My Father Before Me: Memoirs Of An Activist’s Daughter (2013)
By Catherine Kanhema-Blinston
An Author House Publication
THE ‘war veteran’ captured the attention of the world during the Land Reform Programme that began on the eve of the new millennium.
They marched into farmlands demanding fulfillment of one of the major reasons of the liberation war; land to the people.
The world depicted them as illiterate guerrillas who were demanding more than they could handle.
The land had been in the hands of whites for decades and that, according to the West, made them ‘better’ custodians of the rich soils.
Soon after, there was heightened interest in war narratives
Acclaimed writers like Alexander Kanengoni’s Echoing Silences chronicled the traumas of the war and many in the country and from abroad sympathised with the war veterans.
But soon after the land reform, the pen took a more political stance in which publishers took interest in narratives that discredited the whole struggle that began to be described as a farce.
Many of the writers were keen to highlight tribal disputes and ‘treachery’, with some accused of exaggeration, that was happening behind the scenes, for example, Wilfred Mhanda’s Dzino and Vesta Sithole’s My Life With An Unsung Hero.
This brings us to another generation that was not necessarily born-free, but suffered the broken family when brothers, mothers, sisters and fathers left the home to join the black cause.
My Father Before Me is one such book.
Hence from the onset the book draws the reader to listen to the voice of the child whose father fought for the greater cause albeit at the expense of his personal and family life.
My Father Before Me is a memoir by Catherine Kanhema-Blinston.
Blinston draws from her experience of growing up during the liberation years with a father who was heavily involved in the struggle.
Her father spent most of his time and half of their lives behind bars. The day he came back home after 10 years behind bars, his children could not recognise him.
“It was embarrassing to call Simon baba…it took a long time before I was proud to call him that,” writes Blinston.
“It wasn’t because he wasn’t good enough; it seemed like calling a stranger dad.”
The children cannot relate to him and perhaps this explains why the author herself fails to understand why he joined the struggle.
It could also be a conflict of interest on the writer’s part who later in her life befriends whites and marries a European.
Blinston opens the book with an introduction on how she came to write the book.
Her friend whom she calls ‘Biscuit’ who lost a farm during the land reform exhorts her to tell the story of her growing up with a father who was an activist.
“As for my friend, I hope she will write a book for people like me who thought white people had a good life during our civil war,” she writes.
Her narrative shows her own struggle to understand her father’s reasons for joining the war or what the liberation movement was about.
“He wanted fair voting; Black people were not allowed to vote unless they were millionaires: he also wanted women to be treated as adults after reaching the age of eighteen,” writes Blinston.
Indeed, the black nationalists eventually wanted fair voting, but they wanted power, dignity, stolen resources, chiefly land restored into the hands of the black majority, the owners of the land.
From as early on as the third page of her memoir, it becomes evident the writer although present during the build-up to the struggle she appears not to fully comprehend the tenets of the liberation.
The reasons of the liberation war were evident in the writer’s life.
The writer acknowledges that they grew up in a dusty and poverty stricken Tribal Trust Land.
They were living in a police state where one day they could suddenly be rounded up and put in concentration camps called ‘Keeps’.
The blacks lived as third class citizens in their own country where they had no political say.
Even as she witnesses these things she fails to put them in her own story, but compensates by quoting a whole chapter of Richard West’s 1965 book the White Tribes Of Africa.
West’s chapter in the memoir aptly paints the picture of the white supremacist regime that existed in Rhodesia.
West quotes one white second year student who says, “I now realise the things I enjoy-nice farm, motor car-and I am going to fight for them.
“There is no moral basis for this.
“It’s just that I like them.”
While this gives background to why the whites fought the war it highlights the author’s weakness and inability to tell her story through her own lens.
Blinston’s 90 page memoir is characterised by many contradictions that spoil an otherwise interesting insight.
On one hand, she wants to tell her story as the child of a hero and yet fails to sufficiently provide the detail of his bravery.
Blinston writes that her father fought for women rights in the civil war which is unfortunately not accurate.
As she writes her father as a champion of women’s rights, the writer presents her father as a misogynist, a man that despises women.
“I was treated like a whore in the making,” she writes.
“My father told me if I wanted money from him, I could get what he dropped accidentally.
“He didn’t want to waste money on a whore who would end up pregnant anyway.”
Blinston instead highlights the strength of the family unit when her mother is heading the home and its weakness when her father returns.
She titles the chapter her father returns as ‘Days ruled by Sharia law’.
“My father was back, but he had become a terrorist…plus I felt as if my mother was crippled by his presence,” she writes.
According to the author, her father was loved by the community and he would never turn away a person in need.
Yet to her he was a monster.
Blinston clearly notes how her father was affected by his time in the hands of the brutal regime.
How her father was placed in solitary prison in total darkness for three months that he began to talk to himself craving for human voice.
“He knew he was losing his mind, but he couldn’t do anything about it,” she notes.
Back home, the family could see the effects of the brutal regime.
After the war, the guerillas were pushed back into society without the proper psychological help that is given to returning soldiers.
Theirs was a brutal war and such services were not provided after the fighting ended.
The family had to shoulder the responsibility of a traumatised individual who had lived with death in inhumane conditions.
Unfortunately, as the book ends there is no evidence that Blinston’s relationship with her father improves by the time the book ends.
Instead, they seem to drift further apart.