Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
Eric Harrison’s “Jambanja” (2006) connotes the ambivalence of vision in relation to the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme, which is the central issue highlighted, but which, certainly is not the only matter at hand.
Harrison taps into nostalgic history to juxtapose past glories in colonial Rhodesia and the post-2000 period in Zimbabwe, a nation he feels has robbed him of “his” family’s heritage. Retracing the history of colonial bigotry to locate his own biography on the supremacist discourse, where all heroes are white, he attempts to justify ownership based on an alienated conception of place and time.
In the preface to his memoir, Harrison burdens himself with justification of colonialism and its presumed benefits, albeit to the white community. His reference to America and Australia “where settlers found that the local population lived a simple and arguably happy life, oblivious to the ways of the ‘first world’”, smacks of hypocrisy and a holier-than-thou attitude.
The writer portends that the commercial farmer who brought “civilisation” and development to Africa, should be allowed to continue plundering. He premises his argument on the assumption that “when the colonials did arrive, they brought with them new ideas that did not exist before and hence, development took place at a remarkable rate”. The development that he prattles about, however, was at the expense of the indigenous owners of the land.
Harrison’s background as a beneficiary of the colonial legacy that saw his Irish parents joining the scramble for Africa, limits artistic vision. The memoir, which he claims to have written from the “outside” to give it the invective, omnipresent and omniscient flair, appears to be self-serving.
Consciously or unconsciously, he carries the burden of his own experiences as a white man in both colonial Rhodesia and independent Zimbabwe. He is an embodiment of the contradictions that white-authored narratives expose; the temptation to assert white presence, and become Zimbabwean through Rhodesian templates.
It is a contestation of nationhood as will be explored shortly. By playing victim, while exposing supremacist traits that may be read as villainous, and not heroic per se, Harrison becomes hypocritical. His perception is the white’s man’s perspective on Africa, Africans and their heritage—the land.
The image of the snake in reference to the commotion announcing the entrance of the indigenous people to reverse colonial roles of “plunder, pillage and murder” (Wa Thiong’o, 2018:69), at the height of the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme, used in the opening lines, is significant to the view of the supremacist nature of whites, and their beastly portrayal of the indigenous black people.
Harrison criminalises the late former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe for “single-handedly” changing the Constitution, thus “robbing” whites of “their” heritage.
As legality and social justice become areas of conflict, the thorny issue of compensation arises.
The story begins with an incident at the height of the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme in 2004, and the setting is independent Zimbabwe. The action then shifts to Rhodesia in 1959 with Harry on a train to Llewellin Barracks in Bulawayo for military training at the age of 19.
The train journey reflects on the challenges of the two nations in one country; the European nation and the African nation. On the train, the protagonist, Harry, gets consumed in his past, starting with his Irish father, Ernie, who “had come to Africa via Canada with his Canadian bride, Marion”, and how the family lived in Bulawayo; and later moved to Salisbury in 1948.
After losing his job as a result of sanctions imposed on Rhodesia after Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on November 11, 1965, the protagonist “decided to head off to Ireland to trace his roots.”
Later he moves to Angola where his farming career begins at Maioio Farm, after working as a tobacco consultant.
Later Harry returns to Rhodesia. In 1970 the stars are shining again as the protagonist gets a chance at Mkwasine Estates through a Government programme. After securing a loan of $5 000 from friends and relatives, which is a requirement, he is given Lot One of Mkwasine Estates.
In 1971, Harry, his wife Joan and three children; Debbie, Russell and Trevor, move to their 187-hectare property, which they rename Maioio Farm. It is this farm that is at the centre of contestation as the protagonist loses ownership to the first part; 105 hectares under sugarcane in 2001, and the second one; 55 hectares under citrus in 2004, when it was reclaimed for redistribution under the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme.
The story ends with Harry and his wife, Joan living in their townhouse in Harare as their children have moved out to start their own careers. Debbie has moved to Australia with her husband after a failed attempt at ostrich farming; Russell is now an artist and Trevor has taken up his childhood passion; motorbike mechanics.
To put everything into context, it is crucial to reflect on the title; “Jambanja”.
According to Chimhundu cited in Magosvongwe, Nyamende and Gwekwerere (2013:127), the term jambanja can be read from two standpoints. The Afrocentric viewpoint draws inspiration from Man’s resilience in the face of challenges, where the endpoint is to be able to find positivity in negativity. It is a kind of “spirit of redemption” (Ephraim, 2003:420) that situates itself in the many struggles that humanity has to endure in the journey of life (Muhwati, 2010 cited in Magosvongwe, Nyamende and Gwekwerere, 2013:127).
The second reading, which appears to be apparent, denotes chaos, mayhem, violence and unfettered negative energy, which in the connotative sense plays havoc on neutrality. The term jambanja has been popularised through literature and music, for instance, in Brian Chikwava’s “Harare North” (2009) and Marko Sibanda’s song “Jambanja paHotera”.
By drawing the reader to the chaotic nuance of the term, Harrison seeks to both project the Fast Track Land Reform Programme as an exercise in futility, and thus, redeem himself from the tag of colonial aggressor; and divulge a desire to claim sympathy through language.
The use of lingua franca in the novel, therefore, beginning with the term jambanja, is an attempt at belonging, as Harrison captures his own experiences through the autobiographical mode, claiming that it “is a true story” and that “like all stories the storyteller is part of it too”, to give authenticity to a crooked story of heritage, or dispossession rather, in which he invariably plays victim, hero and villain.
While pretending to be a “Zimbo” and claiming to be a “Matabele”, like Eddie Cross and Ian Smith, Harrison’s heart is in Rhodesia. Ideologically, he believes in the anthem that “Rhodesians Never Die”, popularised by Clem Tholet and Andy Dillon in song. In the song, Rhodesians claim the land to be theirs, which they vow to protect “through thick and thin” against “the enemy” so that “their” “mighty land” prospers for the benefit of whites.
Ironically the “enemy” they want to stop coming in and keep “north of the Zambezi”, are the true owners of the land, fighting to reclaim their heritage. It is this entitlement through Rhodesian nationalism that makes transition to Zimbabwe a challenge for whites. They keep hanging onto the illusion of Rhodesia.
Harrison’s choice of title, therefore, denotes the existence of two separate nationalisms in Zimbabwe; White Nationalism and Black Nationalism. The European who is a white Rhodesian remains hooked to the past, and the African remains a native in the derogatory sense.
Godwin and Hancock (1993) capture the transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe by juxtaposing the euphoria in the African nation and the despondency in the European nation after the March 1980 elections which ushered in the first Black government led by the late national hero and revolutionary icon, Robert Mugabe.
Most white Rhodesians, they reveal: “Were bewildered or devastated by the news of Tuesday, 4 March 1980”, because they were expecting “to hear that the moderate and pliable Bishop Muzorewa would form the first Black government of the new Zimbabwe” (Godwin and Hancock, 1993:1). Smarting from the reality that “the happiest Blacks in the world” (ibid), had voted for Mugabe, “a monstrous evil”, they were left with “three clear options” (ibid).
The decision on the options were the major setbacks to the new government’s slant towards reconciliation. Godwin and Hancock (1993) point out: “Mugabe’s election victory presented the Whites with three clear options: they could pack up and leave; they could remain behind, live in the past, and effectively become expatriates in their own country; or they could emigrate with their hearts and minds to the new Zimbabwe” (Godwin and Hancock, 1993:3).
The dilemma of “to be or not be” (William Shakespeare in “Hamlet”) a Zimbabwean, depicted in Doris Lessing’s “African Laugher: Four Visits to Zimbabwe” (1992), Maruma’s “Coming Home” (2007), Geoffrey Nyarota’s “The Graceless Fall of Robert Mugabe” (2018), became a heartache to Rhodesian supremacists.
Rhodesian-ness was defined by whiteness; when “most Whites referred to ‘Rhodesia’ they meant ‘White Rhodesia’, and when they referred to ‘Rhodesians’ they meant themselves. Blacks were classified either as ‘Black Rhodesians’—sometimes as ‘our Black Rhodesians’” (Godwin and Hancock, 1993:8).
Rhodesian-ness refers to being “British imperials”, with “the sense of the South African cultural idea” (Schutz cited in Godwin and Hancock, 1993:19). This means white Rhodesians owe their material claims to the Empire, and their cultural assertions to apartheid South Africa, Cecil John Rhodes’ Launchpad for the colonisation of Zimbabwe; the African nation.
Hence, their quest to mould everything along the British model—to recreate their ancestral heritage of plunder; a status quo they wish to maintain. They insist on the South African “cultural idea” (ibid) that allows them to uphold values of white Rhodesia: “in the hotels and clubs, at the braai and the sundowner, the work place or tea on the patio, the sporting days and the recreational evenings” (Godwin and Hancock, 1993: 18).
Harrison belongs to the class of whites, who remained behind when others left, not because he had Zimbabwe at heart as he claims in “Jambanja”, but he knew he would still be living in the Rhodesia of his dreams. He has built a fortune on the African’s heritage, the land. He straddles between two of the options availed to him. He lives in the past, thus, becoming an “expatriate” (ibid) in what he still believes to be Rhodesia, and attempts to “emigrate” to the African nation of Zimbabwe, albeit with no commitment of heart and mind.
Emigrating “wholeheartedly to Zimbabwe” (Alexander, 2004:210) becomes problematic due to his “patriotic whiteness” (Onslow, 2011:5 cited in Mandizvidza, 2018:133), which can only fade if pitted “against ‘patriotic’ blackness in independence” (Mandizvidza, 2018:133).
Harry can be read through Bill in Maruma’s “Coming Home” (2007), who says: “If the chaps from the bush win the elections, I tell you there will be a mass exodus of whites from this country. That will be the end of the economy, as we know it won’t it? We will go the same disastrous way as Angola and Mozambique; civil war and a ravaged economy . . . the return to barbarism” (Maruma, 2007:36).
Carrying such prejudices, Harrison exposes his own weaknesses with regards to neutrality as he cannot pretend to side with Black Zimbabweans when his heart is in Rhodesia; a ‘glorious’ land in his view. Thus, his interpretation of land reforms in Zimbabwe, especially the post-2000 Fast Track Land Reform Programme, is reflected through the title “Jambanja”.