Blue Remembered Sky

Close-up of the entrance to the admin block at Ingutsheni (2).JPG
Bronze replica of the Zimbabwe bird on top of Rhodes House where the African and Commonwealth collections used to be stored - Parks Road, Oxford.JPG
Rhodes House with bronze replica of the Zimbabwe bird on the domed roof.JPG

Title

Blue Remembered Sky

Subject

International conflict

Description

After the Second World War, many British people were encouraged to go to the colonies to work. In 1952, having completed his psychiatric training at the Maudsley Hospital, my father saw an advertisement for a post at Ingutsheni Mental Hospital in Southern Rhodesia. Later that year, my parents and my two older siblings set sail for Africa. My family went to live within the grounds of Ingutsheni on the outskirts of Rhodesia’s second city, KoBulawayo. My best friend Claire, whose father was also a psychiatrist, lived next door. In 1965, when Claire and I were 10 years old, the Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Douglas Smith, issued a Unilateral Declaration of Independence from Great Britain (UDI). Rhodesia became an unrecognised state. A brutal liberation struggle followed until Zimbabwe achieved Independence in April 1980. I came to live in the UK in 1986, first in London and then in Oxford where my husband and I started our family in 1993. I very seldom talked about my background or my experiences growing up in Rhodesia. It seemed so far removed from my present life, especially living in an historic and cosmopolitan city like Oxford. In 2010, my childhood friend Claire found me on Facebook. We had not seen or heard from one another for 45 years! This prompted me to research the history of my homeland with a particular focus on Ingutsheni. The hospital began as a lunatic asylum in 1908. In 1930, England and Wales passed the Mental Treatment Act and the asylum became a mental hospital in 1933. During my research, I became aware of the close connection that the city of Oxford has with Cecil John Rhodes, the man after whom Southern Rhodesia was named. Rhodes was the Chief Executive and founder of the British South Africa Company which administered the colony that was named after him. Rhodes died in 1902 and was laid to rest in a very grand ceremony at World’s View in the Matobo Hills near KoBulawayo. The Matobo Hills, also known as the Matopos National Park is now a World Heritage site and home of the Amagugu International Heritage Centre. The Heritage Centre is a place where African culture, art and spiritual traditions are more widely shared and celebrated than in colonial times. The Zimbabwe bird is a sacred symbol for the indigenous peoples of Zimbabwe. Stone carvings of the bird were discovered at Great Zimbabwe, a ruined citadel in the south-eastern hills of the country. Great Zimbabwe was built between the 11th and 15th centuries and, at one time, was thought to house over 18,000 people. The birds were found in 1889 by a European hunter named Willi Posselt. Posselt found the birds arranged around something that resembled an altar. He took the finest specimen despite being told that Great Zimbabwe was a sacred site. He later sold his bird to Cecil Rhodes who mounted it in the library at Groote Schuur, his official residence in Cape Town, South Africa. Rhodes went on to have wooden replicas of the bird carved to adorn the staircase there. Rhodes also had replicas made of the Zimbabwe bird to adorn the gates of his residence in the UK, near Cambridge. The legacy of Cecil John Rhodes and of British colonialism in Africa is an emotive subject, especially for black Zimbabweans. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement has called for his statue to be removed from the front of Oriel College. There is an ongoing debate about its future. Many scholars from around the world have benefitted from Rhodes’ scholarships which are funded via Rhodes’ endowment to Oriel College. Rhodes House contained the African and Commonwealth collections of the Bodleian library until they were moved to the new library on Broad Street. I have published two books about my experiences of growing up under colonial rule in Rhodesia within the confines of a high security mental hospital. The first book “The Secret History of Shlomo Fine: A Colonial Requiem” was published in Zimbabwe in 2018 under my pseudonym K.M.R. Smythe. The second book “Blue Remembered Sky” was published in the UK in 2021 under my pseudonym Charlie Comins. The former can be purchased via The African Books Collective and the latter via Bookshop.org. Both books can be found in the African and Commonwealth collection at the Bodleian library. I owe a debt of gratitude to the work of the late Professor Terence Ranger, Emeritus Professor of Race Relations at Oxford University. Terry Ranger founded the Britain Zimbabwe Society at St. Antony’s College where I’ve been able to meet and talk to many Zimbabweans over the years. I’m privileged to know Marieke Clarke, a graduate of Somerville College whose knowledge and interest in the pre-colonial history of Zimbabwe is detailed and wide-ranging. She has become a life-long friend. I am indebted to Marieke for introducing me to Pathisa Nyathi, an eminent cultural historian in KoBulawayo and founder of the Amagugu Heritage Centre in the Matobo Hills. Marieke and Pathisa continue to help me understand more about my past from an African perspective. And finally, thanks to my Zimbabwean friend Florence Wilson for encouraging me to share my story on the Museum of Oxford website. Florence and I were on opposite sides during the Rhodesian war (or second chimurenga for the African majority). Our friendship is therefore extra-special. When I came to live in Oxford in 1992, I had no idea that living here would change my retrospective assessments of Zimbabwe in all the ways that it has.

Date

20th and 21st Centuries

Contributor

Kate MacFarlane

Publisher

Museum of Oxford

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