Thursday, 29 September 2011


It is said that there are so many possible games of chess that if a game were to be completed every second, there have not been enough seconds since the Universe began to complete all of the possible games. That is how variable chess is.

On the other hand, the rules of chess are absolutely fixed. A bishop moves like this, not like that; a knight does something of its own – it’s not allowed to move like a castle. If you play by any other rules, you are not playing chess. That is how fixed chess is.

Some people think that the rules of life are as strict and laid-down as the rules of chess. Wouldn’t that make our decisions simple?

In real life, there are not necessarily sixty-four squares on the board. Some of them are black and some white, but lots of them are grey. Some of the pieces are of different colours and play on loan to Black or White, and change sides without notice. Some change shape over night and decide to move differently, or wander off for a beer. Some gang up against their own side, or refuse to play with one another because they’ve fallen out.

That’s how variable real life is.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Fire and Fury in Zimbabwe

We’ve had plenty of drama here over the last month. Two weeks ago there was a huge bush fire that burned across our farm and several neighbours’ over a whole day. I was out with a group of local women and trainees trying to beat out the flames, and narrowly avoiding getting trapped by walls of fire as we clambered between thickets of thorn trees. We did manage to stop the fire, but not before it had consumed most of our remaining pasture, which we need for cattle grazing until new grass grows in the rainy season.

There have also been tensions for some time between our two groups of trainees, who arrived in June and July. The June intake are all Shona-speakers from outside Matabeleland, while the July group are local Ndebele people. There is an appalling history of ethnic violence in Zimbabwe, included the massacre of tens of thousands of Ndebele people in the 1980s by government troops. Part of the legacy of this is that relations between Shona and Ndebele people can be strained, and last weekend this erupted in a serious fight between a large group of our trainees, which had to be broken up by staff.  Luckily there were only fairly minor injuries, but it has revealed a very destructive faultline in the community. We are working on ways to build shared understanding between the two groups, including using AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) and bringing in outside facilitators. This is a very important issue for Zimbabwe as a whole, with very sensitive political as well as ethnic roots. I hope that we can help at least some of our trainees to learn from this experience and develop a better understanding of how to avoid destructive conflict in future.

Hlekweni’s finances continue to be in a desperate condition. The cost of living is going through the roof, following big increases in electricity tariffs and huge import duties of up to 90%, which affect everyone since Zimbabwe has to import almost all its manufactured goods. Like most organisations in the country we haven’t been able to increase our income enough to keep up with growing costs, and at the end of this month we won’t have funds to meet our payroll. People at Hlekweni have been here before, and Zimbabweans in general have a lot to teach us about adapting and persevering through times of crisis. For Kate and I, it still feels pretty much like disaster and we both feel very uncertain about the future here (although this is starting to seem a fairly permanent condition when living in Zimbabwe). We are not taking it lying down though - the only way through this is to make the farm productive, so we are starting an irrigation project to grow vegetables commercially on 5 hectares, and are clearing land for sorghum growing during the rainy season. If nothing else, I am learning about agriculture here, and it has got me interested in studying it in more depth in the future.

As always, we appreciate and rely on all your support, letters, phone calls, emails and chocolate parcels.
With much love and in Friendship,

Hlekweni, PO Box 708, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
Recent (good) news and photos from Hlekweni at: