Monthly Archives: July 2013

Jim Steele

I just read an intriguing article on Jim Steele, a white farmer/preacher amid blacks in Zimbabwe.

There are many differences between the two groups:

Even their understanding of time and distance was fluid: If Steele asked a settler on his land how far it was to Chinhoyi, the answer depended on where the sun sat in the sky at the moment. In the morning, it was “not far.” If the sun was low in the west, it was “too far”–since (of course) one was on foot and had to consider what might emerge from the bush after dark.

Under Robert Mugabe, many whites are thrown in jail and harassed without cause:

On the first Saturday morning, the guards announced that the farmers’ heads would be shaved. The lice, they explained. The younger farmers raged: This was about ridicule, not lice; they would not submit. Steele motioned for them to be still. The yelling–it was just what the guards wanted, so they could later claim the whites had “rioted” to justify whatever violence they were planning….

“I will be first.”

There was a problem. Though the guards were prepared to beat the farmers, they hadn’t actually prepared to shave them: There were no clippers in the prison.

Ultimately, the response to Steele is not what Mugabe would have hoped:

Some of the D prisoners came to him when he was done [with his sermon to his fellow inmates], asking about his religion, offering confessions, thanking him. Two others–they happened to be nonviolents–wished to discuss something else.

“You are an old man,” one said.


The man pointed to Jim’s eyes. “You do not see well.”

“I see well enough.”

“But you wear glasses?”

“They were taken when I arrived.”

“No glasses,” the man said, shaking his head. “Take off your tunic.”


“Your lice.”

The men were offering to do for Jim what he, with his sixty-four-year-old’s eyes, could not do for himself: pick the lice from his prison pajamas. Then and every day thereafter, the two Shona, an accused thief and a vandal, meticulously picked the lice from Jim Steele’s prison pajamas while the old man sat beside them in the cold air of the prison yard, naked and peaceful.

After seventeen days, when it became clear that the whites were not going to end up getting hurt, that their presence in prison was in fact creating a most unpalatable racial harmony, that even the warden was developing worrisome tendencies, the order came down: Give the whites their bail.


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