Book Review – Stained Earth

Title: Stained Earth Author: Derek Higgins Publisher: Weaver Press, Harare. Zimbabwe. Distributed in UK by African Book Collective Ltd The Jam Factory 27 Park End Street. Oxford. OX1 1HU


This reads like a book from the past, written in some distant historical period. It is set deep inside an unreconstructed Rhodie mind. It features Greg Stanyon, a policeman in most of the stories. It begins well when Greg was a boy with The Sting, and follows with Sent to Coventry when he arrives in Rhodesia as a policeman. However, Gregs white liberal sentiments are stifled in the crucible of ferment that Rhodesia descends into soon after his arrival. The only concession to any grievances Africans may have had is in Sent to Coventry. A white policeman slaps a black man for pissing in public. Another policeman urges the black man to make a formal report, that he would was prepared to be witness, for which the former is sent to Coventry.

For the rest the black policemen are mostly nameless voices and without character or form. They always seem to be speaking from some void. The good blacks are weak, fearful, collaborating with the police and afraid of their own people. The elders are ancestralised, looking to the past and afraid of the power of white people. The freedom fighters are murderers, cruel to their hapless own, envious of what the white people have. It is the black nationalists who are violent; the white government is just intransigent while the army and police are maintaining law and order. It is hard to read such a book in 2005. Peter Godwin, who grew up in Rhodesia was in the Rhodie army and actually talked to the blacks he knew. They were real people to him.

It is sad there are no white Africans in these stories. Greg himself is a Brit, others are Germans, South Africans etc. These people are killing Africans because it is nice here. There are no soldiers, farmers or police with a sense of belonging, who are not there as pillagers. While all the stories have a sense of reality, of first hand experience, Robert Mugabe will pick this up and say I told you so. Placed side by side with the writing of Freedom Nyamubaya, Alexander Kanengoni and others they are part of a picture of Zimbabwes gaping sore, a country not at peace with itself.

The names of the Africans are interesting. The freedom fighter who deserts and is handed to the police by his father Maguma [the end] is called Takundwa [we have been defeated] in Sacrificial son of the soil. In Sell out the sell out is Mashonganyika [suggesting wealth] while the local nationalist businessman suspected of burning the property of rivals is Tafirenyika [dying for the country]. In Blind Terrorism we have Panganai [conspirator] who is an agricultural advisor and works for the government, is accused of being a traitor by the guerrillas, beaten and shot, losing his sight. The guerrilla who is running scared and for his life after his unit has been wiped out is called Ticharwa [we will fight], in Fredom Fighter.

At the end of the liberation war, the Rhodie army felt that they could have won the war. The same militarist spirit, of out gunning and out killing the freedom fighters infuses these stories. It is ironical that in Sent to Coventry, it is the barmen in the police bar who are keeping the nationalists informed about what the police are up to. In a documentary about the struggle for independence in Zimbabwe some years ago Emmerson Mnangagwa reports that it was the waiters at the army mess who alerted them to the coup attempt General Peter Walls was plotting against the new government of national unity in 1980.

The cover image by Helen Lieros of Lava Flow is an apt image of the bleeding earth. There is animal blood and human blood flowing in these stories, driven by forces out of control.

Post published in: Arts

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