Eppel explores ‘unbelonging’ in new work

Between the Lines Beniah Munengwa

Title: White Man Walking

Author: John Eppel

Publisher: Mwanaka Media and Publishing (2018)

ISBN: 978-0-7974-9548-7

To be a person who lived on the other side of the fence always leaves one with a problem of binaries. One such man is John Eppel, a writer who finds himself in a category which fits many, the likes of David Coltart and Doris Lessing, who, however, find themselves belonging to neither side of the “racial” fence.

Just like Coltart, Eppel at one time found himself fighting on the side of the white man’s forces. Afterwards, we locate these two figures attempting to shed off those shackles of racist and imperialist terms to being the eye that explores and cautions both good and bad in either racial grouping.

In them, we find a quest of belonging and an attempt to fit in, into African humanity with every inch of their bone and not be seen as savages, as reverse racism now puts it.

The content of Eppel’s writing is that of a man who is in touch with the problems of either civilisation. He is a writer, who in an interview with Ambrose Musiyiwa, claimed to have
been strongly influenced by Charles Dickens’ focus on the marginalised people and he, himself, too has been marginalised, having had much of his manuscripts rejected by Zimbabwean
publishing houses.

One of the works that relate to his claim of being overtly African is his latest offering, White Man Walking. The name White Man Walking is, however, not new, having been used by American writer, Ward Brehm, for the book, White Man Walking: An American Businessman’s Spiritual Adventure in Africa.

In the new offering, Eppel explores the nuances of colonial and post-colonial existence in Zimbabwe. Some major recurring thematic concerns dealt with are the closeness to violence that
the government is, when dealing with anyone who seems to go against it.

One notable feature is that all stories were written while former President Robert Mugabe was still in power. The story, Democracy at Work and at Play, underscores the deep-rootedness
of Mugabeism, especially in rural communities. While the constitution-making process was supposed to be puritanical, the lack of accommodation of divergent thought and the underscored
vision of trying to convert the Constitution into another version of craft that extends Mugabe’s time in office takes charge.

Eppel, in an independent interview, highlighted: “My main concern in my prose is to ridicule greed, cruelty, self-righteousness and related vices like racism, sexism, jingoism, and
homophobia.”
With regard to his revelation, much of his stories pick up the strands that influence the way in which Zimbabwean governance and leadership unfolded.

He explains why he prefers to use satire in his writing saying: “I am under no illusion that my satires will make the slightest bit of difference, but nobody, not even those who are
ashamed of nothing, likes to be laughed at.”

Chiefly among Eppel’s subjects of satire is the greed associated with the politician or his wife. Symbolising it was the recurrent question, “Where’s my tub of Kentucky fries?”

In the short story, The Award Ceremony, instead of mourning the dead after a tragedy, the minister’s obese wife finds herself only caring about her Kentucky fries.

On a deeper look, the way the politician’s wife causes the suffering of innocent civilians and without feeling a sense of shame is synonymous with the bad girl tag associated with the
then First Lady, Grace Mugabe.

In the era of Mugabeism, the probability that anybody would be working for the Central Intelligence Organisation was very high. Such is the case of Mr Abednego Dolobenj, a school teacher in the story, Profile of a School Teacher.

The outstanding story for me is NGO Games, primarily because it explores the template formulae in which non-governmental organisations go through in their day-to- day running. Blended
with deep-set humour, Eppel portrays NGOs as organisations that thrive mainly on report writing and generation and less of any helpful initiatives.

This story falls under the same category as the author and poet’s thoughts, that “international organisations will not help a white artist, no matter how poor,” he is.

While the overall picture may portray Eppel’s satire as overtly pointed to the system heads, one cannot ignore that some of it is pointed at the general public, who foolishly assume
that they can unearth the roots of the system single-handedly. The end result, as shown in the stories, The Weight Loser and Sewage Pipe, where characters attempt to demonstrate against
the system and end up molested by people on the lower end of the system.

Eppel’s book stands as an independent project that is outstanding and refreshing on a different level, thanks to the meticulous input of the publisher. Thus in spite of a few errors, it
is a book that I can proudly add onto my library.

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