Jabu had a long session at Khami that day, because four of the prisoners had refused to eat their sadza, saying it had worms in it. The problem required careful thought, as it was a big test in leadership for him.
Jabu started by asking if he could walk through the kitchens and storage areas. He asked the cook how this could have happened. The cook denied it completely, frightened he might lose his job. “Please help me Mr Ncube,” he pleaded with Jabu. “I have five children and my wife in Gokwe and I must have this job, because now they have no land and no cattle.”
So Jabu asked him to show exactly how he kept records of grain and meal deliveries, where he kept the mealie meal and how he kept mice and cockroaches away. Everything was in good order – clean, well swept, with grain on wooden pallets allowing a free flow of air and a rotation system in place to make sure older grain was used first. Jabu couldn’t fault or understand what had happened. Then he looked behind a stacked pile of old empty bags. A fat rat run out of a dark corner.
“What are you doing about those rats?” he asked the cook.
“The prison does not give me money to kill rats.”
“You cannot run a kitchen for this number of people unless you can keep the rats out! You have to store the mealie meal and rapoko and other things that rats like to eat so they cannot get inside. Look for where they have eaten a hole in the bags and something has got into the mealie meal.”
They found two bags with holes in them. Big white moths came flying out of them when they lifted them up to check. So, the prisoners were right – there were worms in the sadza.
It was time to report back to the four prisoners on how this had happened. Jabu felt irritated with himself at not having answers or ideas to fix the problem. Of course, they were angry with the cook for not checking the mealie meal before it was cooked. They would create problems until that cook was fired.
So Jabu told them: “This cook works very hard to make sure you get food to eat. He has a wife and five children in Gokwe, where there is no land and no cattle. He cannot lose his job. The prison doesn’t give him muti to kill the rats. So I want you to find an answer to his problem. Now go and think about it.”
They went away to talk. When they came back, they said they thought the prison should now keep two cats in the grain store to kill the rats and that all the mealie meal must be inspected. Any bags with holes must be thrown out. If this was accepted, they would withdraw their complaint.
“Oh and by the way, the cats must be spayed, or there will be too many cats.” “Oh and by the way, there must be a place where the cats can get out, or they might piss on the grain bags.” “Oh! And they must have water, and sometimes some milk and a little food so they know that this is their home.” “Oh and by the way, Cephas will look after the cats!”
So Jabu and the prisoners solved the problem. The cook was happy. The guards and staff at the gaol were happy. The four also offered to help sweep out the meal store as long as they had double food rations that night. Which they did, together with twice the relish! So they were happy too.
Whenever he visited the gaol, Jabu made sure he wrote down the names and pass numbers of everyone he met. Today it was the cook, the four and the grateful guard at the door to their cell. One day, he would use those names. He wasn't sure yet when or how, but he knew that one day they would be useful.
He went to the SRANC meeting that night, because James Chikerema was talking about his afternoon at court. Everyone was laughing and cheering. There was great excitement, and many fists punched the air. Jabu turned to see Michael Mawema, a leading nationalist, at his elbow.
“Jabulani, we have heard that you are doing very well at the prisons as a rat catcher!” Jabu was overcome at meeting one of the nationalist legends. Laughing, he stumbled out a greeting, wondering how the story had got out so quickly.
She gazed into the distance, following the horizontal dips, troughs and heights of the line of deep blue hills. The sky lightened, anticipating the moment the sun would burst above the horizon, as it did so suddenly, at this latitude. Within the first hour in the promised heat of this November day, it would bleach out the vibrancy of that blue horizon.
There was an almost breathless, stillness in these early mornings, anticipating the day ahead. No movement in the leaves – no clouds welling up - just the uninterrupted white-blue of a heating sky, against the still-sleeping land. The paean of welcome from the chirrups and whistles of bird song, complemented the crystal-clear air, thinned by an altitude of almost 5,000 feet above sea level.
She heard a sonorous hoo hoo-hoo-hoo followed by the quiet double time answer hoo-hoo hoo-hoo and smiled contentedly, trying to spot the distinctive stately walk of a pair of ground hornbills as they boomed their way across the veldt . . . but knowing they could be up to three miles away. Their shining sable black feathers, brilliant scarlet necks and faces and yellow eyes fringed with absurdly long eyelashes were a thrilling sight, as they made slow progress, searching for frogs or lizards among the tufted grass.
Carol shut her eyes and drank in the sounds, smelt the dung dust of the bush and the sun on her face as a rush of air brushed her cheek like warm silk. A sudden gust whipped up a whirligig of twigs and leaves.Oh thank you God, she breathed, for allowing me to be born in this unique corner of the world. I feel completely one with you even with all the disruptions of our move to Mashonaland.
“Och now!” exclaimed Lalan. “Listen Prune – someone is playing the bagpipes! Och stop! I must listen.” Lalan stood on the steps, her eyes shut, gripping Prune’s arm tightly.
“They’re playing the Skye Boat Song.” She spoke in a quiet little voice, then started to sing “… carry the lad, that’s born to be King . . . over the sea . . .”
Her voice cracked, and she couldn’t carry on. She dropped her head to listen. Prune waited. “Come on Lalan,” he said quietly. “We’ll be late . . .”
As they opened the big double doors to walk into the darkened hall, the lights went on and everyone shouted “Surprise!” Lalan cried, then laughed, then cried again!
Mr Bellini’s powerful voice rang out as he tinkled his glass to get attention. “Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to tell you a little more about our remarkable Sister McLeod.”
There was a buzz of activity as everyone filled up their glasses. “I was looking round the room just now and feeling how extraordinary it is that we have 10 different groups of people here tonight.” He stopped then pointed out people from each table. “English, Greek, amaNdebele, Tswana, Makorekore, Afrikaans, German, chiChewa – and of course the most important of all, Italian and Scottish!”
Everyone laughed. “We all bring our skills and our work to our community and now we have our new village hall and the morning markets, held here every week – then we have new schools at Mzingwane and St Stephens, our beautiful little stone church built by the Mzingwane schoolboys, new mining up in Bushtick, farms being developed, and now even I have some competition with a new store being opened next to the Post Office.”
“That’ll keep you on your toes Mario.”
“You’ll have to keep your prices down now.”
Mr Bellini laughed. “OK! OK! I asked for that. But one of the most precious things that has happened to us recently, has been the new clinic. There is hardly a person in this room who has not been treated, brought back to life, soothed and loved by our little Scottish Nurse, Sister MacLeod whose 70th birthday we celebrate today.”
“Sister MacLeod was trained at the Royal Infirmary in Aberdeen. She qualified as a Theatre Sister and specialised in European diseases. The one thing she did not know anything about, was tropical diseases!”
There was a murmur of surprise. “But that did not bother her - she just worked, and read, and gained valuable experience in the difficult conditions round Tjolotjo – and she is now one of the country’s tropical diseases experts. Well done Sister MacLeod”
Old Mr James who never said anything and who always sat hiding in the corner because he didn't like people very much, jumped up, held his glass high and sang “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” – and everyone joined in.
Mr Bellini turned to Prune. "We have all donated towards something precious for Lalan, Prune. We would like you to give it to her. But you must read the instructions first.”
Prune stood up as he took a piece of paper and a big cylinder from Mr Bellini.“Lalan,” he read, “this comes to you with love on your 70th birthday from everyone in Balla Balla. It is something that you have often talked about, saying how much you would love ‘a wee dram’. Well there are many ‘wee drams’ in this package, and you will know full well that every dram is revered for its medicinal malts.”
Everybody laughed. Prune glanced at Lalan’s face as he went on reading. “It is to be kept in a dark place and treated with great respect. Wee drams should last you for the rest of your life, and although it is already 10 years old, it will get better as it gets older.”
She opened it – and gasped. “Och no! It’s Laphroaig – single malt – 10 years old!”
Then she did cry. Tears of happiness poured down her face. Everyone went quiet as she sipped her first wee dram in 20 years to pronounce it the very best she had ever tasted.
Prune saw her shining face - now everyone would see how much he loved his amaScottish mother. He looked across the room to wink at his beautiful Maura. Her eyes sparkled as she did a quick two thumbs up. They knew everything was just right.
“Our village was one of the biggest of all the baKwena villages. There was panic one day around 1830 as Mzilikazi’s Matebele impi were approaching. But the King had heard that we were different, an unusual village that lived in the same place for many generations. He was interested. From a distance, he waited and he watched.
“He came to talk to us and asked if he could move one of his small regiments of impi to stay with us. Mzilikazi himself stayed for many months, asking many questions. And we were happy to welcome him.” Kuda gave a wry smile. “It was better to welcome him than to fight him.
“He was impressed with our big airy houses and painted walls. He wanted to know why our people were so strong and healthy, why the baKwena didn’t fight other tribes to get their cattle, and why they still had big herds. He was asking questions all the time.
“Mzilikazi watched the fat cattle and goats and asked questions about why we gave them extra food, how we herded them, how they bred so many calves. He was interested in how we ploughed the fields and grew the big crops of millet and rapoko as well as vegetables for the missionaries. But perhaps most of all, he was amazed that we had been in one place for 30 years. He was our friend. His people mixed with our people.
“Wow Baba! I have always heard that Mzilikazi killed everybody unless they were amaNdebele!”
“Well one night, they were no longer our friends. His young men had grown restless and wanted to wash their spears in blood - our blood."