A couple of days ago I decided to read Alexandra Fuller’s Scribbling the Cat. I’d been meaning to read it for years, but never really seemed to be in a stable enough emotional place to do so. Such books on Zimbabwe are inevitably full of trauma, trauma and more trauma, and they take me to a very dark place. Either they’re about horrific things in Zimbabwe’s past, things that happened before I was born and things that I immediately wish I’d never found out about, or they’re about terrible things that have happened in Zimbabwe during my life, during my memory, things that I wish I could forget. Always, these books leave me feeling helpless, angry and, often, ashamed at the colour of my skin. So I’d rather not read them. I’d rather stay off the bathroom floor, thanks.
But, after receiving a strange invitation to a friend’s party a week or two ago, I decided to give Fuller’s book a shot in the hope that it would answer some of my questions. I’d been thinking a lot about my identity as, I guess, a white Zimbabwean. I say ‘I guess’ because, although I sometimes genuinely identify with fellow white Zimbabweans, I often can’t even begin to wrap my head around many commonly held white attitudes. You see, I was raised by a family that doesn’t see colour. My mum tells me that they were often accused of being “lily-white liberals”, but, she insists, it’s never been a very accurate description. Rather, she says “We’ve always been before our time.”
To explain this a little further, when Ian Smith was still alive, and living in an old-age home in Cape Town, my mum once suggested that I go and visit him, to chat to him and listen to his story. I’d tried to read his autobiography but, after too much of his sanctimonious I’m-so-wonderful-and-I-was-always-right attitude, I’d got generally sickened and lost interest. According to the people who knew him, he was an incredibly interesting guy, but I found his autobiography was very annoying (probably because I was judging him as a person, but anyway). My mum said, “Go and see him and talk to him yourself. He probably doesn’t get many visitors. Tell him that you’re Howard’s granddaughter. He’s apparently losing his marbles, but he’ll remember your grandpa. Your grandpa always gave him a hard time about the UDI and not letting black people vote”. Despite many calls for him to become MP of his area, my grandfather refused, he disagreed with Smith’s government and would not be persuaded to be part of it. Smith, on the other hand, died before I had a chance to track him down.
Because of the kind of people that my family are, and because of how I was raised, I find myself having little in common with a lot of white Zimbabweans. Which is probably why I don’t understand the invitation I received. Without going into much detail, it was basically a “long live Rhodesia” type vibe. And a lot of people had RSVPed to say that they would be attending (all white, duh). I couldn’t work out whether it was a joke or for real… basically, I wasn’t sure whether I should be offended and confused, or just confused. But, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that it’s actually for real, that it’s not just me having a sense of humour failure, because, let’s be honest, even if it is a joke, it’s not funny. It’s like having an Apartheid themed party and asking everyone to dress up as AWB. WTF?
There was a short poem attached to the invitation:
Apart from feeling like you’re going round in dizzying circles as you read the poem, as well as the fact that Stan Glover has a Shona nickname (very confusing in light of the poem), there are several things that I don’t understand about this whole situation. Most confusing is the fact that none of the people involved in hosting or attending this party were ever Rhodesians. They are my age and were born into an independent Zimbabwe. They never knew Rhodesia. They weren’t even born. Totally WTF-like. Maybe I’ll RSVP: “I will not be attending because I love Zimbabwe (yes, it’s now called Zimbabwe, and has been for the last 31 years – i.e. since before you were born). Thanks though.”
And, as far as Scribbling the Cat went, I reached page 152, after which I wanted to vomit and burn the book. But then I couldn’t find matches. And it isn’t my book. So I didn’t.
Last week, I went to a book signing by Peter Godwin, who is best known for his more recent books Mukiwa, When the Crocodile Eats the Sun and The Fear. A fascinating man. But more about him in another post perhaps. I got him to sign a copy of The Fear for me. I doubt I’ll ever read it. Or open it for that matter (except maybe to look at the message he wrote to me). I choose life, thanks.