I believe there is an old Chinese salutation “May you live in interesting times”
Well, I have been fortunate to have lived in interesting times.
Born in London, England, at the age of 5, my family moved to Rhodesia, my father got the farming bug, left his secure job and started farming. My brother and I were soon given chores of collecting eggs, milking cows, helping with pigs, crops and general farm activities.
My first horse was given to me when I was 7, this was the start of my life-long passion for horses.
Any one with farming connections will know that trying to farm with insufficient capital is difficult. Although I completed my schooling with good enough grades to go to university, I chose to join my father on the farm.
Three years of very long days and little money followed until the realisation set in that the farm could not support 2 incomes. I left the farm for the city and started my career in commerce.
After getting married and the birth of my two sons, the situation in Rhodesia deteriorated to the extent that I could see no future for my family, no hope of my boys getting a decent education, so we moved to South Africa. We were unable to sell our house so we handed it to the bank.
Currency regulations in force at the time only allowed us to take the equivalent of 2 months salary, an old vehicle and our household furniture with us. After 6 months, my job came to an end. I was in a new country with no contacts, no money and jobs were scarce.
In desperation, I started selling wall coatings on commission only, and door to door, a terrible job but I fed and housed my family. After a few months, I moved into selling Life Assurance, still commission only, still tough but I slept better at night.
Fortune smiled on me, I got a job with a very large food products company, and over the next 10 years I got to be Marketing Manager for consumer, industrial and export markets.
The company was production and accounting orientated and it was obvious that I had reached my ceiling. I had built up good contacts in Africa, so I took the plunge and started my own export trading business and a small food packing operation.
Over the next 4 years I traveled extensively in Central Africa, selling food products, hardware, building supplies and commodities. Business was going well until in 1993 when civil war in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and Angola stopped several shipments from being delivered. My business evaporated overnight and I lost everything I had built up, my marriage also ended and one of my sons had two bad accidents all in the space of 6 months.
The property market in South Africa was depressed, so I could not even sell the house for what I still owed on it. With no cash, no resources, not even a car, and little chance of employment, I accepted a kind offer from my brother to return to Zimbabwe (as Rhodesia had become) and help him with his businesses.
In addition to helping with my brothers transport and 2 way radio business, I started consulting and another small food packing business.
Fortune again favoured me 2 years later when I met my current partner who had inherited her late parents farm. I sold my business, put the cash into the farm and we built up a successful operation exporting horticulture products to Europe. At peak season we employed 180 people.
I was again living a good life, we had our horses so we could ride around our farm every evening to check on our cattle and see a variety of wild animals, including Kudu antelope, wild pig, warthog, large pythons, monkeys, baboons, many smaller animals, hawks and eagles.
In 2000, President Mugabe, fearing that he was losing his grip on power with a rise in support for the opposition party, the MDC, and because he lost a referendum for the first time since 1990, unleashed a reign of terror on commercial farmers.
Large groups of people were trucked in from traditional tribal areas and encouraged to take over commercial farms (mainly white owned). Many of the farm occupations were violent, with 13 farmers murdered, men and women beaten so severely that many never fully recovered. Farm workers who did not join the mobs were also murdered and beaten as were supporters of the MDC. The police and army actively supported these farm invasions and were involved in some of the murders.
The chaos spread through the farming areas, at this time, commercial farming accounted for a very large part of the country’s export earnings so the economy went into free fall culminating in an inflation rate measured in the millions of percent.
We held out despite increasing intimidation until late 2002 when we were the last but one farm still operating in our district of 43 farms.
Our work force was intimidated into going on strike, we lost our pea crop which was ready for harvest, our equipment and fences were being stolen and for a period of 6 weeks we were frequently barricaded inside the security fence around our house for days at a time by some of our workers and mobs of political thugs threatening to kill us, burn our vehicles, kill our animals. The mob lit fires all around our house and beat on metal barrels through the night so that we could not sleep. I must place on record that many of our staff refused to become involved in the intimidation and took personal risks to feed, water and protect our horses and cattle.
The police refused to act, saying that it was a political issue and we must just walk away from our farm.
The police twice tried to arrest me on the farm for refusing to leave our legally owned (in the family since 1956) farm. I escaped both times, but on Friday 8 November 2002 during a quiet spell when the mob had dispersed, I somewhat foolishly visited the police station to try and get action on retrieving a stolen pump. While there, I was grabbed from behind by security police, interrogated a little harshly for 5 hours, then thrown in a 10 x 12 ft cell with up to 27 criminals, (at least one murder suspect).
I was kept there for 3 days and nights, that experience would fill a book on it’s own. Then I was dragged into court still in the same clothes and dirty from sleeping on the floor, unshaven and unwashed.
Remember, I had not been charged with a crime, the magistrate gave me the option of agreeing to never return to our farm again or going to an even worse jail with a possibility of another court appearance in 6 months, if I survived! Despite hating to abandon my principle of never giving up, I had to face reality and realise that I could not protect my partner, my family and my animals from a prison cell so I agreed and on 11 November I was released. Ironically, the anniversary of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence. I have not seen my home since then.
I went to friends to get washed and changed and eat a decent meal, then moved to a small cottage on my brothers (as yet unthreatened) small acreage. My partner was given 2 days to move all our personal possessions and animals from the farm. As we had done so many times before for many of them, our ex neighbours came with their trucks and helped with the move.
2 days later, with the contents of a large 4 bedroom farm-house, store rooms, workshop and sheds strewn all over the lawn of the small 2 bedroom cottage, we were faced with the reality that we had no home, no farm, no business, no income, horses to find homes for, some unpaid farming debts and no future. We sold or gave away most of our possessions over the next few weeks.
My elder son had married a Canadian girl while working in England, he suggested we visit them and consider Canada as a possible home. We were concerned about the winters, but at the age of 53 and with no assets, our options were limited.
After a visit to check things out, we moved to Ontario in 2004 with just 2 suitcases and a horse saddle each, after paying for our air tickets, we had enough cash to buy an 8-year-old used truck.
We both got jobs, me on a large vegetable farm and my partner on a horse breeding stud farm. We worked very long hours at physically demanding jobs, then we started our network marketing business, public speaking, some coaching and more recently our internet business. I still spend some time as a farming consultant, my partner still helps with the foaling and weaning on the horse farm.
We are fortunate to live on a farm ourselves with our dog and 6 cats (1 survivors of the 6 we brought from Zimbabwe).
Many readers will be horrified at what we went through in Zimbabwe, many people I speak to cannot believe that we are still “normal” despite our experiences. There is more to the story but this is already a long enough tale, we were lucky, many people have suffered much more than us, both in Zimbabwe and in many other places recently and through history.
My purpose in recording this is to demonstrate that it is possible for any one to overcome losses, defeats and traumatic events. I must be one of the very few people who has lost 3 properties in a lifetime all because of politics!
I have also had to face losing everything and starting from scratch in a new country more than once. I am not a hero, I am just an ordinary man who likes animals and nature, but I also value my independence and it is that goal of being self-sufficient and a determination to get ahead that has allowed me to pick myself up and keep going.
It is not what happens to you in life, but how you deal with it.
A new Chapter
On 29 September 2010, I had a heart attack, I wrote about it in a post. So yet another change in my life. The farm consulting which was still providing a useful income had to stop immediately.
My desire for more time to develop my speaking, writing and internet business had suddenly been realised. Rather than worry about the heart attack, I am grateful that I survived it and still have enough energy to live a normal life. I now have the time to do what I enjoy.