British journalist Caute (The Great Fear) has expended a great deal of derision, to varying effect, on the white supremacist...

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UNDER THE SKIN: The Death of White Rhodesia

British journalist Caute (The Great Fear) has expended a great deal of derision, to varying effect, on the white supremacist bitter-enders of a dying white Rhodesia, 1976-80. Each of the four years--from the outbreak of black ""terrorism"" (by the rival Nkomo and Mugabe forces) to the Mugabe, one-man/one-vote electoral victory (under British auspices) and the inception of Zimbabwe--is represented by brief, numbered vignettes: no substitute for an ordered historical chronicle (which doesn't exist prominently in the US), and on their own terms better construed as political theater than as reportage. Caute drips vitriol (the ""swinishly suave foreign minister, van der Byl""; ""the Parkers joined the master race""), beyond the need of demonstrating ""the cultural web of domination."" Some of his scenes are anti-colonialist clichÉs: ""When they go in for lunch they find Mrs. Pennington lying unconscious on the living room floor. Matthew, the cookboy, gestures helplessly towards an empty gin bottle."" The white-settler and white-functionary dialogue is a compendium of ignorant, vulgar bigotry. He is also tough on the white teachers and missionaries ministering to Africans--hard, but not harsh. Many sympathized with nationalism, and all had to contend with nationalist pressures on their black staff and their students. From the considerable time Caute spent with them come the book's finest passages: ""Clearly emissaries of the guerrillas had visited the dormitories at night, but the kids could not talk about this, not even to the African staff. And then they went, burning their Cambridge O-level certificates, filing silently up to the local store under cover of darkness--finally spirited across the mine-infested border. . . ."" Caute does not romanticize the guerrillas, however--in the opening scene, a young guerrilla spokesman is as self-deluded and evasive as any white. And the 20th century has surely seen no spectacle more incongruous, ironic, even macabre than the opening of the Zimbabwe parliament, with Mugabe and Smith, van der Byl and Muzenda, Irvine and Nkomo filing in two-by-two. Or, thereafter, the ""hockey girls"" (Sarah English, Brenda Phillips, Trish Davies. . .) of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe flying off to play at the Moscow Olympics. Caute has a sense of moment and a sense of theater: had he damped the scorn, he might have had a memorable book.

Pub Date: May 1, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Northwestern Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983