Without a country?

As a young woman, I set myself adrift from my homeland, Rhodesia. My spirit was free and filled with the joy and excitement of exploration. My country was safe, and among my friends there was pride in the possibility that we would be leaders in Africa, becoming a multiracial state through peaceful transition.

I delighted in the sights and experiences of new lands, and all the world was good. At first I was oblivious to the subtle murmurings at home but gradually I noticed a change. The murmurs became rumbles and I listened, worried but confident solutions would be found. But the rumbling spread to other parts of Africa and then beyond the seas to the east and to the west until they broke into a thunderous roar. The reports that reached me were confusing. The talk and actions of people at home were not those of people I knew. Where did this mounting hatred come from? Now and then a reassuring ripple reached me. No, all was not lost. There was still goodwill. But the scene grew grimmer. Black clashed with white, white turned against white and black against black. Innocent people were twisted and torn, threatened and cajoled. There was turmoil and disharmony. Individuals became lost in generalizations. The shouting grew and became more confused.

At a distance I tried -- moderately, quietly -- to explain my country, to set the record straight, but my audience always melted away, avoiding me as if I was some sort of pariah. One or two fingers pointed at me, but some hands reached out in sympathy. In the main, though, I was left to my isolation. It was no longer easy to distinguish right from wrong. All whites were not evil, all blacks not good. There were complexities that extended well beyond black and white. Where did the truth lie? Should I really plead guilty to all the accusations directed at my race? Should I be with my people? Who was the enemy? Although the product of three generations, I was labedled "settler." Where else were my roots, if not there?

Finally, I lost my temper and, recognizing the defensive fury that was building in me, sank into a listening, vigilant silence. Around me, or so it seemed, non-Rhodesian "armchair experts" had brought to trial my relatives and close friends since childhood -- farmers, doctors, city employees, their small children and their elders -- and found them guilty of being white, and calling themselves Rhodesian, and of being heartless "oppressors." People whom I knew personally to be dear and kind, loving and caring, had become hated. Their overseas judges and jurors -- a few of whom I knew personally -- were in many instances loving and caring people, corporate executives and high-ranking government officials, professors and union bosses, people living and working in countries where the wealth was concentrated in the hands of the few and poverty, human suffering and injustice lived on in significant degrees. I was bewildered; and my anger turned to the shock of pain that besets a child when something has hurt him and he cannot understand why.

The change that the world sought came to the country of my birth. It came -- as the distinguished black psychiatrist, Frantz Fanon, wrote of decolonization -- not "as a result of magical practices, nor of natural shock, nor of friendly understanding," but from violence.

I am of Africa and I have felt her heartbeat. I was born Rhodesian, but that country no longer exists. If I have judges and jurors here, or there in Zimbabwe, what do I answer when I stand before them and they ask me who I am? . . .

"I am," I must answer, for it is all I can think to say, "one who was born to a land that made me African, under a sun that left me white. I no longer know who I am. I have been away to long. . . ."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.