We had taken over a tobacco farm in the Macheke area of Rhodesia but circumstances (mainly the coming to power of Robert Mugabe) meant we had to leave that farm. Peter had become particularly aware of one of the old employees of the previous owner of the farm, an elderly man named Limbikani. Due to his age and his length of service he was retained to do simple tasks, the main one being to keep an eye on the tobacco barn furnaces during the early evenings, although there were other able-bodied men doing that task throughout the night. But in the early hours of one morning, while still dark, about 2 a.m. Peter decided to do a spot check on the fires only to find two of the guards fast asleep, but with Limbikani wandering around struggling to throw the odd log into some of the fire boxes. Peter told him to stop and go to home to bed, but the old man insisted on staying in the barn and went to a corner where he had arranged a mattress and blanket and lay down. Peter covered him with the blanket and came home. This became a ritual thereafter, with Peter tucking the old man in but much earlier in the night.
Limbikani had been born in Zambia. He was small, slim, toothless, with a wrinkled face, and always wore a knitted, pointed hat with a bobble on the top which would wobble from side to side as he moved. His father had been a witchdoctor and Limbikani had inherited some of his powers.
Circumstances again intervened and we had to leave the Macheke farm. Preparations were well in hand for our move when Limbikani approached Peter. Limbikani: “You are leaving this farm?” Peter: “Yes. I’m sorry.” Limbikani: “If you don’t take me with you, I will put “matagati” (a spell) on you.” Hmm. We decided, therefore, we had no choice!
We moved to the South Eastern Lowveld with Limbikani, the Irish Wolfhounds, the bush pigs, Limbikani’s chickens in a Heath Robinson wire cage, and Gertie, the goat, all in or on top of the bakkie. On the way, we stopped at our daughter’s private boarding school to spend some time with her, and she later told us we had caused quite a stir as we rattled up the driveway looking like a bunch of hillbillies! Fortunately, she thought it was fun.
We settled into our new home and Limbikani was given the job of pottering about the garden, picking up leaves and helping feed the Irish Wolfhounds and the bush pigs. . He would, however, insist on tying up my prolific shrubs into tight bunches with string, and I could never stop this habit.
Every Saturday at noon he would finish putting the animals’ food dishes down and wait for what had become his ritual weekly “dop” – a few of inches of gin or brandy in a small bottle . We expected him to take it to his house and enjoy it slowly, but no, he would stand in front of us and down the whole lot in one go, then totter off through the gate for the weekend’s break, hat bobbing jauntily away. We always marvelled at this and wondered, but later learned that this was due to African custom. If something was given to you in your hand (food or drink) it was only polite to eat or drink it immediately in front of your benefactor. The way round this was for Peter to place the bottle on the table for Limbikani himself to then pick it up. That allowed him to take it away to drink the contents later. As a point of interest, another custom, which is politeness in African culture, and which has always been misunderstood by many as showing a sign of greed but is actually denoting gratitude, is the taking of gifts with two hands outstretched.
One day, Peter was away and I had to go into the village in the bakkie. I started the car which was parked on a rise, went a few yards when it suddenly stopped. No amount of key-turning would induce it to start again. Two of our other gardeners came and began to push the car down the slope with me frantically using the pedals to get it to start, but again to no avail, and I came to a halt at the bottom of the driveway. I got out and opened the bonnet and had a poke around in the engine, but could see nothing obvious (not surprising as I knew, and still know, nothing about car engines). At this stage, Limbikani came running up, told me to get back into the vehicle, and he closed the bonnet. Everyone was now standing back watching. He laid his two hands on top of the bonnet, and left them there while he indicated to me to start the car. I turned the key and…………. Yes. Lo and behold, it started first time.
A few months later we went on holiday to the coast in our landrover. Driving along the sand at the sea’s edge, we came to a sudden halt. The tide was coming in. Peter had a look in the engine and fiddled about, with no luck. We saw some people way up the beach and hoping he could get help from them in some way, Peter started off jogging towards them while I waited in the vehicle, imagining the sea swallowing up our transport. He became a dot in the distance and I was really panicking. Suddenly I thought of Limbikani’s trick, and did exactly what he had done. Sat back in the driver’s seat and, you can believe it or not, it started first time! I drove up the beach to meet an incredulous Peter – we were both so relieved that we immediately turned round and drove back to the safety of our camp before it packed in again.
When in the garden, and during his tea break, Limbikani would often sit in the shade of a Pod Mahogany tree chewing on the seeds from a Baobab (Adansonia digitata) fruit, containing cream of tartar. The hard, inedible, inner pip would get discarded and left under the tree.
The inevitable came about, and Limbikani became ill and was taken to hospital where he passed away and Peter arranged for his burial.
No long after, while walking about in the garden, Peter noticed a Baobab seedling sprouting under the tree Limbikani would sit under during his tea breaks. Realising that this had, undoubtedly, arisen from one of the discarded pips, and being a Bonsai enthusiast, Peter dug it up and potted it. That Bonsai Baobab is now thirty years old and resides with our daughter in Zambia. We have, of course, named the bonsai Limbikani, in fond memory of a great old man. We feel he has returned to his home.