House of Stone: The True Story of a Family Divided in War-Torn Zimbabwe
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.
Years of foreign reporting but nothing has affected me so profoundly as wandering through the smoking ruins of Mbare, the southern suburb of Harare that sprawls around Zimbabwe's oldest and largest market. My Lonely Planet guidebook recommends it as one of its five highlights of Harare and the place to see ‘colourful crowded scenes typical of Africa’. Instead, it looked as if a tsunami had passed through, reducing the famous market into drift-piles of smashed wood, twisted metal and broken.
More than a year since she had left the village and Aqui felt very grown up. Her sisters marvelled at her town clothes and her first pair of proper heeled shoes that Tendai had bought for her in the market. She was a married woman and a mobilizer and she lived in a brick house with a tin roof, a real bed and a man who worshipped her. She liked the fact that she and Tendai had found each other while the whole country was waiting for freedom. ‘I want to trace each of your bones,’ he said, ‘to know.
Crying. They would say ‘Mama why are you crying?’ but I could not stop. In those days, every day I used to cry and cry and cry. It was God who was looking after me or I would have gone mad. The girls were thin and I grew thinner and thinner as if I were fading away. *Later he would bring in a law making it illegal for pedestrians to move their upper body in view of the motorcade. 10 Victoria Falls, 1990 THE AFRICANS CALLED IT Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders. In his small.
Open it she did not notice that instead of South Africa it was postmarked New Zealand. Dear Aquinata, she read in neat black ink that she could picture Mrs Loos writing, her pretty face scrunched up with concentration. She smiled at the thought then read on. So terribly sorry but our plans have changed. The rest of the letter swam into a blur in front of Aqui as a life selling potatoes or firewood by the side of the road stretched ahead of her. She had always thought she was more than that.
Farmworkers who had been rendered homeless when the white farmers they worked for were evicted by war vets. The war vets had accused them of supporting the farmers and the MDC and burnt their huts down. Now they were trying to get back to the rural areas that their families had come from originally. The bus passed an entrance to a farm, the name Greenfields scrawled out with a black pen, and posters of Mugabe plastered over the gate. The tar road ended just past the wire fence of the last farm,.