How white Zimbabwean men interact with the Africa around them is a complicated product of history and circumstance. Understanding it can help the racial struggle in South Africa.
It’s been three years since I began ethnography unearthing the intricacies of race and masculinity embodied by white Zimbabwean men living in Pretoria. Since completing my research, much has unfolded in Zimbabwe, the most significant and recent of which is the #thisflag movement, which hoped to finally bring Mugabe’s tyrannical rule to an end using unity, patriotism and the tool of mass protest. It failed, unfortunately. But still, both black and white Zimbabweans galvanised under the movement and there seemed to be, from an outsider’s perspective, a general sense of a collective struggle that transcended race.
Of the white Zimbabweans researched in my piece, most have now graduated. Some have returned to Zimbabwe and some have not. Some have decided to stay in South Africa and others have made their way abroad to, the most common destination amongst them, England. Such is the close relationship between white Zimbabweans and Britain still that some had no choice but to leave South Africa in search of work in Europe where it was easier to find appropriate jobs on their British citizenship. To all of them, I wish them good luck.
Three years later and political world away, South Africa has undergone its own changes too, which have been fuelled by its own set of hashtags and spread prolifically through social media. In a country that suffers from a power vacuum at the very top, the racial relations in South Africa have, in general, seemed to deteriorate and what has emerged can loosely be described as the beginning of a post-rainbow nation era. Social media and young, competing politicians have given voice to a previously voiceless black generation who have been re-sensitised to our land and identity struggle, and all of those many other intimate and legitimate of post-apartheid problems.
It wasn’t made clear enough in my conclusion years ago that South Africa and Zimbabwe can never truly be compared to each other for reasons political, historical, economic, demographic and even meteorological, and understanding Zimbabwe as a microcosm for South Africa has always been flawed. Instead, what has emerged is a more productive comparison with Brazil as it too tries to come to terms with its own depreciating economy, devastating inequality, corruption and political inadequacy. Regardless, there are still definite lessons to learn from the Zimbabwean situation that South Africans should deeply consider. Many of these lie in the identity sphere and how white and black Africans view themselves and each other.
As such, my research is valid still from a racial perspective: How white Zimbabwean men conduct themselves shares much resemblance with white South African men and how they see the world around them. As is made clear in the research, how white males interact in Africa has all to do with a history that made them so and all to do with how they continue to perpetuate it or not. What should be made clear again, as it is made so in the piece, not all white Zimbabwean men conduct themselves through a hegemonic masculinity defined by race, nor should we assume that all white South African men do too. In fact many share in the vision of a prosperous Southern Africa and a non-racial home to be proud of.
Importantly, when we judge how people interact, it should be from the knowledge base that in as far as people act unselfconsciously, we should understand that it is an uncontrollable and unchangeable history that created them. Our energy for judgement then should rather be used to develop a world where race is no longer a vehicle for masculinity. How we do that is our choice. Mine is to write about it. Certainly, in South Africa I dream of a non-racial world and hope that my grandchildren look at this South Africa as the time when all changed for the better, as a time when South Africa transcended race and truly became the rainbow nation it was always destined to be. That is only possible by learning to understand each other and the histories that have made us. Only mutual understanding can re-ignite the fuel of togetherness and lead us to a better place.
God bless South Africa and God help the Zimbabwean nation.
This work is dedicated to Craig, the Wolf and all the
legendary buggers who contributed to its making,
and who held faith with the anthropologist in his pursuit of a “real” honours degree.
The Nature of Men
Race, Masculinity and the Voices of White Zimbabwean men living in South Africa
By Kyle Brown
“In ships they came from Europe across the salt sea,
Come for to build and raise the colony,
And in the jungle green their citadels did gleam,
In tribute and homage to the old country.
Oh soon their children grew and promised to be true,
Orphans of an empire, their destiny”
Orphans of the Empire
The cost of economic decline still sends many Zimbabweans beyond its borders into South Africa. Those who arrive in South Africa are victims of an economic meltdown and are unsure when they might return. Some, students at South African universities, will often return to Zimbabwe during their university holidays or for family visits. Of these, a group of young, white men aged 18-24 study at the University of Pretoria (UP) and make a home just 500 kilometres south of Beit Bridge border in urban Pretoria, South Africa. The children of the economically privileged, they arrive with the hope that tertiary education puts them in good stead for a future that many of them believe they will not spend in Zimbabwe, at least until ‘the crisis’ is over. How they conduct themselves in South Africa is a complicated product of history and circumstance. This research report will illustrate how ‘racial nature’ develops in Zimbabwean history. It will then argue that this understanding of ‘racial nature’ holds together an invigorated white pride following ‘the crisis’. This has manifested as a hegemonic masculinity that expresses itself through racism. To comprehend this argument, this research report will firstly demonstrate, through David McDermott Hughes analysis of white Rhodesian nationalism in wild Africa, how notions of ‘black nature’ and ‘white nature’ emerge in Southern Rhodesia. Then, through a discussion of Karin Alexander (2004), it will demonstrate how ‘black nature’ and ‘white nature’ become entrenched by the institutionalisation of whiteness. Following this, the research report unpacks how ‘racial nature’ strengthens with skewed interpretations of the history leading up to ‘the crisis’ and ‘the crisis’ itself. It will then argue how white pride is energised in the context of Rory Pilossof’s (2011) ‘affirmative parochialism’ and how this white pride is upheld by the understanding of ‘black nature’. The research report will then demonstrate how this racial history manifests as a hegemonic masculinity expressed through racism. It will do so by unearthing the forms masculinity takes amongst my research participants.
A night out with the buggers
It’s Saturday and its dusk. And like most student residences on a Saturday night, the twilight zone is when it all begins, the debauchery, the journey from balanced laughter and neat beers to brandy slurs and deep pulls of marijuana. But Daniel isn’t sure that tonight we should be drinking. After all, exams are coming and he can’t risk failing; the thought of another year at UP haunts him. He wants to get working already “in the real world … even though it will probably be in South Africa.” But that’s then and for now he needs to relax. He says we will only go for ‘one or two’; it’s only ever ‘one or two’ – a quiet beer, a quick one, a sneaky one. And so reasonably, I brace myself for what lies beyond “one or two” as I squeeze into deep orange hipster chinos.
Daniel’s girlfriend is a South African and she’s cooking for him tonight. A big meal, he feels, will prep him for the alcohol that awaits him. I sometimes imagine her older, them older, in a house I’m not sure where but she insists it will be in South Africa, not Zimbabwe; that the drudgery of everyday life in Harare is not her future, that a country so “messed up” will never be a part of her plans. But I know he is quietly confident, sure that his son will be like him, fishing undisturbed on Kariba’s vast blue expanse during private school holidays. But for now, at this moment, they are here in the heart of Hatfield and she makes sure he is well fed for the party ahead.
When we finally arrive at the student residence, I’m nervous. Not because I haven’t been here before; I have been here many times. Not because I haven’t drank here before. I have been drunk here often. But because tonight there is a different feeling. I come armed as an anthropologist, not with a notebook and a pen, but with an agenda, to try find something in anything, to carefully sort the good ethnography from the bad, the useless from the useful, to try find the substance that makes substance. But that’s not how it works I reassure myself. When I’m with him it all means something. Relax Kyle, you’re here for a party.
He knocks on a vreemie door and a fresh faced Zimbabwean opens it, gleaming with blue eyes and blonde hair. Immediately, the Zimbabwean flag catches my eye. As large as the door itself, its sprawled across the wall confident in its statement that he who resides here is proudly Zimbabwean!
“What you boys up to?” Daniel asks aggressively.
“Nothing!” He grabs the vreemie by the collar and pins him to the wall. And then in a whisper to me, “You see Kyle, these white Rs from Bulawayo are always doing nothing.”
The “dirty” Bulawayo I’ve heard is nothing like Harare and so its people are nothing like each other. Of course, it’s all friendly banter really and this vreemie pinned to the wall smiles all the way through. Finally, Daniel releases him and puts meaning to my presence.
“This oke is studying white Zimbabweans for his Anthropology thesis. He might need your help”. Straight to it then. The vreemie turns to me, shakes my hand, and asks:
“What the hell is anthropology?”
Our vreemie visit soon comes to an end but our journey continues into the underbelly of the residence. There’s a bar deep in its bowels and that’s our destination, and like most student bars its wood is scarred by generations of student drinkers and incipient alcoholics. It welcomes you with a dull, yellow light, with dark stained wood made soft and moist from last night’s spilt beer. Already, it’s choked with the thick fog of cigarette smoke and I breathe in deeply and shudder. Tomorrow I will regret this visit. The ‘usuals’ sit neatly in a row and three to four bartenders serve them capably and loudly. Either side of the bar, everyone is drinking, everyone is friends, almost everyone is Zimbabwean and for now, everyone is white. Daniel greets them warmly with intense vulgarity. Lovingly, they curse each other, their love and acceptance for each other expressed through the pretence of hatred, all clawing and snapping and swearing, happy to see each other.
Daniel introduces the Zimbabweans as they come to meet me but I’m already a familiar stranger. During the year, I’ve met many of them already, but alcohol consumed at this rate does little for polite memory. To some, Daniel introduces my project. Can I really get a “real degree” from studying them, they think? Others know nothing of my project and I prefer it like that for now. Later, a young black man enters the bar and Daniel, like he has done with all his white friends extends his hand for an embrace:
“You see, another Zimbabwean, Kyle! We Zimbabweans stick together. We’re strong!”
They each grab a drink, cheers each other, and together down it in a show of Zimbabwean solidarity only to both shake their heads as the burps of beer make their way to the surface. Alcohol seems to unlock something tonight. It sets a mission to stir the patriotic Zimbabwean soul and show me what it means to be them. When the opening piano keys to Our Zimbabwe begin to play, two white men drop to their knees and sing along with it, tearful about a Zimbabweaness that means so much to them. I watch the show and smile, and remember when a South African friend once commented:
“They’re very proud people, that’s for sure. I sometimes wish I could be that proud of my country.”
When our time at the bar is done we make our way to a Zimbabwean commune, a casual house residence filled with white Zimbabweans. I cannot be sure if everyone here is Zimbabwean. It’s unlikely that there isn’t a few South Africans here who have strayed in via friendships like I have. Of course , almost immediately I am made aware of the fact, as I have been made aware of many times before on this night, that “Kyle, you are as drunk as a R!”
Maybe I should slow down.
Participants and Process
There were eight (8) participants involved in this research report and numerous side characters that I met along the way. Three of the 8 participants are not friends of the first five and I shall be called Josh, Jack and Jason. The first 5 participants will be called Chris, Mark, Shaun, Nick and Daniel. Of the first five, one remained a consistent presence throughout the project and acted as somewhat of a research assistant onto whom I could bounce ideas and chat about the research and Zimbabwe in general. In total, there were 8 interviews conducted. Significantly, some of these participants were my friends before the research began and others became friends during this period. This allowed me to delve deeper into many personal situations and personalities, which I felt gave me glimpses into a world I may not have been able to uncover without friendship.
Extensive ethnography was conducted throughout the year but my interactions with Zimbabweans have been a consistent feature of my time visiting Pretoria since 2011. In 2011, I spent innumerable weekends at a student commune with four white Zimbabweans. This year I have spent time with various white Zimbabweans in different contexts. Participant observation was conducted in a male student residence at UP, in three prominent night spots in Hatfield, Pretoria, and twice on holiday with two Zimbabweans, once in the Western Cape and once in the Eastern Cape. During this process, interactions with female white Zimbabweans have been part and parcel of interacting with the 8 participants but no official interview was conducted with them. This thesis remains confined to white, male voices and opinion, and all of these participants are aged between 18 and 24.
Reflections on Race and Masculinity
“Class and race factors are constitutive of the form that masculinity takes” (Morrell 1998: 608). As masculinity is a “collective gender identity and not natural attributed” (ibid.,606), its development in Southern Africa can be traced. Not surprisingly it has an especially complex relationship with race. Discussions about masculinity and its relationship to colonialism in Southern Africa have unearthed the processes of emasculation that turned black men into boys (ibid.). Placing black men in a perpetual state of youth allowed the patriarchy amongst white men to assert its authority as the father, and lead Africa and ‘its children’ in the ‘right direction’. “Predicated on structured inequality that required the perpetual adolescence of the junior partner, it left [blacks] with no room for either psychological or economic growth’ (Charles van Onselen 1996, cited in Pilossof 2011: 167)
Masculinity in this form is deeply entrenched in the colonial psyche. In its wake, it has contributed to a plethora of masculinities in the post colonial era that have urged for definition and exploration. Of these, a hegemonic masculinity remains the dominant type shared by my participants. This masculinity seeks dominance in the presence of competing masculinities and its defining features are, according to Robert Morrell, ‘misogyny, homophobia, racism and compulsory heterosexuality. [It is] never stable. It is constantly responding to challenges, accommodating, or repelling rival representations of masculinity.” (Morrell 1998: 167)
In the broader context of racial conflict and tension in Zimbabwe exacerbated by the violent land grabs since 2000, my research has unearthed a form a hegemonic masculinity that expresses itself through racism. This masculinity is deeply defined by racism, and is expressed, in a variety of contexts in explicitly or implicitly racial terms. Racism is the concern of this essay as it contributes most profoundly to this masculinity and how it airs itself in South Africa. Racism, and the understanding of race, is the body in which this masculinity functions. Its role is paramount and should be dissected thoroughly; not only in form and dynamic, but its role in history and ideology in Zimbabwe. To understand why it is so bound with masculinity, we must fully understand the complex parts of its making.
As much of the racism amongst these men is justified, implicitly or explicitly, by ‘black nature’ and ‘white nature’, it is important to understand what is meant by ‘racial nature’ in this context. My observations have revealed that ‘black nature’ is intrusive, lazy and unappreciative, and ‘white nature’ is respectful, hard working and appreciative. This understanding of ‘racial nature’ is the glue that holds together an energised white pride that has emerged since 2000 and it is this white pride that injects a hegemonic masculinity with racism. This research report will carefully construct this argument in order to lay bare and comprehend the masculinity that has come to define my participants.
The Rhodesian in wild Africa and the coming of ‘racial nature’
To understand how ‘black nature’ and ‘white nature’ emerge in Southern Rhodesia, this essay will discuss nationalism in Southern Rhodesia through David McDemott Hughes (2010). To comprehend his argument, this section will firstly digest key points in Benedict Anderson’s (1983) Imagined Communities. For Anderson, sharing sameness with the people around you in territorial space is essential when conjuring a ‘sense of belonging’ to each other required for nationalism. In Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, sameness amongst people in large territories became solidified through print capitalism, which condensed language and time into territorial space. Able to identify with the people around them on a larger territorial scale through collective reading, a national identity and “culture” could be born around which a territorial nation-state could confidently plant itself. Inversely, this nation-state could then further perpetuate ideas of nationalism, strengthen them and naturalise ideas of “us” versus “them” over time. Europeans in Europe became proudly British, German or French for example, because they came to belong to each other through a sameness constructed by technological inventions and the ideological shift to capitalism.
But in early Southern Rhodesia, Hughes (2010) demonstrates that creating nationalism through sameness is not possible as sameness is never fully achieved. “Most [white] Rhodesians tended to be morbidly incurious about native customs and beliefs.” (Waugh 1960:141, cited in Hughes 2010:141). Europeans perceived themselves as physically and spiritually different to the Africans around them. Racial integration was not part of colonial ideology or policy and so whites did not seek to belong with black society. Furthermore, there were differences amongst white immigrants who arrived from different areas of mother Europe and the Afrikaners who arrived from South Africa. But despite a poverty of sameness, a singular, white Rhodesian nationalism did form. This formation then required a different sort of belonging to root itself in Southern Rhodesia.
In early Rhodesia “many sought, in the bush, an escape from the intractable problem of minority status” (Hughes 2010:29). According to Hughes, Southern Rhodesian nationalism involved metaphorically and physically emptying the land of the natives to allow such metaphorical and physical space in where falling in love with the immense of beauty of Africa could be possible; in turn, offering legitimate reason to fall in love with Southern Rhodesia. To condone this emptying process to create this space, it required white society to understand black Africans as unappreciative beings unable to comprehend the agricultural potential and immense beauty of wild Africa. So is born, in part, the ideology that legitimises the colonised occupation of land; black Africans did not deserve the land on which they resided as they were unable to appreciate it on these white terms. This process converted black Africans into unappreciative wanderers rather than residents; their presence forever more intrusive in Africa. In this view, only whites were “uniquely capable of appreciating, enhancing and glorifying the environment” (ibid.,7). Whites naturalised themselves in Africa by alienating black Africans; whites came to belong to the land as the loving fathers, the keepers and the conservers and this gave meaning to their presence. The nationalism that emerged then amongst white Rhodesians was formed through a belonging to the African bush and not black society. And it this like-minded belonging that gives birth to white Rhodesian nationalism and contributes to a collective white identity. Consequently, for Hughes, the fetish for the bush is a colonial memoir that reminds us of the complicated process that converted Europeans into Africans. Today, this process is still very much at work:
I love hiking when it’s deep in the bush, where you can get lost, where it’s just you and Africa. I remember when I was younger, we went proper camping deep in the bush and the adults gave us just a compass and we had to make our way out just using that.
About Kariba Dam, he goes on to say:
Now Kariba is beautiful. You can feel properly alone on the lake. Fishing, getting drunk with the boys. A proper holiday.
That’s what makes me Zimbabwean, the bush. I grew up in Africa doing outdoor things; that’s how I want my children to be.
We have a house on Kariba. It’s crazy when you get there. One minute you’re in Harare, next minute you’re alone in the bush. Zimbabweans love the bush.
Mozambique is really nice. But the north is better. The beaches there are untouched.
All participants, in some capacity, share an immense love for the bush, and importantly an Africa in which they can be alone, or become lost. This remains the most consistent feature of all white Zimbabweans met during my research and a continual theme surrounding whiteness in Southern African literature. Their identity as white Zimbabweans is first and foremost chiselled by a love for the immensity of Africa that allows them, like David Livingstone, to become engulfed by the peace and serenity of the continent undisturbed by the unnaturalness of human presence. Their love for their home is defined by the African landscape and their relationship to it and not by black Africans and their relationship to them. This fetish for the bush and the silence of the wild is a colonial memoir that has instilled in our participants a deep respect for natural Africa, but as consequence, less respect and appreciation for the people who live in it.
This process whereby the construction of the white Rhodesian required the alienation of the black African brought about the birth of of ‘black nature’ and ‘white nature’ in Zimbabwe. Implicit in this conceptualisation of wild Africa is that black Africans are intruders. This has manifested in a white understanding of personal space and how this space should be treated. As black African presence seems to destroy the beauty of the perpetual safari, of the unending Kariba, of the spiritual Vic falls, of an Africa untouched, of Livingstone’s Africa, ‘black nature’ is an intrusive, destructive and unappreciative nature unable to occupy white space, emotionally or physically. It is not insignificant that there is never resentment towards fellow white Zimbabweans enjoying holidays on the same house boat, or at the same game farm in the same part of the bush. Their presence, of a ‘white nature’, is respectful and mindful of personal space and the quietness that should be adopted in the African savannah and the white psyche.
Josh, on Kariba:
That part of Kariba is for the blacks now – there’s squatters there everywhere. Looks terrible. You want to go to a nice part of kariba – not there. I’ll take you on my house boat.
Furthermore, in this conceptualisation emerge additional myths about ‘black nature’. Only people able to cultivate land and appreciate its potential deserve to live on it. In this, ‘black nature’ becomes embodied by laziness. Perpetuating this view of ‘black nature’, and in turn strengthening it, the land grabs following 2000 said much about undeserved black society, about which this essay will later comment. Significantly, there remains an ideological resentment towards land grabbers beyond mere private property rights i.e. occupying private land without permission.
You see the problem is we put a lot into that farm, a lot of infrastructure. We built two dams. When they took over they had no idea what to even do. They let it rot. That was the most irritating part.
The worst part is they don’t even know how to farm. Some of them don’t even want to farm. It’s just makes me angry.
Inversely, this understanding of ‘black nature’ gives birth to further myth about ‘white nature’: that all whites are hard workers and deserve what they have. As we shall uncover in later sections, this very aspect of ‘white nature’ is strengthened by a skewed reading of the history leading to the crisis. What remains most important at this stage of my essay is that in colonial Southern Rhodesia, white nationalism required a certain conceptualisation of wild Africa that gave birth to ‘racial nature’.
The institutionalisation of whiteness
Nowhere is the institutionalisation of race and its ties to power more fascinating than in Audrey’s Smedley’s (1999) piece outlining its construction in colonial North America. Similarly, Alexander (2004) and Summers (1994) attempt to understand how whiteness develops and is institutionalised in Southern Rhodesia. In so doing, it entrenches the understanding of ‘racial nature’.
White settlers, mainly Afrikaners, pouring in from South Africa eventually outnumbered British immigrants by a third in Southern Rhodesia but they were considered a lower social class (Alexander 2004: 197). Subsequently, social inequality separated early white immigrants and threatened to undo white claims to superiority. In order to suppress ethnic and class difference amongst whites, it became law that all white children attend school. In so doing, the state sought to minimise the differences between Afrikaners and the British and cement a singular white strength on which to build Southern Rhodesia. “This, coupled with voting rights and other forms of legalised privilege [meant that] being part of the white community came to be more beneficial than being British, Afrikaans or of any other ethnicity.” (Alexander 2004: 197) In this, a singular whiteness was formed and could be juxtaposed with blackness.
To cement the superiority of whites in Southern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia required a singular whiteness and blackness, a basis on which to neatly distribute power and resources. To create this singular whiteness, the state institutionalises it. As consequence, it strengthens ‘racial nature’ while using it as justification for institutionalisation.
‘The crisis’ in crisis
Colonialism has long been removed from Zimbabwe but there has been a limit to the decolonisation of the mind. (Pilossof 2011: 198) Without being forced to redefine itself post-1980, white society has not fully deconstructed the myths that colonialism constructed, and much of the racism inherited from Southern Rhodesia finds legitimacy amongst my research participants. The crisis in 2000 and the events leading up to it play their role in strengthening ideas about ‘racial nature’. This section will shed light on the path to the crisis and attempt to debunk myth that contributes to ‘racial nature’. Furthermore, this history should shed further light on the role and significance of race in Southern Rhodesia and Zimbabwe. With this, we may further comprehend why race consumes the Zimbabwean psyche and plays out through masculinity amongst these men. Furthermore, it is not insignificant that much of this history speaks about the white farming community. Six of the eight participants interviewed were directly related to farming in some capacity, as were many of the Zimbabweans met during my time in Pretoria.
When it became clear in 1908 that the British colony, Southern Rhodesia, offered no significant gold deposits like the Witwaterstrand in South Africa, “the country’s first ‘white agricultural policy’ was formulated, [and] aimed at attracting European settlers to take up farming [by offering] credit and loan facilities.” (Pilossof 2011: 14) By 1925, it is estimated that 2500 farmers occupied 50% of the country. Keen to attract “good stock”, the white immigrants that entered Southern Rhodesia were mainly skilled and financially secure British immigrants arriving from Europe and South Africa. The white immigrant population was estimated at around 200 000 during the post world war 2 period, although some estimates reckon this number was closer to 600 000 which would remain its highest in history; of these, white farmers increased to over 6000, also the highest number the country would ever see.
Farming mainly tobacco, the period saw significant economic growth but the perception that farmers during this time were fully autonomous, industrious and carving their future by hard work and ingenuity have become exaggerated ideals in later generations, and are idealised sentiments shared by many of my participants. “The reality was something very different. Weakness in the face of uncertain markets, fierce competition, buyers outside their control, and often hostile natural forces at home, meant that survival depended upon legislative measures which… generally created conditions in which white settlers were most likely to survive.” (Hodder-Williams 1983: 174, cited in Pilossof 2011: 17).
White confidence encouraged a move to independence and this became an ideological priority for many white settlers, urban and rural alike. But this independence did not include a black vote despite the fact that in the late 1950s the first proposition for a black government was put forward by a white leader, the leader of the United Federal Party, Sir Edgar Whitehead. This was vehemently rejected by an influential farming community and the right-wing Rhodesian Front (RF) won the 1962 elections. Under the leadership of Ian Smith, a farming man, Southern Rhodesia declared a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain in 1965 that brought about economic isolation crippling the agricultural industry. Profitability fell by half in three years and tobacco was worst affected (Pilossof 2011: 20).
What is significant during the UDI period (1965 – 1979) was that white farming was forced to diversify its yield in the face of the tobacco collapse. For many, food crop farming became a new way to sustain during this tumultuous period. Perceptions of white agriculture in Southern Rhodesia as proclaimed in popular media and confidently amongst many of these men, are concerned with the white contribution and its contribution alone to food security. Although this brackets some truth, Southern Rhodesia up until at least 1970 was fed mostly by black agriculture as whites’ focus remained profitable industrial crops like tobacco. But from 1965, “black agriculture… was systematically undermined through a series of legislative measures and vast subsidy of white agriculture.” (Pilossof 2011: 20) The metaphor often used in tandem with white agricultural contribution in Zimbabwe is the “bread basket of Africa”. This understanding of white agriculture is only partially true. Circumstances and legislation under economic isolation would play their role in converting the “bread basket” white. It meant that by 1977, 6000 white farmers had access to 100 times more credit than estimated 600 000 black peasant farmers (ibid.)
It was only in 1975 when the war for independence really began to unsettle white rule. Mozambique’s independence had opened the eastern border of Southern Rhodesia allowing a safe haven for guerrilla strategy. The Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) gained momentum through their military wings and eventually forced an agreement with the RF at Lancaster House, Britain. After thousands of lives lost, both black and white, the new and united ZANU-PF brokered a deal for independence and Robert Mugabe took office in 1980. With its new constitution, the new Zimbabwe brought with it the promise of peace and important legislature for Zimbabwe’s land woes (Pilossof 2011: 24). This included the “willing seller, willing buyer” clause that guaranteed white land security for at least a decade, but its lack of real conviction as a tool to tackle land redistribution would prove more of a failure than a hope for future white and black reconciliation (Ibid., 24).
Initial white fears of black revenge following independence stemmed from Robert Mugabe’s famed rhetoric that all white settlers would lose every inch of their land. But a change of tone in the 80s saw an optimistic racial dynamic develop that ensured peace for two decades, although it was only in the 80s that the relationship between government and white society could be described as good. Under black government, white confidence grew again. But despite optimism, land remained a contentious issue when by the end of the decade some 4319 farmers still owned 29 percent of the land (Pilossof 2011: 27). The fault lay not only in the general white unwillingness to participate in the “willing seller, willing buyer” clause, but weak government determination regarding land redistribution and the poor implementation of the legislation.
By 1990, the Lancaster agreement had expired and the internal dynamics of ZANU-PF were shifting. Pressure from within the party and external pressures from uncompensated war veterans saw an attitude shift in Robert Mugabe. His decreasing popularity continued throughout the 90s and it led him to use the land issue as an electioneering tool. He began framing white farmers as the cause of Zimbabwean woes (Pilossof 2011: 30). Despite these changing dynamics, whites still enjoyed a period of exceptional wealth in the 1990s. The introduction of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) in 1990 saw a shift to neoliberalism. “Designed to resolve the economic woes caused by excessive state borrowing and a balance-of-payment crisis, a key tenet of ESAP was market liberalisation. This allowed white farmers access to hitherto restricted yet lucrative export markets” (Ibid., 30) As consequence, a surge in tobacco and horticulture enterprises exploded and by 1997 much unused white land was made useful by these and wildlife enterprises.
In spite of a hardening approach to land redistribution, only 2 percent of white land was sold to government between 1990 and 1997 (Pilossof 2011: 33). In the context of growing inequality with the introduction ESAP, Mugabe exploited this volatile situation to highlight the wealth of white farmers. But still, the president endured further criticism, and in an attempt to strengthen his support in 1997, Mugabe sent Zimbabwe into economic turmoil when he awarded millions in payments and pensions to war veterans as compensation for the war on independence. Keen to exploit Mugabe’s troubles, the newly formed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) attempted to challenge for power. But Mugabe’s tyrannical tendencies sought to undermine the MDC with an attempt to change the constitution in February 2000 by awarding himself more presidential power and by framing Britain as financially responsible for land redistribution in Zimbabwe. These attempts failed. Embarrassed and publicly disgraced, his scorn turned to white farmers and he unleashed a wave of co-ordinated and violent land grabs (Ibid., 36)
Much of the history from 2000 is well covered in popular media and this report will pay little attention to the events that unfolded. But two important points must be understood at this point in Zimbabwean history that have, in their own way, worked to cement ‘racial nature’. The first is the extent of the crisis and how it affected black people. As much of the land grabbing had to do with recruiting the black rural vote through intimidation, hundreds of thousands of black farm workers were displaced and thousands killed since 2000, not to mention the 3-4 million who fleed to South Africa after the economic collapse (Pasura 2010: 147). A victim mindset amongst some of my participants may be evidence of the fact that they battle, at the very least, to weigh their loss against their black brethren. This is not meant to undermine the pain, loss and victimisation that many of these white men experienced during this time and the many very sad stories I uncovered. But a feeling of victimisation in some instances has clearly contributed to racial tension and often looks to ‘racial nature’ for comprehension.
Secondly, ‘the crisis’ has come to be understood as the government versus whites, or more vaguely Mugabe versus whites, and in this, implicitly frames all of black society as against the events that unfolded in 2000. In this, subtly, lies a belief that all of Zimbabwean black society condoned the status quo before ‘the crisis’ unfolded with the exception of one dictator and a few of his cronies. Found in this understanding is a faint comment on the natural being of white superiority. According to this logic, if black society did not support Mugabe, it would mean that it was natural and okay for whites to have excessive wealth and land in Zimbabwe. This misunderstanding however, masks the extensive support for radical land reform. Mahmood Mandani (2008) is most illuminating when we seek to understand how popular land grabbing really was and comments, controversially, that in hindsight, the year 2000 (the beginning of the crisis) will come to be understood as the true dawn of Zimbabwean independence (Mandani 2008: 3)
Together, this skewed reading of Zimbabwean history leading to ‘the crisis’, and in some ways ‘the crisis’ itself, has left space in where ‘black nature’ and ‘white nature’ is further solidified in modern Zimbabwe.
Claiming citizenship and the invigoration of white pride
‘Racial nature’ amongst some of these men has created a trap. Our participants condone racism by the very ‘nature’ that racism constructed in the first place. From this vantage point, white pride is held together by racial ‘nature’. But ‘racial nature’ alone does not account for the invigoration of white pride since 2000. This section will argue, through Rory Pilossof’s ‘affirmative parochialism’, that white pride is invigorated since 2000.
Rory Pilossof (2011) believes that ‘affirmative parochialism’ “is a useful way to understand the widely articulated discourse of ‘apoliticism’ within the white farming community.” (Pilosoff 2011: 70) By understanding ‘affirmative parochialism’ as a chosen strategy between 1980 and 2000, we may come to comprehend being proudly white in 2014. White society undertook an apolitical strategy post 1980 that involved removing themselves from politics with the hope that whites’ worth as an economic agents would be valuable enough to secure a future in Zimbabwe. White isolation from politics and black society in general, termed ‘affirmative parochialism’, was meant to thwart potential political tension and allow white progress and political progress to gain in tandem while remaining separate from each other (Pilossof 2011: 71). But this isolation was undone in February 2000 when whites politicised themselves in the hope of overturning the constitutional referendum; whites took to allying the MDC to displace an increasingly tyrannical Mugabe at Zimbabwe’s helm to secure their own future in Zimbabwe.
When white farmers in 2000 – and by extension white society – became threatened by domination and stigmatisation, they had no choice but to self-politicise in an effort to claim citizenship i.e. being a Zimbabwean with rights. “Claiming citizenship cannot be done without being political” (Pilossof 2011: 71) and being political became necessary in an environment where ZANU-PF questioned white citizenship. The effort to reclaim themselves as not only belonging economically, but rather belonging as citizens with rights was an attempt find place in Zimbabwe by merely being of Zimbabwe – and by extension, of Africa.
In this light, I argue now that for these men, being a proud Zimbabwean and African in 2014 may be best understood as the demonstration of the efforts of re-politicisation, an effort claiming citizenship, of belonging to a Zimbabwean constitution and securing a place and future in Zimbabwe by merely being of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwean pride amongst our participants cannot be understood as merely consequence of post-1980 nationalism as the nation-building project was fairly insignificant and insincere. Rather, Zimbabweaness and being proud thereof has much to do with claiming citizenship and by extension security and place in Zimbabwe than abstract notions of patriotism.
But how does Zimbabwean pride amongst our participants translate to white pride? As it is ‘racial nature’ that separates many of these men from black Zimbabweans by virtue of a perceived natural difference, these men consider themselves inherently different to black Zimbabweans. For these men, being a proud Zimbabwean means being a proud white Zimbabwean; proud of a nationality embodied by white tradition, history, and the nostalgia of white memories carved in sport, schooling and a love for the outdoors. For these men, being proudly Zimbabwean is forever bound with the idiom of ‘white culture’. In this, they cannot be proudly Zimbabwean without implicitly or explicitly being proudly white; and if being proudly Zimbabwean is invigorated, so too is white pride.
White pride is very much a part of white Zimbabwean identity and plays out in a variety of ways; most notably, in these men, through masculinity.
On race and masculinity: degrees of separation
Most participants embody a hegemonic masculinity expressed through racism. I observed that being a white, male Zimbabwean requires certain behaviour and most often the rules governing this behaviour are laid out racially in such a way that the key attribute of this masculinity is defined by being racist. In many instances, it became clear that the more openly racist you were, the more likely you were of being included as ‘one of the buggers’. Racism, I observed, was the key to gain entry into this masculinity. From this angle, forming friendships with like-minded white men requires certain racial understandings of the world. Empathy and sympathy with black society is a feminine trait that shows weakness and I came to learn, for the most part, that it is unacceptable. This will be unpacked in this and the following section. Other aspects that define this masculinity include excessive drinking, a love for sports, homophobia, misogyny and a gentleman-like politeness. But these were so often tied with the understanding of race, or described in racial terms, that this masculinity requires the understanding of race and racism for its comprehension.
Consequently, digesting racism amongst our participants must be understood in two ways: firstly, through competing masculinities in South Africa and their degrees of separation from a core group of white Zimbabweans. This core consists of my particpants. Secondly, to be tackled afterwards, masculinity’s form and how it is bound by racial rules. These observations will shed light on a hegemonic masculinity expressed through racism and how this masculinity competes with other masculinities in South Africa. The core group is made up of most of my eight participants and many of the white Zimbabwean men I met during my research. But worth mentioning, of the main group of friends I was most associated with, ‘the buggers’, it is not insignificant that the few Zimbabweans who seemed slightly distanced from this group happen to share more racially liberal views during interviews. This may suggest something about the key to male inclusion amongst these men and its relationship to racism.
The first layer from the core consists of white South Africans, in which I found myself. The second layer consists of black Zimbabweans and the third layer of black South Africans. To understand these degrees of separation, language is an important analytical tool. How far you were placed from the core was defined by the language white Zimbabweans felt was appropriate to use in your presence.
Within the core, and between the core and the first layer, racist slurs are openly used, which is possible because of an unspoken-of, collective white trust or empathy. Whispered out of ear shot of the second and third layer, racist slurs were common amongst some of our participants. But these slurs were not just confined to name calling, but also to describing unfavourable actions considered black in nature, for example, being drunk, careless, socially inappropriate, inadequate at sport or disloyal.
Mark about a drunk white friend:
It was embarrassing, he drinks like a R.
Jason about a very drunk white friend who was inappropriately speaking to girls:
I have never seen him act like that; like a proper white R.
Jack about a friend’s bad driving:
You drive like a R, chum.
Chris about a white rugby player who he feels should not be on the field of play.
He tackles like a R.
Mark about one of his white friends whom he was fighting with at the time:
That guy lately is real white R. He never comes out with us anymore.
This language was mostly confined to fellow white Zimbabweans, but was often used in the company of white South Africans of the first layer. Although there was certainly no secret language within the core that excluded the first layer, I did learn that reversing certain words excluded some people who were not friends or black, and enabled certain sentiments to be shared in public while remaining secret. Reversing the word ‘baboons’ for example, spelt ‘snoobabs’ and its racial connotation needs no further explanation.
Competitive but friendly nationalism was a significant factor identifying a friendship between the core and the first layer. Proudly Zimbabweans often made their presence known by openly inserting into conversation, and white South Africans often playfully antagonised Zimbabweans about sport or politics; doing so said something about their own pride. When South Africans were described as different it was mostly playful banter.
Significantly, race, that is being white, and not nationality, was the most important key to gain entry into the masculinity of the core. Although black Zimbabweans were often in and around the core, and as will be discussed are often well liked, being Zimbabwean alone was not enough for entry. Black Zimbabweans do not share a hegemonic masculinity with our participants because so much about not being a man for these white men is described racially, which makes it impossible to be black and be included as ‘one of the buggers’. As manliness is so much associated with ‘white nature’, this masculinity excludes ‘black nature’.
I did not observe racist slurs between the core and the second layer (of black Zimbabweans) during my time with them but friendly racial banter was common for example, a black Zimbabwean once commented how his white counterparts could go out at night in shorts and not get cold –
It must be a “white thing”.
All interactions I observed between the core and the second layer were inter-racial friendships between people from similar economic backgrounds i.e. many of these black Zimbabweans had attended the same schools or are in the same university residence as the core. About these black Zimbabweans, the core often spoke fondly and many were friends; they were of a certain type of black Zimbabwean that was acceptable. Significantly, it is class that grants them temporary inclusion into hegemonic masculinity, but this inclusion is often incomplete:
I grew up with black friends all around me. After school we’d all play playstation and have a great time.
He goes on to say later in the interview:
I’m not saying I’m not racist, I am a bit
It seemed a common theme that many of my participants were simultaneously able to have inter-racial friendships and share racist views at the same time. They were able to genuinely like some black Zimbabweans whilst remaining sceptical about ‘black nature’.
When we grew up, we were taught not to mix with blacks.
Later in the interview about a black friend:
Ya he’s my friend. He’s a very chilled guy. He’s not like a real R, you know?
How these men interact with the second layer is mashed with hypocrisy and leniency and says much about the acceptable traits of their masculinity. These traits are intimately bound with a right type of blackness and this will be discussed in the following section.
Between the core and the third layer I observed few interactions similar to that between the core and the second layer. But black South Africans had little to with white Zimbabweans in general. Certainly, both working class black Zimbabweans and South Africans had little to do with whites where I conducted my research.
On race and masculinity: paternalism, the right type of blackness and ‘playing the game’
“Hegemonic masculinity is a key element of patriarchy” (Morell 1998: 608). In southern Africa where patriarchy and racial ideology combine during colonialism, hegemonic masculinity is acted out in fatherly terms. In this racial arena, the boss is the father and the father is the boss. He repels competing masculinities with the belief in his own version of masculinity. In this, his manliness requires him to continually reinforce his own masculinity in the presence of “working class, black and gay men” (Ibid., 2). He takes his place at the head of the table with the confidence about the “truth” of ‘racial nature’. But even in this confidence, we find leniency and hypocrisy.
The expanse of the Karoo really thickens a conversation and allows you to dip in and out of different conversations with no real rush towards an end. For the journey’s end comes quicker by rowing gently through conversation. “Now Kariba is beautiful,” he said with a longing sigh as if the vastness and dryness of the Karoo seemed to emphasise his point.
“I’ve read so much about it. It was very destructive, wasn’t it?” I asked, “Apparently it flooded thousands of hectares and so many people lost their land along the Zambezi.”
“But the hydro-electric power was worth it,” he retorted. “You have to look at like this, Kyle. If a child doesn’t want to go to school, the dad makes him go. The child might not know the importance of going to school but he will realise it in time.”
“Paternal/maternal relationships are better than overtly racial ones.” (Pilossof 2011: 167) Some of the racism that I encountered was subtly delivered in paternal undertones. This is inherited from a settler understanding that “the Africans were ‘like children’, ‘indolent’ and ‘simple’ and required supervision in order to move to a more advanced stage” (Kennedy 1987: 163, cited Alexander 2004: 196).
Jack about his experience returning to an occupied family farm in Zimbabwe:
We were there to help them but they weren’t even interested. They never are.
This patriarchal attitude is a key tenant of this masculinity. It is “predicated on structured inequality that required the perpetual adolescence of the junior partner. It left [blacks] with no room for either psychological or economic growth.’ (Charles van Onselen 1996, cited in Pilossof 2011: 167) In acting like father, it enabled possession:
Shaun about his black staff in Zimbabwe.
Our blacks back in Zim love us. We’re very close. They’re like family.
Being treated as a perpetual child signifies, subtly, understandings of how black Africans are supposed to be. Happy, friendly, polite and submissive traits often associated with children are widely shared by these white men as acceptable traits in black men. These are admirable black traits and contribute to a right type of blackness.
Daniel about a resident black friend:
He is different, unique, a proper good oke. I remember once I needed a book and he willingly leant me his. He is always so polite and chilled and always wants to help.
Although such traits are admirable, many times my participants would be in the company of white men that were not so “polite and chilled” but rather aggressive and obnoxious. Nonetheless, these were admired traits amongst white men in some instances. When displayed by black men however, these traits were never considered appropriate. They rivaled hegemonic masculinity, which is unacceptable. In whites however, they were widely accepted.
Daniel, speaking about a white friend (whom we shall call Adam) about a fight at a club:
So this random was chatting and getting loud and Adam just appeared out of nowhere and smacked the shit out of him. I have never laughed so hard in my life. What a legend.
Black personality confined to the polite optimism and the respect of youth is acceptable. I came to digest that aggressive, opinionated, patronising or merely confident black men were less acceptable. These traits threaten hegemonic masculinity and a white authority. Nowhere was this clearer than with the interactions with black authority (in the form of police, club bouncers, security guards or lecturers) who were, by virtue of their work, in positions of power. Black authority is unacceptable as it undermines the patriarchy that is exclusively reserved for the masculinity of these white men. In their demonstration of power, black men were almost always considered abusive. The abuse of power was considered by and large a trait of ‘black nature’.
Daniel when being told to move off of university lawns by a black security guard:
He thought he was so great, a “big man”, telling us that we couldn’t play soccer on those lawns.
Mark at a nightclub:
That bouncer is the biggest R I have ever seen. He always has an issue with me.
Furthermore, financial position i.e. black people with excessive money were often framed in an unacceptable light. Almost always treated with scepticism about the legitimacy of the work done to deserve to it, it says much about ideas of ‘black nature’ and hard work. It can be deduced that friendships between the core and the second layer are friendships within the parameters laid out by the right type of blackness and these parameters are almost never compromised except in situations where undesirable blackness is ignored for a greater white good. This will now be analysed.
David McDermott Hughes (2010) has been most successful in explaining how rural whites have adapted to their social and political environment through ‘playing the game’ (Hughes 2010: 101). By engaging tactfully with black society, these rural whites have begun to “figure out how to exist alongside and in engagement with black society around them”( Hughes 2010: 140). He suggests that the very future of whites in Zimbabwe hinges on being able to master this adaptation. In Pretoria, ‘playing the game’ seems to manifest when certain unacceptable masculinities are ignored for a greater white good. Often, bouncers at night clubs, hated for their authority, were rewarded with drinks and friendly banter for what they could do for my participants in the event of a fight. But more significantly, on several occasions I was made aware of certain black men with undesirable traits who warranted certain concessions and an extended façades of friendship because of their proximity to Zimbabwean government and industry – and so a likeliness to become financially successful in future. The political and economic influence of these black men was considered strength enough to bend the parameters of the right type of blackness. This, for many of my participants, is necessary hypocrisy and seemed to be the only time when they allowed their masculinity to bend its own rules and include traditionally unacceptable black men.
When the news about the land grabbing came streaming in from Zimbabwe in 2000, it unsettled many white South Africans. It was only a matter of time before ‘our blacks’ caught on, and like ‘their Zimbabwean friends’ to the north, they too would take our farms and destroy us – because that’s what they do, that is their nature. Barely twelve, I remember a sense of relief about not being Zimbabwean and so not victim to the ‘injustice’ born north. I didn’t want to be attacked for being pale, or blue-eyed, or for being the son of men and women who looked like that, burnt red from the African sun. Fourteen years later, and a lifetime of events digested, it was still very real for many people. He turned to me, and with pure, white confidence, he whispered through wet-beer, Zimbabwean lips: “Don’t be naïve; South Africa will be like Zimbabwe.” With these words, his masculinity reached out to me and invited me in. I was, after all, of ‘white nature’ apparently, very much a part of the white Southern African story, and in this, he found solace and comfort. “Mark my words,” he continued, “This is Africa. The Rs will fuck it up.”
The border between South Africa and Zimbabwe is 225 kilometres long. It holds on either side two countries similar in many ways and filled with people who have long identified on a range of social, political and economic issues. With histories born in colonialism and segregation, and independence in hope, South Africa and Zimbabwe have long been emotional neighbours in the Southern African struggle for peace and prosperity. But because of their shared history and similarities, South Africa is often conflated with Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe with South Africa. They have become, for many of my participants, images of the same country on different time scales, both victim to ‘black nature’ and possess within them, like the rest of Africa, the inevitability for failure.
‘Racial nature’ has bound white pride to a hegemonic masculinity in such a way that being a man, for many of my participants, requires that you understand the world racially with white always on top. Masculinity here is expressed through race. But this masculinity has not always been. Colonialism, politics and economics have given birth to ‘racial nature’ and entrenched it. In the context of the crisis, racial tensions have been reignited and this masculinity has taken on an excessively racial form. Whether or not this type of hegemonic masculinity is real for other white Zimbabwean men in different contexts, only further research can hope to uncover. But for many of my research participants – not all – this is the masculinity that embodies them.
Many of my participants have fallen into a racial trap. They condone racism by the very myths that racism constructed in the first place. Because of this, they battle comprehend that “it is the racist who creates his inferior” (Fanon 1952: 69). In this light, are they innocent in the racial struggle that torments Zimbabwe? Are they merely cuffed passengers, victims of history, embodying a masculinity that they never asked to inherit? Perhaps. But some of the white Zimbabwean men I met were not racist and they grew up alongside my participants and attended the same schools and now the same university. How have they defied history and been released from this battle of colour? Together, how will all white Zimbabwean men forge masculinity for their sons? As a white South African, I personally yearn to understand race. In this research, I have found some solace unearthing, at least partially, the pigment that has long shackled me and defined my being in Southern Africa. About our men, about our masculinity, what can this research reveal about us?
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 Afrikaans slang for a first year resident. Vreemies perform chores for the older students and cannot say no when ordered to do something unless ready to commit social suicide.
 Racist profanity referring to a black person. All Rs in this piece are racist profanities and have been deliberately withheld for this site.
 Slang meaning friend/man.
 “Our Zimbabwe”, composed and performed by patriot Henry Olonga (2003) is a song celebrating Zimbabwean diversity, reconciliation and the essence of Olonga’s “Zimbabweaness”. Henry Olonga attempts to stir feelings of national pride and unity, and emphasises that Zimbabwe is a home for all who live in it. In light of this piece, it is especially popular amongst white Zimbabwean youth who sing it during moments of bonding and brotherhood at this student residence at UP. Significantly, Olonga was the first black Zimbabwe international cricketer – traditionally a white sport. Olonga is also known for his public disapproval of the Zimbabwean government, and his life was threatened after wearing a black armband in the ICC 2003 cricket world cup signifying the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.
 Racist profanity referring to a black person. All Rs in this piece are racist profanities and have been deliberately withheld for this site.
 There is little agreement on this number and it changes from source to source.
 The clause was meant to tackle land redistribution and relied on white farmers’ willingness to sell their land to government. The clause, as written at Lancaster, was given ten years to work.
 Slang for friend/mate.