Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa

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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 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 ...
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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 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.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802141927
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/15/2004
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 344,548
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.24 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Godwin
Peter Godwin

Peter Godwin is an award winning author and journalist. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, he studied law and international relations at Cambridge and Oxford. He worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa and Eastern Europe for The Sunday Times of London. He was founding presenter and writer of Assignment/Correspondent, BBC TV's premier foreign affairs program. He now lives in Manhattan and contributes regularly to National Geographic, New York Times magazine, and BBC Radio, among others.

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Read an Excerpt

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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Interviews & Essays

Before the live chat, Peter Godwin agreed to answer some of our questions.

Q: What do you think about the current state of Zimbabwe?

A: Zimbabwe is effectively a one-party state. President Mugabe has been in power for 17 years now, and his administration has become inefficient, intolerant, and fairly corrupt. But all things are relative, and the country has a lot to be grateful for. It is at peace, people don't generally starve, there is a free-ish press (but radio and TV are tightly controlled), and corruption isn't as bad as it is in many other African countries. I guess it all comes down to whether you view a place against its potential for greatness or its propensity for disaster. Zimbabwe has fallen sadly short of its huge potential, but it could be a hell of a lot worse.

Q: Your career as a journalist (including foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times of London) has led you into many dangerous situations. Is there one event that stands out as a time you seriously questioned your well-being and safety?

A: Looking back on it, there were dozens of situations that defied any sensible cost-benefit audit. My problem was that I often covered obscure, third world wars, which had no direct Western involvement and that our readers cared little about. I remember being in Uganda during a particularly bloody phase of its civil war. We were with the rebels (who now rule the country) and were pinned down by army fire. We could actually see the soldiers up on the slopes of a hill, firing down on us. As we lay there, pretty helpless, I remember thinking, "Few of my readers could even locate this place on a map of the world, still less give a shit." Eventually we were hit by an air burst of a rocket-propelled grenade and peppered with red-hot shrapnel.

Q: Have you read any book recently that just thrilled you?

A: At the moment I'm working on a new novel, and I tend not to read much fiction when I'm actually trying to write. Mostly I've been reading nonfiction: The Road to Hell by Michael Maren is a fascinating account of how the best-intentioned aid to the third world can backfire. Ray Bonner's At the Hand of Man is a meticulous examination of how conservation can become distorted by sentimentality. Graham Boynton's Last Days in Cloud Cuckooland takes an expert and entertaining look at the last whites living in Africa.

Q: What was it like serving in Rhodesia's paramilitary police force?

A: Well, I was a kid basically, when I went in at 17 years old. And I felt like an old man when I came out a couple of years later. It was a civil war, and as such, it was harrowing and confusing and violent, obviously. A lot of people's lives were depending on my decisions. When you live close to death for an extended period of time, you do tend to slim down your philosophy and life view; you tend to prioritize and shed the unimportant stuff, and that's healthy, I think. I went back later and met a number of the guerrillas I had been in action against, and we seemed to have a lot in common; we'd been through the same forging experience, albeit on different sides.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 24, 2009

    A Delight

    I really enjoyed this book...highly recommend it to anyone interested in travel, Africa, geopolitical events, or coming of age stories. Peter Godwin's childhood growing up in the former Rhodesia on the cusp of civil war, his national service in a conflict he didn't support, and the backdrop of a beautiful country all combine to provide a delightful reading experience. I suspect many female readers will be strongly drawn to the sensitive young man growing up on the pages while many males, myself included, will be secretly wishing they had had a childhood as interesting, challenging and full of adventure as his.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2008

    An Insider's View of Zimbabwe

    While traveling on an overland safari, I ran out of books to read. Although I brought plenty, as an English teacher, I was devouring them as we drove through the African countryside.' Fortunately, one of the French girls in the back of the truck had just finished a book and was willing to lend it to me. She said that Mukiwa was captivating and that I wouldn¿t be able to put it down, and she was right. Having already visited Zimbabwe several times, I was fascinated to learn more about the white experience there, especially since I had recently read Catherine Buckle¿s African Tears, which also describes the current land invasions. Because many tourists don¿t delve deeper into Zimbabwe than a quick jaunt to Victoria Falls, Godwin¿s memoir is an important read. Godwin describes the reality of living in a country as tumultuous as it is beautiful. The reader can¿t help but gain a love of the country himself and come to understand why Godwin would risk his life in returning. Fortunately, I was able to experience a glimpse of the beauty of the country myself while visiting some of their game parks. It was on one of these drives in Hwange that I first fell in love with Africa and can understand why Godwin¿s parents would risk their lives by choosing to remain. I enjoyed the book so much that I purchased the sequel When a Crocodile Eats the Sun at the Johannesburg Airport. I follow the news in Africa online every day¿especially the news of Zimbabwe and South Africa, and cannot express how much I value the insight that Godwin provides in both of these books. I also developed a fondness and empathy for his family as they endure the turbulent times that face Zimbabwe. Despite the many problems that face the continent, I am looking forward to my eighth trip. I have been discussing Godwin¿s book with my honors students and told them that I plan to read his other three¿Wild at Heart, The Three of Us, and Rhodesians Never Die--before I leave.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2000

    Excellent memoir

    This is a very fine book. Well written, it offers the reader an insight into the transition from minority (white) rule to majority rule (perhaps more accurately Mugabe rule?) in Zimbabwe. To anyone who is following the current land crises in that country, this book offers an insight into the mindset of Zimbabwe's (then) new rulers and its old rulers. It is also a valuable insight into the nature of modern racism in Africa, and a most interesting memoir.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2005

    Excellent memoir

    Excellent book, superbly and courageously a white zimbabwean, i thouroughly enjoyed reading Peter's memoir,it's disturbing yet thrilling recollections of Rhodesia have enlightened me to the real history behind zimbabwe, and the personal history of fellow sufferers such as Godwin.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2003

    A true gift to all Zimbabweans from Mr Godwin.

    Finally, a comprehensive portrayal of our unique little corner of the world. All the places, people and events are not unfamiliar to me, but seen through the eyes of Mr Godwin, have taken on a fascinating new meaning. The author recounts heart renching emotions, events and issues such early on in his life. Most would not experience these in their entire lifetimes. I would love to see this book as a film. A must read for all history buffs of southern Africa. Good job Mr Godwin.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2000

    Enlightened and slightly humbled

    Upon my first reading, this story intrigued me with its nearly cryptic summary of the events of the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe international cause in the 1970s, yet it alse seemed unintentionally dry and remarkably unemotional in light of the authors cathartic experience. My second reading underscored a previously subtle awareness of the quiet, yet deafening, cultural wallop this story packed. I highly recommend this book on two levels: It will indelibly affect the readers' perception of African politics and it will capture some portion of the personal loss every expatriate has experienced in the former British colonies. MJD

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2000

    A white bore in Africa

    Peter Godwin tells this story in such plain, unadorned, and nearly unemotional prose, that I felt as if I was listening to a couple old Brits relate, in a half-bored manner,bits and pieces of their Colonial youth over a game of snooker and a couple pink gins. But overall, the story is compelling, and I came away feeling enlightened about African politics.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 22, 2011

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