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A Cruel Independence
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Yvonne Vera
The Stone Virgins (NY:  Simon and Schuster/Recorded Books, 2008.  Audiobook.)

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This is the story of how one of the most prosperous countries in Africa deteriorated into primitive poverty and genocide due to the egomania of one cruel despot.  Zimbabwe was created in 1980 out of the former colony of Rhodesia.

Robert Mugabe, the first African head of state and government there took over the mechanisms of government about two years after independence.  Periodic waves of repressions, murder, expropriation and cruel violence wracked this country until in the 2000s, Mugabe managed to totally destroy the infrastructure and economy of the nation by killing and intimidating opponents and the populace who called for democracy.

Personal Agony
This sickening and disheartening story is documented by Vera in this important work.  The way Vera tells the story is to portray the detailed daily lives of two sisters in their family setting.  The story is told by one of the sisters, and we see the daily agony she goes through, not just in the violence of the state, but the daily cultural pressure and disregard of women.  It seems to me the selfish, brutal attitude of her husband is a parable of the violence of the state.

The author displays a fascinating skill of vivid description by the use of creative and dynamic metaphors for the everyday experiences of our characters.  The reading in this Audiobook is superb.  Danai Gurira reads in a smooth, expressive standard English, then speaks for each character in their Zimbabwean English accents.  It is eerily realistic.  I had trouble relating to the story for quite a ways into the narration.

Slow Spinup
I was a bit puzzled by the personal perspective in which the story was told, because it took so long for the social and political context to inductively appear out of the personal local musings of the character through which the story is told.  The story seemed disconnected and vague.  The drama was mostly within the woman's head, her interaction with her immediate home and family context.  It focuses heavily on the personal tortures of her relationship with her husband and members of her family.

I could not see for a long time how this would relate to the broader Rhodesia-Zimbabwe story.  The story gradually develops a sense of movement.  The approach was very vivid in portraying the cultural experience, but its meaning and gradual connection with the Zimbabwe story was to slow in developing.

Cultural Portrayal
This is an excellent cultural portrayal and the turmoil and disruption to lives through both the war and Mugabe's era are portrayed once the story does pick up and move beyond the immediate homescape of their family setting.

I remember the first time I remember really hearing about the Rhodesia situation was in college when I participated in the Student United Nations of 1968.  This was just three years after the Ian Smith colonial regime had declared independence from Britain.  This was not a recognized independence, as the British government would not agree to independence until there was an agreement in place to provide for full representation, providing for majority rule.

Rebellious Colony
The indigenous African peoples had no rights and no vote, no stake in the running of their country.  A powerful entrenched white minority controlled the government, the inheritors of the ruthless British colonial oppression that separated the races and created governmental entities for the Europeans only.  But the Empire had gotten a conscience and now required democracy for its freed colonies.  The European settlers, mostly British, but including Afrikaners and a few others, who ran Rhodesia decided they was tired of dealing with the pressure and issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

This was the discussion as the British consul briefed the Student UN participants on the Rhodesia issue.  This was a new topic for me, having been unaware of any details of life and government in the African continent.  But four years later I was on the African continent, in an assignment in Nairobi, Kenya.  A bit later I saw firsthand the situation in Rhodesia and neighboring South Africa.  On a trip to Rhodesia as part of a film crew, with a stopover visit in South Africa, I saw firsthand the situation of radical separation of the races and exploitation of the African peoples for the economic benefit and personal comfort of the European minority.

Freedom Fight
The Afrikaner and English settlers fought a vicious guerilla war for 15 years against African freedom fighters until they finally acceded to discussions leading to a parliamentary democracy.  A few months after the institution of this dream of millions, in Zimbabwe and worldwide, Robert Mugabe turned the military power of his government against the people of his coalition partner Joshua Nkomo.

Periodic waves of repressions, murder, expropriation and cruel violence wracked this country until in the 200s, Mugabe managed to totally destroy the infrastructure and economy of the nation.  Even then he continued killing and intimidating opponents and and the populace who called for democracy.

Indigenous Repression
He defied international pressure from African neighbors and the world community to remain in power even as his people were literally starving to death in a drought, cholera ravaged much of the countryside because of lack of services and water.  Hundreds of thousands flowed like rivers into the surrounding countries top escape the devastation, to find food and medical care and to escape the daily fear of death for the dictator and his paid thugs, yet Mugabe hung on.

Money spiraled downwards in an amazing hundreds of thousands percent inflation.  Billions of Zim dollars for one dollar, yet Mugabe continued to blame Britain and the US for the problems in his country, clearly caused by his own butchery and greed.  

Psychological Drama
In Vera's story you will experience the destruction of a people and culture from the perspective of one of the local inhabitants suffering through the era.  This psychological drama is challenging and gripping, more than entertaining.  The trueness of the story, and my closeness to it over those years, brought a grief and sadness over the loss of one of Africa's flowers, destroyed from within, its people disregarded in the blind, mad quest for power.  

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] Spiritual Depth in African Encounters
[review] A View of Africa
[review] Worldview, Ethnicity and Social Dynamics in African Politics
[review] Zimbabwe Safari in Genealogy and History

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Written 24-29 September 2009
Posted on Amazon and Thoughts and Resources 1 October 2009
Last edited 16 November 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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