C. E. Dibb's Spotted Soldiers

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. 127-30 .

After 1977, however, few Rhodesians could have believed that the discursive space which they had named and controlled possessed its familiar stability. There was little left for the novelists but to turn to fantasy which because it was fantasy did not require any constant relationship to the dominant signifiers. In Lloyd Burton's The Yellow Mountain which was published in 1978, it is proposed to build a fence along the entire eastern border equipped with such sophisticated electronic devices that incursion will become impossible. If all the organisations and its discourses in the wolrd which sit in judgementon the settlers can be excluded, then once again Rhodesia will be the happy land it has been for so long. Communists, the World Council of Churches, the nationalist leadership and the Frontline States will all lie forgotten behind the fence. The only problem is how to raise the money and that is what thie novel is about.

By 1978 for some novelists at least the horror of the war transcended and destroyed the polarities of heroic Whites and savage Blacks. C. E. Dibb's Spotted Soldiers has its genesis as a serial in a South African woman's magazine and is as unpretentious as that provenance suggests. Its widowed heroine is attempting to run a coffee plantation despite the hostility of her neighbours and the scepticism of the army. The man who supports her courageous attempt is a Salisbury attorney and captain in the territorial army, who fortuitously comes into her life. But it is difficult to be completely fatuous when Rhodesia is your only reality -- Dibb's grandfather was one of Rhodes's pioneers -- and you are writing of a love for a land and the land has been transformed by massacres of Blacks, and suddenly and inexplicably hostile, characterized by Agric-Alerts, ambushes, homestead attacks, and the exhaustion of a people fighting an apparently endless war. She is capable of propaganda cliches like children being lured across the border with promises of education and a n'an~a smelling out traitors at a camp at Espungabera. But these can be balanced against a compassionate account of one of the children, now man and guerrilla, returning to see his mother, where a fine tendemess of detail allows his humanity to be revealed even while his actions as a guerrilla are deplored. There are also Whites who pay off guerrillas to their neighbours' cost. The discourse no longer exists amidst the confusion of loyalties and motives that give the title to her book. Shakespeare understood that in war the most spotless cause cannot rely on 'unspotted soldiers'. Except for Hartmann's and Trew's novel, all the other novels written about the war depict Rhodesians as a people with a great moral authority on their side. It could not be otherwise when they were fighting for a space which they had appropriated and named and which through that act had created its own discourse and its own moral categories. As I suggested in the quotation from Dibb's novel near the begimling of this chapter, Dibb uses language which still excludes hostile Blacks from any right to that space but in the middle of the war to recognize virtue in Blacks and vice in Whites was in itself acknowledging the existence of a new discursive space.

Like Smith, the novelists lacked the gift of prediction. What the novels show more clearly than Smith's speeches ever did are the reasons for this fatal lack of understanding. The novelists' world was one of discrete spaces: A white space which was open to appropriate new items for the discourse which named itself progressive; a Black space which belonged to a primitive past and which, because it was closed by the White discourse, was incapable of any new disclosure of what Blacks were within that space or could become if they rejected its boundaries. In the end both the discursive space and the literal geographical space in which racist legislation had over the years embodied the discourse were smashed by war. With Mugabe's victory at the polls both discourse and the Rhodesia which had produced it were simultaneously swept away.

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]