‘Sacrificial Son of the Soil’

It was the end of the beginning of the war. Wars evolve slowly. They do not begin with battle lines and the crash of d rums but in whispered conversations, in conspiracy, in mass meetings and demonstrations, and in some desperate act that accentuates tensions and makes solutions possible only by fighting and winning.

Derek Huggins
Derek Huggins

The actual conflict begins slowly, progressively as the situation worsens until the mind becomes attuned to the fact that war cannot be prevented. It is a slide that seems irreversible, becomes irreversible, from one incident to the next (e ach more daring than the last) if unresolved b y the politicians. It was the time of the nationalist cause for freedom from colonialism.

The country and its people were undergoing the throes o f internal disorder and civil disobedience, incited and encouraged by t he black nationalists. Acts of political violence and inter-faction fighting that extended into the rural districts and were manifest in murder, arson, the burning of schools and homes, crop-slashing, cattle-maiming, and fence- cutting, but to little avail as regards changing the situation. The whites were still in power, with their efficient army and police, and they con trolled the land that was bountiful and the prosperous economy.

The Zambezi Valley is long and wide. It is a great cut across the belly of Africa. On each side, thickly wooded hills form barriers to the high-veld, and between them is flatness and dense bush, interspersed with gullies and tributaries that join the great river which runs through it.

It is as though there was an upheaval on the crust of the earth, and as the strata collapsed the valley was formed. And the river, carrying its water from west to east, found the valley an d followed it, flowing shallow and wide here, narrow and fast there, making its own deeper cutting in an effort to penetrate the womb of Mother Africa. Elephant and other wild animals wander their migratory trails along its banks where mosquito, and mopani and tsetse flies swarm and cluster. It is, by day, one of the hottest and most inhospitable places on the face of the earth.

There are people living there.

IT WAS NIGHT AND THE SKY WAS CLEAR AND THE MOON FULL. The air had cooled and the dew had begun to fall. Old Maguma sat on a stool before the fireplace outside his hut. He wore only khaki shorts and a shortsleeved shirt. Now and again he sipped from a calabash of thick sour beer which he rested at his feet, but most of the time he was lost in thought as he stared into the dying embers. Somewhere, far away in the hills, an elephant trumpeted but the old man did not notice it. He had heard tell from his neighbours that there were strangers moving through the valley.

It gave him disquiet because strangers never came to the valley. What was their purpose? Whatever it was it would mean trouble. He caressed the grey beard that grew on his lined face. Suddenly, a hut door grated on the step. Old man Maguma became alert. A young man emerged into the moonlight and stood watching and listening.

Maguma knew that it was his last-born son, Takundwa, and he remained motionless, waiting and hoping for his greeting. But Takundwa furtively took the path towards the perimeter of the village, and the enveloping scrub. ‘Do you not bid me goodnight, my son?’ called the old man. ‘Or do you move as a hyena in the night with no good purpose in mind?’ Takundwa stopped in his tracks.


‘Come and sit with me awhile and let us talk as we did when you were small.’

‘Baba.’ The boy retraced his footsteps and stood at his father’s side.

‘Come and sit. Come and sit with your father and give him pleasure in his old age. Come sit with me so that we may once again talk of many things. Let us bathe our thoughts in the night and allow our eyes to admire the moon. It is a night to commune with the spirits and to ask their help in all our doings. It is a night to contemplate our finest dreams, to let the spirit forth, and to discuss the future.’

‘Baba. I cannot. Not tonight. Not now.’

‘Why? Why not? Tell me, my son. Why do you wish to go into the night, when if you do not wish to join your father around the fire, you should be sleeping in your bed ready to respond to the call of the birds at dawn to take the goats from the kraal. Is it a girl you steal away to meet secretly? Are you so young a lover?’

‘No, Baba. It is not that …’

‘Then what is it? Are you then as the jackal in the night, running here and there, with only a hole in the ground to sleep in?’

‘No … But there is a meeting …’

‘A meeting? At this time of night? With whom? About what?’

‘I cannot tell you, Baba.’

‘What? You cannot tell your father? You cannot tell the one who sired you deep inside your mother? Since when have you kept secrets from me, my son?’

‘Never before, Baba.’

‘Then why start now, my child?’

‘Because there are matters, secret matters, about which I am not permitted to speak for fear of death.’

‘What is this of which you speak? It can be of no good for you, for me, for our people if it is conducted in secret. We have our dares in the light of the day with all the people present to listen and talk. What is this of which you speak?’

‘Baba. You are wrong. It is for the good of the people.’

‘Wrong, my son? Who are you to tell me I am wrong? Since when have I been wrong? I live close to the earth. I watch the movement of the sun, the moon, and the stars. I feel the changes in the weather. I take note of the currents of the air. I watch the clouds and smell the rain. I follow the seasons and the urgings of the spirits. I do what must be done at the right times in accordance with the traditions and customs of our ancestors. I hunt. I plough, I sow and reap. We eat. We have a roof under which to

sleep and mats to lie on. I have had three wives, and I have sired fourteen children. I have done all that a man should do. Where have I been wrong, my son?’

‘All that will change, Baba.’

‘Change? How can that change? Tell me how, my son.’

‘There is to be a revolution.’

‘A revolution?’

‘Yes. A revolution. Everything is to be changed. Everything is to be turned upside-down so that there will be change.’

‘And how will things change, my son?’

‘We blacks are going to rule the country. We are going to rise up and fight the whites and chase them from our land. We will no longer be oppressed. Our country will be free. The people will be free. We shall be free. We shall have our freedom.’

‘I have freedom now, my son.’

‘No, Baba. You are not free.’

‘Yes, son. I am free. There is nothing between me and the sky. In my heart I am free.’

‘That is not what I am talking about.’

‘Then what is this freedom you talk about?’

‘Freedom from colonialism. For all to have equal opportunity. To have education.’

‘Have you not been going to school?’

‘Yes, Baba. But it is not enough.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because when we are free we shall have the white man’s farms, his houses, his cattle, his motor cars, his riches, his cities.’

‘My son. Understand me well. Never in my life will I see such things. I do not want such things. It was not our ancestors’ way. It was not my grandfather’s way. It was not my father’s way. It is not my way. It is not our way.’

‘Baba. It is the way that will come. It will happen soon. In my time it will happen.’

‘Who tells you such things? Who fills your head with these wild thoughts?’

‘I cannot tell you.’

‘More secrets! Tell your father who says these things? The chief does not say such things, nor the sabhuku. Nor me or your mother. Who then says such things?’

Takundwa remained quiet, sitting on his haunches on the other side of the fireplace, with his head down. Out of the night and from a distance there came the sound of the rhythmic throbbing of the tall drum, slow, mournful, and insistent. Maguma and Takundwa listened intently.

‘Chaminuka says such things,’ said Takundwa.

‘I do not hear the Great Spirit Chaminuka say anything,’ said the old man. ‘I hear the drum talk into the night. It is to the place of the drum that you want to go.’

‘It is to the place of the drum that I will go to attend the meeting to which all the young men are called.’

‘Who beats the drum? Who calls the meeting, my son?’

‘Baba, I should not tell you. I am sworn to secrecy. On my life I should not say.’

‘I am your father. I have a right to know.’

‘Baba. There are some men. They call themselves freedom fighters.

They live in the forest. I have met them when herding the goats. They are Shonas like us. They are of our tribe. But they have come from Mozambique across the river. They have guns and they are going to fight the boers. They are going to fight the white settlers and chase them from the land.’

‘Then there will be trouble. The police will come and find them. The soldiers will come and shoot them.’

‘They will not find them. The people will not talk. And they move silently in the night. They are invisible to the police and the soldiers.’

‘That, my son, is not true.’

‘Yes. It is true. The freedom fighters are here. They will lead a war against the whites. There will be an uprising and all the whites will be killed. They have been to see the Chief and have taken black cloth to the n’anga, who has cast a spell over them to make them invisible to the police and the soldiers.’

‘You are not to join these people. I forbid you to attend their meetings.’

‘Baba, I must. They want me to become one of them. I am going to become one of them. I am going to be a freedom fighter. I am going to learn how to shoot a gun. I will strike the whites and kill them and chase them from our land.’

‘Then you will not be a son of mine any more. Here there is work to be done. The huts need thatching. The crops are ready for reaping.

There is a wife for you to take. And children for you to sire and raise. There is my inheritance when I am gone … the land and the animals.

Ignore the talk of these wild men. Stay here and farm with me. There is enough for all of us here.’

‘No, Baba. I cannot. I must go. I will go with them.’

‘Sit still. Do not be hasty. Let us talk more.’

‘The sound of the drum calls me.’

‘The drum will call until morning. There is no hurry.’

‘There is need for me to hurry, Baba. Or else I will miss the speeches and my absence will be noticed.’

‘Who will notice you are not present?’

‘The one who calls himself the political commissar. And the one who calls himself the security chief.’

‘My son. Do not attend this meeting. Do not go. Fear strikes into my heart. My stomach is tight and my hands tremble. The call is not for you.

Stay here where you were born and raised, and where you should dwell with your wife and your children. Stay with your father and accept his inheritance as he accepted it from his father, which was good enough for him and for me. Do not want that which is not of our way. Do not try to become as the white man. Has he got his freedom? He is tied to those things that you think you want and to which you will too will be tied. That will not be freedom. Accept the life of our forefathers. That is as it is meant to be. From father to son in the natural order.’

‘No, Baba. I must go.’

‘Then you will no longer be my son but the son of another.’

‘I will be a son of the soil. A son of the revolution.’

‘You are no longer my son.’

‘I am no longer your son?’

‘I do not expect you to come back.’

‘Baba, I will return to take you to another place. A better place. A farm where I will be the boss. There will be a house surrounded by trees and good grass. You will sit on a big chair. There will be food on the table three times a day. You will rest easy on a proper bed. Water will run from a tap. There will be light at the turn of a switch. You will have new clothes.

You will have money in your pocket and clear beer like the whites drink. And I will have a big herd of cattle.’

‘No. I will not come to such a house even if you find it. I have no need of those things. I am ashamed of you. You make me ashamed of myself that I have not given you what you want. Do not return here or I will take you to another place to which you will not want to go.’

Takundwa rose uneasily to his feet and stood before his father.

‘I am going now.’

‘You are no longer my son.’

‘I am no longer your son. I am going to be a freedom fighter. I am a son of the soil.’ Old Maguma’s eyes ran with tears as he watched Takundwa take the path and run towards the trees and the sound of the drum.

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