Ruth Fitts introduces young readers to 24 countries around the world, four in Africa: Ethiopia (15 pages,) Ghana (14 pages,) Nigeria (14 pages) and Zimbabwe (12 pages.) She provides bits of history, culture, religion, language and daily life for each entry. Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria are presented in a more balanced manner than is Zimbabwe. (An editing error in the Ethiopia chapter: page 53, the text states that Ethiopia was the only African country not to be colonized by a European power. This is corrected on page 59, when Liberia is also named.)
This review focuses on the last chapter of the book, “Z is for Zimbabwe.” Fitts has selected interesting anecdotes and examples of cultural attributes to introduce readers to this nation. Her treatment of the history of the Great Zimbabwe is accurate, and she makes clear the importance of this period of history to Zimbabweans today. Her language selections are excellent and help readers understand common courtesies in Zimbabwean cultures. Selections for becoming acquainted with Zimbabwean food, literature and geography are well done, and her inclusion of phrases in the Sindebele language is accurate and appropriate, even though Shona is spoken by over 80% of the population.
The central weakness of this chapter is its overemphasis on the role of white people in Zimbabwe’s history. Out of thousands of years of Zimbabwean history, white people held military and political control for 90 years, and that hegemony ended 35 years ago. Fitts’s article, in general, uses too much of the limited page space to describe artifacts of the white history: stamps of Southern Rhodesia, for example, and a brief biography of Cecil Rhodes’s life. These are not at all necessary. She could have, for example, taken a look at the spread of Christianity in the country and the role of the independent churches now flourishing there. Alternatively, she could have discussed Zimbabwean literature in greater detail; it is rich and provides an authentic look at the political issues she raises.
In the same vein, the author devotes three quarters of an entire page to the question of land ownership in 1965. She discusses the fact that whites took the best land for themselves and left the poor land to Zimbabweans. She comments “They (whites) were very successful at commercial farming techniques. . . . While whites felt that they brought the know-how to extract wealth from Rhodesia’s soil and worked hard to do so. . . “ (p. 319), But she fails to state that the white farms flourished because of black labor. This is a major flaw in a discussion of the land issue in Rhodesia.
Basically, this is a reasonably good introduction to the country, provided the teacher can tone down the overemphasis on white contributions to Zimbabwe’s history; it lasted such a short period of time.
Reviewed by Marylee Crofts, Ph.D. Retired Bentley University
Published in Africa Access Review (January 22, 2016)
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