Diana Mitchell – an important Zimbabwean journalist and archivist
I was delighted to be told of Diana Mitchell’s memoir and bought it immediately. Its 300 pages are densely packed with Diana’s personal and political life over the period when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. It isn’t a quick read for me – every page contains so much that relates to my life and experience in powerful ways that I do have to take it slowly so that I’m not overwhelmed by the weight of her information. The strongest emotion I have is a deep regret that I never got to meet Diana. We were divided by a border and a war, but not by shared values or interests.
What made the Europeans:- the French, the British and the Germans and the rest so successful at building their empires? What made them so cruel in the execution of their power? Was it that thin epidermal layer that covered their bodies yet provided minimal pigmentation protection? Did their skin colouration make them evil? Did it make them successful? Technology and industrialisation propelled the Eempires of the European nations into world domination and power. They borrowed and adapted skills and knowledge developed in the Middle and the Far East using triangular sails and guns and gunpowder to conquer, kill and enslave. It seems that humans got better and better at doing it. Exploitation, cruelty, genocide and slavery are not new behaviour for humans and they are with us today,driven by the same human desires for power, domination and money.
Art and storytelling 200 years later by a distant descendant.
Born into the British Empire during the Second World War in a colonial country that no longer exists, I’ve been flung around in a turbulent vortex of political and personal change. My art and my writing are the ways I hang on to the world spinning around me. I have no answers, just more questions – I fly around a disintegrating centre – illustrating what I don’t know or understand by writing and making art. I’ve just published my seventh book – When We Were Wicked – two short memoirs and ten short and shorter stories about saints and sinners in a wicked world. It follows my memoir When I Was Bad which tells of how I tried to be good in a colonial world and was bad in an apartheid regime.
Burying a living soul and the death I was responsible for
When Mike walked back into my flat that day back in 1968, he was dead. His face was rigid. His eyes stared blindly. “My father buried me.” Mike spoke as if every word was a stone placed on his own grave. “Dad held a funeral service in the synagogue and said Kaddish for me.”
I was the reason that my then-boyfriend, later to be my ex-husband, Mike, was dead. I was not Jewish. Mike could not marry me and we ought not to live together. I knew that from school, university, and political friends as well as from Mike and his closest friends. Mike had helped me find a flat to rent and, despite this religious prohibition, he had moved in with me and my child, only occasionally going home to his parents for Shabbat. Mike’s friends and cousins were part of their close-knit community as well as ours, so it was inevitable that his parents would find out that we lived together. When they heard about it, Mike’s parents ordered me to visit them. They screamed at me for a while, then told me to go, but Mike and I continued to live together. It was a few months later when Mike’s father symbolically buried his son. It was an extreme act in any faith, in any family. Years later, Mike’s Uncle Sid told me that he had feared his son would also “marry out” but he said, shaking his head, “I’d never have buried him.” Mike’s uncles disapproved of his father’s action but kept their fingers crossed till their own children married. I don’t think Mike’s mother took part, either. If Mike’s father had not rejected and buried him if instead, he had said he loved him I doubt that Mike would have married me. We wouldn’t have gone on to have children and grandchildren together and our lives would have taken different paths.
At school, we learnt to declaim poetry. It was mostly heroic stuff designed to inspire patriotism and action like Felicia Dorothea Heman’s Casabiancaabout filial duty and Thomas Macaulay’s incredibly lengthy poem Horatius at the Bridgeabout courage. We weren’t taught to make poetry, and poetry was never going to be about us and our lives. Even though this kind of verse was stirring stuff, we were made to believe that poems were for girls and sissies and Valentine cards – unless, of course, it was very rude, crude and a limerick recited while banging a beer bottle on the table. Poetry, we were instructed, must follow strict rules and formulations. It has to have metre and rhyme and needs to be recited in that reverential ‘poet’s voice’ so that you know it’s only for especially sensitive, gifted and educated persons. Poetry was always going to be beyond and above ordinary people like me. I found this interesting 2014 article by Rich Smith about the Poet’s voice online and I quote him here. “[Sentimentality is giving] to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it.” ‘Poet Voice’ gives to the poem more tenderness than the poet gave it. Potentially wonderful poems are made cheesy.” I think that what I dislike about the reverential treatment of poetry is that it suggests it’s for an elite. It isn’t – it’s for everybody and for me!