The trainer’s whip-a twist of fate?

By Dumisani Kufaruwenga

My father was a cattleman during his life time, and so was his father before him. Both men took pride in a large herd, it was a symbol of status. lt was wealth. lt was the family’s food security.

Cattle were a source of the much needed protein in the form of milk and meat. They also provided manure for the family crop.

The more the cattle, the healthier the family.

Perhaps more importantly, cattle were also the source of draught power. They pulled the plough that tilled the land and dragged the cultivator that killed the weeds in the fields, and hauled the
scotchcart that brought in the harvest. ln the life of the peasant subsistence farmer, beast to man was thus an indispensible compatriot.

The amazing beasts of burden who carried out draught duties had to be trained well for them to accomplish this crucial role in the life of the men of my village, whose dominant economic activity was agriculture.

My father was avid in the taming and training of draught oxen; “A man is not a man if he does not have an efficient span”, He would tell us repeatedly in his matter-of-fact way which was even more
effective from the direct and calm way in which it was communicated.

A span, as we understood it was a team of oxen, usually four in number which was yoked together for a particular purpose or task, be it to pull the plough that tilled the land or the scotchcart that ferried manure to the field.
As small boys we learnt from my father and from experience that the lead ox was pivotal to the efficiency and effectiveness of a span. As its name implied, it was the leader of the span, the leader
whom we called ‘forosi’ in the rural farming parlance.
The ‘forosi’ took the right front position of the team of yoked oxen, and like a driver, determined the direction and speed at which the span navigated the hazards it encountered in its undertaking.
Training a ‘forosi’ was therefore an equally important undertaking for the men of my village. Training a ‘foosi’ required expertise and skill.

lt started with the ability to identify the correct beast for the job of ‘forosi’. This was done from observing and studying the characteristics of the animal candidate. For it to qualify for consideration, the ox had to be intelligent.
This was easy to establish.

An intelligent beast would learn to respond to its name faster than most cattle in the herd. lt would
also be able to know and understand the routine and major features of the life of the herd better than most of its counterparts; the location of the feeding troughs, the correct direction to the watering hole, the correct pen in which to retire for the night, and most important of all, being able to give correct responses to men’s verbal instructions and commands.

Once the correct beast was identified, it was given the chance to lead. Of course the man in charge of its training would be close by, with whip in hand, ready to crack the whip if the trainee made a
wrong move or made a wrong turn, until it got everything right.

If the trainee animal failed the test of being leader, a replacement was found until the span performed to the trainer’s satisfaction. We followed the teaching of our forebears in rearing cattle and training oxen, and our families always had enough to eat unless there was a drought. The
methods worked. A leader is identified and trained in the art of leading by being given a chance to
lead. If he or she is not good at it, he or she will be discarded and a replacement found.

Are these peasant farmer’s survival skills so difficult to learn for the Zimbabwean voter?
Or has the trainer’s whip, by some twist of fate, fallen into the hands of the beast, which is now using it to drive men, instead of the beast being controlled by a man wielding a whip?

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