A native-born white farmer and his Mashona maid reveal very different aspects of Zimbabwe’s history over the past three decades.
London Sunday Times foreign-affairs correspondent Lamb (The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream, 2005, etc.) first wrote about Nigel Hough and Aqui Shamvi in 2002, when Aqui apparently led an angry mob invading his homestead and screaming abuse. (In fact, she was trying to protect the Hough family, though at the time they felt betrayed.) Based on intensive interviews with both Nigel and Aqui, Lamb’s narrative traces their individual paths beginning in the 1970s, around the time that Robert Mugabe emerged as a revolutionary leader: hero to the black population (save a few of the majority Mashona’s tribal enemies) and bane of the white farmers, who owned most of the good land. Their recollections clearly delineate the cultural divide as Rhodesian white minority rule was forced to capitulate to multiracial elections and Mugabe’s accession as prime minister in 1980. Blacks, who had shared neither power nor privilege, had little notion of the role capital and investment played in making their nation an African showplace of high literacy rates and food surpluses. Average whites, on the other hand, hardly cared that members of a tribal society in which accruing more visible wealth than one’s neighbors was considered rude, even anti-social, might view them as infected with greed. Blacks gained admission to private schools and did as well as the best white students, to Nigel’s admitted surprise. Yet reconciliation had no chance, as Mugabe cemented his political monopoly by giving open blessing to farm seizures (euphemized as “land redistribution”) by ad hoc “war veteran” parties that drove most whites from a now-destitute country.
A balanced portrait of emotions, ideologies and awakenings on both sides of the racial divide as Mugabe’s abuses pushed a “model” African nation toward the brink of ruin.