By Larry Farren.
I would like to begin by giving a profound thank you to all of you who came from far away to be here, especially to those from Boston, Massachusetts, not because they are more welcome than others but because the motto of the state of Massachusetts is “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
This work of fiction can be judged by its cover,as they say. It tells several tales. On the front is a picture of crocodiles in the Zambezi river. A rock outcrop looks suspiciously like the face of a well- known Zimbabwean politician. Coincidently, “garwe”, or crocodile, is the chiShona isibongo ( clan or praise name) of that same politician. Propped against a rock is a military-looking rucksack and an AK47 rifle, the weapon of choice for insurgents world wide.
On the back cover we read that this novel is about colonial Rhodesia (it was then Southern Rhodesia) and post-colonial Zimbabwe, in which Sean Butler joins the B.S.A.,police on a three year contract, intending to go home to Europe at the end of it. But he finds that “He who has drunk of the waters of the Nile will return to drink again” – once an African, it’s difficult to leave. Hence the title of this book.
Zimbabwe is a country blessed with amazing natural beauty and mineral wealth. The Victoria Falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Downstream the mighty Zambezi river flows into Kariba, one of the world’s largest dams. Zimbabawe has massive resources of iron, tin, asbestos, chrome and platinum, as well as gold and diamond mines. It’s teeming with wild animals for big game-hunting tourists or for viewing in huge game reserves. Its major asset is its indigenous people, nearly all of whom speak English, and who are invariably, cheerful, polite and friendly, as evidenced by some of the major black characters in the book.
People make places, and the bright and cheerful people of Zimbabwe make it what it is, and the book makes that clear.
It would be hard to make a rich country like Zimbabwe poor, you’d think, but they managed it. Sean finds himself in a war he doesn’t really want to fight, as white Rhodesians resist handing over power to a black majority demanding equal rights. He doesn’t like the odds – his adopted white tribe is outnumbered twenty to one and shunned by the international community. It’s accused of being a bunch of racists caught in a colonial time-warp. But it’s HIS tribe, and he doesn’t agree with that analysis, even though he thinks they’re trying hold on to too much for too long, and he joins the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit (PATU) and SWAT to defend them and their limited democracy – limited to a largely white electorate.
But this isn’t just a war story about competing ethnic groups scrabbling to advance their own interests; it’s about characters caught in the web; about the interactions of very different people with conflicting agendas. Jason Dube, a Matabele tribesman, resents the white domination of his people, but shares an obsession about boxing with Sean. As a trainee and coach, they work together, and Jason learns to box “like he’s fighting for his life” as Sean advocates, for then he’ll have an advantage over the poor fellow who’s only playing a game and trying to score “points”. Boxing is fighting to rules, but it’s still fighting – it’s not a game like darts or snooker.
Marizani, Sean’s loyal interpreter, driver and advisor, a Mashona, with an amazing sense of humour and steeped in the traditions of the “old people”, the mystics of his tribe, has reservations about both the whites and the Matabele. He thinks boxing’s a bit odd, but he still bonds with Sean, who respects his unusual abilities, psychic and other.
Zemba, a sinister Central Intelligence Organisation operative, has never forgiven Sean for humiliating him in a boxing match. He kidnaps Jason’s sister during the genocidal Gukurahundi campaign against the Matabele, which saw the murder of an estimated (by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace) twenty thousand civilians, residents of the tribal areas who dared to support a party other than the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). Jason wants revenge, but Zemba is protected by the ZANU government.
Sean and Jason oppose the ZANU post-war government through a business association, while commercial farms invaded by ZANU’s thugs lie fallow, the people starve and businesses are stolen recklessly by the new regime.
Zimbabwe is in a poor state at present. But it can be saved from its government. The international community need to insist that it reforms. But first it needs to be aware of what is going on. That’s why this novel was written.
Larry Farren was born in Co. Donegal and was brought up on Air Force bases in Britain and Germany, as his father was in the Royal Air Force. In 1962, at the age of 20, Larry left for Southern Rhodesia (re-named Zimbabwe in 1980) to enlist in the British South Africa Police. He intended to return to Ireland after his “holiday” in the sun, but remained to compete as a competitive boxer ( winning four Rhodesian and three South African titles), married Althea and stayed on for forty-five years.
After leaving the Police, Larry became an accountant, then he and Althea ran their own printing and promotional venture in Zimbabwe for twelve years. When hostile economic and political conditions began to strangle businesses, they sold their company and their home in Bulawayo and settled in Co. Wexford.
“The National Geographic” magazine for May 2013 carries a twenty-two page article entitled “Breaking the Silence” and sub-titled “Oppression, Fear and Courage in Zimbabwe. It borrowed the title from the report compiled by the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace on the Gukurahundi. It states that ZANU’s thirty-three year rule has shattered the country and caused millions to flee.