by Dale Collett
Forty-three years ago, as a young Selous Scout lieutenant, I was in action against an enemy position, clearing a building deep inside southern Mozambique when hit by a burst of automatic fire. One armour-piercing bullet entered my back below my left shoulder-blade before severing my spinal cord, leaving me paralyzed below the waist for life.
In a sense I owe my life as a paraplegic to Barbara, an African lady from Lupane in western Zimbabwe, who is my nurse, helper and my dear friend. Every day she reminds me why I reject racism and why I love Africa.
As a kid growing up peacefully in the Karoo I never ever thought I would go to war and then see my beloved Rhodesia destroyed because the majority of people in that country were good and kind like Barbara but evil politicians with too much power prevailed.
In Botswana I owned a small-holding. There I drilled for water, bought a second-hand generator and started farming it. I erected a tank stand, then a steel shed which would one day be my house. I then bought a small wooden room to live in. Because I had a property outside of town, I bought a quad-bike and modified it so I have a motorised bed to move around on which is a daily joy.
My ultimate dream was a motorbike which I bought cheap from China and again fitted a frame for me to lie on. On this wonderful contraption I did a fund-raising ride from Gaborone to Cape Town and raised nearly R150,000 for kids with cancer.
Struggling with work-permits in Botswana I moved to South Africa in 2015 and bought an abandoned two-hectare plot with a derelict house and some out-buildings. I renovated the buildings, rehabilitated the boreholes and put in solar electricity. Then started growing vegetables in a second-hand tunnel which I covered myself. Our produce has helped the poor people in the near-by squatter-camp who have become our friends.
We have been living almost entirely off the land with ducks, chickens and geese. A tunnel full of chillies, young tomatoes and mustard-spinach. We should be harvesting garlic in October. I want to study the viability to increase production and lower our prices to make it affordable to the locals.
Just over two weeks ago, six men, four with pistols, two with knives, arrived middle of the night, attacked Barbara, her fiancé and children. Her fiancé was tied up while she was beaten. They then forced her to open the house and with her in front they entered my bedroom, beat me about the head and took my pistol. I tried to fight but with no legs against four armed men I was overwhelmed. They took all they could carry away. Barbara took about a week to recover.
Friends and family say it is too dangerous now; farmers throughout the land are under siege and with my disability I’m too vulnerable – they say we must go before we are attacked again. My son wants me to leave for the UK where I will be safe.
I do share their despair; I look at South Africa and all the lost potential; people betrayed by their corrupt leaders, feeling hopeless and angry. I see good Afrikaners extending a technical college funded by their own to educate people of any race but the government wants to close it because instruction is in Afrikaans. I look at Africa and see corruption, wanton destruction, hunger, poverty and fear. But I look at England and Europe; once so great and proud, from where we learned so much, led by weak opportunists, forever apologising for their past and fear they are on the same path. I reject their grovelling. I am not apologising for fighting for Rhodesia nor am I apologising for my father and grandfather who worked hard to farm in tough country and treated all their compatriots with decency and fairness. I believed then, we were right to fight and I have seen nothing to make me change my mind.
I look at my situation and remind myself I’ve been through worse. One thing I know which is deeply embedded in me is that I won’t give up. I owe too much to those who paid the ultimate price. On the beaches of Normandy and Okinawa, in Mozambique, in Rhodesia, in the Nazi Death-Camps, wherever they fought for our freedom. My staff and I are determined to improve our lot and defend ourselves. We are determined to fight back against criminals, rising costs, negative sentiments, droughts and whatever else may come our way. I can’t help but believe that if good people in South Africa, and there are millions, stand up against what is wrong, we will ultimately prevail. I’m now 69, I thank God for life and I reach out to my countrymen to be brave and stand fast.