My name is Andrea and I am a graduate student at the University of Bradford pursuing a Master’s degree in African Peace and Conflict Studies.
I read Aleksandra’s essay on imagining peace in Poland and I wish that I, too, had a glass of wine while writing this one! Instead, I have a hot cup of English Breakfast tea. Generations of my family were born and raised in southern Africa where daily life was imbued with many lingering English colonial traditions – drinking extravagant amounts of tea being one of them. Being a Zimbabwean with naturalized US citizenship, I sometimes jokingly tell people that I am African American. As I bear an obviously white complexion, black Americans especially seem to enjoy this joke, at least they let me believe that they do. Once, a fellow caucasian pondered a reply that would convey a touch of confusion but be delicate enough not to offend: “oh, I thought you looked more Italian,” he said. Occasionally, this conversation serves as a revelation that white people live in Africa. Perhaps the thought is that they all just packed up and left as the dominoes of independence tumbled over the continent, or that they had never been there at all. In fact, of the 275,000 or so white Rhodesians living in the country just before Zimbabwean independence in 1980, about half decided to try life elsewhere rather than take their chances in the new majority-ruled nation. This “Rhodie” exodus gave rise to many bumper stickers bearing the phrase “Rhodesians never die, they just inhabit the world.” My parents and all of my relatives stayed, at least for a short time, trading the moniker “Rhodie” for “Zimbo.”
I was born just after Zimbabwean independence in a capital city that still bore the name Salisbury and grew up believing that Rhodesia had been a paradise, as that is the literal refrain I heard from my parents over subsequent years. This understanding was reinforced through the “when we” tales at the annual Rhodesians World Wide reunions we attended after immigrating to the United States (see the demographically specific “White People in Zimbabwe” Wikipedia page for elaboration on the “whenwes”). It was only during a summer break in university while reading Nelson Mandela’s book “A Long Walk To Freedom” that I had the revelation that Rhodesia was a paradise for the white people. Zimbabwe, though thirty four years independent, is still one of the youngest countries on the continent and is working through some growing pains. Unfortunately, in fits and spurts these adolescent tantrums have manifested themselves in violence, land seizures, displaced people, economic implosion, and a general uncertainty for the future.
I think that anyone who has visited or lived in Zimbabwe would agree that it has all the makings of a paradise. The land is stunning and compelling, stirring even the most non-sentimental heart. I think of Victoria Falls (its local name, Mosi oa Tunya, is much more evocative, meaning “the smoke that thunders”), the mist over the mountains of Nyanga, the massive ancient stone towers of Great Zimbabwe, the petrified trees rising from Lake Kariba, and the people who inhabit this incredible land. My hope for Zimbabwe is that it is realized as a paradise for all who live there, including the animals, which have also suffered the consequences of political and economic turmoil. My hope is that the past is not forgotten but that people focus more on the possibilities of the future, as they did at independence. An article written in 1975 in National Geographic magazine closes with the sentence, “may black hand clasp white in friendship and give Rhodesia peace to match the beauty of the land.” Substitute Zimbabwe for Rhodesia, and the sentiment still carries today.
Andrea and I are course mates in African Politics. I had wanted her to write about the US but she chose Zimbabwe, the country of her birth. Her decision definitely spoke a lot to me. In recent times Africa as a continent has been labelled so many names like the dark continent and all. Many Africans are not so proud to be associated with her; I wrote a post on The Americanah but Andrea went against the crowd and popular opinion.
N/B I’m sorry for the delays in the post. This series may just be coming to an end soon. I’m still expecting a few more entries. But i’m sure you’ve been enjoying each post.