National Geographic : 2013 May
zimbabwe 77 T here are at least two things to know about Zimbabweans. The first is that they have an immoderate attachment to their land, and no wonder. Anyone who has seen the spring-red blush of musasa woodland at the beginning of the rains, or felt the crackle-hot wind of a lowveld summer afternoon, or absorbed the scents of sweet potato and marigold as dusk settles over the bush will know that theirs is a soul-snagging land. Of course such an attachment to land comes at a price. For it, and over it, there will be wars and revolutions, and the inevitable loss of land by the vanquished or the politically unlucky will be so unendurable that the unmoored people will end up true ghosts, souls in search of soil. The second thing to know about Zimbabwe- ans is that they are a small but persistently noisy nation of storytellers and musicmakers. The Bhundu Boys were pop diva Madonna’s sup- porting act at Wembley Stadium in London in 1987. Thomas Mapfumo, the Lion of Zimbabwe, created a genre of protest music—chimurenga (uprising). Africa’s most prestigious literary award, the Caine Prize, has twice gone to Zim- babweans in its 13-year history (Brian Chikwava in 2004, NoViolet Bulawayo in 2011). Charles Mungoshi won two Pen International awards in 1976, and Dambudzo Marechera won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1979. Doris Lessing, who spent her formative years in the country, won the Nobel Prize in literature. I am not now Zimbabwean, but for several years in the 1970s my British-born parents owned a farm on the eastern edge of what was then the rogue state of Rhodesia. They fought—my father as a conscripted soldier, my mother as a police By Alexandra Fuller Photographs by Robin Hammond volunteer—to keep the country white-run and avowedly out of the hands of communists. By any calculation, it was a questionable cause: Ian Smith, Rhodesia’s prime minister, campaigned in 1965 on a slogan of “A whiter, brighter Rhodesia,” and for the next decade and a half a decreasing minority of whites (just over 200,000 in the early ’60s to about 150,000 in 1980) tried to hold on to power in a country populated by a black ma- jority that grew from about 3.5 million to more than 7 million during that period. By late 1979 liberation forces were coming into Rhodesia from camps in neighboring Mo- zambique and Zambia faster than government troops could kill them. A peace was negotiated. The following February general elections were held and won by the Zimbabwe African Nation- al Union—Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). Its leader became Zimbabwe’s first prime minister. Robert Hear the personal stories behind some of these portraits on our digital editions.