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Of Land and Spirit
by Alan Thrush

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Transition Publishing, 1997
240 x 160mm, 408 pages
ISBN 0 620 20913 5
Extracts from book


"Fascinating. Throbs with authenticity." John Gordon Davis - author of
Hold my Hand I'm Dying
"Best of genre of the Rhodesian bush war" - Citizen
"Recommended as a real contribution to the understanding of those turbulent times" - Star
"The finest piece of writing, novels or otherwise, on the fighting in the Rhodesian bush" - Personality
"A defining novel of Rhodesia's final years" - James Mitchell - books editor,
The Star
"An undiluted reflection of the War of Liberation." - Sipho Ncube (
Chimurenga name Bazooka) - former political commissar, Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army

Book Review. MJ Hurry, The Star, 24th March 1997.
Ring of truth in tale of bush war

Perhaps inevitably, now that the dust of conflict from the bush war in Rhodesia has settled, stories of heroism, hardship and suffering will begin to emerge. Alan Thrush has created a remarkable work, suffused as it is with personal experience, to a degree that writing it may have been almost cathartic.

His descriptions of contact situations and the realities of conflict are horrifyingly graphic and absolutely authentic, even if his characters are fictional. The disruptive effects of the war on the social fabric of Rhodesia as well as the bonds formed by men under fire are faithfully depicted.

His book evoked in me memories of that beautiful and peaceful land before UDI, with its magnificent farms, bustling capital city of Salisbury, and the remote far flung tribal trust lands where the villagers lived traditional pastoral lives. But his book is by no means a one-side white nostalgia trip. The overwhelming impression is that of the futility and suffering of war, its dehumanising effects, and of the respective and diametrically opposed viewpoints of the combatants.

White Rhodesians have tended to believe it was simply the brutal and bestial intimidation by the insurgents that cowed the local peoples into co-operation. Thrush points out the plight of the innocent tribal communities caught between this intimidation and the violence of security forces seeking information on guerrilla movements. A most interesting point, too, was that the insurgents had the support of the spirit mediums. The heavy rains during the period were interpreted as a sign of approval from the ancestral spirits for the struggle to regain land taken by force by the pioneers and later colonists.

Another authentic aspect is the political background with the role played by America’s Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger, who forced the withdrawal first of the South African Police, and then of all South African aid. The reason given in the novel for this action was that the Rhodesian security forces were so efficient and their kill rate so high, that the United States feared a Soviet invasion of Angola and Mozambique to protect the insurgents. Whether this was America’s real motive is of course a matter of conjecture.

The dilemma of black members of the Rhodesian forces, regarded by many as traitors, especially the captured insurgents recruited into the formidable Selous Scouts, forms another aspect of the story. But the real strength of the book is its re-creation of conditions of actual war.

It makes fascinating reading, this evocation of battle. Quite apart from the blood, sweat and terror that is almost tangible, the small details are intriguing. The use and effects of Rhodesia’s homemade napalm, frantan, the radio signals and codes, the types of grenades, the officer training courses, the helicopter support, types of land mines, all add to the pervading sincerity of the book. It is not verisimilitude, it is the ring of truth.

The opening chapters set the tone. Branded indelibly in the reader’s imagination are the impressions of a young man, Andrew Scott, as yet without actual combat experience, lying cold and frightened in the night with his army detachment in the heart of the Rhodesian bush. With daybreak will come the heat and the pursuit of insurgents, the sweep. Trackers, flies, thorns, exhaustion and the ever present terror of an ambush. Tension. The sudden crackle of automatic fire, death and blood, anger. Radio contacts and welcome sound of the approaching helicopter gunships. Frankly, I do not believe Alan Thrush’s re-creation of conditions could be bettered.

I have only one criticism of this aspect of the novel. The book would have benefited from some omission of similar material, not because the description in any way falters, but simply that the impact of the main incidents would have been even greater.

Perhaps understandably, details of the insurgents and their camps, their commanders, and reactions to attacks, although accurate, are not as compelling. One insurgent, Jason, is motivated by the killing of his family by the Rhodesian soldiers.

Andrew Scott, the main protagonist and possibly the author’s persona, is well depicted. Some of the other characters are perhaps a trifle one-dimensional. The excitement and realism of the story more than compensate for these quibbles, however, and I recommend the book both as entertainment and as a real contribution to the understanding of those turbulent times.

The Citizen ~ March 17, 1997

"Best of genre on Rhodesia bush war"

OF LAND AND SPIRITS, by Alan Thrush (Transition Publishing)

Rhodesia’s vicious bush war has attracted authors’ attention far beyond a level justified by the event, and 17 years after the birth of Zimbabwe it could be expected that interest in the subject is flagging.

If this causes anyone interested in the country, guerrilla warfare and indeed the development of modern southern Africa to skip this book it would be tragic.

Alan Thrush, a temporary captain in the Rhodesian African Rifles by the end of the war, has produced the best of the genre.

He writes skilfully from personal experience that lends strong credibility to a work that he protests is pure fiction.

There’s everything here. Although centred on the war, Thrush brings its effects on mothers and fathers, wives, lovers, the economy and the whole social fabric of a country in turmoil into fine focus.

The escalation of political pressure on the Rhodesia Government from the US and Britain, mainly through South Africa , as events move towards the climax is accurately, if economically, drawn.

The mounting uncertainty of the civilian population denied full knowledge of events in the operational areas and in Zambia and Mozambique, comes through clearly and sympathetically.

Lonely wives drift into pointless affairs, and parents constantly agonise about staying or emigrating. Business winds down, farmers retreat behind electrified fences and sandbagged windows and doorways.

And still the pressure on an under-strength army mounts. Fire force deployments, once limited to perhaps twice a week against five-strong guerrilla groups, increase to three to five times a day against groups of 50, 60 or more.

Thrush writes incisively of the military operations, but he avoids the trap of dwelling too much on the atrocities of both sides.

That has been amply covered elsewhere.

He also portrays with understanding the intolerable pressure on the rural Blacks in operational areas, the too vulnerable victims of the security forces, Mugabe’s ZANLA and in some regions Nkomo’s ZIPRA.

The conventional wisdom in Zimbabwe of the late 70s was that escape to South Africa - the only alternative for most Whites - was pointless, because inevitably the conflagration here would be much worse when it finally came.

The real miracle must be that South Africa avoided that fate. Thank God.

Ian Smith

Cape Argus ~ 4 June, 1997

"An authentic novel of the years whose birth pangs brought forth Zimbabwe"


Alan Thrush (Transition Publishing)

"The proud green-and-white of the Rhodesian flag - those bright, brave colours that inspired a tiny nation through so many difficult years - were lowered for the last time. Rhodesia had gone forever. As the flags fluttered down in the warm breeze of another hot, humid day, the Latin words of the national crest faded forever into history: Sit Nomine Digna (Let her be worthy of the name). There were few who questioned whether she had."

This novel is set during the five years leading up to the birth of Zimbabwe. Although fictional, it was written by an officer in the Rhodesian African Rifles who saw service in all operational areas and was decorated for gallantry. The result is that there is much authenticity in it, although at times it is a little "over the top".

Both sides involved in the civil war are catered for - both sides were weary of fighting one another. The eventual outcome was really a forgone conclusion and in retrospect we, in South Africa, can be thankful that transition in this country was not accomplished through a bloody war.

An entertaining, though sad, read.

Denton Tee

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