Rhodesian Settler Discourse and 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. 103, 106, 109 .

Rhodesia, as a space, defines an English race that discovers through the process of conquest and appropriation the nature of its own civilization. The English become a race only through relation to their empire; Rhodesians as spokespeople of the discourses of empire are also naming their own idcntity. Any social discourse proclaims within itself the space which has produced it, and which it has appropriated and named. In the case of this country, the name Rhodesia proclaims its difference from both South Africa and the rest of Africa to the north of it.

It is in his struggle to discipline both the perceived unruliness of African nature and the nature of Africans that the Englishman becomes his true self, and the Rhodesian who in turn has appropriated that discourse becomes his or her true self. The problem of African nature is relatively easily solved: it can be shot or preserved, exploited, developed or cherished. It can certainly be categorized and therefore named. The problem with Africans is that they escape such discursive location. While the discourse insisted that Englishness by itself would eternally define Africanness as other, what finally placed natives in their relations to English was their location in juridically enforced space. It is valid to read the enclosure of a Reserve, at least partially, as the closure of an irrelevant or hostile discourse. But it is closure only in White perception. Whites believed they had closed Black discourse to prevent Blacks from producing an open discourse capable of appropriating new items and therefore of transforming Blacks themselves. The reserve, then, is space which will be for Europeans outside the missions, and perhaps at some periods the Native Department, a space which will remain eternally primitive.

One of the complexities of the settler discourse, however, is that while it has fixed the relationship between Black and White in stasis, it also demands the enactment of justice, commerce and freedom upon both Rlack and White. In the case of Blacks this means their raising from their savage slumber to the dignity of farm or mine worker, house or garden 'boy'. Progress breaks constantly into the closed parameters of primitiveness and thc fixity of the paradigm is constantly under threat. To put it another way, the demand for unskilled and later more skilled Black labour created a tension between the closed primitive discourse and the settler discourse which, because it claimed progress as its distinguishing character, was open. Contradicting the very primitiveness which Whites had claimed for them, Blacks were brought into a discourse which was open and whose end, because of that openness, could not be predicted. When Blacks are increasingly forced to encroach on White urban space, it becomes necessary for Whites to hold as an article of faith that there is always somewhere else which Blacks can call home where they are the primitives of the discourse.

Settler discourse always attempted to externalise Blacks form White-controlled space -- literally through the creation of the Reserves and through the Land Apportionment Act, discursively through terms like 'savage' and 'child' which made them alien in in civilised adult space. Ballinger through the conceit of 'Pan-Africanism' inists that the threat will come not from within but from outside Rhodesia's borders for while Rhodesain Blacks armed with spears might rebel, Blacks armed with rifles could come only from some space over which Rhodesians has no control.

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]