The New Adam’s Farm and Olive Tree Farm Massacre of White Missionaries
…the gang was never found or arrested and in fact were given a full pardon in the same year of this tragedy and the leader of this gang elevated to high office in the ruling party’s district organization…
Written by Christian for Reclaiming Rhodesia, images and captions have been added.
The New Adam’s Farm and Olive Tree Farm Massacre of White Missionaries in Matabeleland.
This group of committed Christians, mainly from the Ascension Church in Bulawayo, sold their suburban homes, pooled the proceeds and purchased a run down and under-developed 6,500 acre farm some forty kilometres south of Bulawayo. They named it ‘The New Adams Farm’ and formed the Community of Reconciliation. Their dream was to see white and black Zimbabweans living together in perfect harmony, ending racial tension, violence, and hurt.
The Community grew, with many of the villagers around benefitting from their skills and agricultural expertise. They endeavoured to bring the races together after a bloody ‘liberation’ war which had lasted from the early sixties to Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980. Sadly the murder of both black and mainly rural white Zimbabweans by so called dissidents continued unabated after independence until 2014. Adding to the problem of the attempted reconciliation of the different factions was the genocide of at least twenty thousand Matabele men, women and children by the Zimbabwean Government’s North Korean trained 5th Brigade between 1983 and 1987. This military operation was called Gukurahundi by the Zimbabwean government. It is against this background that the following tragedy unfolded in the early hours of the morning on that fateful Thursday, 26th November, 1987.
The original driving force behind the Community of Reconciliation was Gerry Keightley and later on Dave Marais, his brother-in-law. The patriarch or elder statesman of this Community was John Russell who, along with his wife Elaine, were the parents of Gerry’s wife Marian, and Dave’s wife Kathryn. John ran a successful construction company in Bulawayo and later on built a house on the farm where he and Elaine lived.
Due to their strong Christian principles, hard work and skills of this pioneering group they soon achieved agricultural success and they not only shared their faith and knowledge, but also the produce grown on the farm with their neighbours at Mbezingwe village which was bordering the farm. These villagers were allowed to join in and grow their own crops on the farm. At this time news of the Community’s unique approach at healing the wounds of the bush war reached as far as America and a non-denominational Church called the Kansas City Fellowship Church started to assist the Community with funds, enabling them to purchase the next door farm called Olive Tree which now brought the total of the two farms close to 10,000 acres. They also helped to fund several weirs and dams which allowed the Community to irrigate more land and produce better yielding crops. Members of this Kansas based church often volunteered to come out to Zimbabwe for several months at a time and work with the Community.
However the Community had some ongoing problems with about a dozen locals who had been employed by the previous owner of the farm but were given permission to stay on by Gerry Keightley, and if they chose, to join in with the Community and its projects. This kind offer was refused and instead they expanded their group by inviting other discontents to join them and for this reason became known as ‘the squatters.’ They slaughtered cattle belonging to the Community, stole produce from the lands and even supplies from the stores on the farm due to their socialist/communist belief that anything on the farm was theirs for the taking. Gerry and Dave tried every Christian way to reconcile with them and even invited them to discuss the problem over a meal, but to no avail.
In spite of the serious dissident problem in Matabeleland at that time, the Community had discussed at length and made a conscious decision that they would have no security precautions in place on either of the two farms, in other words, no security fences and gates, no guards, no weapons, no floodlights and no radio communications like agric-alert. In fact neither of the two farms had electric power or ZESA as it is known in Zimbabwe. The Community felt it important that the locals would not feel threatened by a ‘white’ military type of establishment on their doorstep. Thus when the dissidents did come, they came out of the darkness with no warning at all.
The leader of the Dissident Gang, Morgan Sango Nkomo, was also known by his Chimurenga name of Gayigusu which literally translated means, ‘He who grinds the bush around him’. He had been wounded in his arm, which had withered away slightly, during the bush war against Rhodesian security forces and it was said that he lived with no wife or family. It has been suggested that this disability may have been the reason that he was a vicious killer with no thread of humanity or mercy in his make-up. The gang was estimated to be twenty strong, thought to be all former ZIPRA terrorists, armed with AK 47s, some wore dreadlocks and were said by witnesses to be high on dagga. The gang approached Olive Tree Farm first and woke all the members and then separated the blacks from the eight whites and then proceeded to tie the hands behind their backs with barbed wire of the seven adult and white children. The eighteen month old son of Marian and Gerald Keightley was obviously not restrained in this way. The following first hand testimony is from Thabani, a Zimbabwean member of the Community, who was forced to watch the murder of his white friends and colleagues at both farms.
Following a discussion between the gang members as to who should kill the whites Gayigusu took it upon himself to carry out all the murders which he did by using a hand held axe and raining blows to the back of the head of each kneeling or sitting victim and then mutilating the bodies with the same axe, including eighteen month old Barnabas Keightley.
Each white person, one by one, was called by name into one of the houses to face their executioner and it took approximately twenty minutes for him to murder each victim.
It must have been surreal situation as not one of the victims cried out, screamed or shouted but one of the witnesses said that the victims were praying or singing quietly as they went to their death. The dissidents had decided against using their AK 47s to kill this group in order not to alert the sleeping Community members on the next door New Adams Farm. The gang ransacked what they could carry away but before they left an incident happened that had no logical or earthly explanation and I quote directly from Thabani’s testimony to Bob Scott,
‘After the first eight people had been martyred, a mysterious shining light shot across the night sky straight for them. It suddenly stopped and hovered over the building where the eight bodies lay. It was so brilliant that it illuminated the area, a few hundred feet in each direction. The Africans said the light was so vivid that it seemed like it was midday. At that point the dissidents became confused as they could not understand where the light had come from or how to turn it off. They started screaming at the Africans on Olive Tree to shut it off, but of course they also had no idea as to what it was either. After a few minutes it lifted and returned to the heavens and the dissidents continued with their deadly plan.’
Also witnessing the massacre were the squatters who lived on New Adams Farm but who were not part of the Community or the dissidents, but were said to be responsible for asking this gang to kill all the whites thus leaving the farms vacant and available for settlement. The leader of these squatters was Charles Masuku and another trouble maker was Alex Dube, a socialist political activist as well as the Mbezingwe representative with the government. The squatters stood back in the shadows that night during the massacre and were not identified by the African Community members who were understandably fearful of recriminations.
As neither the pick-up nor the tractor with a trailer would start in order to carry away the stolen goods, the dissidents forced the assembled witnesses to carry them to New Adams Farm where they roused every one, separated the whites from the black community members and once again tied the whites with their hands behind their backs with barbed wire and forced them to sit on the floor in the Community Centre. The gang then ransacked all the homes and then, as before, called them into the Marais’ home to be bludgeoned and hacked to death by Gayigusu, the same as he had done at Olive Tree Farm.
Dave Marais must have some premonition of a possible attack and, as he had some military experience from the Rhodesian bush war, he had devised an escape plan for his two sons, Matthew, 6 years old and Ethan 4. On his instruction the two boys had to climb through a window at the back of the house and hide themselves in a bush some distance away from the Community which they did. Tragically Ethan became very scared and returned to find his mother, was captured and murdered along with his parents. Matthew was found the next day by security forces unharmed in the bush.
Laura Russell, 13 year old daughter of Hazel, was forced to watch her mother being murdered and then was holding six week old Benjamin Hill in her arms when he was snatched away by a dissident and thrown violently to the floor. When this dissident noticed the baby was not dead he picked the baby up by the ankles and smashed his head against the concrete sink. Laura escaped being murdered because she was chosen by Gayigusu, as the only white survivor, to deliver a letter to the Police who in turn had to pass it onto Mugabe. The letter apparently contained the usual Marxist-Leninist rhetoric about driving Western Capitalists out of Zimbabwe. One can only guess how traumatised this young girl, and Matthew Marais, must have been after this unimaginable and tragic episode.
Once they had murdered the sixteen whites they proceeded to set fire to all the thatched houses, church, community centre and vehicles on both farms. They also threw white phosphorus grenades over the bodies of the victims which were stacked in the Marais’ house causing the roof to catch fire and collapse, further incinerating the corpses and it was at this point that the mysterious and brilliant white light appeared again over the place of execution. The dissidents panicked, some ran into the bush and some screamed for the Community members to turn the light off. The Community members, of course, could do nothing except stare at this extraordinary occurrence and were convinced that it was supernatural. The light eventually lifted upwards and sped away at high speed. Terrified that Gayigusu would return with his gang, the villagers hid in the bush and only when they were certain that he had retreated to the Matopos bush did Thabani make his way in the cold light of the approaching dawn to report this massacre to the Police in Bulawayo.
Those members that were murdered on Olive Tree Farm were:
Gerald Keightley, 40 years old. Husband and Father. Zimbabwean.
Marian Keightle, 39. Wife and Mother. Zimbabwean.
Gay Deborah Keightley, 16. Daughter. Zimbabwean.
Glynis Keightley, 14. Daughter. Zimbabwean.
Barnabas Keightley, 18 months. Son. Zimbabwean.
Penelope Sarah Lovett, 28. Fiancée to David Emerson. Zimbabwean.
David Emerson, 35. Volunteer. American.
Karen Sharon Ivesdahl, 32. Volunteer. American.
Those members that were murdered on New Adams Farm were:
David Marais, 35. Husband and Father. South African/Zimbabwean.
Kathryn Marais, 34. Wife and Mother. Zimbabwean.
Ethan Marais, 4. Son. Zimbabwean.
Robert Hill, 38. Husband and Father. Zimbabwean.
Gaynor Hill, 27. Wife and Mother. Zimbabwean.
Benjamin Hill, 6 weeks. Son. Zimbabwean.
Hazel Russell, 46. Mother. Also sister-in-law to Zimbabwean Kathryn and Marian.
Jean Campbell, 56. Volunteer. British.
It is incidents like this that strongly suggest that these dissidents were not independent operators running on their own agenda and neither were they the so called Super ZAPU being funded and controlled by South Africa to destabilize Matabeleland. Rather they were now controlled by the Zimbabwean government CIO, even though they may have been ZIPRA terrorists during the bush war.
There is a pattern and much anecdotal evidence to suggest that these dissident gangs had been ‘turned’ by the CIO, and provided they undertook the dirty work of getting rid of white farmers off the land, they would be given a full pardon with no repercussions for the murders they had committed and, in some cases, actually rewarded by official positions within the government. This situation repeated itself time and time again in murders and violence on the white community in Matabeleland and Midlands farming areas after Independence. In spite of Enos Nkala, the Minister of Home Affairs, when visiting the site of the massacre and protesting loudly against this tragedy and promising swift justice against this gang, they were never found or arrested and in fact were given a full pardon in the same year of this tragedy and the leader of this gang elevated to high office in the ruling party’s district organization.
It was a win-win situation for the Zimbabwe government in that the dissidents could be blamed for the murders of the whites causing many white farmers to abandon their farms which allowed squatters to move on, which is exactly what the government wanted. They could point a finger at the dissidents and say, ‘It wasn’t us, it was them.’ Another advantage for the ZANU-PF led government was that it discredited Joshua Nkomo’s opposition ZAPU party, from whom the dissidents all originally came, and legitimised the government’s violent and heavy handed response against the tribesmen of Matabeleland.
Arrested For Journalism In Liberated Zimbabwe
In a strange twist to this tragedy, in February 2013, some twenty-six years later, a South African, David Andrew Joseph Bernard of Cape Town and Guide Ncube, a Zimbabwean born on New Adams Farm but now a South African resident, were arrested and charged with practising journalism without accreditation when they took photos of the burial site of these sixteen victims at New Adams Farm. They were held in Esigodini jail for three days in spite of Bernard explaining that he was related to the murdered members of the Community. They were both found guilty and paid their fine rather than go to jail for three months.
The Esigodini Police had been called by none other than Morgan Sango Nkomo who was the very man who carried out the massacre back in 1987, and who is now a senior ZANU-PF official in the nearby village of Esigodini. He in turn had been informed by locals living near the farms about the presence of Bernard and Ncube.
Several white people who were involved with the Community, either by working on the farms or by being related to members, had strong premonitions about this massacre in very vivid dreams or flashbacks. John Russell passed away on the 9th October, 1993 and Elaine on the 29th January, 1999. In 2000 the New Adams and Olive Tree farms were confiscated by the government and incorporated into the Mzinyathi tribal area.
This information was supplied by members of the Russell family, the New Zimbabwe, the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters News Agency but mostly from the book ‘Saving Zimbabwe’ by Bob Scott who interviewed Thabani and numerous other members of the Community of Reconciliation.