The Story of Peter Coetzee and Julius Limbani

A long time ago somebody told me that it is human nature to fear things they don’t understand. Back then I agreed with him. Then came the day Nevan was born. In the hospital I sneaked up in the nursery as often as I was allowed to (and more) just to look at him sleeping peacefully. And when I happened to be there when he was awake, I poked his tiny hand with index finger and he automatically grabbed it; and he smiled. He didn’t know who I am, and he was too young to even care, yet he seemed to enjoy the human contact even with a perfect stranger. As he grew up, I once saw how he easily befriended a stray puppy who wandered into our yard, and later a snake in the zoo.

What’s so special about those? Well, it made me start asking questions whether it is truly human nature to fear things they don’t understand. A habit, maybe, but a nature? Babies instinctively welcome strangers, and babies are humans, too. Adults tend to act differently, or even in a total contrast. Why this difference? What turns the warmth of trust within babies into the cold suspicions of adults?

Unfortunately, the only answer I can think of is that adults think and forget too much. As they grow up, people’s ideas grow too, and somewhere between they start to establish identities, either individual or as groups. They think of these identities as something beyond any kind of adjustment, forgetting that the identities actually come from adjustments. This kind of thinking, along with some other conditioning, has the tendency to grow into something else and not a very pleasant one: an irrational suspicion or even hatred toward something different from the mindset of one’s identity.

There is this unpublished novel written by Daniel Carney, a white Zimbabwean, titled The Thin White Line, about a group of 50 mercenaries hired to save a deposed president about to be executed. In 1978 it was made into a movie starring Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris, titled The Wild Geese. Some critics considered the novel only as “an intellectual mediocre”, and in some points I tend to agree with them, much as I love reading this novel over and over again. However, mediocre as it is, there is one interesting part of this novel that I never cease to see as one of the most beautiful parts of any novel ever written and that’s the interaction between Peter Coetzee and Julius Limbani.

Julius Limbani, whose character was based on the real-life Moise Tshombe, was a deposed Congolese leader. His plane was hijacked by the CIA as part of a deeal with current Congo president General Ndofa (based on Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga) and he was detained by Ndofa awaiting execution. Peter Coetzee was a white Rhodesian ex-anti-guerrilla police officer stranded in London and had to become a mercenary to earn money to return to the only home he knew, Rhodesia. Limbani had little reason to trust the whites, after what they’ve done to Africa and himself, and Coetzee generally distrusted the blacks, merely because he grew up as a part of an apartheid society. Due to the problem with the rescue operation, Coetzee (along with two other mercenaries) had to carry Limbani (whom he called ‘kafir’) through the bushes to eascape for the Simbas. It was during this flight that the two men truly started to interact with each other as two human beings, not as two identities. First they argued, then they reasoned.

At some point, Coetzee recalled to Limbani his experience when he had watch over a black prisoner. He and the prisoner started to like each other, until a question was asked by Coetzee, “If the blacks are marching against the whites and the blacks are wrong ones, which side will you take?” to which the prisoner replied, “The blacks.” The prisoner in turn asked Coetzee, “If the whites are marching against the blacks and the whites are wrong ones, which side will you take?” to which Coetzee replied “The whites.” Coetzee then told Limbani, that in the end you will always stick to your own kind. Limbani, on the other hand, replied that it was too premature to end it like that. To him, the talk between Coetzee and the black prisoner was a point where two different identities started to try to understand each other. He criticized how Rhodesia educated the blacks but kept on distrusting them and thus denying them opportunities. He also mentioned how the blacks started up by admiring the whites and ended up hating them because of this (and matters became even worse because of outside interference), and also about the 1960s African situation and how the blacks need the white; not the occasional whites who only stayed for business in Africa but people like Coetzee who had no other home and always considered Africa their home. Coetzee himself said to Limbani, “We whites are Africans, and we are staying.” As the discussion went on, both Coetzee and Limbani grew considerable respects toward each other that would have been grown into friendship if the Simbas didn’t attack them.

Screenshot-2017-11-8 WILDE GEESE EN - full movie
OK, that was a very long quote to make a point but I can only hope that it was not a waste of typing effort. There are many Limbanis and Coetzees out there. They distrust each other either because of post traumatic experience (as in Limbani’s case), or because of some classical conditioning by a society in which they live in (as in Coetzee’s case). Unlike Limbani and Coetzee, most of them choose to distrust, and even hate each other. Unlike Limbani and Coetzee, most of them don’t have the chance to understand each other. Choice and chance.

 

I don’t like the idea of being xenophobic, but I can understand why and how somebody can become one. I don’t condemn them. I pitied them instead. As I’ve once asked a friend, “If you were a Palestinian, living under constant fear of an Israeli attack, would you be able to think that not all Israelis are monsters? If you were an Israeli, living under constant fear of Palestinian retaliation, would you be able to believe that not all Palestinian are terrorists? If you were black living in Mississippi under the fear of being lynched by the KKK mob, would you be able to believe that not all white were racists bastard? If you were an Indonesian Chinese who had suffered the attacks of the mob in 1982 and 1998, would you be able to feel that not all Indonesian ‘natives’ (if there is any such a thing) are jealous barbarians? If you were an Indonesian student who had been gang-raped by a bunch of Skinheads, would you be able to think that not all Germans are barbaric rapists?” When the time comes for you to experience such things, will you be able to think differently? Maybe you will, maybe you won’t. If you won’t, well, welcome to the xenophobic club and say goodbye to a wider horizon. By then you will totally forget that once you have condemned the xenophobic.

Coetzee was later killed trying to rescue Limbani from the Simbas. Limbani (in the movie version) later died before being able to make a difference as he promised Coetzee. Unlike Limbani and Coetzee, YOU ARE ALIVE. You still have the chance. You still have the choice.

Would you be able to resist the temptation of wearing a dead man’s shoes? You tell me.

 

 

NOTE: The picture is a screenshot of the movie The Wild Geese, taken without permission.

~ by edwinlives4ever on November 8, 2017.

One Response to “The Story of Peter Coetzee and Julius Limbani”

  1. Kayaknya nggak deh. *ngejawab pertanyaan di akhir, belum baca isi atasnya. Bhihihik

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