A life in Rhodesia recalled in fascinating new novel

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It is never too late to achieve a dream and the living proof of this is Robert Kidd who has just published his first book at the age of 87.

The author, who spent a lifetime in the southern African state of what used to be called Rhodesia before becoming Zimbabwe in 1980, has just published ‘Mine to Remember’, a story of love and tragedy in the heart of Africa.

Robert and his wife Daphne, also 87, have been married for the past 63 years and lived in Zimbabwe after retiring in the late 1990s. But because of the worsening political situation the couple decided to move in 2009, and have, for the last eight years, lived in Bearsden near to their grandchildren.

Speaking about his motivation behind writing the book, Robert, who was a mining engineer, said it was a labour of love and partly in memory of their only child, Melodie, who died of cancer when she was only 31 in 1991.

He said: “It was also in honour of the many people we knew, and still know, living there. The novel covers the period 1890 up until 1980 so it doesn’t cover the Robert Mugabe period after 1980. The novel is also in memory of great mining disaster in the Wankie area of the country.”

A total of 426 people died on June 6, 1972, when a series of underground explosions occurred at the colliery. Only eight survived and it remains the country’s worst mining disaster to date.

Robert said: “Rhodesia was a beautiful country, but Mugabe ruined it. The country is not that well known to outsiders and we would like to publicise it. We had some really lovely times there and the country at one time was self-supporting in all its needs for food.

“Many people don’t know but Rhodesia was a exporter at one time and fed South Africa during the Second World War.”

Daphne added: “It is a book of remembrance and although the novel is based on real events the publishers have called it historical fiction.

“We retired in 1989 and Robert built our own house high up in eastern highland area of Inyango with 11 acres of land. We were living at 7000 feet.

“There was a great deal of respect between the blacks and whites and everyone got on together. We had a gardener when we lived in Harare and he was with us for more than 40 years. He was like one of the family, but unfortunately he died of AIDS when he was only 56.”

Robert said: “We bought the land before we retired and built the house in stages over two years. We employed three local people and trained them in the building process, so that when the house was finished, the workers had new skills.”

The couple still have an immense sense of pride in the country they have left behind, but that is tinged with sadness for the way things have gone since independence in 1980.

Robert added: “Although the novel is pure fiction there is a great deal of history in it, and many of the characters are based on people we actually knew.

“The situation was fine for us until about 2000, then it deteriorated. We found there was no security in everyday living. If you criticised the president you became a prohibited individual and life became very difficult.”

But the final straw came with the land invasions and the rising crime rate.

Robert explained: “It became impossible. Daphne had a fall and it became impossible to pay for the medical bills. Life for people in Zimbabwe now is okay as long as you are part of the economy and have a job. But for those who are not, life is not very good.”

It is all a far cry from when Robert was born back in 1930. He studied electrical engineering at university in South Africa and, as a young apprentice, was keen to help build the country that was his home. After getting married in 1953 he and Daphne went to Rugby in England for two years’ post-graduate apprenticeship experience so that Robert could learn the practicalities of his profession. He returned to Rhodesia after that where he worked right up until retiring.

Publishers of the book Indie Authors World, based in Bishopbriggs said this had been an emotional journey for Robert.

Director Kim Mcleod said: “It is a true testimony to his spirit and the support of his wife and family that he completed the book. Many people dream of writing but to actually get it finished and now available for sale in print and ebook all over the world is a great celebration. East Dunbartonshire Libraries also played their part by encouraging Robert and Daphne to publish the book when they shared the original manuscript with a book group.

○You can see the book on sale at www.amazon.co.uk/Mine-Remember-Robert-Kidd-ebook/dp.