You might want to have a strong drink before you read this hard hitting piece in The Guardian. This long read comes from Dr Simukai Chigudu, a Zimbabwean academic in Oxford University. It talks about the world from the perspective of an affluent black Zimbabwean but this piece is just as relevant for Indians struggling to find their identity in a post-Colonial world.
Before we get into the article, here is why articles such as this one and the one written last year by the Chinese thinker Wang Huning (see https://marcellus.in/story/
Dr Chigudu’s journey towards deracination begins with an experience that those of us who have been educated in red brick schools are familiar with: “…it starts most directly in January 1999, when I was 12 years old. That was when my parents first drove me from our home on the outskirts of the city through the imposing black gates of St George’s College, Harare. Dressed in a red blazer, red-and-white striped tie, khaki shirt and shorts, grey knee-high socks and a cartoonishly floppy red hat, I looked like an English schoolboy on safari. As our car climbed towards the college, I peered up in awe at the granite castle tower, crowned with a full set of crenellations, that dominates the grounds. It was as if I had entered one of the last redoubts of Britain’s global imperium.”
These sorts of schools have their own trials & tribulations, their own rituals which create a mindset which deemphasises the local (in this case the Zimbabwean) heritage and glorifies the West: “At 7.25am on my first day, the school bell rang, and I joined the other boys in their red blazers filing into the Beit Hall. The hall was named after an Anglo-German gold and diamond magnate who employed Rhodes when the latter first arrived in southern Africa. As I glanced upward to an interior balcony, I noticed a series of polished mahogany panels with gold lettering bearing the names of Old Georgians who had won the Rhodes scholarship, which sends about 100 international graduates to study at Oxford every year. I could see that most of the names belonged to white students.
During the assembly, new pupils were informed that we had a two-week grace period in which to master the college’s peculiar traditions and hierarchies. We would then be tested on school history and expected to follow local custom to a T. Over the grace period, I anxiously crammed the college mottoes, the names of all the prefects and captains of sports, the history of the founding fathers and the first six pupils to attend the college, the numbers of Old Georgians who had died in the first and second world wars. At Saints, this was the past that seemed to matter most.
Discipline was important, too. I quickly learned to live in fear of the prefects, senior boys entrusted with meting out punishments for even the most minor transgressions. A careless misstep could result in manual labour – a routine punishment where we had to dig fields and carry bricks for hours in the heat of an unforgiving sun. Even worse was the threat of being sent to the headmaster for “cuts”. I imagined the headmaster’s cane whipping across my tender buttocks, raising a fine welt of swollen tissue.”
So why did Dr Chigudu’s parents send him to such a school? For the same reason that we send our kids to prestigious schools and our parents sent us to such schools: “Following independence, my father joined Zimbabwe’s civil service, and he and my mother began a suburban life that was modest in means but not in aspiration for their son. St George’s appealed to them, as it did to many Black families like ours, because of the cultural and social foothold it provided. Boys from Saints regularly went on to study at Oxford, or play on Zimbabwe’s celebrated national cricket team.”
In such schools the education that a child gets, almost by design, almost totally the cuts the child off from the world around him or her: “I started to apply myself seriously in my studies. I refused to be defeated by Thomas Hardy’s dense prose, I agonised over the difference between ionic and covalent bonds, I memorised Latin noun declensions. I began to excel academically, and found the success intoxicating. But as I grew in enthusiasm for Saints, I failed to notice another way that colonialism was still operating at the college: we were learning almost nothing about the troubled country that lay beyond those black gates.”
Dr Chigudu’s essay goes on to explain how it has taken him the rest of his life to come to terms with this deracination and how getting the colonialist Cecil Rhodes’ statue removed the middle of Oxford was a form of catharsis. That sub-story itself makes for a riveting read. However, there is one more aspect on deracination which this essay focuses on which is worth highlighting – the impact of deracination on the politics of the deracinated society – it is Zimbabwe in this instance but Indians can just as easily identify with the following excerpt: “Throughout the 90s, the government of Robert Mugabe, who had been in power since independence, had lost popular support. Corruption, economic austerity, the country’s involvement in a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a failure to fully address the fundamental problem of who owned Zimbabwe’s land – white settlers or Black Africans – all threatened Mugabe’s power. A new political party arose that claimed to stand against Mugabe and for the values of democracy and civil rights.
Mugabe responded by blaming all of Zimbabwe’s problems on its history of colonialism. And no figure was more foundational to that history than Cecil Rhodes. In 1877, Rhodes called for the British, “the finest race in the world”, to rehabilitate “the most despicable of human beings” by bringing them under British dominion. Two decades later, he paid for the conquest of Rhodesia with the profits he had extracted from Black labourers in his South African gold and diamond mines. After seizing land from Africans, Rhodes’s British South Africa Company forced them to toil on it as indentured labourers. As one early biographer put it, Rhodes “used blacks ruthlessly … giving them wages that made them little better than slaves”. This was the basis for the apartheid regime that existed in Rhodesia until political independence.
It was true that Rhodes was a racist and imperialist who built a society based on racism and exploitation. But Mugabe used this history to deny the corruption of his own regime. He made white farmers the scapegoats for the country’s economic problems and tarred the opposition as un-African. He argued that the values his political rivals stood for were a cover for neoliberal policies that, like colonialism before them, would only serve to exploit Zimbabwe on behalf of the west. Real nationalism, Mugabe said, was about finishing the anti-colonial liberation struggle by taking back the land.”
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