Danile Carney's The Whispering Death

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. 121.

It was not until 1969 that a novel was written by a Rhodesian which claimed to deal explicily with the war. Danile Carney's The Whispering Death announces on its title page that "This book is set in Rhodesia sometime after the Declaration of Independence when the population faces an ever increasing rise in acts of terrorism." Carney had been a member of the British South Africa Police between 1963 and 1967 and with that background and the information he presumably had access to, he might have provided a novel which at least attempted to reconstruct something of the reality of that "terrorism." But items within the discourse were more real to Rhodesians than the events which were becoming part of their daily lives which clearly refused discursive itemization. The discursive space which Carney'. narrative occupies is made up of those fragmentary understandings of Black history and Black politics with which Rhodesians have from their earliest novel justified their claim to know the native. An albino, claiming to be the spirit of Lobengula, who will lead the Blacks against the settlers, is the leader of the guerrilla band. Later novelists such as Peter Stiff were able to draw considerable consolation from Ndebele-Shona rivalries. Carney's historical imagination is fixed on the Rudd Concession and its assumption that the Khumalo kings were sovereign of Mashonaland. Like the Mashonaland settlers in 1896, he sees an Ndebele arm behind every Shona spear.

But if a man were to go into the reserve and claimed he was Lobengula's spirit, [Terick, the novel's protagonist, argues] if he could perform a few tricks, liold a few impressive ceremonies, he might be able to sway them or at least terrify them so much that they couldn't hand him over.

Carney's Blacks are produced not only from the Rhodesian discourse but from two centuries of imperial writing: they are the savages able to be beguiled by trick and ceremonies and the White, in imperial romances at least, is a past-master of both. The albino kills Terick's wife and all thoughts of tricks and ceremonies art forgotten as the novel sets primitive emotions of love and revenge against tht imposed structures of law and order. Much later in the war the novelists sho~ senior officers in the police and army responding to savagery with savagery. In 1969, although the District Commissioner and Member in Charge indulge in childish games, for this is still a Rhodesia where all the world is young, they are both men upholding the highest standards of justice and equity among a savage people. This point is made clear when Terick is arrested and condemned to death for hunting and killing the albino. Official Rhodesia, inhibited by standing order and a determination that justice should be seen to be done, tries orthodox methods in pursuing and arresting the killers of Terick's wife. Terick and his faithful Ndebele companion, Katchemu, set out to hunt down the albinu. 'Oh Mambu' Katchemu said softly, 'I will follow you unto death. She was my madam and it was my farm too . . . We'll go hunting you and I, my Mambo.' The good primitive who almost without exception in the novels is Ndebele, claims equality within shared interests even while acknowledging in 'madam' and 'Mambo' the essential hierarchy of white over black.

Novels like The Whispering Death show how necessary it was for Rhodesians to be able to enter into primitive discursive space when they wanted to, to allow themselves to be written within the primitive discourse, although as leaders of both settler and primitive space they are also able to author the primitive. By the fact of authorship, they remain in control of both spaces and as the novel demonstrates the dominant signifiers of Rhodesia as a whole are not those which signify the atavistic but instead the police and law-courts. Terick's narrative is framed by prologue and epilogue which are located in the prison cell where he awaits execution. The albino manifests a nationalism which has escaped form the present to a primordial discurseive paradigm. Whites can move into that paradigm if they wish and there is something profoundly satisfying in adopting the ethics of the primitive. In the end, however, the civilised and the progressive will exact its proce and necessarily so because it is these that Rhodesia signifies.

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]

Last Modified: 21 March, 2002