I have spent the last two years of my life learning, thinking and writing about SALLY HAYFRON MUGABE. I have absolutely fallen in love with this woman. It all started when we were in Zambia in 2006 working on BAD TIMING. We went up to Victoria Falls and everyone was cautioning us not to cross over to the Zimbabwean side. They told us the economic and political situation was desperate; the people were dangerous. Staying at TAITA FALCON LODGE, the owner and his wife told us about how Robert Mugabe, the President of Zim, had changed after his wife died. “The death of Sally Hayfron was the death of Zimbabwe,” they said.
The romantic in me latched onto that story and wouldn’t let go. Imagine that. A love so powerful, an entire nation knew when it was gone. It took a couple of years before we could really start looking into the story. My writing partner and I were busy on the Zambia projects and then THE LAND OF REFUGE (about the Mormon Colonies in Mexico). We had to finish those before we could delve into the story about Sally. Being the dyed-in-the-wool romantic, I have always believed that “more is possible” when you find the “right person.” Would this story be an example of the real power of love?
After two years (and 120 pages), I can honestly say this story is even more amazing than I had imagined. Born in Ghana in 1931, SALLY HAYFRON was a teen when her homeland was gaining its freedom from the colonial British empire. A bright, inspiring, compassionate woman, Sally fell in love with Robert Mugabe, a visiting professor from what was then known as Southern Rhodesia. At that time, about 5 million blacks were governed by 270,000 whites. They were not allowed to vote. They were restricted in where they could live and work. They had virtually no schools. And, they were not allowed to own land designated for “whites only,” which comprised over 45% of the nation (about 90% of the best land).
Sally willingly went to live in this land, to help the citizens gain their freedom. Robert soon rose to prominence in Rhodesia’s National Democratic Party. As civil unrest grew, whites retaliated by electing Ian Smith as Prime Minister. Smith promptly declared independence from Britain and jailed all opposition leaders, including Robert Mugabe, who spent 11 years in prison. As Sally traveled the globe seeking support for his freedom, a bloody civil war consumed the country. Finally, in 1980, Southern Rhodesia was able to hold its first free election and Robert Mugabe won it in a landslide.
Sally was a tireless champion of the common people. Over the next decade, she encouraged the construction of schools and hospitals (many in places they’d never been before). The more I learned about Sally, the more amazed I was with all she had accomplished. Especially when I learned she had suffered from kidney problems most of her adult life and spent the last EIGHT YEARS of her life on dialysis. She traveled the world with a medical assistant in tow to manage her health care. Sally died on January 27, 1992 at the age of 60. Ironically, she was born in the first African country to gain independence from Britain and died in the last.
To this day, people in Zimbabwe write songs about AMAI SALLY (Mother Sally) and how they wish she were still alive and caring for her people. So do I.
(Photo above: Robert and Sally Mugabe depart from Andrews Air Force Base, 26 September 1983)