HEROES DO NOT WEAR CAPES
......The ramblings of a die hard anti-hero
I love cartoons and I am not ashamed to admit it. Beneath the mascara, lipstick and fierce cheek contour I am still a big kid at heart. At some point in my early life, greatly inspired by the Professor from the cartoon Felix the Cat I declared to my father that when I grew up I was going to be a mad scientist. After all, what was there not to love about this character? The professor was a highly intelligent man with the quintessential throaty villainous voice (a must-have if you are a bad guy in the animation world). He had eccentric tendencies too and was always hatching outlandish plots to steal Felix’s bag of tricks. In one particularly innovative episode, the one that fuelled a burning desire in yours truly to want to become a deranged woman of science, the Professor invented an electronic brainwashing device. I was very impressed by this elaborate plot and leaned in close to the TV set waiting in great anticipation for Felix to get his goody two shoes brain fried. As you can guess our feline “hero” outwitted a man with multiple university degrees who also happened to be an august author of many research papers boasting countless invention patents under his belt. I was greatly disappointed by the outcome as my default setting has always been to support the anti-hero. The guy everybody loves to hate.
I am not a fan of the hero story. It represents a one sided narrative where the story of the individual or group of people society has placed on a pedestal becomes the only story. Such a two dimensional myopic perspective is dangerous and does not factor in all the variables and permutations of someone else’s truth. Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi coined this principle “The danger of the single story” and I wholly agree with her in this regard.
The 2004 Pixar superhero cartoon “The Incredibles” offered a very interesting point of view in the much lauded hero story. Be warned…..if you haven’t watched the movie yet but plan to this may be a bit of a spoiler. The story unfolded with a fall out between the “Superheroes” and the ordinary people with no special skill set which resulted in the “Supers” being banned by the government. The regular people had reached a point where they were fed up with dealing with the consequence of the actions of the Superheroes and rightfully so. The collateral damage was high and more destruction was being done than good. In a twisted sort of way this part of the movie plot parallels to some extent the painful history of Africa. I will call this social phenomenon “The Peril of the unwanted hero”.
Hundreds of years ago some “Superheroes” from Europe decided to sail across the oceans and seas to “save” the doomed savages of Africa. The missionaries believed it to be their divine calling and duty to snatch my “godless” ancestors out of hell fire by bringing to them the “gospel” truth. The same church that was supposed to represent the divine love of Christ became the biggest propaganda tool that was used to dismantle and discredit the religious system of an entire group of people and put a bridle in their mouths. In Zimbabwe the god my forefathers prayed to Musikavanhu (Shona) or Umdali (Ndebele) which both mean “Creator of man” was whitewashed and banished out of the memories of the children of the soil.
The tragedy of this “Hero” is that he believed himself just in the role he played in the conquest of Africa whilst it is he who peddled the falsehood that all things European were superior by far to anything African. A famous missionary by the name of Robert Moffat, who was praised by his colleagues as a champion of the Blacks wrote a very condescending thing about Mzilikazi the King of Ndebele in 1857.
He said “His government, is one of tyranny and intrigue, lies and blood. I feel melancholy…. I often feel willing to suffer anything or die any kind of death if it would only result in the moral renovation of the Matabele, their deliverance from their present awfully degraded condition.”
This was not a statement of brotherly love but a message supporting the subjugation of Africans.
The other “hero” who came was the Pioneer. He came to claim territory and wealth in the name of his Sovereign whose authority the people of Africa did not acknowledge or fall under. This “Superhero” came to plunder the vast riches of the virgin continent and justified his looting by saying that he had come to “civilise” the barbarians and bring commerce and industry to a backward people. One such a man was the British imperialist and capitalist Cecil John Rhodes who raised an army called the Pioneer Column to annex the territory we now know as Zimbabwe in 1890.
The invasion of Africa by these unwanted “hero” archetypes gave birth to a diabolical and inhumane phenomenon known as colonisation. Like the Native Americans, my people too were dispossessed of their land and driven like oxen to the Reserves where the land was dry and nothing grew or flourished. They became slaves in their own home and were relegated to the rank of second class citizens. The colonial masters beat the dignity out of them, despised their culture and heritage, stripped away their socio-economic power, force-fed them a foreign religion with which they could not relate and eroded their minds by incubating in them a deep seated self-hatred. Black became the colour of shame and sorrow. The epitome of everything ugly. Like an atomic bomb the effects of colonisation are still evident today in the African communities where colorism is a real divisive problem.
The First World either stood by or participated in the scramble for Africa. No one stopped to consider the natives of this “New world” that was supplying their factories with raw materials and decorating their walls with beautiful elephant tusks. Europe flourished on the wealth and sweat of black people and her people praised the brave “pioneers” who had left the comfort of their developed world to venture into the heathen cesspool of Africa to save the black man from himself. They shut their eyes to what was before them. Africa was not a place without civilisation. The pyramids of the pharaohs, the kingdom of the Kongo and the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe amongst other profound land marks and seldom mentioned dynasties attest to this. The colonisation of Africa was not a rescue mission so let’s call a spade a spade. It was a venture of greed.
The awesome thing about the anti-hero in cartoons is that like a leopard he will never change his spots. You know exactly where you stand with him and there are no grey areas. He will chuckle maniacally and divulge his secret scheme when he has his victim cornered and it looks as though he might win. You can consistently count on his consistency to be bad unlike a so called hero. Heroes are human too, subject to the same whirlwind of emotions that we all go through and let’s be honest their motives are not always pure. So what is the moral of the story? When you see me in a pickle do not don tights and a cape on my behalf. I will save my own damn self! (Insert mad scientist laugh here…..)
Melody Ziki is a Zimbabwean writer and Telecoms Engineer by profession who lives in Harare , Zimbabwe. Her work is driven by a desire to tell "African" stories with a narrative that stays true to her heritage. She is working on her debut novel "Dreaming of Oranges". She has a literary blog on Facebook as @curiousmelziki