Friday, March 15, 2013

(STICKY) (HERALD ZW) The ugly scars of Rhodesia

The ugly scars of Rhodesia
Thursday, 14 March 2013 19:31

Back in the village, in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve, village elders with cotton tuft heads say no amount of cosmetics can beautify a frog. It is ugly. There, it is a fallacy to apply lipstick or foundation on the frog. It remains ugly. Neither do villagers there encourage one to teach a pig to sing. It will not happen. Firstly, you annoy the pig and secondly, the pig will never sing.

In Rhodesia and indeed in pre-land reform Zimbabwe, Dande River separated villagers in Sipolilo Tribal Trust Lands from the Horseshoe Commercial Farming Area. There, one farm — The Dande Farm — stood outstanding as a white farmer’s agrarian legacy.

Dande farm did not employ people from the villages across the river. There were two reasons. One, the Shona, the autochthons of the land, abhorred working on the farms. Secondly, the white farmer himself was not very keen on engaging them.

His worry was that each time a Shona knocked off duty, he carried a brick home until he built his home. Each time a Shona picked up a lost spanner or a piece of metal, he immediately thought of his home. But an alien would rush to the Baas and give the spanner back, for the alien had no hope of going back to Malawi with the item one day. The aliens, it was said jocularly, would fly to Malawi in a basket overnight and back undetected by the radars. The baskets would not carry bricks and spanners, without risking detection and accidents.

At the farm, Aphiri, a man of Malawian origin walked with a stoop. His shirt, a former gold T-shirt, now a multifarious array of strings tied together in reef notes, told a story of abject poverty. Aphiri’s wife had died more than a decade earlier.

There was no doubt he was now spent, after years of working hard for the white farmer, Mr Pierce. Aphiri had worked for Mr Pierce senior first, then for Mr Pierce Junior, who now ran the farm, left by his dead father. Despite his long service, Aphiri had nothing to show for it.

The hierarchy at the farm was such that there was the farmer or Baas (boss), his wife Misisi (Mrs), the white manager Pikinini Baas (junior boss). Then came the children — the boys and girls — all Pikini Baas or Pikini Misisi.

The Baas’ dogs and cats also ranked higher than all the black workers, the foremen included, for on going to hospital or on those rare occasions when the black workers rode in the Baas’ car, the dog sat in the front seat, while the blacks occupied the loading tray. The workers envied the dogs and cats, for theirs was unfathomed luxury.

Aphiri always remembered the day rains pounced him while on his way from Mvurwi Town with Baas. There he was, huddled in the corner of the open truck’s tray, miserable, cold and shivering, while Baas sat with his dog in front. Baas never stopped. Instead, he continued driving as if nothing was happening. Baas only slowed down to close the passenger window to save the dog from the rains. Worse still, Aphiri was on malaria treatment!

Lighting stabbed the air, followed by thunderclaps. Trees shook. Branches and tree leaves sang. Huge raindrops pattered, spattered and drenched him silly. The wind sang along with the vehicle engine. The sky spoke in intermittent rumbles. Aphiri’s body responded with a chill running down his spine, each time the sky rumbled. Thereafter, the rains spattered to a steady halt but the wind continued hissing and singing along with the engine, until his clothes dried on him. Only the lizard knows the warmth of the rock on which it lies, an elephant might not.

While seated at the back, Aphiri remembered how he saw the current Baas grow. First, Aphiri remembered Misisi pregnant and one day giving birth to a baby boy. He remembered how he saw the boy crawl and take his first steps. Aphiri had been working at the farm, before the current Baas could hardly wear his pants without leaning on a wall.
Now an old man, Aphiri had been ordered off the same farm, the only home he had known and the only place his body had worked for, until all energy shed off.

Aphiri’s contorted forehead, a scullery of dead pimples, visible blood veins that threatened to jump out of the skin, lips that seemed to have kissed a red-hot iron, wiry, skinny and slim stature made him look ghostly, miserable, sorry, and useless!

His bloodshot eyes — affected forever by many years of curing tobacco without protection from the spewing smoke — told the odd story of suffering. Those were the scars of his life at the farm.

Barefoot, his feet cracked beyond redemption, the end of his life was nigh. His life was reaching an inevitable end. Too old to work, the white man ordered him off the farm, to accommodate new and still vibrant youths.

The farm was private property and Aphiri had no choice. Besides, the white farmer was ultra powerful. He had come from Malawi with his parents when he was a young man during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. He remembered following the iron snake (the railway line) on foot until they reached Salisbury.

For all the years Aphiri worked at the farm, he did not save a cent. He hardly touched cash, over the five decades, he worked there.

The Baas had a store at the farm. Every worker had an account he or she was allowed to borrow against the meagre salary. Every month end, the store keeper, Chaputika Chaibva, would deduct money from the salary.
Aphiri and the majority of the workers had balances always in the negative. They were in a perennial cycle of debt. Matemba, bakayawo, maize meal, sugar, salt, clothes and everything, were all found at the farm store. The workers worked to service their debts.

Baas made it a point that the money circulated in his pockets. Very few workers, if any, had touched cash in their hands. Baas would even take you to hospital and still deduct from your salary. But, cash, he would not give.

Desperate, Aphiri crossed Dande River to the Tribal Trust Lands, looking for a place to build his own home. The village head understood him and gave him a place.

That was not enough. Aphiri did not have a pension. Aphiri did not have savings.

His children had scattered with the farms all over Zimbabwe, seeking greener pastures. None of the children at the farm had gone to school, for there was no school at the farm. Baas had always wanted cheap labour and the educated would not want to be cheap labour.

Education opens apertures of the brain. He virtually had no one to assist him except the villagers. Do elders not say a single bracelet does not jingle?

One day, while about to complete building his mud-and-pole hut in the village, Aphiri collapsed and died. The village head sent a message to Baas for help but he said there was nothing he could do because Aphiri, was no longer in his employ. The messenger also said he had found Baas, using his workers to bury his dog, decently. Apparently Misisi had run over the dog accidentally, while driving off to the fields to give Baas tea in a flask.

Irked, villagers agreed to bury Aphiri, for, failure to bury him would bring untold abominations to the village.

Rhodesia was something. The Rhodesian yaidzvinyira! Rhodesia was ugly. No cosmetics can cover the scars and pimples of Rhodesia.

Do village elders not say one who causes others misfortune also teaches them wisdom?

Rhodesia, Rhodesia, Rhodesia!



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