymore. They now have garden services to keep the garden in order, because all their tools and lawn-movers have been stolen twice.

They say they lock the security doors behind them when going to check the mailbox – and only when there are other people around to watch out for them. The lady of the manor saw two or three black figures sneaking around to her back door a few weeks ago, armed with a pistol. She called the police, and they arrived in full force, even with a helicopter. They told her she did the right thing, and added that they were “itching to shoot somebody” that morning. The thugs that would probably have attempted to break in, managed to escape...

These good folks have been trying to sell their nice home for quite some time now, but nobody wants to buy big homes except at give-away prices. Their daughter and son-in-law have just had their fourth car stolen. One family I met told me that they had been waiting eight months to get into a descent cluster home in a security complex. No shortage of regular homes, but a big demand for secure living areas.

The millionaire mansions of Johannesburg I drove past are beautiful to look at, but you just can’t seen them anymore. All hidden behind very high walls with electric fences and razor wire on top. Security gates with closed circuit TV cameras peeking down at you. Ferocious dogs, patrolling the immaculate gardens of the high and mighty. Private security firms waiting on the street corners, 24 hours a day, waiting for an incident to happen, since the police just don’t have the money, the manpower, or in many cases – the will – to respond anymore.

Middle-class people can’t afford this, of course, so they mostly put their trust in their insurance and hope that the neighbour’s house looks more inviting than their own. And what do the poor do? They rob the rich, and then rob each other for sport, profit or survival, whichever comes first.
An urgent warning from a crime-weary home-owner in a Johannesburg street that I drove past often.

Another friend I saw in Johannesburg, never drives or goes out without his .45 Glock at his side. It sleeps under his cushion. And I didn’t need to ask what the pickaxe handle with the leather thong around one end, next to his bedroom door was for. I just knew: Here was one person who was determined not to become a victim or one of our national statistics.

So. Now you know. It really is good to be home again! But having driven home on Friday was another challenge. It being “Good Friday,” thousands upon tens of thousands of people have been streaming out to go on their “Easter holidays.” This is a time when the natives like to celebrate a religious holiday which has no bearing on their own faith, by getting rip-roaring drunk and fighting or killing each other for any good reason they can think of.

The neighbour-doctor came to say “hello” last night. He said he had been sewing up knife-wounds, patching broken limbs, and tending to wounds inflicted by chain-beatings and broken-off bottle necks, from four that afternoon until four am. During all this time, he saw only one single case which wasn’t violence-related. He says he is getting desperately tired of having to sew up people that act irresponsibly and then demand treatment without either paying or thanking him for it.

But then, he gets a small salary and plenty of experience so that foreign hospitals will have a greater demand for him in the future. No wonder he is really good with his hands. He gets a lot of practise. His hobby is making rifle stocks from solid blocs of wood, using only chisels, files and a single drill-press. He says the principles are basically the same as those applied in orthopaedic surgery. It keeps his fingers sharp and his creativity honed.

Back home, there was more adventure waiting. The dogs had chased a mongoose into an outside toilet, and it was squealing insults at the canine house-defenders and daring them to do something about his presence. I had a guest who came along for the weekend, and he first walked into this unfamiliar, furry little creature full of bad attitude, and then squashed a very sticky tree frog that was sitting on the handle of his door handle as he tried to close the door to his room. Both resulted in yelps of surprise and alarm.

The next morning my sister (who is also visiting for the weekend), unknowingly stepped over a snake in front of our folks’ kitchen door. It was a spitting cobra, which immediately reared up, flattened its head, and began hissing and swaying, daring anyone to come within striking range. With no men-folk around at that time, my mom had to beat the life out of it, while grandma gave instructions and lamented the fact that she couldn’t beat it herself, owing to arms full or arthritis. Such is life on the frontier. You think you get away from trouble by leaving the city, and then you run into trouble of a different kind – literally at your doorstep.

I was spat in the eyes by an Egyptian spitting cobra quite a long time ago, and it is no fun at all. Try to imagine someone dripping Tabasco sauce into your eyes, and you get some idea of what it is like. For some reason we had lots of those critters where I grew up. After we’d moved out of the old house where I was born and my grandparents moved in there, Grandpa killed 27 snakes in that house in one year. No wonder we got so used to snakes. 

They say snakes and bad luck favours certain people. Of course, sometimes you’re just asking for trouble. Like this morning. I heard some voices a distance downstream, and went to investigate. Some young fools were playing in the Elephants River. Loudly shouting, laughing and shrieking with delight as they ran in and out of the river, pelted each other with clay and sand, and generally doing what excited people like to do on a Sunday morning’s outing. They obviously had not seen the big black crocodile that was lying on the sandbanks, one hundred metres from that same spot, earlier this week. That one was more than big enough to make a mid-morning snack out of a full grown man.

In fact, the crocks have been fairly visible these last few days, and a family of hippos was lying just a short distance downstream. But as if crocks and hippos hadn’t been enough, they also seemed to have forgotten about the meanest critter of them all: the lowly little bilharzia snail. The creepy little bug that gets passed on to human through contact with water, is so small that it enters through the skin, and then multiplies in your liver and makes you quite ill.

Modern drugs can kill bilharzia quite efficiently, but these people will probably return to wherever they had come from, and by the time they get sick, it might take a long time for their doctors to put two and two together, and find out that they’ve got bilharzia. In Southern Africa, all rivers that flow east carry bilharzia. That’s just the way things work. So for reasons of dangerous critters and common sense one would do best to stay out of the lowveld rivers.

Speaking about the Elephants River – if you care to disregard this advice and swam up the river for a few miles, and then turn off to your right, that’s where two more people had been murdered on their farms this week. A farmer and his wife – as usual. Just two more statistics. “Havs,” killed by the “Have-nots” because they were farmers, and had more material possessions than others. This African thought pattern keeps on repeating itself over and over.

Even among themselves: You never build a nicer house than your tribal chief, because then you’d get into trouble. The rich are always hated, and those that have moderately more than others, are regarded with suspicion, jealousy and are despised. Occasionally murdered too, after which they are relieved of their possessions. No wonder so many animals are camouflaged out here: In Africa it pays to maintain low profile.

So what’s happening in Zimbabwe this week? Well, only what has finally been shown on international news recently: some white farmers murdered, held up, assaulted, beaten, kidnapped, and one or two of their wives raped in a country which has up to 80% HIV infection rates.

More farmhouses have been burnt down, and loyal black farm workers have also been widely attacked, beaten and their homes burnt down. The classic definition of democracy in Africa is as follows: “Democracy is the right to intimidate others until they agree with you.”

A lot of farmers have been sending their families across the border to farms in our area, where they have been sympathetically welcomed by strange farmers. Meanwhile, most of the white farmers seemed to have evacuated their farms and moved to the safety of the big towns and cities. They’ve come together in groups of five, and are desperately trying to maintain some kind of a presence in order that their farms won’t be completely swamped. Already no farmers have planted their winter crops, and they are threatening to burn down their own dried and ready tobacco harvests – the country’s main source of income.

President Robert Mugabe has branded all white farmers as “enemies of the state” and has said that they deserved what they got, for having been the cause of his failed land reform programme. He doesn’t mention though, that nearly three-quarters of the foreign aid donated for his country’s land-redistribution programme, has gone into his own pocket, and those of his officials and that he is personally probably the biggest landowner in the country. Or that while the blacks occupy the vast majority of farmland, the infinitely small number of whites of the country, feed virtually the whole of Zimbabwe...

The situation there is interesting. Mugabe has to hold the new general elections within two months, and the feeling is that he won’t win unless he pulls a grand coup of sorts. The man who has bragged as being the “richest man in Africa” and has become a virtual military dictator, is in danger of losing his seat. He seems to be playing a very dicey game, though.

Zimbabwe used to be one of the only three success stories in Africa, but over the last ten years, he has single-handedly ruined it. The Zimbabwe dollar is pegged artificially at about 35 US cents, but in reality it has become worthless. Their inflation rate is 60%. They continue to face severe fuel shortages, and owe the South African electricity supply company 108 million Rands in unpaid bills.

It seems that he has simple stacked everything on one card: If he loses the gamble, he can retire to Cuba, Libya, Iraq, South Africa, or perhaps even to his castles in Britain or Europe, and live his life in unimaginable wealth. If he wins, he gets to steal his country blind for another couple of years. At the same time, he gets to ruin his worst personal enemies. I was told way back in 1988 already that he harbours a bitterness and a hatred against white people that knows no reason.

It gets even more bizarre, though: The only independent newspaper in the country has also received death threats and has been bombed yesterday – believed to be the work of Mugabe’s army. The latest news is that Mugabe has ordered the squatters to pull out again, but no-one’s listening, and Mugabe is only smiling at this. The Farmer’s Union are saying that Mugabe is supplying the AK 47 machine guns that the land-grabbers are armed with, and is still giving them every assistance in their task.

I know a farmer up there who has been driven off his farm three times already. Each time when he moves off, so do the squatters – in order to go and occupy new farms. The moment the farmer moves back, so do the squatters! That poor man and his wife are quite old already. If they lose their land, they won’t be able to sell their home or equipment, or even take their money with them when they leave. They will have absolutely nothing in the world, and be too old to make a new beginning. It is really quite sad.

Meanwhile, the farmers have been queuing up at the British consulate to apply for British citizenship. Britain has said it is prepared to fly out British descendants, and will evacuate them militarily if needs be. Those that have had no recent British ancestors will have a massive problem: Where will they go and who will take them with no money? They now own fairly worthless farms, previously worth large amounts of money, but Mugabe won’t let them take their saving out of the country. Their money has become worthless anyway, and many of them are too old to make a new beginning elsewhere. Even worse, is the fate that might face their loyal black workers who will have to stay behind.

But let’s just ask how this has been possible? How could a nation of several million blacks, hold up a mere 1,000 white farmers hostage, and claim that they’ve stolen most of the country from under them? How do they get away with it, and how did they manage to drive these men and women off their land? Well, in the early 1990's Mugabe virtually disarmed his citizens, except for a few professional hunters and farmers, who were allowed a small number of firearms. When they were attacked, they simply had no means of fighting back against AK 47 assault rifles!

The few hunting weapons that have survived are woefully inadequate. More disconcerting to me, is the fact that the South African government is desperately trying to finally push through firearm legislation that will be even worse than that of neighbouring Zimbabwe. The unofficial object is to disarm the country as much as possible, in the vain expectation that this will end violence. Of course, those of us who know better, realize that this will only strengthen the position of despotic governments, and have no positive influence on crime. We believe the disarmament drive is for dark political reasons, rather than crime-prevention.

South African politicians have long been clamouring for the same kind of thing to happen in South Africa. Squatters in the eastern Transvaal and the Cape have already threatened to follow Mugabe’s example, and have made a half-hearted attempt near Wakkerstroom. Quite simply put: Mugabe wants to enrich himself by stealing land, and wants to buy votes with it. So do our own government members, and so have others throughout history. The Zimbabwean experiment is in my view, a very significant sign for southern Africa’s future.

Having said this, it is perhaps good to think of what Thomas Jefferson once said: “No man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

The strange thing is that all this time, the South African government has maintained a thunderous silence on the entire matter, despite heavy criticism from even our most liberal media. When the presidents of Namibia, South Africa, and Mozambique came together two days ago for a peace-meeting in Victoria Falls, they uttered not a single negative word about Mugabe’s land-grabbing. In fact, they concluded the meeting by saying that they had full confidence in Mugabe’s upholding of the law!

Yet, he is still defying his own high court and his own laws which have twice ruled that the squatters have no legal claims to the land, and have to be evicted. He still continues with hate-speech, inciting hatred, sanctioning violence and spreading a spirit of racism in a country that used to be one of the most peaceful in Africa.

Today however, comes the most astounding news: Mugabe has finally agreed to start cutting back on his land-grabbing, inflammatory rhetoric and to hold the expected elections. In exchange for what? Well, in a deal brokered by South Africa’s president – Britain, Europe and America have agreed to fund his land-reform programme, and that the IMF will make hundreds of millions of Rands in loans available to Mugabe once more, as well as certain other favours.

Somehow I can’t help but come to the conclusion that Mugabe has won the game quite nicely. His gamble seems to be paying off. He held up his own citizens as hostages, dared and defied the entire world, and then watched with great satisfaction as they gave in and meekly paid up on the ransom. Of course, he gets even more than just a moral victory: With millions that could come pouring into his country again, his bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein will probably respond very buoyantly, and if he gets to make a few promises and throw a few millions at the right officials, he’ll get more votes too.

South Africa president Thabo Mbeki, Joachin Chissano of Mozambique and Sam Nujoma (the Namibian president with an eight grade education), has today called Mugabe a “champion of the rule of law” and praised him as being “committed to ending the violence” – [which he had caused in the first place!]

Oh well. The Zimbabwean story has been predicted a long time ago. Last night on South Africa TV, a Zimbabwean farmer was interviewed. I conclude this topic with his words: “Where to now? A living in Botswana perhaps? South Africa is out of the question, because indications are that the same will eventually happen there too...” Indeed, some of us have long suspected that Mugabe, Mbeki and Nujoma have been working together very closely, and share the same goals. Time will tell...

Well, all of this has been a bit of serious news so far. Amid all of the gloom and doom, however, there is still plenty to smile about. Like yesterday morning, for instance. Members of the local ultra-light aeroplane club like to fly up and down the Elephants river in the early mornings. This, for some reason, really freaks out the poor cats. A few days ago they decided that the safest place to hide from aerial attack was in the engine compartments of motorcars.

As before, the white cat dove underneath my car yesterday, only to emerge with quite a lot of oil and grease on its coat when all was safe again. This seems to be becoming a regular thing now, and it seems to me that I can count the number of aerial passes, by the amount of oil smudges on the poor, frightened white cat’s fur. I tried washing them a while ago, but it doesn’t help much and the cats absolutely abhor the experience, so I’ve given up.

Let the cats have their fun! One of these days I’ll get to a place where I can get the engine cleaned with water which is not as corrosive as the water that we have here, and get that old oil washed off on one side of the engine. Until then, I bid you good-bye and hope you’ll have a wonderful week.

As always,

Picture of Joseph with his new washing machine. When after years of good service it finally died, Joseph asked if he could have the corpse. He said he knew “a doctor who will know how to fix it.” So he loaded it onto a wheelbarrow, and cheerfully disappeared into the bush with it. I was just in time to grab a camera and snap the moment. There was no time for a flash or anything, that’s why it is dark and grainy.

I’ve often wondered how Joseph got that big machine to his home, for it was an old washing machine, extremely heavy and it must have been quite a job transporting the machine along game trails through the thorny bush. Somehow he must have forgotten that the machine needs electricity, and I didn’t want to spoil the moment by telling him.

It reminded me of a cartoon of Hagar the Horrible, though. It shows his wife, Helga, pounding a pile of washing with a big rock, with the twisted remains of a washing machine below it. In the speech bubble she angrily mumbles more-or-less the following: “Hagar always buys me useless gifts. Some labour saving device, this has turned out to be!”

Sunday, 20 May 2012

To Bite A Python on the Head

And the memory of  “He-who-sees-with-his-hands”

14 April 2000

Friday afternoon again, and time to the record some of the adventures of life on the frontier.

It hasn’t been much of a week. The lions are still playing around the house, and some contractors building a house for a new neighbour, have been kind enough to come and warn that the big cats have been hanging around even during day time, “so please be careful.” OK...

Last night was a bad night. It sounded as if all the critters were having a party on the sandbanks at the river again. A singalong beneath the moon. They had me up nearly every hour since midnight to see just what was going on. Egyptian geese excitedly hollering with voices that bear an uncanny resemblance to that of Rod Stewart, hippos adding an element of baritone and bass that would have put amazing Ivan Rebroff to shame, while the impala went around supplying most of the general tune. The sound of a man whose throat is being cut with a blunt object – such as a wood saw perhaps. That’s the sound they make when they become amorous.
The banks of the Olifants River. It is here - when the wild figs are ripe that the the animals make merry so much that one sometimes cannot sleep at night.
Oh yes, its that time of year again over here. Some of the city-slickers who bought a property a few miles from here excitedly reported that they heard the lions making their “mating calls” all night. Well, it seems that everybody they told the story to at least had the tact and social grace not to burst into hysterical laughter and telling them that those snorts were impala and not lions! (Lions are sort of silent. Sort of eh... more discreet. These impala sounds are more eh... well, let’s just say they make it sound as if mating cannot be fun at all...) Oh, and then there was something knocking on my roof too last night. I snuck around like a nosy old woman, armed with flashlight and a handgun, but saw nothing. Just one of those things, I guess...

Mentioning the moon, brings to mind a visit of some neighbours who usually only stay down here during the cooler winter months. They brought a bit of fresh news which I found interesting, since it comes all the way from my birth land, Piet Retief. There’s a pretty nice mountain not very far from that town, by the name of “Hlangampisi.” In Zulu this translates to “The Meeting Place of the Hyenas.” This mountain is one of those incredibly weird and wonderful places which words just cannot adequately describe. It has an atmosphere that makes you feel as if you’re actually standing on a strange planet from some science fiction movie. The wind makes weird sounds, the light is oddly diffused, the vegetation is completely different, and even the rocks look strange.
Hlangampisi - seen from a distance and not looking remotely as tall as it actually is.
On the eastern side the mountain is even more strange. There is a huge crater, with nearly vertical cliffs all round, except for only one narrow crack, where a river leaves this weird valley. At this point, there are mysterious deep caves, enchanting waterfalls, and beautiful indigenous forests, and the locals call it “Hlangamvula” – the place where the rains come together. And indeed, when it rains, the angry black storm clouds usually seem to gather over this spot, and then expand from there.

The son of one of the German farmers, a fellow called Klingenberg, went hunting for some baboons recently. He was climbing some of those cliffs when his foot slipped and before he could catch hold of something, he went over the edge and fell straight down. Luckily enough, however, the sling of his rifle caught a tree, and it whipped him around and slammed him against the rocks. He managed to hang there, and finally slithered back up to safety, relatively unhurt but very much shaken. Looking down, he said he could see where he would have fallen to his death, fifty metres below where the Entombe river originates. “Quite a spot of good luck there old fellow,” as my British ancestors no doubt would have said...

There is very much to be said about this wonderful region, but I won’t go into too much detail. Maybe just to mention that in those caves there once used to live blood-thirsty cannibals. The last of them were apparently wiped out around 1870 when the German settlers moved in, but in some of the caves, human sculls and bones can be found to this day – still bearing tooth marks and knife-cuts in the bone. On the farm of another Klingenberg, nearby, there is a huge big rock where the victims used to be slaughtered and their heads bashed open with clubs and stones to extract the brains. Curious thing about that rock, and the cliffs behind it is that when you strike them, they utter the most hair-raising sound. It sounds as if everything is reverberating.

Further south from us, there is a place called Marloth Park. This is a property development in a nature reserve where the more affluent members of society like to own property. It is right next door to Kruger Park and the land actually forms a loop, bordered by a river, which cuts into the Park itself – which is always very sought-after real estate. This also implies a relative absence of crime, which counts for much in the New South Africa. But crime tends to follow the rich the way that a reputation seems to follows a bad woman. This is where the lions caught and devoured two bands of thieves last year, which I have reported about previously. Well, the lions have done it again! This time they caught a thief on a bicycle. I’m not sure whether they ate him also, but there’s a local rumour going round that those lions are now praying for more “meals on wheels!” The property owners seem to be most pleased with their new security personnel. And best of all – they don’t belong to any Unions.

Elsewhere, there have been a lot more crime this week, unfortunately. The owner of a small farm store, opposite the valley in which I used to live, has been attacked by robbers and robbed of what little cash he had. Poor Twesh was lucky. He didn’t get killed. Only badly insulted and slapped around.

But in- or near the Orange Free State there was a little incident that was interesting. Another band of robbers attacked this small little country store. They took 86 Rand (that’s about US$15) from the cash register, the owner’s cell phone, and his car keys. They then did the unthinkably wicked act of locking the poor owner into a chest-freezer and absconded. But the locals must have found out what was happening. They were soon tracked down by a horde of black figures which descended on them from all sides and started chasing them.

The robbers obviously knew what would be their fate if caught, for they seemed to have had the fear of death in their minds. Eventually one of them shot himself in the head to avoid being captured and probably also torn apart alive. The second one tried to do the same, but before he got that far the crowd caught him and oddly enough, prevented his suicide attempt. I take it that they did engage in vigorous non-verbal communication though, for it seemed that the fellow got fairly well injured anyway. Only the third one managed to escape to live and tell the tale of every robber’s worst nightmare come true: that of being lynched by a mob. Perhaps this is partly what the communist-indoctrinated masses meant when they used to scream: “We are the people and we want the POWER!”

The neighbour told me something else which I’d completely forgotten about. When we told him about the python that had eaten the waterbuck, he said that it might have been same one which had caught one of his workers two years ago. Apparently the man had gone to the river not far from that very spot, and had been attacked by a huge python. The terrified man said the nightmarish creature had its big coils all around him and was holding him so tightly that he couldn’t breathe. And then he managed to catch hold of the snake’s head. All he could do was bite it behind the head. This seemed to have saved his life, for eventually the snake let go of him and the two of them parted, both much the wiser for the experience. (I just wonder whether the snake got gangrene like that man who was bitten by his wife, I talked about recently...)

When the lucky man’s friends went tracking the snake the next day, they said his track was as wide as that of a vehicle’s tyres! The voice of fear has a habit of exaggerating sizes so I wouldn’t necessarily take it too literally. But still, those snakes to grow quite big. We don’t have too many pythons around here, though. Plenty of black mambas, however. But those are stories for some other time. Sooner or later there’ll probably be one because I’m always attracted to snake stories.

Somehow the conversation also turned to a man whom the old folkies still talk about occasionally. A big frightening man called Mbekizandhla. In Zulu this means “He who sees with his hands.” People were really afraid of him. He was actually not a Zulu at all, but a white man. A man whom people used to call “Doctor Potgieter” – despite the fact that he wasn’t a medical doctor. Mbekizandhla’s main claim to fortune was that he could heal people with his hands. They used to come to see him from hundreds of miles away. He would let them stay in special rooms which he had next to his house. Every morning he would get up at three, and start “treating” people by holding his hands next to their bodies, and very forcefully stroking up and down – yet never actually touching the bodies.

He would really work himself into a state doing this, and by nine o’clock he would be completely drained to such an extent that he had to stop. Some said you could literally feel some kind of “strange power” between his hands, and claimed that he had healed them almost miraculously. My neighbour said he went three times, but apparently “He who sees with his hands” could do nothing for his back problems... But that’s what makes life in the country so interesting. The kinds of people that you encounter here are often of the kind that make your jaw drop. Mbekizandhla eventually retired to some hellish spot on the Mozambique border and nobody has ever heard from him since, yet even today, nearly 20 years later, people still mention his name with superstitious awe.

News from Zimbabwe continues to be bad. There are now about 1,000 farms that have been invaded. Some farmers have been attacked and assaulted. It is terribly sad to see one family after another packing up what worldly possessions they can fit onto their vehicles, and moving off to the safety of the cities, while the mobs are cheering and jeering at them, waving their fists, dancing and singing “liberation songs.” Most of those beautiful, productive farms had been burnt down during the civil war, and those farmers had built them up from the ashes. Many had been bought from the current Zimbabwean government, so there is no truth in the accusations that they had “stolen the land.”

The Zimbabwe high court has again ruled that the police has to forcibly evict all these hooligans and that the farmers have rightful ownership of the land, but as before, the police seems to be refusing to obey in the least. The president has told the squatters they can and should stay, and while he is having meetings in Cuba at the moment, the deputy-president has simply decreed that “it is no longer necessary to occupy farms, since the law has just been changed, enabling the State to seize private farms without compensation.” Zimbabwe has also told Great Britain that if she should attempt to interfere, they are prepared to protect their independence with whatever force might be necessary.

They have in actual fact, had the insolence to unofficially threaten the UK with war if she should try to intervene! In the meanwhile, our South African farmers near Pietersburg are reported to be preparing their farms for receiving the Zimbabwean farmers if they should be kicked out the country. I believe that Great Britain has also agreed to offer the displaced white farmers British citizenship if they should be thrown out the country. At the same time the land-hungry masses near Wakkerstroom in the south-eastern Transvaal, South Africa, (where some of my family still farm), have also threatened to start invading farmland.

These people have a curious view on the ownership of land. They dogmatically and emphatically maintain that just as nobody can own the air or the sky, cut of a piece of it and say: “This little piece here is mine,” nobody can cut of a piece of land and say it belongs to only one person. To their logic, land is something that belongs to “the people.” This generally means that you can’t really deny others access or living rights on your property. This kind of stone age thinking is of course, ideal for political exploitation. President Mugabe has to hold new elections within the next month or two, but so far he has refused to announce an election date. Will Zimbabwe turn out to be the next in a long line of militant, extreme-socialist dictatorships?

This is becoming “old hat” now, but in neighbouring Mozambique, yet ANOTHER cyclone seems to be brewing up. That poor country is seeing no end to their miseries this year! This is now attributed to the El Nina effect, which is supposed to be the opposite of “El Nino.” It is also apparently what has been causing hundreds and possibly thousands to starve in renewed catastrophic droughts in Ethiopia and northern Kenya.

Oh, and there’s this town called “Middelburg” which I always drive past en route to Johannesburg or Pretoria, and where one of the other locals live, who own property close to us. There a sixteen year old delinquent has stolen an aeroplane for the SECOND time from the airport, and had buzzed his own school. This created such a panic that the entire school had to be evacuated in great haste. His father just shrugged and said that his son is as passionate about flying as other kids are about riding a bicycle. Somehow, the logic in his explanation escapes my poor, tired brain. But I think I like that kid. And I think I like his dad too.

I could got on a good deal longer, but I figured four pages is about enough. As I said, this has been a quiet week.

Many regards,