STRANGE TALES


Cover-of-Strange-Tales-frontThere is little doubt, if the countries once known as the Rhodesias, did nothing else, they produced men of character. When Cecil John Rhodes was assembling a band of men to send north into the virtual unknown, he, in a sense, set the pace. ‘Political correctness’ was not a requirement. He was looking for resourceful and resilient types who were not faint of heart. Confident, competent individuals who could work as a team who possessed the skills required to build a nation. This penchant for elitism set a precedent and proved highly effective. The country, against all odds, developed faster than any other in recorded history and was wrenched from barbarism to ‘First World’ civility in less than thirty years. Sadly all the fruits of this enterprise and fortitude were later to be sacrificed at the altar of ‘African Nationalism’ but that is another, more tragic story.

While lawyers, accountants, doctors and administrators played a vital part, the new country was vast and untamed. Bringing it under control required the services of intrepid men who could survive on their own in an unusual and sometimes hostile environment and who could work with, rather than against the indigenous African. This requirement bred a peculiar type of individualism and attitude to race but the Rhodesians showed a remarkable acumen for survival in hostile situations.  Somehow, out of this adversity, appeared a unique brand of humor, which has remained to this day. It is all about being able to laugh at oneself and at one’s real or imagined failings, no matter how dire or serious the situation may be. And no member of this fraternity is allowed to believe he can rise above this requirement no matter the extent of his wealth or his position. It is a humbling ethos but also a bonding one that has served as an important means of retaining a strong sense of camraderie for an often besieged group of people through good times and bad times alike and it has played an important role in keeping this dying breed together.

I am a product of this culture and it in is in this spirit that I have penned these stories. I hope I do not appear to be callous in my regard for my friends. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those about whom I write, are, or were, dear friends to whom I am forever indebted for bringing so much color, laughter and excitement to my life. I consider myself very lucky to have lived so much of my time as part of this unusual brotherhood. The language may appear excessively profane. I make no apologies for this, it is an honest rendition of the popular vocabulary, my intention is not to shock or offend. It should also be known that the Zimbabwean outdoorsmen do not boast many among their number who do not spend an unusual amount of time within or close to facilities that provide adequate supplies of beer and whiskey and it is in this environment that most have learned, or unlearned, their linguistic skills.

To some I fear these tales may have a racist overtone. Again I make no apologies, it is my attempt to recreate the real scene, but it needs to be seen in the correct context and understood in the spirit in which it is told. The relationship between the white hunter, farmer or soldier for that matter, and his African staff has always been a symbiotic one with a great deal more symmetry than is obvious to the outsider but it is not based on the conventional sense of what constitutes equality so it may indeed trigger outrage in the minds of those with a different perception of the awkward problems matters of ethnicity and race present. What I do feel very confident contributing to this, inevitably contentious debate, is the relationships I recount were generally happy and productive with both parties comfortable with their station and their role. It seems that our present obsession with integration is sometimes counter-productive. It is my experience that people of different ethno-racial groups do not always want to be forced into the same mix where divergent cultures, values and languages often make social interaction complicated and therefore undesirable for all concerned.

What I can also affirm is that beneath the obvious brashness which sometimes takes on an abusive complexion there is very often a well hidden but meaningful empathy which  only becomes more obvious in times of crisis. African hunting is replete with stories of members of the one racial group springing, almost instinctively to the assistance of the other in the gravest of predicaments. This is something one cannot generally be forced to do or paid to do – it comes as a product of a relationship born of mutual respect and admiration.

While these stories focus on specific events with, in many cases the emphasis, on extracting the funny side out of some quite desperate situations it needs to be said that all those about whom I write, both black and white, have made very significant contributions, sometimes at great physical risk to themselves, to save the Africa that so many of us who appreciate the outdoors, love so much.