Murky past of new Bok’s Zim family

2008-06-10 00:00

Far from taking to the field as a respected representative of a proud African tradition of hospitality, Brian Mujati appeared as a compromised figure from a family with a murky past. Far from bringing hope to a land fraught with xenophobia, the newcomer’s inclusion in the Bok rugby team was disturbing and damaging. Far from representing the suffering masses of his country, the desperate mothers who creep under the border fence in search of food, or the teachers and engineers and nurses driven from their own land by thieving brutes, Mujati’s family is aligned with the forces of repression.

Nor can the son escape the shadow of his parents. He has been the beneficiary of their criminality. Students supported by Zanu-PF thugs have been expelled from universities in Australia and the United States. It is about time the same happened here. You either support tyranny or fight it.

It is a story easily told and well documented. As it happens it is also a rugby story, about rugby people. On December 8, 2003, Joseph Mujati and 12 bullies barged their way on to Tiny Farm in Inyazura in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and told the occupants that he had a court order giving him ownership of the property and ordered them to leave forthwith. For 80 years the farm had been developed by the Martin family and was now run by Tienie Martin, among the best flyhalves his country has produced and who was once also chosen to play for the Springboks.

Martin’s great-grandfather had arrived in the Eastern Highlands in October 1894. Having led 104 settlers on a harrowing journey northwards from South Africa, he set about hacking a livelihood out of a largely deserted wilderness, thereby pioneering commercial farming in the region.

His grandson Marthinus became one of Rhodesia’s biggest tobacco producers.

The youngest of six children, Martin grew up on the property. Farming and sport were his life, swotting was his enemy and his rugby was widely admired. By all accounts he was a dashing and popular player until injury curtailed his career whereupon he took over the family farm. Apparently he did not have an enemy anywhere.

Everything changed on that December day in 2003. Martin pointed out that the court order referred to the next-door property. Unabashed, Mujati told him that the details could be amended in two minutes. He intended to take Tiny Farm. He told Martin to get off the property. As Martin, his wife and daughter packed their bags, they were subjected to tirades from the invaders. They left with their personals and furniture thanks to friends who sent vehicles to assist them. Martin was relieved that his family had not been beaten or murdered like so many others. His crops, livestock, tractors and workshop equipment were left behind. What three generations had built was taken in an afternoon.

Meanwhile, Mujati accused one of the workers of being a sell out. He was beaten, tied up in a net and dumped into the swimming pool. Luckily he survived. Another employee looked after the cattle until he was chased away.

Martin returned to check on his workers and cattle, and Mujati told him that he was now the owner of the crops and equipment. Farm workers and staff were unceremoniously sacked. Despite orders from politicians, courts and police, Martin was not allowed back on to the farm to harvest the ripening tobacco and maize crops, and had to ask the SPCA to save the cattle. Before long Mujati sent a truckload of thugs to tell Martin to stop bothering him or else he’d be “dealt with” and the house in which he had found refuge would be burnt down. Martin and family have not been back to their farm. The homestead has become dank and dark. The garden is a mass of miserable weeds. The farm is derelict, and the buildings are broken.

Apparently Martin wished Brian, who made his Bok debut in Bloemfontein on Saturday, all the best in his rugby future. He is a generous man.

• Peter Roebuck is an international sports columnist based in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.

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