This September Sun: Part Five …continuities of racist bigotry in post-independent Zimbabwe

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ONE of the most reliable predictions about the 20th century was made by the black American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois back in 1903 when he asserted that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the colour line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and in the islands of the sea”. (1903: xx).
It is of course not possible to say that Du Bois’ prediction will stay forever; but one thing is as certain as sunrise and sunset: that the meanings that are attached to ideas about race and ethnicity in the contemporary social context confirm the painful accuracy of the observation.
One way to see the different language used by Du Bois is to remember that while for scholars of Du Bois’ generation the ‘colour line’ was an everyday reality based on institutional patterns of racial domination, in recent times questions about race and racism have been refashioned in ways that may escape the notice of non-vigilant eyes more so when courted in the sugary language of liberals as is the case in This September Sun.
It is clear that whatever the changing terms of language used to talk about race and ethnicity in the present day environment, we have in practice seen growing evidence of forms of racial and ethnic conflict in the novel where one race is unashamedly portrayed as the human race while the other race remains valid only insofar as they remain appendages to the dominant race.
The twisted logic is so naked that if it is revisited with emotional sobriety it can generate so much intellectual anger that can manifest itself in so much racial polarisation that may defy bridging for many years to come.
Notice my deliberate choice of the term ‘bigotry’ to describe the author’s rejection of Zimbabweans’ show of humanity after independence.
Without having to retrieve the traumas of colonisation and colossal colonial repression of the indigenous people’s call for independence, need I remind you patriotic Zimbabweans that our own President Robert Mugabe, then Prime Minister, extended a long arm of reconciliation to our erstwhile colonial oppressors, setting aside the possibility of racial retribution?
This was done in spite of the racist iniquities that had been perpetrated against our people by these racists.
This novel is an excellent example of the whiteman’s response to our olive branch.
It is toxic in its further dehumanisation of the indigenous people whose legendary generosity continues to reflect as our major undoing.
The way the indigenous black people together with their unhu/ubuntu are being lambasted amounts to an unforgivable affront.
One does not have to have read the novel to be incensed by its complete adulteration of our race, kind and customs.
From previous submissions you recall that the author presents a picture of independent Zimbabwe as a far-away island inhabited by a new breed of whites going about their lives without the slightest disruption from the Africans.
In fact, Bryony’s imagined Zimbabwe is one where Africans are more visible by their absence and one wonders whether the novel is itself the rejection of African independence at a psychological level.
You have seen how Rogers explicitly rejects the principle of black independence by symbolically burning the British flag which he accuses of ushering black majority rule, implying that at a psychological level he still lives in colonial Rhodesia.
True, his attitude towards natives is still the same: unsympathetic scorn.
Gran, too, is not different except that she projects a rather different, but equally cynical attitude: that of condescension.
She is still the Rhodie who takes pride in the engraving of the map of Zimbabwe on her elbow.
Her boyfriend, Miles, shares her condescending attitude towards local Africans – they can only be welcome as appendages,
Indeed Africans are conspicuous by their absence.
Those who appear as appendages are equally invisible.
They have no character of their own.
If they are to be known, only their role as appendages is what the author finds as worthy of projecting, that is to say, their relevance is justified by their relationship with Miles, Ellie, Evelyn (Gran) and the rest of the white world.
To demonstrate this gross under-estimation of a fellow race we shall examine the delineation of two black servants, Jameson and Samson.
Both are houseboys.
Never mind the names and their occupation.
The narrator, Ellie, says of Jameson, their houseboy: “he taught me how to whistle . . . I would sit outside the kitchen step with Jameson while he cleaned vegetables for the evening meal.” (60).
The narrator’s attitude towards Jameson, on the surface, appears to be one of appreciating; but on secondary analysis you realise that it is one of condescension; the kind of appreciation you would give to your loyal pet.
Then you have Samson.
He is G’s houseboy.
Evelyn describes him as, “a large African man, taller than a doorframe . . . not the sort of man you would want to pick a fight with,” but all the same a faithful and respectful manservant.
The portrayal of Samson (what a fitting name) amounts to a mockery –he has oversized sinews but with no corresponding brain.
His whole world is the Whiteman’s kitchen.
This whole arrangement obtaining after independence!
The two man servants are the ‘best’ of the black characters in the post-independent Zimbabwean novel.
You want to pose and reflect on several questions regarding the sincerity of the author and indeed those who found the novel fitting for the consumption of Zimbabwean children doing Advanced Level Literature.
This analysis begs the following questions: What constitutes a Zimbabwean novel?
Is this a Zimbabwean novel?
If not as I believe to be the case, who passed this novel into our children’s curriculum?
How long shall we remain mum when our children are meant to identify with racist white characters instead of with their own?
What effrontery is this, peddling white supremacy nation’s years into our independence?

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