|The ZIMBABWE Situation||Our
thoughts and prayers are with Zimbabwe |
- may peace, truth and justice prevail.
WHEN she upped and left her native Portlaw for
southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1964, Kathy Martin would never have imagined
that violence, fear, intimidation and oppression would end up being part and
parcel of her life.
The young nurse was aged 25, headstrong, eager to travel, ambitious….and Rhodesia was then a prospering farming country that had much to offer both its own citizens and the world market abroad.
“I remember arriving there and basically falling in love with the place,” recalls Kathy. “It was such a wonderful country; the people were — and still are — amazing and I remember being made to feel so welcome at the hospital where I was due to work.”
Kathy Martin, who had just qualified in general nursing and midwifery, had caught the travel bug.
“I had just qualified and I suppose I had itchy feet. I didn’t mind whether I went to Australia or South Africa but as it happened, I got a reply from the embassy at Rhodesia first and off I went.”
“My parents (Richard and Nance O’Keeffe, Connolly Road), were okay about it but I remember older people in Portlaw being absolutely horrified that I’d want to go to South Africa!”
She didn’t know it then but while her early days in Southern Rhodesia were “wonderful”, the 41 years that she has spent there to date would end up being a ‘mixed bag’ for Kathy.
“When I went there first it was fantastic. There was a great camaraderie between the black and the white people. It was a very productive country at that time but I suppose trouble was already brewing in some of the outer areas; the Zanu PF (Mugabe’s party) were beginning to get restless and there were little agitations here and there.” In 1965, the conservative whiteminority government of Rhodesia declared its independence from Britain.
The country resisted the demands of the black Africans and Prime Minister Ian Smith dug his heels in to withstand British pressure, economic sanctions and guerrilla attacks to uphold white supremacy.
Eleven years of unrest followed from the Black nationalist movement, including guerrilla leader Robert Mugabe of the Zanu (Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front) who advocated revolution.
“The war years were difficult,” said Kathy. “I was working as a nurse so, as you can imagine, it was very hard at times to witness first-hand the troubles. My husband Dennis was also shot at one stage; I’ll never forget how difficult that was particularly. When Mugabe came to power in 1980, there was undoubtedly a feeling of relief…nobody ever imagined what was to follow.”
“I won’t say I was an admirer of his because I didn’t like the way he went about things; he had been accused of a massacre in the past. But we were glad to have peace, to have our men back, the chance to get on with lives and so the white farmers gave the full support that was needed at that time for change.”
“Look at Nelson Mandela and the bitterness he could bear to this day yet he’s a wonderful Statesman. I don’t know what’s made Mugabe different… unfortunately he just is and it’s been to the detriment of our once fine country.”
Kathy Martin, a 66-year-old grandmother, has spent 41 years living in Zimbabwe which she now considers her home.
She met her South African born husband Dennis there and they married in 1968. Their livelihood became their land, the 3,000-acres ‘Kanowna Farm’ situated close to the district of Mutoroshanga, which they bought after acquiring a taste for farming as a result of leasing another property.
“We bought the farm from a woman who had lost both her husband and her son; we built it up into something quite reasonable, producing crops such as tobacco, maize, soya beans and wheat as well as farming cattle. Our wish was that our son Sean would take it over in time and, I suppose, look after us both in our old age.”
“We had 80 workers there and they were essentially a part of our family. We provided them with homes and everything was going well. But it all came to an end when the Mugabe’s land reform programme kicked in.”
In basic terms, the land reform programme spearheaded by the Mugabe has brought the once-prosperous Zimbabwe to its knees. It boils down to simple facts.
The white farmers owned the best land from the colonisation days and Mugabe wanted it back for the blacks…but, detrimentally for the economy, was determined to resort to whatever means necessary to get it.
In 2000, war of independence veterans began squatting on white farmers’ lands and in 2002, Mugabe ordered all white farmers (about 4,000 in total) to leave their land without compensation. He even gave the go-ahead to his black supporters to kill if they had to in a bid to further his aims.
Mindless violence, the slaughter and destruction of animals and white farmers’ lands became widespread. Some white farmers were killed. But also black farm labourers and anyone suspected of supporting the political opposition (the Movement for Democratic Change) became targets…including Kathy’s son Sean (35) who was severely beaten by Zanu PF youth militia.
Kathy and Dennis Martin were among the white farmers who came under siege in Zimbabwe and, as a result, were to lose everything they’d worked hard for.
In 2002, they had to contend with up to 70 ‘settlers’ on their land; they found themselves barricaded into their homes on several occasions by Mugabe supporters who beat drums outside their front door as an intimidation tactic. They also had to endure the beating of their son and the merciless slaughter of their cattle… all because they defied an edict to give up their home and livelihood.
“At times, it was just awful. The threats, the intimidation…the fear,” said Kathy. “We weren’t allowed to farm the land and so we had to let our workers go. The settlers were growing their own crops on the land, it was okay for them but we had nothing for our future. We had to keep our cattle in our front garden so they wouldn’t interfere with the settlers’ crops.”
“It’s the way everything was done that caused the problems. If they (Mugabe and his supporters) had been willing to compromise with the white farmers I don’t think the problems would have been there….if they said we’ll take this and you keep the rest.”
Kathy, who ran a small clinic from her farm since she retired in 1981, as well as a shop supplying basic groceries for the locals in her area, said one of the most difficult incidents for the family was the violent attack on her son Sean.
“Sean is a supporter of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC; he’s for change…we all are. We were away when it happened; Sean was on the farm alone when he was attacked by a group of ten Zanu PF youth militia. He was severely beaten with a fanbelt from a car and then chains.”
“When he told me over the phone, my immediate concern was whether or not he’d hit back. Because if he had, they would arrest him and have him thrown in jail for assault. Thankfully, he found the control to keep his hands down all the time.”
Kathy said that in another incident, two of the family’s cattle were inhumanely butchered by the Zanu PF.
“They were taken away and axed to death; they was nothing merciful about it. The worst part about it is the intolerable cruelty that these people are capable of. I know of people whose homes have been absolutely desecrated for no good reason. It’s a very, very serious situation out there.”
FAITH AND HOPE
Kathy says that despite the threats and intimidation, she and Dennis stuck it out on the farm for so long because it was their home, their livelihood and they had faith that things would turn out okay.
“People say to me why didn’t you leave earlier but I had faith and hope that it would be okay. The farm was our home; we worked tooth and nail to build it up over many years. We reached a compromise with our settlers to stay in the short-term. The important thing to remember is that we had a wonderful relationship with the black people; we still have. It’s just a small segment that have caused the problems.” After sticking it out for nearly two years, Kathy and Dennis did up and leave for a new home 15 miles away….because of what they are convinced was a genuine immediate threat on their lives.
“We had someone come to our door and tell us we had 48 hours to leave…or the whole family would be killed. I asked that man why it was necessary. He looked at me with pure hatred in his eyes, pointed to my skin and said it was because of that, as in its colour.”
“We knew we had to go. Thankfully, we got the 48 hours extended to four days. We were packing up not only our home but our business. I just knew that it wasn’t a light threat …our lives depended on us leaving at that stage.” Kathy and Dennis now live three miles from Mutoroshanga (15 miles from the farm)…and she says that for the first time in years, they are getting on peacefully with their lives.
From the farm, they managed to bring with them some lorries and combine harvesters and are trying to make a living from a little transport business where they now employ just two workers. The possibility of acquiring land for a new farm is a non-runner however; they got a letter to tell them they were never to break into farming again. “We’re moving on,” says Kathy who is back in Portlaw on a two-month break to see her brothers and sisters; her first visit home since 1994.
“I’m trying to close the door on that other part of my life; it was wonderful while it lasted but now it’s gone and I’m trying to move on. Our son Sean is now in Capetown and is working in the construction industry with his father-inlaw. Our daughter Bridget Rae is living near Kwekwe (a townsland near Victoria Falls) with her husband and two children. They are happy and getting on with things.”
She says that while her “heart’” remains in Portlaw and she is really enjoying being re-united with her brothers and sisters, after 41 years Zimbabwe is now her home…and despite all that has happened, she still loves the country.
“It is such a beautiful place; there is nowhere like it in the world. It was so productive and could be again. It’s where I married, where I brought up my children; it’s been my home for 41 years to date and will be my home now into the future. No matter what has happened, it’s where I belong.”