By Kevin Matthews
The sound of a door opening often wakes Fortunate Hove ’11, MPPA ’14, with a start. It’s been that way since she was in seventh grade, the year she felt so lost that she missed Rhodesia’s national school exam. At that time, late in the 1970s, the war of liberation was spreading to her part of the country, which was soon to become independent Zimbabwe.
Like other young villagers, Hove (pronounced HOH-vay) was drafted into one of the black revolutionary groups opposing white-minority rule. She carried food to a guerilla base for the first time at age 11, and the work did not stop. School became optional. Hove prepared meals, fetched water, listened to Maoist political indoctrination, and attempted to keep herself and her family out of trouble. Used as a human shield, she evaded gunshots by crawling through thistles and survived the shelling of a base at age 14.
“Rest,” she writes in her 2013 memoir, “became a thing of the past.”
Given her always-uneasy sleep, it’s meaningful that Hove now thinks of Cal Lutheran as “a resting place.” She has needed the quiet.
“This is not just a school, it’s a community,” she said, “and personally I felt that. It was a time when I really needed support, and I got it.”
A decade before Hove came to Cal Lutheran for a bachelor’s degree in communication, she had already spent 11 years working as a professional radio and television journalist for Zimbabwe Broadcast Corp. She rose to become a ZBC regional bureau chief and later managed public relations for a steel company.
She was also the mother of two children, whom she’d left behind when she fled to the San Fernando Valley in 2002. In the Valley, she worked as a drug rehabilitation counselor.
Hove had always wanted a degree like her uncle, who was respected in the village for his education. “But so many things militated against my acquisition of that degree,” she told a classroom of Cal Lutheran criminal justice students last March. “You don’t know how lucky you are to be in the positions in which you are…. Not many kids your age have that opportunity. Use it – that’s all I can say – productively.”
She finally studied military and economic history, earning her first bachelor’s degree in Zimbabwe. Adding knowledge from her own experience, she developed a deep appreciation for the smaller intertribal and interpersonal conflicts that always lie behind “the bigger conflict that catches the attention of the international community.” Those smaller, less visible conflicts regularly claim more lives than the larger one, Hove says.
Tradition taught Hove that life is one fabric and that everyone weaves a share of it. Storytellers conclude, but the stories do not. Like a very long education, a true story is instead a series of commencements.
Experience taught her that women endure more than men. Hove married a man of extraordinary educational attainments who, she said, nevertheless felt threatened by her success and relative fame. She went through a divorce, received politically motivated threats that led her to flee Zimbabwe, and suffered “a long season of loneliness” until her children finally arrived in California last year. In both of her countries, she learned that she could gain the trust of other women and found “a passion” for working with them.
When she decided to study again, she felt at home at a Lutheran university. Although she has been on a long journey of discovery as a Christian, she was raised a Lutheran and keeps a missionary’s work ethic and hours. “In my darkest time, when I was out here alone, it was the Lutheran hymns that really saw me through,” she said.
With her children now studying at Moorpark College and Thousand Oaks High School, Hove’s ambition is to earn a doctorate in international relations or a related field, and to apply her expertise to gender issues of global significance, including human trafficking. She would prefer to remain near Los Angeles to address those issues here.
Collateral Damage (book excerpts)
Forced from age 11 to provide support to local guerillas fighting the white colonial government of her country, then Rhodesia, Fortunate Hove would study military history and become a journalist for the Zimbabwe Broadcast Corp. She had always been a fine observer of the people around her. In her 2013 book, Tender Eyes: Memoirs of Villagers in Conflict, the cast of authentic characters from her childhood are directly and indirectly harmed by Zimbabwe’s war of liberation (1964–79). The Midlands province where Hove grew up did not see active fighting until the mid-1970s.
Spread of anarchy
In 1976 the guerillas visited the local council offices and shut them down. They tore the paperwork, took money from the cash boxes, and gave it to villagers who were at the offices. They emptied the local beer hall which sold Chibuku, a traditional brew made from malts, which was a fund-raising project for the local council…. The guerillas went to the local Dip Tank and confiscated the keys from the man in charge of dipping. That was the last day the cattle were dipped [for ticks] for four years.
Conflicts within conflicts
Villagers who had envied each other began to lie and turn against each other and this caused many deaths. It was like there was a bigger war going on and then another deadlier war among individuals. As the war progressed, older girls began fighting over the brothers or comrades and soon, the parents began to wonder what kind of “serving” the girls were doing at the base…. The comrades or guerillas had to correct some girls who wanted to wear extremely brightly colored clothes because the colors would betray the campers to the enemy.
One man was killed because he had bought a portable short wave radio and other villagers did not know what it was. They thought it was a communication radio given to the man by government soldiers to report on guerilla movements.
Some of the farmers packed their bags and left while others were determined to fight for their farms even to the shedding of blood. One such farmer was a white man given the nickname Makhuhle by local people for the effort that he made to speak the vernacular languages. He had very big ears and so, any baby born in the village with big ears was nicknamed Makhuhle. Makhuhle was vicious after his farm had been looted. He armed himself and his workers, who were black, and tracked the route through which his cattle had been driven and came to the villages close to his farm … and torched their huts in indignation.
A victim of rape
We were all relieved to leave the base that night while DDK was still asleep because we were not sure who his next victim would be. The village mourned quietly for Chi’s loss but not for too long. It was done, and that is what the war did to our consciences; they had to be seared and to remain hard for survival’s sake. Soon people began to judge Chi, as though everything that happened was her fault.
It was a matter of time before danger caught up with all of us. I was only 14, and facing the futility of life. I did not lose hope. I still believed that one day I would go to university and acquire a degree. How? It was not clear yet. I needed to survive the war. I had a dream, and if the war spared me, I hoped that I would be able to acquire my degree and influence change for women and girls.
Discovering childhood at war’s end
I enjoyed playing raka-raka…. For agility, the girls had to tuck their dresses in their underwear as they ducked the ball thrown from both sides that were manned by the opposing group. The idea was to be swift and agile enough to avoid being hit by the ball…. I was playing the game with a vengeance. I did not realize that I was fighting to redeem the time that I had lost during the war. I played my heart out.
In the mid-’90s … a former soldier was closing all the air vents and windows of his house. Neighbors found the action bizarre and they thought that it was newsworthy so they called me over…. It broke my heart to see such an intelligent person wasting away. The man was a former Captain in the army…. He was very gentle when he explained to my crew that he was closing the vents to keep the noise of the guns outside.