Publisher’s viewpoint: Discovering humanity in Africa


By Mark Buckshon

Publisher, Ottawa Construction News

This time of year evokes memories that bring a smile to my face, even though the events I experienced some 44 years ago were hardly funny or happy.

It was Good Friday, April 4, 1980, and I had a day off from my evening shift as a sub-editor for the Bulawayo Chronicle. I had lived as a 25/26 year old journalist through the final 18 months of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe civil war.

Peace finally arrived and Zimbabwe was scheduled to gain its independence a couple of weeks later.

I decided to take an African (Black) bus to Tjolotjo, a village/administrative centre at the heart of the insurgency that succeeded in toppling the Rhodesian government. I wanted to see what it was like in an area that would have been extremely dangerous to visit just a few months earlier.

After I interviewed the (outgoing) White district commissioner, I sought out the local insurgency leader, whom I also interviewed, before heading to the bar for a crazy night of drinking and celebrating.

Things got quite insane. At one point, a huge and muscular Black guy said the wrong tribe had won the civil war and the fight wasn’t over. I was going to spray the guy with a can of Raid until a very runty, small, guy tugged me on the shoulder, suggesting that wouldn’t be such a good idea.

Fortunately, I heeded his advice.

However, a few minutes later I found my camera to be missing. I stood on a table, and told the room in a firm voice, “I expect my camera to be returned before the night is over” – and then carried on drinking.

About two hours later, a police van rolled up to the bar and four guys were hauled out in shackles – it seems the guy I was about to spray with insecticide was one of the four thieves. It didn’t take long for police to round them up; this was a small community, which happened to be a police camp.

I continued drinking, eventually adjourning to a Whites bar with the local police chief and other officers, before crashing in a camp bunk; returning to Bulawayo the next morning with the police boss.

The Chronicle fired me after I returned to work a couple of days later. It is one thing getting a bit toasted on your night off work; it is quite another to stir up chaos in a police camp.

But none of this really bothered me. At one point in that crazy evening, there was a brief second where everything in my mind flashed with a brightness I’ve never experienced before or again. I was experiencing an epiphany, a sudden realization of my identity, religion and values.

In an instant I could see my future. I wouldn’t be roaming the world from trouble-spot to trouble-spot as a foreign correspondent; but would have a wonderful home with a family and plenty of stability.

I wasn’t afraid, I realized, and I certainly had some intelligence and a solid moral code and could make my way in life.

Of course not everyone can (or would want to) experience the sort of drama that redefined my life more than four decades ago. However, the lessons I learned by living through the end of an African civil war shape my perceptions and approach to life.

We shouldn’t be afraid to take some (reasonable) risks; and remember that experiences and relationships are far more valuable than material things. The world is both big and small, and everyone is different – yet humanity shares traits and characteristics that transcend location, race, nationality, economic status, and culture.

Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes Ottawa Construction News.  He can be reached by email at


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