Engineering and its Redemption



The savannah pushed whites’ imagination to its limits and beyond. As the last chapter explained, many sought, in the bush, an escape from the intractable problem of minority status. Since they could not belong comfortably to African society, such whites sought to belong to African ecology. Yet, the landforms themselves seemed to repel whites’ embrace. As children of the glaciers, Britons and other northern Europeans appreciated a well-watered, Wordswor- thian topography. Much of Africa — especially Zimbabwe — offered a prospect diametrically opposed to this ideal: arid plains stretching unbroken in all directions. Of course, painters and writers such as Jean Hahn and Keith Meadows patched together a sensibility of the vast. Through it, they and at least some of their readers came to value “miles and miles of bloody Africa.” But most whites, including conservationists, valued it only up to a point. Take, for example, Doris Lessing’snovel Landlocked (1958b). The protagonist, a Communist and multiracialist of the 1940s, has many reasons to leave Rhodesia — including its hydrology:

[Martha Quest] was becoming obsessed with the sea, which she had not seen, did not remember... An enormous longing joy took possession of her. She no longer thought: I’m going to England soon; she thought: I’m going to the sea, I’m going to get off this high, dry place where my skin burns and I can never lose the feeling of tension and I shall sit by a long, grey sea and listen to the waves break...1


Rule Curve River Otter Northern Bank Deep Time Fait Accompli 
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© David McDermott Hughes 2010

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