Innocent Victims is set in Zimbabwe where a violently enforced land redistribution programme spilled across the country’s farms at the turn of the millennium. The author, Catherine Buckle, weaves together first hand accounts of Meryl Harrison’s struggle to help the animals trapped in the midst of the chaos.
This is the final extract from Innocent Victims to be posted on The Phraser. In it there is a reference to Rupert Fothergill * who, in the 1950s, led the rescue of the animals endangered by the rising water of the new Kariba Dam.
The extract that follows is copyrighted material.
“July 2000. Addmore and I travel to Concession and rescue four border collies, one old cat and three owls. The farmer had been physically beaten by war veterans and the son was not allowed back to the farm to feed the dogs.”
By March 2004 Meryl had been going on to invaded farms and rescuing stranded animals for four years. She and her small team of SPCA Inspectors had come up against men and youths armed with guns, knives, whips and pangas. They had dismantled road barricades, dragged branches and stones off blocked roads and Meryl had driven hundreds of thousands of kilometres to virtually every part of Zimbabwe, no matter how remote.
Meryl had stood up to men who were drunk, drugged, hostile, threatening and aggressive. She had used every tactic she could think of, from asking and insisting to talking and negotiating – and sometimes, if it meant saving an animal, she even offered rewards: a few dollars, a pack of cigarettes or one occasion she even bargained with blankets to save a cat!
She had spent what amounted to hundreds of hours in police stations – in meetings, waiting for meetings, waiting for police escorts and being endlessly passed from one person to another. Meryl met and approached politicians, Members of Parliament, cabinet ministers and top government officials.
She spoke to reporters and journalists representing newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations from around the world, always emphasising that the work of the SPCA was totally non-political and they were only there for the animals. She didn’t have a fancy office, private assistant or even the luxury of a computer or email. She earned a very small salary, most months dipping ever-deeper into her rapidly dwindling personal savings to get through to the end of the month, to buy food and the most basic essentials.
Meryl’s personal and family life had become almost non-existent after four years of farm rescues and yet still she carried on. It was impossible for most people to understand why she did it and in some cases ignorance as to her motivation led to jealousy and then attack. In this regard also, the similarities between Meryl Harrison and Rupert Fothergill* were apparent; he too was accused by the spectators and armchair critics of looking for glory and fame. Author Keith Meadows could have been describing Meryl when he wrote:
‘There are people who say that any one of the men in the rescue teams could have led the operation. That may be the case. But the fact is that it was Rupert Fothergill who was there, from beginning to end.”
Half a century later, the same truth applied and the fact is that it was Meryl Harrison who led the rescue of hundreds of thousands of animals from Zimbabwe’s invaded farms.
‘Fearless, courageous, single-minded, determined. A heroine to all the animals in Zimbabwe.’
These were the words used by a colleague to describe Meryl. This woman knew, perhaps better than many others, what Meryl saw and did when she went out to invaded farms to rescue the animals that had been left behind.
Dr Chris Foggin, a wildlife veterinarian and chairman of Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe (VAWZ), wrote the following about Meryl Harrison and the work she did:
“Whenever I think of Meryl … three words come to mind – courage, commitment and care. Her work in trying to do the very best for the neglected and abused domestic and wild animals of Zimbabwe, at such a difficult time in our history, will never cease to draw my deepest admiration and respect.”
Thanks to Merlin Unwin and Cathy Buckle for allowing me to post extracts from ‘Innocent Victims’. Should you wish to purchase a copy of the book please either do so through the following email address firstname.lastname@example.org or else through Catherine Buckles’ website http://www.cathybuckle.com/innocentvictims.php