Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa

4.5 10
by Peter Godwin

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Mukiwa opens with Peter Godwin, six years old, describing the murder of his neighbor by African guerillas, in 1964, pre-war Rhodesia. Godwin's parents are liberal whites, his mother a governement-employed doctor, his father an engineer. Through his innocent, young eyes, the story of the beginning of the end of white rule in Africa unfolds. The memoir follows…  See more details below


Mukiwa opens with Peter Godwin, six years old, describing the murder of his neighbor by African guerillas, in 1964, pre-war Rhodesia. Godwin's parents are liberal whites, his mother a governement-employed doctor, his father an engineer. Through his innocent, young eyes, the story of the beginning of the end of white rule in Africa unfolds. The memoir follows Godwin's personal journey from the eve of war in Rhodesia to his experience fighting in the civil war that he detests to his adventures as a journalist in the new state of Zimbabwe, covering the bloody return to Black rule. With each transition Godwin's voice develops, from that of a boy to a young man to an adult returning to his homeland. This tale of the savage struggle between blacks and whites as the British Colonial period comes to an end is set against the vividly painted background of the myserious world of South Africa.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
January 1998

Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa is the story of Peter Godwin's experiences growing up in Rhodesia. He recounts the story of that country's violent transformation into Zimbabwe, as well as his own personal metamorphoses from privileged boy to reluctant soldier to investigative journalist.

Godwin's story begins, "I think I first realized something was wrong when our next door neighbor, Oom Piet Oberholzer, was murdered. I must have been about five then. It was still five years before the real war would start." The Godwins enjoyed a typical genteel existence in 1960 rural Rhodesia, their household including a "garden boy," a "cook boy," and a nanny. Peter's father managed a wood- and sugarcane-processing plant. His mother, a rural government doctor, was often called to pronounce deaths or conduct autopsies, for which she brought along her "assistant," five-year-old Peter, who was responsible for shooing away the flies.

Godwin's plans for attending college were squashed when he was drafted into the Rhodesian army and assigned to the "Anti-Terrorist Unit," which proved to be an important experience in his life. When he later looked at himself, he saw a man "coursed through with anger and despair. It was the face of someone who would kill an unarmed civilian for withholding information." Disturbed by what he had become, Godwin left Rhodesia after he got out of the army, only to return in 1981 as a journalist. Rhodesia was now Zimbabwe, and the "terrorists" he had reluctantly fought against were now the country's rulers.

Godwin reported on theutterbrutalities in Zimbabwe and the fate of Matabeleland, a black minority region in Zimbabwe. He described the army style of interrogation, in which "before they even began to question you, they would break one wrist," and wrote about the old mines where bodies of the dead were buried. When Godwin's writings received worldwide attention, the Zimbabwean government tried to discredit him, and he received numerous death threats, escaping the country just hours before the police came looking for him.

Mukiwa is not only a memoir but also a compelling adventure story that tells a personal saga that needs to be heard.

Washington Post
From time to time a book comes out of Africa that is so good it grips American readers by their hearts. This should be one of those. Peter Godwin's memoir, Mukiwa, is a book drawing on a vast canvas: the sunset of white rule in Africa..."—The Washington Post

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With humor, portent and melancholy, Godwin (Rhodesians Never Die) recreates his 1960s youth in white Rhodesia. The son of relatively liberal whites, Godwin, through family servants, gained a sense of black African culture, language and religion. His mother, a doctor, helped African women with contraception; Godwin, in one of his wistful flash-forwards, observes that after the country became Zimbabwe, the government saw family planning as racist-but women in this still patriarchal society mutinied. He describes his strange private school-"racial enlightenment within a system of extreme conservatism"-and how he learned, in a job at his father's mine, that he fit in neither with racially unquestioning whites nor with restive blacks. As a policeman sworn to defend his renegade homeland against black guerrillas seeking independence, Godwin found himself pained by guerrilla cruelties to civilians, but shamed by his own role in arresting local leaders. Godwin soon concluded that a black victory was inevitable, and escaped the deepening war for studies in England, trailed by bad dreams. When he returned three years later as a lawyer and journalist, he experienced some peace-a black soldier he met absolved him offhandedly. However, his efforts to uncover the new government's human rights abuses led him to be declared an enemy of the state. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
The insanity of war, the beauty and mystery of Africa, the chaotic death pangs of colonialism, an extraordinary coming-of-age: All swirl hauntingly together in this compelling account of the end of Rhodesia.

A fervid blend of My Traitor's Heart, Dispatches, and Heart of Darkness, Godwin's account ranks with some of the finest war reportage of this century. It is also a ceaselessly honest and evocative memoir. The author, a former war correspondent for the London Sunday Times, was born in the twilight of white rule in Rhodesia. When he was only five, the sporadic guerrilla war spiraled into an incessant orgy of atrocities and atrocious reprisals. Casualties on both sides were horrific. As soon as he graduated from high school, Godwin was rushed off to fight for a state and a cause he no longer believed in. Eventually, he got away to the comparative sanity of England; when peace was finally negotiated, he returned as a journalist, full of high-minded idealism and hope, to what was now called Zimbabwe. He soon found that the new regime was little better than what it had replaced. Majority rule withered as the ruling party viciously turned on the opposition, employing many of the despotic laws enacted by its white predecessors to jail, censor, and intimidate. Then, in the province of Matabeleland, Godwin discovered that government- sanctioned massacres were underway: men, women, children, whole villages exterminated for no other reason than that they belonged to the wrong tribe. A warrant for Godwin's arrest was soon issued, and once again he fled the country. Although a makeshift kind of peace was eventually restored to Zimbabwe, it was more a cause for wariness than celebration.

A remarkable national and personal saga that, even in the darkest of its many dark moments, remains sensitive, insightful, and humane.

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Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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Chapter One

I think I first realized something was wrong when our nextdoor neighbour, oom Piet Oberholzer, was murdered. I must have been about six then. It was still two years before we rebelled against the Queen, and another seven years before the real war would start.

I can remember oom Piet's body lying on the tar road. He was on his back, with the bone handle of a hunting knife sticking out of his chest. Of course I'd seen lots of dead people before, so I wasn't that impressed. In fact I was proud of my familiarity with death. I used to tell other children stories about it, to boost my popularity.

I knew more than other children about dead people because I went with my mother when she dug them up and cut them open. I was allowed to carry her instruments and also to 'be the Chief Fly Sprayer, which were quite important jobs, especially for a small boy.

My mother was a doctor and she wore a white coat. Although most of the people she operated on were alive, some were dead, and these were the ones I helped with.

Oom Piet was the first body that I'd actually known while it was still alive. In that way it was quite interesting. I didn't know him that well, really. He worked as a shift boss at the factory, and although the Oberholzers lived just down the hill from us, we didn't see much of them. They were a big Afrikaans family with lots of geese and about seven kids who had names like Hennie and Dawie and Hettie.

The Oberholzers were the poorest white people I knew. They had gone bust trying to farm, and the dominee, the Dutch Reformed minister, had asked my father to give oom Piet a job, any job. They arrived inSilverstream for the first time in a borrowed pick-up truck. We marvelled at the fact. that the whole family and all their possessions could fit into one load. We had taken up a whole Trek Removal's articulated lorry and trailer when we arrived.

A year after they arrived in Silverstream, there was great excitement when a bed was delivered by the weekly RMS - the Road Motor Services lorry. Oom Piet told my father proudly that now for the first time everyone in the family would be able to sleep in a bed of their own.

The Oberholzers had an old blue VW Kombi which had the engine at the back instead of the front. They'd been in that old blue Kombi the .day oom Piet was murdered.

They were on their way back from a trip to Umtali, oom Piet and his wife and their youngest daughter - when it happened. The reason for their trip wasn't. in the newspapers - not the old ones or the new ones - but I know itfor a fact. We also went to Umtali that day, and we met them on the way.

`Good morning meneer Godwin,' said oom Piet respectfully, to my father.  

`Morning OB,' said my father. Only children called him oom Piet. Oom was Afrikaans for uncle.

`How was the holiday?' asked my father. They had just returned from their first family holiday ever, and they were still terribly excited.

`Ach it was really lekker,' said oom Piet, and he began to describe the holiday in great detail, right down to the meals they had eaten arid where they'd filled up with petrol. My father cut him short after day two, or we would; never have got to Umtah at all..

`Shopping?' enquired my father, conversationally, to show he wasn't really being rude.

'Ach, not really, rneneer, we're going to collect our holiday :photos from Windsor Studios in, town, then we're going to ', show them to our other kids at school. They've never seen photos of themselves before.'

Mrs Oberholzer proudly held up their cheap plastic instamatic camera.

`It's amazing,' she said in wonder. `You don't have to focus it or anything. You just point it and press this little red button here. Even I can use it.'

She laughed in a self-deprecating way, and suddenly she lifted the little camera and took a picture of my father and oom Piet leaning against our car. Much later, she sent us that photo, of oom Piet and my father looking startled. Her note said that it was the last picture of oom Piet alive. In spite of the camera manufacturer's boast, the picture is slightly out of focus. When I looked carefully, I could just see myself in the bottom lefthand corner of the photo, peeping through the car window.

The journey from our house at Silverstream to Umtali, which was the capital of the whole of Manicaland, was about a hundred miles long and it took more than three hours because the road was winding and steep in many places. In those days we still had the old white Austin Westminster, the one that Dad reversed over Bingo the dog and killed him when we were setting off to Melsetter church for a wedding. But he hadn't done that yet and Bingo was still alive.

On the day oom Piet was murdered, we also met Sir Hugo on our way to Umtali, where the road goes through his farm just below Skyline Junction. He was burning some fields,with his farm boys. on the roadside. Sir Hugo, Sebright, I was told, was something called an Old Etonian, though he didn't seem that old, even to me. He looked younger than my father and much, much younger than, Old Mr Boshof on Lemon Kop.

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What People are saying about this

Doris Lessing
"A very good book, the best to come out of the War for Independence in Zimbabwe so far...It is an informative book, full of history, and should be in the library of anyone interested in southern Africa."

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