INNOCENT VICTIMS by Catherine Buckle: Extract 1

In 2009 Merlin Unwin published Innocent Victims by Catherine Buckle – a book about Meryl Harrison and the efforts made to rescue the animals caught up in Zimbabwe’s farm invasions.

Merlin Unwin, Catherine Buckle and Meryl Harrison have kindly given me permission to publish four short extracts from the book over the next four Wednesdays.

In April 2000, over the Easter weekend, television news around the world broadcast the brutal beating of the Great Dane, Black Jacques, on a farm in Zimbabwe.  The video footage, later removed from most bulletins due to the distress caused to the viewers, showed this battered dog, and at least one other, being left for dead on the farm steps.

These assaults on the dogs fired a deep response in Meryl Harrison, then Chief Inspector for the Zimbabwean National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ZNSPCA).   Something had to be done.

The National Chairman for the ZNSPCA, Bryan Nel, who had already carried out the first rescue in March 2000, contacted the Commissioner of Police requesting their support for his inspectors on the ground.

Meryl visited  the recuperating, but now both blind and deaf, Black Jacques and swore that she would do everything she could to help all Zimbabwe’s stranded animals.

The extract that follows is copyrighted material.

“While Black Jacques’ life hung in the balance and as vets and nurses ministered to the dog, Meryl’s work was just beginning.  A letter had come from Police Headquarters stating that the SPCA would receive police support to visit invaded farms and a memo reinforcing the fact had apparently been copied to police stations around the country.  Meryl soon discovered that letters and memos were all very well but they held little sway on the ground.  On the very first rescue that Meryl attempted, the police insisted that an escort was unnecessary but advised that it would not be safe for Meryl herself to go on to the farm.

For two hours Meryl sat under a tree at a police station while two SPCA Inspectors went on to an invaded farm alone to try and rescue five dogs, two puppies and two cats who were stranded.  Those two hours dragged past interminably and Meryl resolved that from then on either the small team of SPCA rescuers went on to the invaded farms together or no one went at all.  Meryl quickly realised that the only way the farm rescues would succeed was if the SPCA had the co-operation of the war veterans.  But farmers, members of the public, businessmen, lawyers, union leaders and sometimes even police couldn’t get on to seized and invaded farms – so why should the SPCA be any different?

At the time it seemed the only person in charge when it came to land invasions was the Chairman of the war veterans.  His name was Chenjerai Hunzvi, a man who had laughingly, boastfully, announced that his middle name was ‘Hitler’.  Hunzvi was spearheading the land invasions and Meryl knew that the only way there would be a chance of saving the animals left behind on the farms when the owners were forcibly evicted, was with the co-operation of the new occupiers, the self-styled ‘war veterans’.  It would mean explaining to them that the SPCA was totally non-political and impartial and that their only agenda was the welfare of the animals that had been left behind on the farms.  It took some days but finally the news came.  The Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) had held discussions with Hunzvi and he had agreed that the SPCA could go on to invaded farms.  Hunzvi had laid down a strict protocol:  the SPCA Inspectors must be in uniform; they must be in marked vehicles; they must inform the Base Commander (war veteran in charge) of an area of their presence; they must only take animals that they specified on arrival and nothing else, and that there was to be no publicity.

As the preliminary guidelines were laid down, Meryl began going on to invaded farms with one or sometimes two SPCA Inspectors; any more than that she soon found out, was far too confrontational.  The Inspector most often accompanying her was Addmore, a young man in his early twenties who cared enormously about the welfare of animals.”

Next Wednesday:  Innocent Victims:  Extract 2 

If you wish to buy the book it can be brought direct from Meryl Harrison on or through Catherine Buckles’ website

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