A true account of tales wondrous, funny, sad... and also tragic.
Never before had I read writings about this little country that are so plainly honest, described by someone from the coal-face, a former Judge. For this reason alone, I hope this book becomes a classic, read and respected by all with an interest in Zimbabwe, and all those who've woken up to the need to recognise the signs foretelling the loss of a nation. This short book may well provide clues as to how to steer clear from such a traumatic loss.
It should serve as a lesson for people everywhere, showing that societies and nations cannot navigate by believing 'facts' that have been skewed and sugared to suit. The Rhodesians -- the non-indigenous of about 300, 000 in a nation of 6,000,000 -- did not see facts as they actually were, and for them, it offered a happy dreamworld. That dreamworld collided with reality. The "accident" that is Zimbabwe today, all the lives it took, all the people it maimed and mentally mangled, and all the families it scattered across the globe, has been the result of this fatal mis-navigation at a pivotal point in living memory, that fatal day in 1965, when that 5% of people of non-African descent, decided that they would one-sidedly declare "independence", and rule as a minority.
One important lesson from the story of Rhodesia is this: people of a given society can avoid terrible fates if they learn to ride on the intelligence and wisdom of capable others; those others being the rare few within their own society who are known and trusted for having such wisdom and intelligence. At crucial junctures in the journey of our nation, should we not look to those among us who possess the deepest insight and intelligence? Like any society, Rhodesia had such individuals, but they were ignored. They were ignored when they advised against a one-sided declaration of independence. Not only were such far-seeing people ignored, they were also maligned and made examples of, for daring to go against the will of the ruling "Rhodesia Front" party, i.e. that lamentable decision to snub the Queen and international law. (One such person maligned by the Rhodesian government was Allan Savory; his farm land was confiscated, and he was finally exiled in 1979, the year before the Rhodesian regime fell. Allan Savory has proven himself to be the epitome of wisdom and foresight; an Internet search of his name will quickly convince you.) "We" excluded the indigenous folk---95%+ of the population---from voting; surely we should have known that it would be seen as patently unjust in the eyes of the world.
The book is about events seen through the writer who had grown with that little nation, through more than half of its 120 years. This is a journey of a "Coloured" gentleman, in those strange Southern African times when people were segregated, and where "Coloured" meant "person of mixed race". His training and work propelled him to the job of High Court Judge. Who could give us the story of a nation with a sharper eye than a man of legal training; a man with that habit of relying on logic and evidence, of being careful not to see things as they may convincingly appear at first; and, above all, a man with ancestry on both sides of the racial schism upon which the Rhodesian civil war was somewhat premised?
Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) was a little England which British people tried to build among the acacias. Their efforts were admirable, and largely successful for the first seven decades. Successful in that they established contented and peace-laden lives for a large number of the population, even if it had been a small minority of mostly British descendants who held most of the political and economic power, (which were kept in check up to that fateful year of 1965).
The story shows that certain rare members of the White Rhodesian citizenry had been right, after all, to oppose the illegal declaration of independence. Rhodesia took a terrible turn in 1965, but hardly anybody knew it then---except the sharp-minded Rhodesians, who, as afore-mentioned were punished if they voiced what their binocular mental eyes could see. That road which began at the one-sided declaration of [whites-only] independence led to anger among the voteless majority, who became easy to goad towards an armed struggle, and, if some were not incited at first, were later pushed over the edge as economic sanctions ratcheted up poverty, almost exclusively among the very people such sanctions were supposed to help; i.e. the indigenous majority who were already victims of powerlessness through not having the right to vote. And so came about a situation in which impoverished and angry native Africans sought guns, which communist dictatorships readily supplied, together with military training and other support, thereby gaining influence in a quiet corner of the world that could have done without them. On both sides, many died unquiet deaths, many people were killed and left damaged, physically and mentally ... it had been all so unnecessary.
One character in the book leaves a deep impression: Lieutenant-Colonel Derry McIntyre. His intelligence and professionalism as a soldier shine, and one can quickly sense he earned and fully deserved his very senior rank. Something really interesting happens at a meeting between him and a selection of senior judicial staff: the aim of this meeting was to give judges a true view of what was happening at the front line. The Lt-Col tells it like it is. No exaggeration. No downplaying. Just facts, arranged simply and logically. And it shocked this congregation of supposedly highly intelligent legal minds.
The meeting had been set up by the Prime Minister (Ian Smith) in the hope that the courts would hand down harsher punishments to the guerrillas and their collaborators. However, Lt-Col McIntyre's response was not what Smith had hoped for. In short, it seemed that Smith had expected the Lt-Col to compromise his professionalism. Instead, the Lt-Col just gave the highest quality information his high-powered mind could give; in other words, information that could be worked with, unlike the fairy-land "official", government controlled information that nobody could work with sure-handedly. The scenes in which the Lt-Col speaks are a strong reminder of how censorship and propaganda caused the settler community to mis-navigate the nation. Facts hidden, facts tampered with before being dished out to the citizenry were what forced the settlers into a civil war of a ferocity they never expected from an ordinarily docile and respectful native population.
The writer describes Lt-Col McIntyre's words as "clear and clipped, dropped like icicles on a mountain pass." The writer goes on to describe the Lt-Col's report as "matter of fact" and a "chilling reality check", in deep contrast to the censored and "propaganda riddled" claptrap that had been the usual fare for public debate; that the enemy is no longer small bands carrying out "incursions". Adding the coldest cherry-on-the cake, he says that "Rhodesia is actually at war"; that "the reality is that 'we' cannot win this war, .."
"WE CANNOT WIN THIS WAR"! (All-caps and the exclamation mark are my own.)
Even more startling---and to his credit---McIntyre goes on to say that the guerrillas are soldiers, just like he is, and that some of them have earned his respect, in particular, Josiah Tongogara, the Commander in Chief of the ZANLA forces. These high quality facts and viewpoints, not mentioned in the popular press of Rhodesia, sicken the writer's fellow judges. It may have been the first time the Rhodesian Army, at such high rank, had used the neutral word "guerrilla".
The point I saw in this scene was that the settler community could never have drawn a true map of their situation from the false information fed to them by their heavily censored news media. Only with information emanating from the likes of Lt-Col McIntyre could anybody have hoped to draw a reliable map upon which the White settler community may well have negotiated a trail towards tranquility.
If only the Rhodesian voters had insisted on the same high quality, uncensored, untainted news from their normal news sources, that country may well have been a oasis of harmony and contentment in Africa today.