Turmoil tore into Zimbabwe’s farms in the early 2000s, the years Mugabe’s government chose to ignite its programme of land redistribution.
Since then thousands of farm owners and those who worked for them have been evicted from their land, often violently and with little notice. Trapped in the middle between the war veterans, the settlers and the dispossessed are Zimbabwe’s animals.
‘Innocent Victims‘ is not a tale about politics or about prejudice but about the animal rescues attempted by Meryl Harrison’s small team from the Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA). It is, as it says on the cover, an extraordinary story.
The book begins in March 2000 shortly after Meryl Harrison’s 61st birthday and it ends on 31 December 2004 – her last day with the ZNSPCA. It mixes brief, unemotional extracts from her diary with first hand descriptions of what took place on the ground.
The story is not a selfish one and it does not sink the reader in misery. It has too much to tell. It bumps across thousands of miles of Zimbabwe – curing, calming, frantic with frustration, never still. There is always more to do, cheered by the courage of others and focused on animal welfare.
Some may think that ‘Innocent Victims‘ is not for them, that they cannot take any more gloom. Please don’t give up. This book is fascinating – horrific in places and you may weep – but it is a record of events that we should try to understand.
Animal lovers might think that they could not bear to read such a story. But we must – we only have to turn the pages. Meryl and her handful of inspectors, had to climb daily into their small ZNSPCA truck and drive directly into trauma and danger, often ending up on isolated properties miles from the nearest main road. All we are being asked to do is to witness and remember.
Those who know Zimbabwean farms will understand instantly the setting of each rescue. They will know the distances, the landscape, the feel of the homes. They may also know the terror and confusion caused by the mobs at the gates. This book is an essential for them. It is an heirloom. It is an intensely focused beam that travels across a huge area during a brief and violent period. It distills what many may never be able to describe and what few will have seen for themselves on such a scale.
Catherine Buckle’s calm, precise telling of this story shows how the turmoil on Zimbabwe’s farms has left thousands of animals and so many Zimbabweans bereft, dependent on the kindness of millions around the world.
‘Innocent Victims‘ is for us all. It reminds us what happens to the animals caught in the middle every time we lose control.
Innocent Victims was published by Merlin Unwin books in 2009. To purchase a copy please email Meryl Harrison on firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please note the updated email address although the old address, email@example.com, will still be checked). The cost of each book, available as a hardback from Meryl, is £15 and includes postage within the UK.
Next week: interview with Meryl Harrison