Volume 3 Number 10
Her Father Was Buried Alive
01 November 1990

Her father, pioneer farmer Gray Leakey, was buried alive with satanic rites by a Mau Mau gang on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

Beyond violence
by Agnes Leakey Hofmeyr, Grosvenor Books, Johannesburg
This gripping, personal story of Africa recalls the time of the Mau Mau in Kenya. The author does not, however, focus upon unspeakable oaths and barbarities, but upon sacrifice, faith and the flowering that stems from forgiveness.

Beyond violence is told in flashbacks from the terse first chapter in which the author records how her father, pioneer farmer Gray Leakey, was buried alive with satanic rites by a Mau Mau gang on the slopes of Mount Kenya.

An hour or so earlier, Leakey (a cousin of the eminent anthropologist) had seen his third wife and the family's cook murdered. Then, in obedience to a so-called prophetess, the gang had seized and bound him, and dragged him to his terrible execution.

Following this horrifying beginning, the story shifts to the sunlight of joyous childhood. Agnes Hofmeyr's earliest memory is of being awakened at night in a tent, the family's first Kenya home, by herdsmen shouting that a lion had broken through the protective stockade and taken one of the cattle. She writes of magic hours spent watching herds of zebra, giraffe and other wild animals moving across shimmering plains, and of hunkering down alongside tribesmen telling stirring folk tales. From infancy she spoke Kikuyu as readily as she spoke English.

Lion hunt
She describes how drought financially crippled her father, and how the family trekked in ox wagons for ten days. To cross a flood-swollen river she was hoisted to the shoulder of one of the Somalis, and held on for dear life to his mud-dressed coiffure: `I can still smell that mud, the sweat and swirling river water. I loved it. These were the smells of adventure. I was never afraid.'

These and other anecdotes of the barefoot child (shoes expensively mail-ordered from England were for Sundays) are assuredly substance for another box-office hit on colonial Africa. The screenwriter would pounce on the story of the six-year-old Agnes going out lion-hunting with her youngest brother, he armed only with a home-made spear - a long stick with a nail attached to one end. A turn in the path, and there was a lion padding towards them. The two children scaled a tree and watched the lion pass below.

This valour was to be gravely tested - as when their mother died within three days of developing appendicitis. Then when Agnes was eight the family decided it was time to `civilize' her and she was sent to school in England. She felt, as she records, trapped in a cage. She lay awake through the winter nights at boarding school shivering and suffering from chilblains, her misery exacerbated by her yearning for the warmth, freedom and friends in Africa.

Her premier guardian, Aunt May, essayed to promote her spiritual welfare by leaving religious tracts and edifying books around the house. When the teenager, whose new passions were tennis and dancing, declined these ill-disguised baits, Aunt May took her to a gathering of the Oxford Group, later to be known as Moral Re-Armament. Here she met people of her own age, of different nationalities and intriguingly varied interests.

What arrested her was the notion of a living communication with a God who had, perhaps, a specific plan for her life. There began a spiritual adventure which was to take a child of the African bush into a global struggle to build a new world, freed from selfishness, fear, corruption and bitterness. Her work took her all over the world and she married a South African colleague, Bremer Hofmeyr.

The Hofmeyrs were in America when they learned of her father's brutal execution. Her immediate reaction was to be filled with hatred, not only of his killers, but of black people in general. But in the dawn after a sleepless night, she sought God's direction and she held on to the thought, `Have neither hatred nor bitterness, but fight the harder to bring change of heart to both black and white.'

Nearly two decades after her father's death, the extent of Agnes Hofmeyr's forgiving of her enemies was dramatically tested. The Hofmeyrs were dining with a former Mau Mau leader called Stanley Kinga. Kinga turned to Agnes and said, `There is something I've never told you and that I think you ought to know. I was on the Mau Mau committee that chose your father to be a sacrifice. I planned his death.'

She was stunned, wrestling with her emotions. Then she said, 'Thank God we have both learned the secret of forgiveness, or we would never be sitting here together.'

South Africa
Looking back on the tragedy, she writes, `I still cannot answer the question "why?" I do not know whether in this case it was the sins of imperialism, the arrogance of ordinary whites, or evil spirits at work in black minds -perhaps something of each. But this has become my unshakeable faith ... that in any situation ... if we will give it to God, He will in ways we cannot foresee or plan, bring something good out of evil.'

To the question, `How can you forgive?' she replies, `I had to identify with the wrong things we whites had done and realize that I stood in need of forgiveness. Perhaps a key to the question "How can I forgive?" is to look at another question, "How much do I need forgiveness?" '

What spurred the author to write this profoundly moving story is the current situation in South Africa, her homeland for four decades. `My hope,' she writes, `is that this story will help estranged peoples of our country to find one another in a new South Africa.' The book compels reading at one sitting.

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