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Goodbye Rhodesia Paperback – 1 Nov 2005
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Presenting an account of life in Rhodesia, this book tells a story of the spirited people who live there, while tourists and terrorists present an unnerving mix.
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Mears' story is an involving one about hand to mouth existence in what was a British colony before independence was declared unilaterally by Ian Smith's government in 1965. Mears and her husband had gone out to Rhodesia to seek a new life in the colonies but didn't find a 'happy valley' utopia as existed for some expats in Kenya. Instead their life seems to have been a tough one; her husband didn't make it as a tobacco farmer and they gravitated to Victoria Falls with two young children where they found work in a variety of exhausting jobs in tourism trying to help keep the Rhodesian economy afloat in a time of sanctions and world isolation. Mears may have thought the Rhodesian Front government of Ian Smith short sighted ( we never get to find out what she thought of the interim government of 1979 as she left Rhodesia with her husband and children in 1977) but she was definitely no supporter of violent black African nationalism either and writes scathingly of those who sought to maim,murder and intimidate the ordinary black tribesmen and civilians of the Rhodesian Bush. She reserves particular condemnation for the government of Robert Mugabe that followed independence in 1980 with a year by year analysis of the deterioration in the country from 2000 to 2005 when her book was published and essentially makes the case that no-one should have been surprised at what happened to Zimbabwe given the way things had gone in other African countries post independence from their colonial mother countries..
A very interesting account of life in Rhodesia for the ordinary person and how they lived day to day in what was once a prosperrous, vibrant and safe country that slowly headed towards ruin at the hands of a brutal terrorist insurgency and international pressure.
I liked Chris Mears, I enjoyed her chatty writing style and her gentle humour and I found her description of the escalating terrorist situation well balanced and fair, particularly her criticism of the inflexibility of the RF government. The final chapter of the book deals with the years after 1980 and majority rule, this tragic, tragic story, well known to me, is brought home once more in Chris Mears's informed and descripitve writing. If you want the feel of Rhodesia from the 50's to the end, then this is the book.
The couple are impressive in their optimistic making-do attitude. They think nothing of building their own house extension from asbestos, having to brave a river flood to reach hospital when their daughter is born and eventually moving hundreds of miles in search of work. At this point the story moves from the domestic sphere as Chris undertakes a variety of jobs from local journalist, radio reporter to census enumerator and police clerk. These episodes in her life she describes engagingly, with great humour and honesty. She admits that she never questioned segregated schools, that she later had a fiction story returned because it might cause offense to black people and that when Ian Smith gave his famous speech about Rhodesia cutting itself off from Britain she `felt there was nothing I could do about the state of the nation so I might as well have the afternoon at the pictures.' But she does see both sides. For instance at the border crossing from the black North to white South she describes how, `on the one side were the black officials, slow, deliberate and stolidly officious... on the other, white officials, overheated, impatiently officious, rude to the blacks.'
Part diary, part travelogue, part round Robin, I very much enjoyed this book. Like The White Season currently running on BBC2 which looks at the white working class who feel increasingly marginalised, it's important to hear about `The White Experience' of living in Zimbabwe, especially as it helps us understand the situation in the country today. However, it is the descriptions of nature and particularly animals which have most stuck in my mind such as the moment when all the different ranks of animals wait around after the killing of a young elephant, her account ending with the words `the mother elephant continued to grieve, the evening breeze blew across the dam, and an unseen hippo bellowed his disdain of the world.' Perhaps this would also be a fitting metaphor for the sense of loss Chris Mears felt at having to move away and see that world she loved, deteriorate. It takes courage to write a book, to self publish and have your voice heard - in this case I think it is well worth the effort, even if you don't always see eye to eye with the perspective.