Against the Odds: A History of the Zimbabwe Project Trust by Mary Ndlovu
Reviewed by Trevor Grundy, CJA-UK member
Lytton Strachey said that the history of the Victorian Age would never be written. We know too much about it, he wrote in the preface to his landmark book Eminent Victorians.
The great biographer, who did so much to undermine the moral pretentions of the 19th century, suggested that instead of loading us with what we moderns call TMI – too much information – historians should get into small boats and row over what he called that great ocean of material and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen from those far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity.
Mary Ndlovu, in this much needed, and long awaited story of the Zimbabwe Project Trust (ZimPro), has lowered into the depths of Zimbabwe’s muddy waters, not Lytton Strachey’s little bucket but, rather, her own rather large container.
It has brought to the surface, long forgotten (or ignored) facts, figures, statements, attitudes, opinions and conflicts that overwhelmed men and women who tried to re-build what war had wrecked.
Writes Edwin Murirwa, chairperson of the ZimPro Board of Trustees in the foreword to a book that is certain to find its way onto the shelves of serious students of African affairs: “The fact that Against the Odds is not an encomium to ZimPro is what makes it a more profound and interesting read, and a work from which we can all benefit.”
But in many ways Against the Odds is most certainly an encomium to ZimPro. And If there’s a single hero in the story of this largely philanthropic undertaking that has never before been so closely observed, it is Judith Todd, ZimPro’s first Zimbabwe based director.
Although the blueprint for ZimPro was put onto the drawing board by the German Jesuit Dieter Scholz in London in 1978, the rocket didn’t leave earth until Judith’s return home after years of exile in London with her husband, the late Richard Acton.
Todd was the human dynamo behind ZimPro and its attempt to provide meaningful work for former combatants. The author heaps well-deserved praise on this remarkable woman, the daughter of Sir Garfield Todd and her mother Lady Grace whose work in the field of Rhodesian/Zimbabwe education cries out for a book all of its own.
“Could any other individual have performed the miracles that she (Judith Todd) managed to conjure?” asks Canada-born Ndlovu.
She lists what she calls several post-independence ”miracles” worked by Judith – the recruitment of President Canaan Banana as supporter of ZimPro, along with Frederick Shava, then Minister of Manpower Planning and Development and even the Intelligence Chief Emmerson Mnangagwa, who many tip to be the next Zimbabwean fuehrer, once Mugabe parks his clogs.
The story of ZimPro is a tale of triumph and tragedy. The former because it met strong international worldwide support immediately after independence: the latter because as years passed it was the victim of violence between warring politicians with Judith Todd often caught in the middle.
The first 100 pages of this remarkable book sheds fresh light on this intriguing period of Zimbabwean history.
The rest of the book, I found hard to take TMI – complicated by 56 acronyms.
The story of ZimPro’s work and what it meant to abandoned combatants after independence, when most politicians in the ruling party were busy climbing up greasy poles and acquiring property at advantageous rates, needs re-telling not once and again but again and again. In particular, how so many Zanu (PF) sycophants tried to discredit Judith Todd and several of her key assistants during Gukuruhundi, when the conscience of a nation, the British government and the entire Commonwealth was sacrificed on the altar of expediency.
Meantime, its Jubilee Year and a time when the 54-nation Commonwealth could make an attempt to give public honour to some of those who concerned themselves with equality and human rights after a bloody war in Africa.
The name Judith Todd springs to mind.
Against the Odds is published by Weaver Press/ZimPro $20 in Zimbabwe/£28.29 in UK 403 pages