Rhodesian Novels and the Settler Discourse of the Primitive

Anthony Chennells, Professor of English, University of Zimbabwe

This material appeared originally in Anthony Chennells, "Rhodesian Discourse, Rhodesian Novels and the Zimbabwean Liberation War" in Society in Zimbabwe's Liberation War, eds. N. Bhebe and T. Ranger, Harare: UZP, 1995. pp. 112-129.

Rhodesian novels from the very beginning employ primitivist, romantic anti-capitalist, or pastoral discourses which lie in awkward contradiction with the more obvious and more dominant discourse of a new and progressive White nation in the making. The novelists were always torn between allowing their characters to live in harmony with the wilderness as a means of recovering their essential humanity and transforming the wilderness into a space where agricultural, mining and industrial capital could flourish. Invariably the very presence of Blacks created problems for the novelists: primitivism made little sense where a White was surrounded by Blacks whom he believed were more successfully primitive than he could ever aspire to be. It was the very absence of civilization among Blacks which justified his presence in the country. During the war, however, what had been awkward and contradictory before became asserted with more confidence. Blacks were indeed primitive and more contentedly close to nature. Whites had unfortunately passed beyond that stage but the very sophistication which civilization accorded them allowed them to see the value of the primitive. Primitive people and primitive places must be preserved.

Other selections from "Rhodesian Discourse, Rhodesian Novels and the Zimbabwean Liberation War"

This material derives from Hyperland, a University of Zimbabwe hypertext project under the direction of Andrew Morrison, and I would like to thank him and the authors quoted for sharing their research with this website. [GPL]
Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]