Mukiwa (click here for Amazon link) - which is Shona slang for 'white man' - although teaching in a Ndebele speaking area for six months, children there would initially just shout "Mukiwa" at me - is a beautifully written, often amusing, very moving account of growing up and at the same time becoming increasingly aware that colonial life was in its death pangs. From the very start of the book (Godwin's first childhood memory is of a neighbour with a knife sticking out of his chest) it was apparent that, even though he and his family were liberals, conflict was unavoidable. Ironically, Godwin was to miss hearing the declaration of UDI because he "got into a scrape with Fatty Slabbert".

Peter Godwin served in the Rhodesian army as the war was becoming increasingly intense. His book charters the change from the initial times when the first guerrillas were turning up, noting their intimidation, and the killing of ‘sell-outs’ to the late 1970s (1976-77) when in one skirmish in which the guerillas (a ZIPRA unit, who had conventional training) caused a degree of surprise at not immediately melting away into the bush. " “Those ones,” said my corporal, "I think those ones have been to battle school also,” and he shook his head in admiration."

"It was the first time that terrs had not fled from us." The guerillas were now better trained and armed, there were more of them, and almost no information was being gleaned from locals. “I think we may have lost this area now – for good.”

Godwin had been conscripted into the BSAP, on his graduation, initially preventing him from attending Cambridge University, but after numerous actions in Rhodesia, his petition to leave was eventually accepted. 

Even in the early stages of the war, looking at an intelligence manual ‘ZANLA and ZIPRA Tactics and Modus Operandi’ – which was saying that 99% of Operations were spotted in hours, Godwin first saw the phrase ‘liberated areas’, and it was becoming increasingly clear that the struggle could not be overcome as simply as the Rhodesian media initially maintained, although Sgt-Major Gondo was saying the guerrillas were cowards, communists being used by Russians – ‘I am professional soldier, it is my job. I leave politics to the others, to the politicians.” Godwin was very aware that, despite obeying rules imposed by politicians, servicemen were able to exploit rules of engagement with little fear of reprisal -  trained as a police officer (where three challenges had to be issued before they could legally open fire) they learnt to "speed shout" I'm plice officerstostotop" to be able to shoot legally in something under two seconds. 

But by then the methods of war being waged by the Rhodesian forces were increasingly causing Godwin to question the struggle  - whether it was the shooting of a curfew breaker – who turned out simply to be an old man on a bike, to the way in which he he tried to make amends for the destruction caused by an RLI stick – burning huts, beating people up, and destroying any possibility that the group (who were actually Shonas, from ZANLA - this, in a ZIPRA area, which meant that local support for the army would have been probable without the RLI actions) leading Godwin to question a piece of graffiti he saw  "Hate us and see if we mind". By then, he was becoming aware of standard army practices - using local Africans to protect against land mines by forcing then on to buses, and penning Africans inside a circle of claymores to deter from attacks, a practise initially established in Vietnam.  On returning to Rhodesia following his sister's death in a friendly-fire incident, Godwin was again forced into uniform.  

After the war (with a law degree from Cambridge), he returned to Zimbabwe. On joining a firm in the capital, he began defending `freedom fighters' of the Matabele. The new Mugabe government, dominated by the Shona, seemed to ignore Matabele involvement in the struggle, seeming to be moving against them. Now working as a  freelance journalist, writing for the Sunday Times, Godwin was one of the first to make public the Fifth Brigade's actions in Matabeleland, sent there by a witness who refused to be identified - saying simply that the killings in Matabeleland had started again. The North Korean links had been apparent from the start, aided not only by the different feel to Bulawayo - more like occupied territory than Harare - but by the initial sculpture on Heroes Acre, where the victims all looked strangely oriental. Then, being told by a padre who, having lived in Austria during the Second World War, said that there was nothing the Gestapo could teach the Brigade. After further investigation - and attempts by the Zimbabwean government to corer up the story, by getting The Observer newspaper to rubbish Godwin - (The Observer was then owned by Tiny Rowland - one of his companies, Lonrho, had major investments in Zimbabwe), the Zimbabwean government resorted to more devious tactics -  a number of white CIO officers had toured the area, posing as journalists. Eventually, Godwin had to flee Zimbabwe.

But on a return to Zimbabwe, one meeting was with a man who had been on the opposite side of a skirmish both had participated in - this seems to inspire hope for the future. 

Click here for an update written by Godwin for the 2000 Zimbabwe election.

 


Trace