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  • Writer's pictureNondiarist

A Horseman Called Hammond

Three – A Facebook appeal

Nina Williams’s husband passed away in 1982. On the day of his funeral, Hammond told her daughter, Sian, that Bill Williams had visited him in a dream and asked him to look after Nina. He had agreed to this request, he said, in the dream, and so he duly stayed at Henryd Riding School until Nina’s own death in 2007.

The Zimbabwean economy was on its knees in the 2000s, the dollar was in free-fall and life was unbelievably tough for everyone. Living and working in the Serengeti, Sian and her husband sent small sums of money each month to pay salaries for Nina’s two grooms, Hammond and Jackson, and also for the employees of her friend, Scott. USD $10 doesn’t sound like much, but in the local economy it equated to a month’s pay. Hammond and the rest of the staff declared that this had been the sole reason they had survived when desperation was hot on the heels of all. Nina, struggling to afford to feed herself, attempted to rehome her beautiful Thoroughbred mare, Ebony Dancer, Hammond’s mount at the time. But options were limited and farms were being seized by the government in the most brutal manner. As she couldn’t bear to contemplate leaving Ebony at the mercy of farm invaders, she made the devastating decision to have the horse euthanased. Hammond, Nina and Sian shared the grief as a family.

On the day of Nina’s funeral, Hammond said to Sian, “Madam, do you remember my dream with your father? My job is now done and I want to go home to rest."

Sian was deeply moved by this simple remembered promise – one he had kept for 25 years.

She and her remaining family gave him the best retirement package they could afford at the time, together with a few things to help him be self-sufficient in his rural home near Mount Darwin, like a plough and small bits of equipment and financial contributions for livestock and seeds.

He visited them in Harare about once a year, but eventually the economic shambles and a series of severe droughts depleted and destroyed his livestock and crops. For months his dignity prevented him from asking for help but in the end he contacted Sian in desperation for any assistance she could give.

Her first instinct was to drive out to his home and assess exactly what he needed. But this was a time when the dictatorship in Zimbabwe was instigating a crackdown on the opposition party. The depressing reality was that if Hammond was to be visited by folk from Harare, especially whites, he was highly likely to be suspected of collaborating with the opposition and at the very least robbed of anything of value he had been given. At worst, well…. no need to go into that.

So arrangements were made for some trusty friends, one of whom was a builder, to conduct an undercover operation and report back. In due course Hammond and his family received clothing, blankets, groceries, seedlings and a new roof and door for his crumbling house, then eventually an extension to create another room.

Sian put an appeal on Facebook, reaching out to her friends in Zimbabwe and across the world, especially those like me who had known Hammond. The donations received enabled her to maintain the clothing, food and provisions gifts and to pay for bus fares for the guys transporting all these things to him. On their first recce visit, Hammond had given them a collection of pretty stones to take back to Sian as a special thank you because he knew she loved and collected such things. He went to the nearby Mazowe River with Ramson, the builder, specifically to fetch them. His gift included a selection of ground nuts for Sian, sugar beans for her maid and gardener and some maize for Ramson.

Thus all who were a part of the “Hammond Mission” were so kindly acknowledged.

Hammond, ever the gentleman, distributed thank-you gifts when he had so little himself. He responded in the only way he could to the Facebook donors as well – messages of thanks via Sian.

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