The tractor driver’s son


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HARARE – A few nights back I was invited to a farewell dinner given by a small local company. I sat next to a young man who told me that he grew up in what used to be a thriving commercial farming area.

Usually when people from that area tell me that they come from there I assume that they are referring to the nearest rural area. But he shook his head and said he’d grown up on a commercial farm, the son of a tractor driver.

I lived in that area for a year or so in the 1960’s. As a farm assistant’s wife I would have held a marginally higher status than a tractor driver’s son! It certainly wasn’t all roses and I remarked that it must have been difficult.

“It was wonderful!” he replied, to my surprise.

“I was very fortunate. I had a great childhood and it’s often only when you’ve lost something that you really understand how valuable it was.

“It was so beautiful then. If the council didn’t mow the verges then the farmers did and it all looked so good. Not like it looks now! It’s a real mess. I went out there a couple of weeks ago to visit my father. I thought about how sometimes at the weekend we went on the trailer to play football on other farms. It was a good life.”

It was so refreshing that he remembered so many good things.

“The farmer’s wife was so kind to people, she’d take them to the hospital or wherever they needed to go. Sometimes the farmers or their wives would give us a lift to or from school in the back of the truck. But often we had to walk the five kilometres there and back. We never missed a day of school.”

He spoke highly of the younger generation of one of the well-known farming families. They’re now in Australia but they were instrumental in helping him on his way. And he was employed by the son of another one of those families who promoted him to the office after less than a month of working in the lands.

There wasn’t a name, of a person or a farm, which I could think of that he didn’t know. And I was intrigued by the minute detail that he knew about the lives of so many of the farmers. He’s a diplomatic man though and when I asked him about people who I remember as being perfect shits, he would merely mention the name of the farm and say he knew of them!

“What was the name of the people who would have been on your farm in the late 1960’s?” I asked.

“It is difficult to know because we often called the farmers by nicknames. The names usually referred to mannerisms or quirks of behaviour and I only know the name Khami.”

I asked if Khami had a meaning and he said not as far as he knew. Then he called his older brother on his cell phone and when he’d finished talking he mentioned the name of a man who had become a legend in that area. I never met him but I knew who Khami was.

He was a boy of seven when Khami and his family left the farm. He remembers how they ran along side their car all the way to the main road and that the adults were crying as they watched them leave.

His father still lives on the plot of land he was given all those years ago. And it’s to protect him that his son asked me not to name the area. He’s in his 90’s now and came originally from Malawi.

His father never went to school. And there was something about the way he spoke about him that was so loving and so proud. He said that his father has an uncanny ability to remember not just dates but also the day of the week. When telling a story in the great African oral tradition he’ll always add that it was a Wednesday for example. His son checked him out on the Internet on a day in 1953 and found that he was right!

That his father never went to school couldn’t change the intelligence that was passed on to his children who had that benefit.

Africa is full of highly intelligent people who are uneducated. And unfortunately the reverse is also true and we have far too many educated fools!

“We were never hungry you know,” he continued, “People were not hungry then. If a man had many children he was given more maize meal and beans. We had vegetables, milk and sometimes meat when an ox was killed.”

What came through with such stunning clarity was that this man had grown up as part of a thriving and flourishing community. Hilary Clinton makes the point that a child needs a village. The child that this man once was had the good fortune to have that sense of belonging. He also has the intelligence to appreciate it.

I came home in a pensive mood and thought about how uplifted I felt by his story. In the midst of this senseless destruction and suffering it felt like the flicker of a candle flame, one that has never quite gone out.

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