My story starts in the womb of innocence – a cosy and comfortable womb, as every womb is, and ought to be. It was an extremely innocent time – we had … (this “we” presumably included me) just declared war on our black population in Rhodesia. It was UDI, a time of proclaiming our independence from Britain. I was the unborn, not yet, as the saying goes, a glimmer of lust in my father’s eye. Unilateral Declaration of Independence – that was on everybody’s mind before I was born. It had meant that the gradual transition to black majority rule would not be taking place. Instead, “we” (and that presumably meant me, once again), would fight through thick and thin to preserve our colonial heritage of Christian decency and civilisation. The blacks, too – the ones who thought about it deeply or were otherwise coerced to join the war — would fight us through thick and thin. We would fight eachother that way, back and forth. That was our destiny.
In 1968, I popped out of my mother’s womb, to face the world. By this time, UDI was three years old, a sibling of mine, who shadowed me in every direction and who I would later get to know. I’d popped out of my mother’s womb, but in a way I’d never really left it. This illicit sibling was, in large part, responsible for the fact that I was to remain inside – that is, within the womb of innocence, for nobody ought to know about the coupling between my parents’ minds and the mystical belief in an enduring form of Christianity long after the medieval era was pronounced dead.
Children – especially females – had to retain their innocence unto a ripe age. That was what a neo-Victorian morality dictated. And I was born female – so that, in fact, meant me. So I stayed in the womb of innocence, in the realm of shapes and colours, noises and sounds, beautiful music to my ears. UDI, meantime, got all of the parental favours. His special needs were cared for, over and above his actual requirements. He was given pure censorship, lest the ruckus of global politics and condemnation should reach his fragile ears. He received positive adulation and genteel congratulations as to his progress, even when he was not making any such progress at all, and was, in fact, regressing. UDI lapped it up and became the favourite son of all of us. We slapped on Rhodesian flags here and there in annual celebrations in his honour. We wore our association with him proudly.
However, I grew up within the womb of innocence, sucking on umbilical fluids hungrily. It was, after all, my right to suck in this way, and in any case, I didn’t know any differently. “Why was everything so wonderful?” I used to muse, at the perfection of it all. The footprints of Honey, my horse, in the magical accretion on the early morning frost, an firm out of the world shape in electrically green lawns – summed up for me everything that was wonderful in my life. It was Nature, in hter finest regalia. The images, the shapes and colours that surrounded me were magic in its essence. I was very glad to grow up in Rhodesia, with its magic and its open spaces. There I would be free to roam for the first 16 years of life – so long as I had made the implicit promise never to leave the womb of innocence (a promise I immediately made, knowing no differently).
So, I grew up very happily within this womb, attached to the umbilical cord of Nature. She was my mother, and I did everything she said, reverently, with great delight and joy to be around her. I didn’t know my parents so much as I knew her. There was no “family romance” which I later heard spoken of in intellectual Freudian circles. Or if I had one, it was quite subdued. My father, after all, was away in war much of the time. “After the age of three when I was called up for six months, we lost connection, and I could never have the same relationship with you again,” my father once confessed to me, much later in life, in a moment of rare frankness. So, I remained at the level of the pre-Oedipal, fathers being outside the scope of my attention for the most part, as I suckled on Nature’s fluids, and enjoyed living on a day to day basis, never thinking of the future.
My father meanwhile, and my mother, went along in their own directions. They knew about UDI, but they didn’t tell me very much about him, just that there were duties to be done when his needs or requirements called them to commit their energies to him. He was their son, and it would have been wrong to do anything other — the less said about it the better. So, he grew up alongside me, until I was twelve and he was just 15, when he met with his fatal accident, after which the grieving processes never seemed to cease, and I was merely in the way, an impediment and obstruction, in my innocence, to the natural processes of grieving.
Since I never knew UDI, except through whispers and strange gestures, I was never allowed to grieve him. Somehow his loss became a source of resentment towards me, all the same. My parents had to move, now that UDI had been lost. It was my entire fault that, after they had sacrificed so much of their own blood and energies, they had to sacrifice once more “for the children”. We had to move to Australia and settle down, and I had caused it, because I had been in the womb of innocence for all this time, and hadn’t understood the sacrifices and the suffering. It was now important for me to realise that I had been contemptuous of the inherent value of UDI all along – especially of its significance for Christian civilisation. The rest of the world was irretrievably morally corrupted, and I would have to atone for UDI’s premature death by living up to his standards in all respects. It had been decided that my father would bring me up properly, despite the moral contamination of contemporary Western values that would no doubt enter my bloodstream through association with others in the modern world. I was to be brought up as a Rhodesian female, only in a more extreme sense than I would have been had I remained in either Rhodesia (as it was) or Zimbabwe (as it became, after 1979-80). I would learn to have a long-suffering disposition, and I would also learn atonement for our losses, particularly in terms of loss of belief in the possibility of a civilising project for humanity (as Colonialism was thought to be). As a female, however, I was not to know too much that would allow me to make my own decisions, which could cause me to depart from these accepted standards – standards of atonement and of loyalty to family and to God, and of moral and sexual purity in deed and thought.
My father knew that he could justify UDI posthumously, if only I would take his place and be the standard bearer for everything that he had thought. It was, after all, the female role, to be the sacrificial beast for all of male postulations, journeys and antagonisms. Before my father had got married, he had been a regular conscript of the armed services, serving his country in little skirmishes within the bush, defending against unarmed village uprisings. Military life was brutal, the province of the lower middle classes and the uneducated within the colonial ranks. The gentler part of my father sought a different mode of life and a different system of order. He had volunteered to go beyond what were considered at that time to be the nominal amount of call-up duties for the Rhodesian male. He had done extra. But now the stern gaze of the sergeant major was calling him to make one more sacrifice – one more tour of duty. It was getting hairy out there now. The natives now had weapons, courtesy of Russia and China. The bush war was fully on. My father panicked. “Go and have a word, with him,” said my mother. “You’ve already done more than they’ve asked you to do.” So, my father went, and did something that he was always loathe to do — face an authority directly. “I’ve just got married,” he said. “And Glenda is terrified of me going anywhere without her. She’s so worried that she’s going crazy, like a woman. Is there some chance that I could be stationed locally – within the city?”
The ruse had worked, and my father’s guilty conscience melded to warp the facts, to convince him that Glenda, rather than himself had, after all, been shaking in her boots. My father had found a use for women. Perhaps, among Rhodesian men, he was not alone in this.