Cashback By Duncan James PDF
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The two men sat on the veranda, sipping their root beer, as they often did after a hard day in the fields. Both were secretly wondering how many more of these evenings they would have together. Not that either of them did much labouring these days, but they had a huge area of land to plant and harvest and supervise between them, and a workforce of several hundred to organise.
The welfare of these people was crucial to the success of the farm, but the gang bosses looked after all that on a day-to-day basis. They arranged the allocation of work, and the transport of the workers between the village and the fields. They recruited extra labour when there was extra work, at harvest time, or when the new crops were being planted, and made sure they were all paid on time at the end of the week, and had enough food and water during the long days in the fields.
But there were always problems of some sort to be dealt with, and those came to the two men on the veranda to resolve. And now there were more problems than ever before: problems which threatened the very future of the farm, the people who worked there, the village – everything.
It was still hot, even though the sun was waning. The two men gently swatted at the usual evening hatch of insects, mostly mosquitoes and flies, but a few other, more exotic varieties. The crickets would soon start their evening chirruping. Then the bullfrogs, down at the creek, where the boys swam and caught fish.
The boys had been down there most of the afternoon, playing their version of Rugby in the dusty field beyond the garden. There were no written rules – how could there be, for ‘one a side’? – yet somehow they each understood what was allowed and what wasn’t. So did Tinker, the Jack Russell, who chased the old leather ball as hard as anyone. Eventually, when the heat and dust got too much for them, they would all hurl themselves into the creek, to clean up and cool off.
Tinker seemed to enjoy this best of all.
James Bartlett leant forward for his glass. The old rocking chair creaked, as it had done in his father’s day. One day he’d fix it, but somehow it was as much a part of life as the chair itself. For as long as James could remember, that chair had been on the veranda, alongside the old wicker table, and it had always made that noise.
“One day, I’ll fix this chair,” he said to old man Mbele, the farm manager.
Mbele smiled a toothy smile.
“I doubt it,” he grinned. “Your father never did.”
He finished his root beer.
“Another?” asked James.
Mbele nodded his thanks, and as he did so, Beatrice Bartlett came out of the house with the jug.
“We were just thinking we’d have another,” said James.
“I heard the chair,” replied his wife. “How are you today, Mr. Mbele?” she asked, filling his glass.
“Fine, fine, thank you Missy,” he replied.
“Any more news.” Beatrice Bartlett looked concernedly at both men.
“No. Nothing new today.” replied James.
“The gang of strangers has been round the village again,” said Mbele, “but no trouble.”
“I’m sure there will be, soon enough,” said James. “I’m just glad we got that security fence up when we did.”
“They say in the village that another farm, to the north, was taken last week,” said Mbele. “But I don’t know whose it was or what happened to them. When my people find out, I’ll tell you.”
“I’ve heard nothing on the radio, but then it often takes days for news to get out,” said Bartlett.
“I get so worried,” said his wife.
“We’re as prepared as we can be,” said James, reassuringly.
“If that gang of war veterans doesn’t move away soon,” said Mbele, “it might be best to leave while you can rather than be thrown out like others.”
“I’m certainly not going to simply walk out,” said Bartlett. “This is my life –
Zimbabwe is my country. This farm was built up to what it is now by generations of my family, if my family hadn’t developed the farm, then the village of Chasimu where you all live wouldn’t exist. No school for the children, no store, nothing. My Grandfather built that dam with his own hands, and not a lot of help. Without it, the irrigation system would have been impossible, and the land would have stayed as scrub. I’m not going to betray all that effort just because there’s a gang of thugs hanging around.”
Mbele nodded sagely. “I can understand that,” he said.
“You know that I’ve been in talks with the land reform agency for weeks now, trying to negotiate a way through this. There’s over 4,000 acres of good land here, more than enough for your people to share and to make a living from.”
“But we would need help,” said Mbele. “We know we couldn’t work the land without expert help from you. A big farm makes big money – many small ones cannot do that. One dam, many rivers, much water to be shared out, not enough machinery for everyone to have a tractor. And where would we get the money to buy seeds and fertiliser? You pay for that now – we couldn’t.”
“Between us, we could run it as a co-operative, with the land shared out, but the Government doesn’t seem to understand that, or doesn’t want to understand probably.”
“But we all joined their party as they said we must,” protested the old man.
“But you are not all ‘war veterans’,” said James Bartlett. “The mob in your village is probably of war veterans, and they have probably been sent by the government to take over the whole farm for themselves.”
“That’s what my people think, too,” replied Mbele. “But they are not talking to us much, so we can only guess.”
“Well, Mr Mbele,” responded Bartlett, “we’re very much relying on you and your people to let us know what’s happening, and what the gang is getting up to. I’m quite sure they’re here to take over – it’s just a question of when.”
“My people are doing their best to make them go away,” said Mbele, who was the village elder. “They know what a good man you are and how much you have looked after them all these years. They know things will be bad for them if you go.”
“It’s possible they may each be given some land,” said James, hopefully. “There’s more than enough good land for all of them,” he repeated.
“Some of them have already been promised land by members of the gang. That’s probably what the Government would do, too,” replied Mbele. “Confiscate the land, and lease it back in small bits to local people, so long as they’re ‘war veterans’ or members of Zanu PF.”
“I might even be able to stay myself on that basis,” said James. “The house and a few acres – just enough to get by on. Then I could help you and your people make a go of things. Keep the irrigation system going, and things like that. I shall need to work. The house and farm are worth a lot of money, but if it’s all confiscated, we shall have nothing.”
“No savings?” asked the old man.
“Some,” replied James. “A little in England from the early days – enough to pay for Will’s school, at least, but the rest is here, and we are forbidden from taking money out of the country, so if we leave or are thrown out, we lose everything.”
“It’s difficult enough now,” said Beatrice Bartlett, “paying for Will’s boarding school. I worry that he would probably have to leave, and he so wants to go on to University.”
“That already begins to look out of the question, even if we stay,” said James.
“I don’t think I would ever have the heart to tell him,” said his wife.
“I already have,” said James. “He understands.”
“And if the gang decide to move in, and take their pick of the land,” said Mbele,
“then you won’t be staying. They may even be acting on orders from someone else
– a Minister or a Judge or someone, who will take over all of it. There will be no village of Chasimu, no school for Bwonqa and the others, no store – nothing left.
One of the President’s relations or a friend will move into the house, and the land will be left.”
They fell silent.