What is the bravest thing you have ever seen someone do?

Answer by Rory Young:

I watched a slim young woman walk directly up to a mob of men armed with machetes and clubs who had promised to kill her.

My then girlfriend and I had our own business. It included a large safari lodge and farm next to a lake and rhino sanctuary close to Harare in Zimbabwe. We leased the properties and were doing well enough to have made an offer to purchase them.

That all came to an end when the "war vets" turned up.

"War vets" were actually nothing of the sort. Originally, veteren guerrilla fighters of the Rhodesian bush war that had run for fifteen years and ended in the 1970s had begun protesting that they had not been properly rewarded for their service.

Initially Robert Mugabe tried to appease them by awarding them all hundreds of millions of dollars. That wasn't enough.

At the same time as this was going on there was another drama developing. At the end of the war an agreement had been signed between the United Kingdom, the Nationalist organizations including the military wings and the then Rhodesian government.

This agreement, called the Lancaster House Agreement, agreed to majority rule and one-man-one-vote. Amongst other things the British government promised to fund the purchase of commercial land for redistribution to indiginous farmers.

So, at the time of the war vets' demands Mo Mowlam decided to announce that in spite have having promised to do so twenty tyears earlier they would not fund the redistribution of land.

The result of this disgarceful decision was that President Robert Mugabe saw a way to solve the problem of aapeasing his war vets and also of teaching the British a lesson. He let the war vets and everyone else vaguely associated with them or just wanting a patch of dirt losse on the white Zimbabwean farmers.

At first everyone believed it was just a protest and a poilitcal move by the ruling party to appease its supports.

It wasn't. It turned extremely nasty. Farms were destroyed, farmers and farm workers started being attacked and then they started killing.

There was no way the farmers and their workers could fight back. They were all massively outnumbered and the police and army had been ordered to stay out of it. In fact they were assisting by collecting thugs off the streets and trucking them out to the farms.

We were caught in the middle of this. A crowd of "war vets" turned up.

First the lodge was abandoned. We found ourselves suddenly alone. Then some stoned maniac turned up with notes ostensibly written by the workers accusing us of all sorts of nonsense, telling us that they were going to take over and that we would be killed if we tried to leave.

This last, the letters informed us, was because we had to produce "all the money" first. This was extremely serious as there was no way we could make money appear from nowhere and they would get nasty when we didn't.

We heard singing and walked out of the lodge. There was a mob at the front gate. It was the only exit.

I don't like mobs.

I told my girlfriend to stay in the lodge and began to approach them. The closer I got the more aggressively they behaved. They did not enter but if I went up to them I knew they would kill me. They were completely out of control.

We were completely trapped and it was only a matter of time before they came inside and began smashing and burning.

We had no options. I was armed. I had a handgun under my shirt and my rifle was on the back seat of my car. The problem was the gate was not at the end of a road. If we made a run for it we would have to knock the gate down and then turn through the crowd. Although I had only seen the machetes, knives and clubs, I was certain there would be guns amongst them as well. If we tried it it would be easy to kill us.

I thought about farmer Terry Norton who had tried to make a break for it after getting into a shootout with a mob of warvets. It just made it out the gate before being gunned down.

I couldn't start a shootout if I wasn't sure it would mean me getting my girlfriend out safely. On the other hand I might not be given the choice.

I decided to explain to my girlfriend that if they attacked us and we had no choice that she would have to drive while I shot.

I looked around. She was gone.

I ran out of the conference room we had been standing in. She was walking to the gate.

The warvets had gone silent.

I was horrified. I couldn't approach. If I did they might go mad. I gripped the handgun and waited to start using it.

She calmly and quietly walked up to them and then she began talking to them softly.

Here and there men began to sit down. I had no idea what she was saying but it was doing the impossible.

Eventually nearly everyone was sitting listening to her talk. After a while she stopped and then a discussion began among them.

She talked some more with them and then began walking back. I was almost crying with relief.

When she reached me she said, "they said we can go".

We drove out of the gate and never went back.

Oh and yes, I married her. She's sitting on the couch next to me as I write this.

View Answer on Quora


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