Postcolonial African Literature: The Experience of Zimbabwe (5)

And what of the white forces?

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

In Bones, Manyepo, the white farmer is a lurking presence, a harsh, alien individual addressed in the silent thoughts, the inner monologue of the people who work for him:

How do you come to think that we are children Manyepo? Men should be treated like men, Manyepo. Who told you that a man can be beaten just like that. To slap a man in the face in front of his own wife and children, Manyepo, do you know that is like killing him. (24)

Slowly a picture is built up, not just of Manyepo, but of a powerful white presence with alien, even barbarous mores, and a cruel assertive contempt. Hove pits two unequal forces against each other: the powerful white farmer who says: "I rule here." There is nothing the government in the city can do to me; and Marita, who unlike Murume or Chisaga are, in her words, "castrated" men who have lost their pride to the white baas, Marita retains her integrity, her strength, her dignity. She works for Manyepo, she works until her hands are cracked, but she does not compromise: her wisdom, her knowledge of traditional mores, her sense of what is right, are unfailing and have a profound influence on all those she meets who do not have her courage, her strength of purpose. It is those in the middle who flounder between these opposing forces: the poor but morally upright woman whom they simultaenousely admire and resent; and the physically and economically powerful farmer whose certitude is born of arrogance and bigotry. However it is Chisaga who points out Manyepo's weaknesses; Murume who has a sneaking admiration for his strength; aspects of his character which prevent the white farmer from being simply a caricature. It is, however, Marita who says that the fight is not with the white man but with the evil of his ways.

The relationship drawn by Chinodya in Harvest of Thorns between the farmworker, Msindo, and the farm-owner, Baas Mellecker is a complex one which has developed over many years: Msindo has heard years of banter from his boss and has never allowed himself the foolishness of feeling at ease with it. He knows self-effacement is the way to getting what he wants ... He has grown so used to the farm on which he has been working for forty years, that it is "his" farm, almost. Msindo knows the rules of the game. He knows how to play them. He retains a sense of himself in the process and he can even almost feel pity for a man, the farmer, whose wife has divorced him. It is a relationship of unequal but almost mutual dependence and familiarity which makes his role in Baas Mellecker's death at the hands of the guerrillas more poignant. It is not a simple question of black against white or white against black; it is not the simple revenge of the exploited by the exploiter:

I sat there not knowing what to do, wondering if I should go into the house and pour water over him ... but I knew he was already dead ... so I just sat there thinking I should have told them he's away in town ... or I should have let them kill me in his place ... and I heard the workers going down to the fields without me ... and at eight o'clock I went in expecting to find him on his feet ... I said to myself this is just a dream ... Baas Mellecker can't be dead, it's pay-day today and who will pay the workers, and what will happen to the workers and what will happen to the new tractor, to the farm, but he was there lying with his throat cut and his eyes open ... and when I saw him my hands shook so much I could not hold the telephone but I had to, I had to make the call, I can't remember who I spoke to or what I said (165)

As in Shadows, the youth, the guerrillas, the certainty that they are right: that their war is a just war: "I should tell [the police] that the guerrillas had done it and that they would do it to every farmer who treated his workers like animals" (165). But, as with Johana's father, or Msindo, it is not so simple. Without understanding through discussion with the guerrillas, the slogans, the rhetoric, were often threatening and meaningless.

To quote Beverley Abrahams referring to Shadows as a novel which reflects the changes wrought by colonialism which introduced chaos into the lives of rural people as everything they knew as permanent was undermined:

Although conflict is not new to them, the magnitude and direction of the conflict is. When people can no longer call a land their own, when they are displaced from the place of their ancestors, and when they lose control of their destiny, they lose a part of their soul. Once the fragile link between people, their land and their ancestry is broken, they become a shadow roaming a land they no longer understand, beset by cultural conflicts and torn between material wealth and loyalty to tradition.

This intricate link between land, the ancestors, the svikiros and the guerrillas is explored in Guerrilla Snuff by Mafuranunzi Gumbo in a 'lightly fictionalised account of the war in Masvingo' written in an attempt to provide a social history which he did not feel would be widely read in his non-fiction.

If Gumbo wanted to explore the religion of liberation and in the process ... in Karima, Tim McCloughlin (a member of the Catholic Commission or Justice and Peace throughout the war) tries to explain what the war meant to whites who felt differently and who were subjected to the endless social pressure, the reductionist arguments -- if you don't support Smith, you support Wilson; if you support Wilson you're a commie; if you're a commie you're a traitor -- the bitter jibes of Smith supporters, the arrogance, the contempt.

Bruce Moore King, author of White Man Black War, and Angus Shaw author of Kandaya, take a rather different position. Moore King, was a Grey Scout in the Rhodesian army, a group known for the ferocity of their attacks. He writes bitterly of what he calls the white tribe, the elders, his elders who betrayed him by filling him with propaganda from a young age and sending him straight from school to fight and kill for his country, their country. Returning to Zimbabwe in 1987, he realizes that what he believed and committed himself to killing for, a defense of the white regime, white culture, is indefensible: White Man Black War is a book born out of anger, the anger of a man who vividly remembers acts of atrocity and inhumanity and has somehow to live with those memories:

A curfew breaker had been shot. A young boy. There were no choppers available. I took a detail out to pick up the body ... two trucks. The soldier rubs both hands across his face. Hard. The body was a mess. Guts everywhere. The MAG had caught him. We put the body into a length of mutton cloth ... I remember one of his legs was almost off. ... He'd been forced into a roll of cloth so that his feet were pointing toe to toe. ... He was wearing new shoes ... Bata Super Pro's. New ones. We joked about it. ...

There was only one village in the area. We took him there to be identified. The villagers were waiting for us. They knew, you see, had heard shooting in the night, knew the boy was missing. His mother identified him. The wailing started. ...

Then, then I told them to get the body off the truck. I was in a hurry. That night was our patrol's turn for a Christmas celebration. Booze and good food. So I was in a hurry and they were old, and grief-stricken, and too slow. So with the help of the driver, I threw the body off the truck. At his mother's feet. Then we drove off.

The soldier leans forward ... Do you see the reality, the actual reality behind all the words and phrases about "responsible majority rule" and the "preservation of standards" ... in order to "maintain civilized standards" and stop the evils of Communism' and all the rest of the undiluted crap we were fed, I had to lose my humanity. Totally. ...

The soldier stumbles away. (63)

Angus Shaw, who also went into the army as a young man, was taught to hate in order to kill; taught never to argue. He ruthlessly exposes the violence of the white war from the moment the men entered training:

Our manic advance moved forward a pounce for every thrust. We got to sandbags and straw-stuffed sacks roped to the gum trees. "That's a kaffir," yelled Fury. "That's the kaffir that just killed your mother, raped your virgin sister. Your sister is crying. Hear her screams. See her, blood all down her legs."

We certainly heard our own demented screams. "And that's the kaffir that did it. Kill him, tear him to pieces. Say after me: Kill, kill, kill ..." "Your mother, your sister. Kill the kaffir." "Kill the Kaffir," as we slashed the bag to pieces.

Suddenly it was all over, all quiet. The rage subsided and we looked at each other questioningly, drained and ashamed.

"Excellent, sergeant," said Captain Bruce. "We might make soldiers out of them yet." (48)

And as Shaw's platoon tried to find a guerrilla, Kandaya, who constantly outwits them, he develops increasing respect for the man on the other side. But Shaw's violent use of language is just as important as the story; he exposes the bitter, dismissive, crude distortions of a soldier's lingo; the horrifically violent and crude racial and gender stereotypes both defensively and offensively: "Not people, surely Alec. Don't you mean munts?" "Or kaffirs or houts, or Afs, or non-reflectives or buggs, pronounced books but with a "g," said Milo. (36) Shaw uses words like bullets. His book is a confrontation with the war, a war that "fucked up" the society in which he was living; a past which for him anyway demands to be confronted.

Moore King would say, mothers, fathers, wives, girlfriends, detached themselves. You send your men out to kill the enemy to preserve civilized standards, but on R and R you would expect them to cuddle the baby, take you out to dinner. Brutality and sentiment, rhetoric and hypocrisy go hand in hand in perhaps all patriarchal, undemocratic regimes, even when there is not a war. But how do you deal with this duality, this social schizophrenia: you cut yourself off and when the war is over, you bury your experiences deep inside yourself because friends, relatives, the civilized world does not want to know what their fathers and sons, brothers and husbands did. Black Zimbabweans had a cleansing ceremony which allowed for acceptance of what had happened of whatever their sons had committed by the whole family and by the ancestors, but, as is the case of Munashe in Echoing Silences, this ceremony comes too late.

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]