My family’s history extends for three generations into Zimbabwe. Just before the turn of the last century (1900), eight of our family members were killed during the Matabele Uprising. Their epitaph stood for many years at a major crossroad in the city of Bulawayo.
I grew up in the household of the Matabele. We come from a long line of farmers. When I was young my father asked a wonderful man, Moffet Khumalo, to teach me the law of the Matabele. He instilled many things into my life. In particular, he taught me to respect other people. This has stood me in good stead all these years. There is an urgent need for the peoples of the world to respect one another, and to walk in a way deserving of respect.
In 1948 the government of Rhodesia undertook a population census. We camped for six weeks in the eastern highlands while my father went about his daily tasks. There must be few places on earth more beautiful in springtime than the eastern highlands. The hills are ablaze with the new, red leaves of the Msasa tree. The air vibrates with the calls of a million birds in breeding song, and crystal clear mountain streams chuckle their way to the valleys below.
In time I saw beyond the outer beauty and became deeply aware of the other role-players in the bush. A love and passion for the bush was lit in my five year-old heart. The bush has a soul of its own. I love to take people beyond the outer appearance and look into every plant and creatures’ secrets of survival. This passion was carried over to my many years spent as a farmer. For a time we lived on a farm in the Matopos area of Matabeleland. The farm Corrie Annat in my book is built on memories of that farm.
As a farmer my work took me to a number of African countries and, living and working amongst her people, I became aware of the greatest treasure of all. Time and space would prevent me from telling their many stories. How the San people will look for the empty shell of a small tortoise. Into the shell they place finely ground sweet-smelling herbs and, using the tail of a hare, apply the powder to their babies: or again, how the Matabele women prepare the most delicious of meals by merely gathering from nature’s abundant basket.
When our children were young we would hear, early in the morning, the pitter patter of little feet making their way to our bed. It would not be long before there was the usual request for ‘story’. On long journeys I would tell the children stories as we drove along to keep them quiet. Later, when my daughter was a boarder in senior school, instead of the usual letter I would send installments of a story involving two fictitious characters named Tom and Dlamini. When her school friends became aware of the
stories, they would badger her, to badger me, for the next installment!
During the war years our home was burnt down and, in 1982, our farm expropriated. There is no bitterness in my heart, only regret that our differences could not have been settled around a table, and that today, so many Zimbabweans live in such substandard conditions.
I have a deep compassion for the people of Africa. I do not believe that we have to be poor. On the contrary, we have resources that are the envy of many nations. If the story I have written is found to be worthy of film or print, I would like to use the proceeds to fund a project in rural Africa.
It is my earnest desire to invest my life in my fellow Africans. I love Africa with a passion that transcends the violence and blood-letting which is driven by greed and ignorance, and seek to bring out the emotional warmth, laughter, and caring love, so intrinsic in her people.
Someone once said that Leaders are made, not born. In most cases the desire to achieve great things moulded what would have been mediocre people into icons. In the case of Doug, I believe that he was a born Leader, and in bush craft, he had no peers.
From an early age he displayed Leadership qualities and took charge. While we were growing up on our many adventures into the bush, we were completely at ease in letting him lead while we were content to follow. On some occasions when I believed strongly that we were going in the wrong direction, he always had that uncanny instinct of a homing pigeon of getting us back to camp!
Being a Leo, Doug was and still is very competitive and the rivalry to be first or the best was always fierce! He had to win or nearly die trying! A point in question was that Doug shot the first elephant, while I shot the first buffalo – a point which bristles his beard and mustache even today at the very thought of it, that he did not bag all the ‘big Five’ first!
Doug’s love for animals, made him decide to become a Vet. With all the animals on our small holding at Lochview, this opened him up to many dirty chores such as lancing and cleaning abscesses on the cattle or cleaning foot rot in the sheep and goat herd. If he showed the least distain in the chore, our father would say, “and you want to be a vet??” this would get the job done!!
Of all my hunting friends, he was always the better shot. On the many competitions we had, it was a rare day indeed that we could beat him.
Being very strong and having great stamina, he often times would walk many of us off our feet! Doug once took on a bet to run from Bulawayo to Salisbury (a distance of 270 miles) over an Easter weekend. Our friend Garth and I seconded him by car. We thought he had failed when he bailed out at the Shangani river, a distance of only 50 miles which he covered in about 10hrs.
Today as I think about it- it’s nearly a Comrades marathon and that without training! As a farmer on the south western border of Rhodesia, he and his wife, Laura, occupied the last border farm, El-Toro, beyond which lay the wilds of Botswana. The farmers closer to Plumtree were murdered by terrorists. They were literally the last resident farmers standing.
By writing and completing his excellent book, ‘Storm Clouds Over Africa’ he has, yet again, bagged another first, and pipped me to first place! [again!!]
What can I say? Well done my brother! John Cunningham