The white man across the river

 

Isdore Guvamombe

Back in the village, in the land of milk, honey and dust or Guruve, then the Sipolilo Tribal Trust Lands, under Rhodesia, were under colonial rule.

The sun burst out of the thick low-hanging eastern clouds like the phlegm of a hard cough, its rays scattering and setting the village agog with warmth.

The clouds had since sunrise denied the sun the much-needed interface with the village.

Despite that, women did routine domestic chores oblivious of the ancient rhythm of life to survive, while men and children stayed indoors, roasting sweet potatoes, groundnuts and maize grain. They huddled before the fire.

Smoke spewed from all kitchen roofs, forever discolouring the grass thatch that ended in a juxtaposition of brown soot and grey grass.

Across the Dande River lived a white man with an egg-shaped head and was aptly named Chimusoro, (Big-head).  His farm bordered the village and he was always in constant conflict with villagers, for, do village elders not say, hoes digging the same pit, cannot avoid knocking against each other?

The river was the barrier that demarcated the villages from the commercial farms. It was a fierce barrier, not because it never ran dry but because Chimusoro did not want villagers to cross it onto his farm, let alone village livestock.  He called it trespassing.

This morning, the village went agog with news that Chimusoro had locked up more than two dozen village cattle in a holding coop at his dip tank, for trespassing.

As more details emerged, he had actually made sure he starved them as a way of forcing their owners to quickly claim them and face his wrath.  Village elders knew the trick and ignored thinking he would release them after a while. He did not.

By day three, it was clear the cattle were starving and thirsty. Attempts to steal them at night failed as the armed guards lay vigil 24/7. A few occasions before they were able to steal them or bribe the guards but this time it was impossible.

Everyone in the village was scared. On day four village elders met under a Muchakata tree at the centre of the village, scratched their heads and massaged their unkempt beard in search of solutions.

Village spies continued to update elders on the emaciated state of their cattle. One or two had dropped dead, already. The explanation had been that they drank dip tank water out of desperation. Things were getting bad. Soon they would lose them.

The scoop had nothing but cow dung. Nothing to graze. There was no water but dip paste, a very strong concoction for tick-borne disease that is very toxic.

Two emissaries from the next village were sent to face Chimusoro but he demanded to see the owners. He was aware that by this time, 10 cattle had dropped dead. He wanted to teach the villagers a lesson. The villagers, he said, had stolen part of the perimeter fence, hence they must pay the price.  The emissaries came back empty-handed.

On the seventh day, the villagers gathered their strength and said enough was enough and went to face Chimusoro.

They knew that more often than not, Chimusoro tore his hair in bouts of rage and turned red. Upon seeing a villager in his property, his first reaction was slapping one in the face regardless of age and gender. He was quite a rum.

Of a team of villagers went to face him with axes in their hands. On second thoughts they hid the axes in a bush to avoid signposting a war with him. They wanted to talk first.

On arrival, 12 carcasses lay dotted in the scoop. Their bodies almost bursting with decomposition. There were no other cattle there. Village elders held back their tears, knowing that cattle were wealth. Their only wealth.  Chimusoro refused to talk to them. He instead send his manager, another young white man, who seemed unfazed by the events.

He told the villagers that they were too late. He ordered them to go to the District Commissioner’s office and pay a fine for the trespassing of their cattle. He had no regrets. Asked about the whereabouts of the other dozen or so cattle, he bragged brazenly that he had loaded them into a lorry and dropped them in Mavhuradona wilderness, where some broke their legs. His reason was no one had claimed ownership.

Soon the villagers were rounded up. They had fallen into an ambush at the farm. Several white farmers in the area had connived to arrest them and they were detained, with the permission of the District Commissioner, without trial, for several months. That was Rhodesia!