Courage and luck

A dialog from Nadine Gordimer’s novel, A Guest of Honour (page 222):

‘Why does playing safe always seem to turn out to be so dangerous?’
‘It’s unlucky . . .
. . . because you’re too scared to take a chance.’
‘It’s unlucky to lack courage?’
‘That’s it.  You have to go ahead into what’s coming, trust to luck.  Because if you play safe you don’t have any, anyway.’
‘It’s forfeited?’
‘Yes.’

The death of Enos Nkala

The death has occurred of Enos Nkala (1932-2013), co-founder of ZANU, former Zimbabwean Senator, and ZANU-PF Minister in the government of Robert Mugabe (1980-1989).  As Minister for Home Affairs, he was chief prosecutor of the Gukurahundi, the brutal genocidal campaign waged by ZANU-PF against supporters of PF-Zapu and the people of Matabeleland.    This prosecution was undertaken despite Nkala being Ndebele himself.   In a more just world, he would have died in prison.
The Telegraph obituary of Nkala is here.  The writer says:

Nkala became Mugabe’s most feared enforcer after the collapse of an uneasy coalition between the ruling Zanu-PF party and Joshua Nkomo, the leader of the Zapu party. This was essentially a truce between Zimbabwe’s two largest tribes: Mugabe’s majority Shona people and Nkomo’s Ndebele. The deal fell apart in 1982 when Nkomo was ejected from the cabinet and accused of planning armed rebellion.
This supposed plot was almost certainly an invention, but Mugabe retaliated in January 1983 by sending a special army unit to Matabeleland, the home of the Ndebele in western Zimbabwe. The Fifth Brigade’s task was to wage war on the population, eradicating Zapu and enforcing support for Mugabe by terror and violence.”

Well, either Joshua Nkomo was plotting against the government of Robert Mugabe while he was a Minister in that government or he was not.  At the press conference he gave in Salisbury (as it still then was) in February 1982 upon his dismissal, Nkomo was reported by Newsweek (February 1982) to have  admitted that he had indeed sought the assistance of the apartheid Government of South Africa to stage a coup and to overthrow Mugabe.   South Africa had, apparently, refused his request.
The crimes of the Mugabe regime against the people of Matabeland were genocidal and deserve to be punished as crimes against humanity.   It does not diminish these crimes in any way to say the truth – that Mugabe’s government was also right to be suspicious of plots by PF-Zapu and Nkomo to overthrow by illegal, unparliamentary means the legitimately-elected, majority government of Zimbabwe.   Later in 1982, somebody – and this was no paranoid invention of a crazed megalomaniac – blew up most of the planes of the Zimbabwean Air Force while they were parked on an airforce base at Gweru.  The plots and enemies of ZANU-PF were real.
 

Influential Books

This is a list of non-fiction books which have greatly influenced me – making me see the world differently or act in it differently.  They are listed chronologically according to when I first encountered them.

  • 2019 – Mary Le Beau (Inez Travers Cunningham Stark Boulton, 1888-1958) [1956]:  Beyond Doubt: A Record of Psychic Experience.   
  • 2016 – Lafcadio Hearn [1897]: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East. London, UK: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited.
  • 2015 – Benedict Taylor [2011]: Mendelssohn, Time and Memory. The Romantic Conception of Cyclic Form. (Cambridge UP)
  • 2010 – Hans Kundnani [2009]: Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust. (London, UK: Hurst and Company)
  • 2009 – J. Scott Turner [2007]:  The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself. (Harvard UP) (Mentioned here.)
  • 2008 – Stefan Aust [2008]: The Baader-Meinhof Complex. (Bodley Head)
  • 2008 – Pierre Delattre [1993]:  Episodes. (St. Paul, MN, USA:  Graywolf Press)
  • 2006 – Mark Evan Bonds [2006]: Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven. (Princeton UP)
  • 2006 – Kyle Gann [2006]: Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice. (UCal Press)
  • 2005 – Clare Asquith [2005]:  Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare.  (Public Affairs)
  • 2004 – Igal Halfin [2003]: Terror in My Soul: Communist Autobiographies on Trial. (Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard UP)
  • 2001 – George Leonard [2000]: The Way of Aikido: Life Lessons from an American Sensei.
  • 2000 – Stephen E. Toulmin [1990]:  Cosmopolis:  The Hidden Agenda of Modernity.  (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1999 – Michel de Montaigne [1580-1595]:  Essays.
  • 1997 – James Pritchett [1993]:  The Music of John Cage.  (Cambridge UP, UK)
  • 1996 – George Fowler [1995]:  Dance of a Fallen Monk: A Journey to Spiritual Enlightenment. (New York:  Doubleday)
  • 1995 – Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch [1992]:  Thinking Body, Dancing Mind.   (New York: Bantam Books)
  • 1995 – Jon Kabat-Zinn [1994]: Wherever You Go, There You Are.
  • 1995 – Charlotte Joko Beck [1993]: Nothing Special: Living Zen.
  • 1993 – George Leonard [1992]: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment.
  • 1990 – Trevor Leggett [1987]:  Zen and the Ways.  (Tuttle)
  • 1989 – Grant McCracken [1988]:  Culture and Consumption.
  • 1989 – Teresa Toranska [1988]:  Them:  Stalin’s Polish Puppets.  Translated by Agnieszka Kolakowska.(HarperCollins) (Mentioned here.)
  • 1988 – Henry David Thoreau [1865]:  Cape Cod.
  • 1988 – Rupert Sheldrake [1988]: The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature.
  • 1988 – Dan Rose [1987]:  Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971. (U Penn Press)
  • 1987 – Susan Sontag [1966]: Against Interpretation. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
  • 1987 – Gregory Bateson [1972]: Steps to an Ecology of Mind. (U Chicago Press)
  • 1987 – Jay Neugeboren [1968]:  Reflections at Thirty.
  • 1982 – John Miller Chernoff [1979]: African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. (University of Chicago Press)
  • 1981 – Walter Rodney [1972]: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.  (London: Bogle-L’Overture Publications)
  • 1980 – James A. Michener [1971]: Kent State: What happened and Why.
  • 1980 – Andre Gunder Frank [1966]:  The Development of Underdevelopment.  (Monthly Review Press)
  • 1980 – Paul Feyerabend [1975]: Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.
  • 1979 – Aldous Huxley [1945]:  The Perennial Philosophy.
  • 1978 – Christmas Humphreys [1949]:  Zen Buddhism.
  • 1977 – Raymond Smullyan [1977]:  The Tao is Silent.
  • 1976 – Bertrand Russell [1951-1969]:  The Autobiography.  (London: George Allen & Unwin)
  • 1975 – Jean-Francois Revel [1972]:  Without Marx or Jesus: The New American Revolution Has Begun.
  • 1974 – Charles Reich [1970]: The Greening of America.
  • 1973 – Selvarajan Yesudian and Elisabeth Haich [1953]:  Yoga and Health. (NY:  Harper)
  • 1972 – Robin Boyd [1960]: The Australian Ugliness.

Jenny Biggar RIP

This is a belated tribute to long-time acquaintance, Jenny Biggar (1946-2008), for many years the Treasurer of the Budiriro Trust, a British-Zimbabwean educational charity.  I found the following obituary, written by Ann Young and published in the Loddon Reach Parish Magazine (July/August 2008, 1 (4): 16).

Jenny Biggar died on May 8th [2008] after a valiant fight against Lymphoma. All those who packed into St. Mary’s church for her funeral on May 19th bore witness to a life that had been well lived and truly Christian. It was a wonderfully uplifting service and a tribute to someone who had touched the lives of others, not only here, but across the world, and whose dying had been an example for us all.
 
Jenny was brought up at Manor Farm in Grazeley and attended the Abbey School in Reading. She was the middle child with two older brothers and two younger sisters. Family life was always central to her so it seemed natural that, when her mother died, she returned to the Farm in 1985 to look after her father and make a home for him. She had spent many years working in Africa, had read English as a mature student and was embarking upon a D.Phil at Oxford when she felt called back to her family. She quickly became a very active member of the Parish with jobs ranging from P.C.C. Secretary, to making curtains for the Church hall. She also worked hard for her two favourite charities – The Budiriro Trust (which maintained her links with Zimbabwe) and the B.R.F. She did some counselling work at the Duchess of Kent House and worked in the Estate Office at Englefield Estate.
 
Jenny was a wonderful cook and will be remembered for her soup at many Church events. She was a skilled needle woman and an accomplished musician, singing with the Farley Singers, the Dever Singers and the Church choir as well as playing the organ. She was also an intellectual with a deep love of literature.  She was honest and forthright in her opinions, but always with grace and good humour.  Throughout her life Jenny had more than her fair share of difficulties; she fought hard battles to overcome them and developed not only a stoical resistance to pain and discomfort, but huge inner strength. She gave so much to us all and will be sorely missed.”

And here is an obituary by Elspeth Holderness (1923-2009) in the 2007-2008 annual report of the Budiriro Trust.

Jenny Biggar died on 8th May 2008 after a valiant fight against Lymphoma. She was a very wonderful and exceptional person. St. Mary’s Church, Shinfield, was packed for the inspiring Funeral Service, which included several choirs which Jenny used to sing in herself – a wonderful tribute to someone who had so many friends here and abroad and who was always cheerful and quietly helpful and who had this deep inner strength.
 
Until not long ago, Jenny was a Trustee of Budiriro as well as Secretary and Fund-Raiser. She spent a great deal of time and energy in seeking out sources of funding, both from individuals and corporate bodies and managed to raise thousands of pounds with her tireless energy and enthusiasm. She was also involved in other ways (not least her home-made cakes, etc. after each Annual Meeting!). She was working at Manor Farm Estate, and also did some counselling.
 
She grew up at Manor Farm, run by her father, on the Englefield Estate, near Reading, and was part of a big, loving family. Her father, Bill, and Hardwicke [Holderness] (see obituary, Budiriro Trust Annual Report 2006-2007), had become great friends during the Second World War in the same squadron in RAF Coastal Command, and years later we found him and his family again on one of our rare visits to Britain – which was lovely. Around 1970, Bill wrote and said Jenny had decided to emigrate to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and could we perhaps “keep an eye” on her and we said “fine”.
 
She was, I think, very happy, working as a Medical Secretary, making new friends, joining St. Andrew’s Church [Salisbury], having her own flat, and also having the freedom of our house and garden. She also realised how some of the children around us needed education and to be able to read books. Jenny had a love of literacy and books and literature all her life.
 
After she rejoined her family some years later, she took a degree in English as a mature student at Reading University, and when we later went to live in Oxford, she had embarked on a DPhil at Oxford University, also in English. We introduced her to Ken and Deborah Kirkwood (who had been highly involved in Budiriro since the beginning and had already embroiled both of us), and she was happy to become involved too. She worked miracles.

Elspeth Holderness was the wife of Hardwicke Holderness (1915-2007), RAF pilot, Rhodesian MP and fighter for racial equality, whom I mentioned here.

Vale: Molly Clutton-Brock

Only the other day, I was reporting on revolutionary communists in the Rhodesia of the late 1950s.   One of those alleged revolutionaries, a founder of a non-racial co-operative farm and of rural health clinics, Molly Clutton-Brock, has just died aged 101.   Her obituary is here.   Her late husband, Guy, is the only white Zimbabwean buried at Heroes’ Acre national cemetery, outside Harare.

Ineffective imperalism

Rory Stewart Bluebells Bookstore Penrith 2009-12-15
British MP, Rory Stewart, has spoken in Parliament of our failure to deeply understand the cultures of the foreign countries we invade, with the consequence that invasion efforts are doomed not to succeed.   His view relates to an argument he has put before, about the failure of contemporary international aid organizations and personnel to reckon deeply with the cultures of their host countries, in a manner profoundly worse than that of 19th-century colonial administrators.   Colonial administrators may have typically been racist and exploitative, but at least they cared for – and sought to understand – the cultures and languages of the countries they administered, and were prepared to devote their working lives to those countries. 
Video here and Hansard Transcript here.  (Note that in his speech, Stewart refers to Gordon Brown by name, but the Hansard reporter has recorded this as, “the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)“.)

Distortions of history

Surfing idly, I came across this statement:

In 1958 Arthur Lewis married Gladys and moved to Rhodesia. Their first appointment to St. Faith’s Mission in Rusape proved to be something of a nightmare. While the mission had once been very successful, social work and the attached farm had come to take over and the Gospel work was side-lined. Rev. Lewis soon discovered that the farm was also used as a front for a communist revolutionary movement. After much hard work and a determined struggle, Arthur Lewis was able to re-establish the Church and Mission as a dynamic Christian enterprise. Amidst all the trauma of St. Faith’s Mission, their first child, Margaret Faith was born.”  (Source here.)

Wait a minute!  Communist revolutionaries in Rhodesia in 1958?  The first armed incursion in what became the Second Chimurenga took place in 1967 (and was undertaken by South Africans with the ANC, members of MK, and not Zimbabweans), and the war of liberation only took off from the early 1970s.  In 1958, neither ZANU nor ZAPU had yet been formed.  Of course, Doris Lessing and her then husband Gottfried Lessing, and their left-wing Royal Air Force friends in the Southern Rhodesia Communist Party may have counted as communist revolutionaries in the mid 1940s – although they only ever talked – but they had had little impact and were by then long gone from Rhodesia.
After a moment or two, I realized that there was a clue in the location:  St Faith’s, Rusape.  This was the site of a very famous multi-racial co-operative farm founded by Guy and Molly Clutton-Brock in 1950.   In 1957, the Clutton-Brocks and their colleagues on the farm were instrumental in founding a non-racial political movement, the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC), which like its South African counterpart (itself founded as long ago as 1912!) called for majority rule.  The SRANC was successful in convincing the then Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister, Garfield Todd, of the justice of their case, but he could not persuade his own party or his (mostly white) parliamentary colleagues.  He was dumped, and the new PM banned the SRANC in 1959.
At no point was anyone a communist revolutionary, unless you happen to believe that running a multi-racial commercial enterprise is communist.  But, of course, many white Rhodesians did!
POSTSCRIPT (2013-07-03):  Molly Clutton-Brock died shortly after this post.

Vale: John Makumbe

This post is a tribute to Zimbabwean political scientist, John Makumbe (1949-2013), who has just died.  I first met him in Zimbabwe in 1981, and once traveled with him to Botswana.  We had many conversations on religion, where we disagreed greatly.  He became an outspoken and fearless opponent of Robert Mugabe’s corrupt regime, and had been planning to stand for election for his home region, Buhera, to the Zimbabwe House of Assembly at the forthcoming national elections.
The Telegraph (London) obituary is here, The Zimbabwe Mail here, and Nehanda Radio here.

Zimbabwe's cohabitation

Matobo Hills Zimbabwejpg
Robert Mugabe is a superb public speaker.  I have been fortunate to hear him speak in public many times, from large ceremonial public addresses on state and official occasions, to speeches at ZANU-PF political rallies (ranging from a few hundred to several scores of thousands of people at Rufaro Stadium, and with both sophisticated urban and traditional rural participants), to addresses to foreign investors and business leaders, to quiet, grave-side orations at funerals of mutual friends.  And I have expressed before my admiration for his rhetorical skills, his superb command of different registers, his intelligence, his Jesuit-trained casuistry, and his guile.  I have never met him, but from accounts of people who have, he can also be very charming when he wishes.
Robert Mugabe
Despite claims by some that he has become diminished with age, and even falls asleep during official meetings, the opposition ministers in his Cohabitation Government say that he is just as charming, intelligent, and wily as ever.  From a  report this week in the Guardian:

Welshman Ncube, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Commerce and Industry and leader of one of the factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lost his grandfather in the 1980s Gukurahundi. The Gukurahundi was a violent campaign in which thousands of opposition Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (Zapu) party supporters were killed and beaten by a brigade owing allegiance to President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Ncube shares his experience working with Mugabe in a unity government since 2009: “Ninety percent of the time, I cannot recognise the Mugabe I sit with in cabinet with the Mugabe who has ruled this country through violence. He shows real concern for his country and people, like a father. And he can master detail over a wide range of government matters. If I had only this experience with Mugabe in government and had not lived through the Gukurahundi and seen him denouncing Zapu with anger and belief on television, and you told me he carried out the Gukurahundi, I would say ‘no, not this man, he is not capable of it’. But I saw him.”
Another MDC minister, Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga, also struggles to reconcile the man she thought Mugabe was, before entering government, with the one she knows today. “I did not think Mugabe believed in things. Now I know that Mugabe actually believes in things, ideologically, like that the British are after regime change in Zimbabwe. When he believes in something he will genuinely defend it. If he believes in an action, no matter how wrong it is, he will not apologise. That is one hallmark of Mugabe. He is loyal to his beliefs.”
On Mugabe’s personality, Misihairabwi-Mushonga says that she had not known that he was “a serious charmer around women. A very, very, very good charmer . . .  He also has an exceptional sense of humour. You literally are in stitches throughout cabinet. But he also has an intellectual arrogance. If you do not strike him as someone intelligent he has no time for you. There are certain people who, when they speak in cabinet, he sits up and listens, and others who, when they speak, he pretends to be asleep.”
Nelson Chamisa, the MDC Minister of Information and Communication Technology, once thought Mugabe was “unbalanced”, but adds: “sitting in cabinet with him, I admire his intellect. He has dexterity of encyclopaedic proportions. He is bad leader but a gifted politician. Why do I say he is a gifted politician? He has the ability to manage political emotions and intentions. But leadership is a different thing. The best form of leadership is to create other leaders who can come reproduce your vision after you. Mugabe has not done that.”
Zimbabwe-100trilliondollars

I add a note to clarify this post:  None of the above should be seen as an endorsement of Mugabe’s policies, many of which have been motivated by malfeasance, peculation, and plain, old-fashioned, evil.  Unfortunately, his administration, unlike many in Africa, has been overwhelmingly competent, with even the policy of hyperinflation aimed – deliberately and very successfully – at enriching a few thousand people having foreign currency holdings at the expense of every other Zimbabwean.   The pinnacle of this deadly-effective malevolence has been the enrichment of the political and military elite by use of the state’s military forces to operate protection rackets in foreign countries  – eg, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with whom Zimbabwe shares no border nor any strategic interest.