I did an obscure English module on African literature. One of the books was Heart of Darkness, which was not really ‘African’ but boring as hell and written from a white patriarchal viewpoint. This was followed by Things Fall Apart which I preferred but also detested as the other extreme.
It reinforced how I generally have issues with books written about the ‘dark continent’, especially if the literature moves southwards to places and people I may recognise.
I’m just finishing Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. I sent an interview she did to a friend of mine who hilariously pointed out how the American interviewer kept referring to her time in ‘Africa’ and she kept going ‘no, just Malawi, Zim and Zaire’. Because, of course, to many abroad, Africa is just one very large country, treating it like the old Soviet Union or China, no discrimination placed on the different tribes and cultures within the large landmass.
The book pulled at my heartstrings because she, like me, will always associate herself with Africa, no matter how long she is away. Ironically so does her father although he only moved there after meeting her mother there on a gap year. This is what the continent does to you.
Near the end of the book is the description of the Zimbabwe I heard about in my childhood, the one where people condescendingly said the country would fall apart as land was repossessed, displacing farmers and their staff, many who had been on the land for decades and knew nowhere else.
It was like Gone with the Wind all over again. The stories of how farm clinics, schools, stores were all shut as the whites had to pull out and fend for themselves leaving behind those in need they had always protected. The argument being freedom has been granted, all men are equal now. The reality that the unequal system also offered protection to those least educated, least able to support themselves. Just as you took care of your property, you took care of the assets on it.
Of course in the long run this is unfair. But so is a blanket land repossession that just displaces everyone there before and offers no protection to the weak.
I’m not sure what the solution is. How does a government manage a slow transition turning farms into cooperatives where people aren’t scared off the places they have lived for years ? How do you educate and be educated in how to manage a large farm rather than a series of sharecropping plots, where people all benefit from the prosperity of good land management and a more equal society?
Oh, there are token examples spread about but these are the exceptions not the rule. In many cases these farmlands were better sustained under their previous owners who’d had decades to learn how to manage large properties.
I worry that my country, my beloved country, could undergo a similar renaissance. And it’s not that I don’t want every man, woman, child, to have equal right to water, housing, education, a place to call home. I just don’t know how you do that fairly.
And how you explain to those receiving that it also means this gift comes with the caveat that ownership also means sacrifice. That when something truly is yours you have to be willing to suffer through the bad times too, there is no government, no baas, no guarantees to social assistance.
Because this is Africa. And these are not first world issues but tangled third world ones with generations of hate, history, oppression only slowly dissipating away.