When we were kids we had a torrid time. We lived a life of fear and uncertainty. We did not fear our parents. Besides an occasional lashing for eating at other people’s homes, things were just fine. Granted we feared the bullies at school.
But if you were smart and knew the art of bribery you could survive. It was better if you had a big brother. Then the bullies would not touch you. For those without big brothers, it helped when your friend had a big brother whom you could pass off as your own.
It was rough trying to survive the bullies but we lived to tell the tale. The man we feared most was Ian Smith. Of course, to us he was known simply as Smit. He was a nasty man. I remember that at school one morning we were told by panic stricken teachers to evacuate classes and run for our dear lives. The rumour was that Smit’s soldiers had been sighted in the locality. When we were not abandoning school in terror, we were listening to the radio telling us that Rhodesian soldiers had been on the rampage somewhere.
It was a helpless time. Everyone lived in anticipation of the day Smit would attack. There were reports of bombings and killings of innocent people living in the border villages. Smit was the stuff of nightmares. When I saw my first white man, I wondered whether he could be Smit. We had never seen pictures of Smit. Back then there was no television. I don’t recall any newspapers. We relied on radio for all our information. And Smit was the bogey man who loomed large on the radio. In the absence of his pictures we got a vivid description of the man.
Apparently he was the one eyed prime minister of Rhodesia who walked with a limp. He was said never to smile. We were told he was a horrible white man who did not like the black people of that country. Those who dared speak out against him were thrown in jail or killed. As a result some of them decided to take up arms against him. The brave people who went to war against Smit were known, to us kids, as gorillas. We loved the gorillas.
Living in fear we wished to become gorillas the day we grew up. Like the gorillas we would fight Smit. But the worst was when the radio announced that Smit had killed fifteen members of our army. It was a traumatic time. Everyone was sad. If Smit could kill fifteen soldiers, then surely he would be coming for us. And whenever I saw a white man I wondered if he was part of Smit’s advance party that had come to kill us. Fearful as we were of Smit we took great comfort in the knowledge that there was only one Smit feared. We were told the reason Smit feared this man was because they shared a first name. They were both called Ian.
Seemingly if our saviour were known by a different name, Smit would not have feared him. The other Ian did not fear Smit at all. In one instance he flew an aeroplane right into Rhodesia, to Smit’s residence and warned him that if he did not stop his nonsense he would come after him. We were all heartened to hear that Smit apologised and promised to behave himself. At one point it was reported that Rhodesian soldiers ambushed Ian. Realising he was trapped, Ian simply transformed himself into a tree stump. There was also that time when Ian sent a swarm of bees to teach Smit a lesson. In fact it was said Smit lost one eye after being stung by the bees sent by Ian. Heck, did we not love Ian.
As kids we either wanted to be Ian or to be gorillas. But, by far, Ian was our favourite. Who will ever forget that day after the massacre of the fifteen soldiers when he vowed revenge. So grief stricken and angry was he that he told his parents that, single handily he was going to kill Smit. We listened in awe as the older boys told us how Ian, in spite of his mother’s tearful objections went off to engage Smit’s soldiers. By the way Ian’s father was the president of the country at the time, but still he allowed him to go and fight Smit all by himself. In the ensuing battle, all alone, against Smit’s army, Ian killed hundreds of them. Smit was lucky to escape with his life. We wanted to grow up to be like Ian. We wanted to be like our hero who did not fear Smit.
As the years went by some of the older boys, upon coming of age actually joined the army. I presume they were still consumed by their hatred of Smit. They probably wanted to accompany Ian when he went in search of Smit. Now Smit is dead. He died last week. I was actually surprised. In my mind I never thought people like Smit could die. I assumed he had just drifted into the sunset somewhere. On announcing his death, the newspapers also showed pictures of the nightmare of our childhood. In the pictures he looked a pathetic figure, lonely and sad. I wondered if this was the man who had caused me and my little playmates so much terror. Could this be the man who was responsible for us abandoning school, fleeing for safety into the forest, with the teachers showing great sprinting skills? Was this really the man who struck fear into us whenever an aeroplane circled above? Had I really managed to outlive Smit? These were the questions in my mind as I read about the death of the unlamented Smit. I don’t know when they plan to bury him.
Apparently white people don’t have prayers at the home of the deceased. Nor do they sit around a fire drinking copious amounts of tea and devouring enormous chunks of meat whilst preparing for a funeral. They are strange, these white people. But I am sure they will bury Smit soon. I don’t know where because Rhodesia does not exist. If I knew the day and venue of his funeral I would attend with all my childhood friends who spent many traumatic moments fearing the wrath of the one eyed man who walked with a limp. But even if I don’t make it, I am sure Ian would attend. I think after all the fear Smit put us through, all those years ago, it is Ian who finally took revenge on behalf of all terrified youngsters by finally killing Smit. He was a horrible man.
Thank you Ian!