House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe
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Blue mountains, golden fields, gin and tonics on the terrace--once it had seemed the most idyllic place on earth. But by August 2002, Marondera, in eastern Zimbabwe, had been turned into a bloody battleground, the center of a violent campaign. One bright morning, Nigel Hough, one of the few remaining white farmers, received the news he had been dreading. A crowd of war veterans was at his gates, demanding he hand over his homestead. The mob started a fire and dragged him to an outhouse. To his shock, the leader of the invaders was his family’s much-loved nanny Aqui. “Get out or we’ll kill you,” she said. “There is no place for whites in this country.”
Christina Lamb uncovered the astonishing saga she tells in House of Stone while traveling back and forth to report clandestinely on Zimbabwe. Her powerful narrative traces the history of the brutal civil war, independence, and the Mugabe years, all through the lives of two people on opposing sides. Although born within a few miles of each other, their experience growing up could not have been more different. While Nigel played cricket and piloted his own plane, Aqui grew up in a mud hut, sleeping on the floor with her brothers and sisters. “They had cars and went shopping in South Africa. We didn’t have food and had to walk an hour each way to fetch water,” she remembers.
House of Stone (“dzimba dza mabwe” or “Zimbabwe” in Shona) is based on a remarkable series of interviews with this white farmer and black nanny, set against the backdrop of the last British colony to become independent, and the descent into madness of Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s most respected nationalist leaders.
Mary would be at the farm, he would sign out his Spitfire for an hour, then make the twenty-minute flight from Harare, perform a twenty-minute aerobatic display overhead in the manner of a peacock fanning its feathers, then fly back. With him in the cockpit was his crow Mr Ponsonby. Once he flew so fast to get back within the hour after dallying over the farm that the bird lost all his feathers and John had to stick some back in. His airborne wooing succeeded and the couple were married on 11
the women in the township made money by taking goods back and forth to neighbouring Botswana where there were products available that could not be found in Zimbabwe because of the country's strict import controls or were much cheaper. When they told her that they were selling the goods back home for more than five times what they paid, she started doing the same. I would take apples, dried vegetables, embroidered pillowcases, lace shawls and stuffing for cushions to sell and I would bring back
grandmother who saw faces in the fire and was a mhondoro, which meant she had the spirit of a lion and could act as a medium to talk to the ancestors. Aqui was the eldest of five children. There had been eight of them but two of her younger brothers and a sister had died as infants. Such deaths were common in the village. I think one brother and sister died of dehydration from diarrhoea and one brother from jaundice but my mother said it was because the spirits were not happy The first boy was
never believe the story,’ thundered Mugabe. ‘That is a lie. I know these millers. Their intention is to suck the wealth of the country and destroy the government … those whites we defeated are still in control. They own the mines, the factories, the commerce. They are the bosses in our country.’ When he heard the President talk like that, Nigel also began to think about going abroad. He had never been to England where his father was from or to Scotland where his aunt lived, and was keen on
thought they were scary. Aqui was proud of being a Catholic praying in a proper church or at least a hall with a painted white cross outside. People would say you can't take that path because of the tokolosh or the bus broke down because of the tokolosh but I never thoughtI'd get possessed. They would warn you can't say that or the dead will be unhappy but I didn't believe in spirits. If I said that, though, they would laugh at me and say, ‘You think you're a murungu,’ a white person. I'd reply,