Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ghetto Diary and Other Poems

Title: Ghetto Diary and Other Poems, edited by Munyaradzi Z Mbire, Zimbabwe Publishing House, Harare, 2011
Isbn: 9780797446427
Reviewer: Memory Chirere
Every time that I browse through the new collection of poems called Ghetto Diary and Other Poems, I vividly remember the beguiling words of Kenneth Koch: Poetry is language within a language.
 
A poet strives for and attains the language of poetry, works in it and with it and in return, is always being inspired by it, Koch continued. The language of poetry gives one immense pleasure to use, Koch reasoned. And finally: The language of poetry can be defined first as a language in which the sound of the words is raised to an importance equal to that of their meaning.
 
For instance, when you meet Nyasha Mboti’s lines in this anthology, you may think that your sight is failing you because Mboti’s lines are as light as a feather. They float slowly into the clear blue sky and are seemingly thin on the message. But in the end, you will be alright:

“There is only
One way to love a woman
And that
Is to love her.
Love her like
She exists in a dream.
Do not cheat a woman
Do not ask her things
That she cannot answer.
Do to a woman, love.
Do to a woman the good things
That are in a man…”
Mboti’s poems have what may appear like whimsical titles too, like ‘I must write’, ‘I like songs’, ‘The Night listens to me’ and others, but as you read, you remember that you have once been down this road but you do not know when and how.  It is like peeping into a room to find an ant and when you peep again, there is an elephant! Then Zvisinei Sandi will surprise you with her sincerity before you know that she is keen on irony:
“Sin-
Something sweet, delicious, forbidden
Tantalising-
Something that glistens and dances with joy
Something-
That calls to the heart to come out and play
Something-
Mother says you are never, never to do
Something-
Hot and sweet and utterly satisfying.”
Zvisinei Sandi’s poems remind me of the hide and seek games of childhood out in the countryside. When you think you are close to the target, it has stealthily migrated back to where you were when the search started, musing at the way you search in the wrong places! You will be forgiven for thinking that the young poet, Garikai Kamanga has been understudying the older poet, Musaemura Zimunya. Like Zimunya, Kamanga is obsessed with rock. Its steadfastness and its immobility that moves time:

“I speak a poem
Of the holiness of stone – the divinity of rock
I speak a poem that is stone sure
Stone can only be stone clean
We are not dirt,
Stone is not corruptible,
Stone does not flee to the rootless lands,
stone loves its soil – it is soil
For what it is-it is.”
Kamanga has the unusual gift of playing on an ordinary every day word until it reminds you of the secondary character of words. As you read his poems, you notice that words are old things because if properly placed, they tend to carry the whole burden of history:

“Desire is a fire that burns unattended
With nothing to burn
Desire is a river that never runs dry
With no fish to swim in it
Desire is the finest black fruit in
An unseen valley
With no one to pick
Desire is the bluest sky
With no colourful wings to caress.
Desire is the itching in the heart
Scratching cannot cool that down.
Desire… was all we had, being black and poor.”
The nine poems  by Alexander Kanengoni, who is better known as a novelist and short story writer are the largest number of poems by him in one anthology. In his poems the sun sets and rises a lot. In one of these poems the Kanengoni persona cries out:

“Look at what the mountains are doing!
They are swallowing the cheeky sun!”
The mountains are in the West and they are swallowing, usurping the sun that shines for everyone. And when the sun comes out in the East the following day, the community is still looking towards the West, worried about yesterday’s sun that got swallowed by the mountains in the West!
 
The poems by the late Stanley Ruzvidzo Mupfudza in this anthology have premonitions of death. There is one about procrastination, in which one is hoping to look too carefully before acting. Sadly, what one observes changes and transforms at the very moment of seeing because seeing itself takes time! Some of his poems like “Go Down Moses” and “Bridging The Middle Passage” reflect Mupfudza’s intense love for African American and Caribbean literature and thought. The eleven poems here make the largest number of his pieces in one book. Ruzvidzo Mupfudza passed away on 3 May 2010.

Mupfudza’s contemporaries, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Joice Mutiti, Rubie Magosvongwe Angeline Ruswa, Eresina Hwede, Madlozi Moyo and Josephine Muganiwa are given good enough space to present their wares and you read their poems slowly and with care because they constitute the core of this book in matters of vision and thrust. One day it may be prudent to come to terms with the way certain departments in institutions have contributed to certain ways of thinking and writing about our Zimbabwean reality.
David Mungoshi’s poems leave you with a feeling that life is best seen and appreciated just before you leave it:

“I have tasted sweet life
From a girl’s warm lips
Borne bitter-sweet words
From a woman’s practised mouth
I am tired of promises and visions
Cast by bleary-eyed seers
Enough of sorrow and disappointment…
To live only is my desire.”
A dying woman asks people to propel her up and get out of her way because she wants to see the fading sun “one last time.”  A dying man’s parting words are: “Young one, walk with care for your road leads to where I am.”
 
This book has well crafted and thought out lines with staying power. Whether they are; Ethel Kabwato’s memories of the ghetto or Madlozi Moyo’s classic laden pieces or Primrose Dzenga’s love offerings (that have no equal in Zimbabwe) or Theodora Chirapa’s deeply sad reminisces, they do not fail to touch you. This is an effortless book that furtively hooks you onto all those little things that constitute the essence of becoming Zimbabwean.

 

 

Monday, December 17, 2012

“I have flown around the world on the wings of poetry”: Musaemura Zimunya

“I have flown around the world on the wings of poetry”: Musaemura Zimunya (picture: by Batsirai Chigama)

Eddie Zvinonzw(EZ) of the Daily News interviews Zimbabwean poet Musaemura Zimunya (MZ)
EZ: Could you tell readers about yourself in brief? Who is Musaemura Zimunya? I would want to call you a man of many hats an outstanding academician in your own right — having lectured at the University of Zimbabwe since 1981— you are a published writer in both Shona and English and you co-edited And Now the Poets Speak, an anthology of largely liberation poetry from Zimbabwe.

MZ: I was born in Mutare General Hospital, grew up in rural Zimunya, attended Munyarari Primary School.  I do not recall my father being employed and so my mother raised most of the little money that went towards our texts books – mostly second hand – uniforms and food.  She brewed beer or worked in fields of richer neighbours and when we were old enough we would join her. 

But my father was a great mbira and ngoma player, one of the greatest of his time.  I recall him sitting me on his lap and picking the mbira keys against my ears.  The sounds have remained with me ever since and so I am a forever profoundly moved by good mbira sounds. He was also a fantastic story teller with a flair for the dramatic and descriptive – which I believe I inherited from him.

My mother was the second wife of my father and so she bore the brunt of abuse that came with that.  And, as time went by, as her children, we also shared some of that abuse.  But, apart from not doing much to support us, I don’t remember my father being physically or verbally abusive to my mother, though, my mother sometimes did her best to take out her frustrations on him.  I only recall him famously declaring: “Idi, andichayi mukadziba ini.  Mudzimai ishuka.” (I will never assault a woman. A woman is a glorious thing!)

Growing up was mostly about herding cattle in the summer months and playing in the dry season.  We had little teams of rival families playing organized games of “soccer” using tennis or plastic balls on Sundays.  I soon fell in love with music and caught the ear of the church choir master who invited me to join.  That was my route to the enjoyment of the arts as our choir competed in the Manicaland Schools Association Eistedford – a choir competition – and provided music for church services.
 
Following good Standard Six results, I got a United Methodist scholarship to study at Chikore Secondary School, Craigmore, Chipinge where I studied from Form One to Form Four.

By the end of my Form Two, I was beginning to scribble poems under the guidance of a great master – Tobby Moyana.  My first taste of excitement about my writing came in the same year when I read a valedictory poem in tribute to our respectable master of English, Miss Cousins. I cannot remember exactly what moved the assembly, but the applause was deafening at the end of my performance.  Two years later, in 1970, I submitted a folio of five poems for a national poetry competition open to Rhodesians and South Africans.  I did not do well enough to win the first prize but the quality of my poems moved the judges to recommend the creation of a special prize to accommodate my work.  And so, I won my first national prize for poetry then.
 
I then proceeded to Goromonzi High School for my ‘A’- Levels following which I joined the University of Rhodesia on a grant in 1973 but immediately fell into trouble for demonstrating against racism on campus, leading to imprisonment for nine months with three months suspended. On release from jail, I got banned for five years from entering Salisbury – effectively rendering it impossible for me to continue further with my education. The banning order was reversed in 1975 following d├ętente – the same time as our political leaders (Joshua Nkomo, Robert Mugabe, Ndabaningi Sithole etc) were released from detention.
 
I had already made applications to study abroad and duly left for The University of Kent at Canterbury for further studies.  In April, 1980 I returned to the newly independent Zimbabwe as a Research Fellow in the English Department, then successfully interviewed for a permanent lectureship in 1981, becoming senior lecturer in 1985.
 
I have an abundance of hobbies which keep me away from boredom, such as soccer (Dynamos and Arsenal), music (Mapfumo, Tuku, Macheso, Four Brothers, Franco and TPOK, Soul, jazz, gospecl – the list is very long.), fishing( bream, catfish, bass), reading, natural farming, free-range chicken rearing etc.
 
EZ: Having gone through the missionary education system what  do you view as the net benefit of learning there?
 
MZ: It was a privilege to study at a mission school and a government school. In both cases the emphasis was on acquiring some of the culture of the Westerners. But, as Chikore Secondary School was an American mission, predictably, it was more liberal, encouraging the free development of scholarship, social responsibility and creative intuitions, although it was impossible to escape the religious regime.  On the other hand, although Goromonzi High was not strictly governed by religious values, the contemporary authority reflected the oppressive colonial values where the environment itself was a barrier against intellectual freedom. In particular, Goromonzi was notorious for birching, a form of corporal punishment the Principal fondly referred to as “six of the best”. Consequently, therefore, I personally suffered a culture shock and a feeling of torture I had last known during my early childhood.
 
EZ: You were at university during the latter part of the 1970s liberation war. You have written about and during that period. Has the post-independence era produced the quantity expected of it given there was some semblance of freedom in the country?

MZ: My short stay at the University of Rhodesia was not particularly productive because as black students, we were under enormous pressure to fight white racism, and since the university was surrounded so closely by “whites only” suburbs, the feeling of alienation was sometimes horrifying. Black students were outnumbered by white students by a ratio of 3:1 and in classrooms the ratios could even be much bigger.  The real inspiration was outside the campus, in the political environment, in the townships, in the rural areas and across the continent. So, naturally, our writing reflected these tensions. What happens after independence required a new approach to writing because liberation from colonial bondage brought an enormous sense of relief, but as was the slogan, “the struggle continued”.  Sometimes authors pandered to political relevance and that tended to temper the growth of a literature independent of general elections and political programmes – which was the advantage of the ‘70’s. Our writers have been struggling over the years to create a terrain of literary independence where authors did not have to cow-tow to any particular political persuasion in order to remain relevant to society.  In other words, we have not yet created a literary culture whose integrity is untrammeled by moral, political, social and cultural expediency and yet remaining solidly relevant to society.
EZ: I notice of late there has been growing enthusiasm on the Zimbabwe Writers Association (ZWA). I believe this could actually be improved on. What are your plans for ZWA and how do you perceive the organisation maybe years from now?

MZ: ZWA is a new and exciting project.  As you may be aware, it has been running bi-monthly meetings focusing on a variety of subjects such as “How I create,” “How writers maximize on their creative works to reap financial and other rewards” and “Unpacking the COPAC Draft Constitution for authors”.  These sessions have contributed immensely to the mentoring, development and networking of authors.  At the same time, we have made four outreach programmes to introduce ZWA to Bulawayo, Gweru, Mutare and, lately, Masvingo. These outreaches also serve as occasions for writers to share information about their works, sectoral problems and challenges, lessons and solutions.

Both the bi-monthly and outreach programmes are deliberately aimed at carving the space for writers to freely debate issues of particular concern to their industry as well as their emotional anxieties and creative needs. In the process, ZWA has now identified challenges that can be handled by sub-sectoral associations and national organizations.  ZWA is determined to work with other steakholders of the book industry in order to improve the environment and make writers enjoy the national importance that they cherish. In 2013, ZWA will join ZIBF in celebrating 30 years of success, evolution and development in addition to following up on its own projects including the setting up of a website and national secretariat, running writers workshops etc  
EZ: There was interesting discussion at a recent ZWA gathering on the constitution-making process. What is your view on the relationship between artists in general and literary artists in particular and politics?

MZ: Artists and writers do not operate in a vacuum.  Though it is driven by politicians, the constitution making process and its product transcends narrow political boundaries to include civic and natural right. Thus, writers may ignore this to their peril.  However, let me stress, first and foremost, that ZWA is not a political platform for political activism.  The only politics you will experience in ZWA is the politics of writing and publishing.  Notwithstanding this, no writer is excluded from joining the organization on account of their ideological leanings.  As an organization, we believe that the country deserves organizations where differences of opinion do not have to be resolved by physical violence or verbal insults.
EZ: Then comes the disturbing story of artists failing to live off their works. I personally live in Chitungwiza where Charles Mungoshi stays. Going forward, what do you think should be done to avoid such things in the future?

MZ: As you may be aware, one of the principles driving the formation of ZWA was precisely the tragedy of authors who are abandoned by both society and publishers even though their writings made enormous contribution to the education of our citizens and the to the coffers of publishers.  ZWA’s long term objective is to canvass widely for recognition of writers beyond their healthy years.
EZ: Where does your passion for arts in general and poetry in particular come from?

MZ: As mentioned earlier, I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a family where my father was a great mbira player, traditional drummer and story teller.  My mother had a powerful singing voice and a gift for adapting to new forms of singing.  My entire immediate family is so capable of singing that at any given get together; no opportunity to combine voices in acapella sounds is ever missed.  Besides, I play guitar, sing and compose. I am a former member of the The National Arts Council and ZIWU.  I have done much research on Zimbabwean music and am privileged to have been a co-manger of Thomas Mapfumo and The Blacks Unlimited.  This is over and above the fact that I am a well-established poet and short story writer.  The arts, you can say, are in me and I am in the arts.
EZ: A study of your early poetry shows you sound so passionate and critical of the movement of people from rural to urban centres. In the latter years of our history new have seen government trying to come up with the concept of growth points to try and decongest the towns and cities. What would be your opinion of this reverse movement?

MZ: Having been raised in the rural areas and suffered the culture shock of city life myself, it was only natural that I would benefit creatively from the conflict and tension of  that experience. My first impressions of the city and city life were actually very divided, being attractive to the bright lights and repelled by the immorality and the ugliness of racism.  As for growth points, I see them as a shaky bridge between the rural and the urban, combining the worst forms of cultural assimilation.  The majority of these are degraded by a culture that is highly conscious of its inferiority to the urban, where aping is the natural inclination of the community.
EZ: How do you balance your day-to-day occupation with writing?

MZ: The experience of writing is powerful enough to penetrate every activity to the point where the division implied in your question is not an issue.  I do not know how many times I have been reminded by my audience that I was practicing my poetry on them even though I might have been engaging in serious discussion and conversation with them without even caring about poetry.  Many a time I have said something and wondered if I could not have turned the phrase into an opening sentence in a short story or poem.  Most good writers are always practicing their ideas on their unsuspecting audiences, therefore.
EZ: Are you working on anything at the moment or how early can we expect your next gem?
MZ: Yes, I am, but for fear of miscarriage, I may not reveal the date of delivery.
EZ: What were your biggest influences?
MZ: This is not an easy question to do justice in a short interview.  Suffice to say, I have been touched by my parents, my late brother, Abel, individuals, lecturers and even passers-by whose verbal skills made me see the world anew.  I do not need to mention the vast number of writers whose works I have had the privilege to read and enjoy.
 EZ: What recognition have you had for your  writing?
MZ: Very often, I tell my students that “I have flown around the world on the wings of poetry”.  Which sounds arrogant, but is true.  I have been invited to participate in poetry festivals in South Africa, Ethiopia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany, France, U.K., USA and Colombia.  I have enjoyed many fellowships and visiting professorships based on my combined literary and academic reputation.  You can always google me under Musaemura or Musa Zimunya and check out for yourself just to sample what the world has said about me.
EZ: Any remarks to young writers in general?
MZ: I would prefer to address individual aspiring authors rather than society at large because each individual has challenges specific to them – for the most part.  However, the one omission that I urge all young writers to address is READING!  No one has yet become a famous author who has no respect for READING.  Above all, most young writers believe they have a masterpiece in their drawers.  This is called arrogance.  Make sure somebody else who is not your father or brother or uncle gives your manuscript that kind of judgement.
 EZ: Any comments on the future of Zimbabwean writing.
MZ: Given the size of our population and country, I am profoundly humbled by the awesome talent of our writers.  And even when our country seemed down on its knees, there was always some cute talent popping up somewhere, at home and abroad.  My only apprehension is the state of our publishing that has pushed our writers to publish abroad, even though our system cannot make the writings easily accessible at home.  Consequently, we have an increasing body of Zimbabwean literature stuck in the vaults of foreign publishers.
EZ: You could add anything you feel would be relevant.
MZ: I wish our writers and the nation a Safe and Happy Xmas and a Prosperous and Blessed 2013.
++ a version of this interview appeared in the Daily News of 10 December 2012
important Zimunya email: nyamuzi.suma@gmail.com

 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zimbabwean Literature in African languages: Chiwome and Mguni


Title: Zimbabean Literature in African Languages: Crossing Language Boundaries, Booklove Publishers, Gweru, 2012,332 pages,isbn:9780707447325
Authors: Emmanuel M. Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni
Reviewer: Memory Chirere
Nowadays an academic book is not supposed to be esoteric. A good academic book should read like a good friend; some familiar insights with very fresh perspectives. You do not want to keep looking for your dictionary. You also do not want to take painkillers before reading an academic book in an area of your choice. Emmanuel Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni’s book, Zimbabwean Literature in African Languages is thankfully readable. It is the most important new book on Zimbabwean literature that I have read this year, 2012.

This is an attempt to bring literatures in Ndebele and Shona languages to the centre of Zimbabwe’s critical practice for serious scrutiny. The text breaks away from separatist approaches in the study of Zimbabwean literature in African languages.

Criticism of Zimbabwean Literature has its various pitfalls. There are some fundamental questions that the community of Zimbabwean literary critics need to grapple with. For example, what use is it to study Charles Mungoshi’s Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva in a Department of African Languages and Literature and his Waiting for The Rain, separately in a Department of English?
Another question: why is it Mutswairo’s Feso is studied separately from Ndabaningi Sithole’s AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi when both are pathfinder Zimbabwean novels about the same very early disgruntlement of Africans with colonialism? Is it just because one is in Shona and the other, Ndebele? 

Yet another question; is it not a misnomer that those who are considered specialists on Zimbabwean literature are just familiar with only one form of writing from Ndebele, Shona and English? How many of us can stand up to claim to be comfortable with all our three broad literatures? Would it not be exciting to read a Sigogo novel translated from Ndebele to Shona to English or a Chiundura Moyo novel translated from Shona to Ndebele to English?

It is in this regard that the book by Chiwome and Mguni is groundbreaking and may remain inimitable for years to come. Although versions of sections on Shona literature in this book had already appeared in previous books by Chiwome like; A Critical History of Shona Poetry, A Social History of The Shona Novel and others, the sections on Ndebele literature are appearing in book form for the first time. That too, is groundbreaking.
Newcomers to Ndebele literature will read here that while Mutswairo’s Feso of 1956 was the first novel to be published in the Shona language, Ndabaningi Sithole’s AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi was the first novel to be published in Ndebele the same year. Where the original first chapter of Feso (which focused on the translocation of Africans from fertile lands to barren soils in semi-arid regions) was dropped by the publisher, the original title of Ndabaningi Sithole’s novel “Umvukela WamaNdebele” was perceived as subversive (because of its African nationalist connotations) and dropped in favour of  “AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi.”

Chiwome and Mguni discover that in that novel, Ndabaningi Sithole takes the perspective of the Ndebele people as his creative stance, identifying the disgruntlement of the Ndebele and the subsequent 1896 uprising. They argue that Feso and AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi are one of the few works of the early period whose sensibility is Afrocentric.
Chiwome and Mguni indicate that while Feso and AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi were vehicles of African nationalism, this trend was not consistently sustained by the successor generations of writers in both Ndebele and Shona.

Chiwome and Mguni identify the case of G. Malaba’s ULunguza (1968) which they find celebrating the rise of western civilisation. Lunguza, the wester educated main character in that novel rejects the African way of looking at life. In addition, ULunguza ends with a poem that says Africa should take ideas from the east, west, south and north. It appears that Africa has nothing to offer to the world. Its people are passive objects to be transformed, rather than active players in social processes.
Chiwome and Mguni also find Chidzero’s Nzvengamutsvairo published in 1957 in the same vain. They indicate that in its ultimate meaning, Nzvengamutsvairo advocates a baseless need for harmony between Africans and whites as the basis of social progress and to that extent, the novel becomes a powerful tool in unconsciously articulating either colonial or Christian ideas.

In Patrick Chakaipa’s Dzasukwa Mwana Asina Hembe, Chiwome and Mguni find an example of missionary inspired writings that attempt to universalise values that support colonial administration because this novel is constructed to be understood solely in terms of the success and failure of individuals and not on the laws that prohibit labourers from resigning from employment.

Chiwome and Gambahaya contend that during the period in question, colonialism encouraged authors through the Rhodesia Literature Bureau to produce books that encouraged Africans to cherish their homes and remain in the reserves. These stories show characters that go to town to foolishly lose their social values. This finally gives the target African readers a view that reserves are, in fact, their natural homes. This, the writers note, was a consolidation of Bantustanism through literature.
Chapter six is another fascinating offering. It evaluates novels on the 1970’s war of liberation of Zimbabwe. There is Ndabezinhle Sigogo’s Ngenziwa Ngumumo Welizwe, K. Ndebele’s Kwakunzima, B. Ndlovu’s Umzila Kawulandelwa, Vitalis Nyawaranda’s Mutunhu Une Mago and Paida Mwoyo, C. Matsikiti’s Makara Asionani and many others.

Chiwome and Mguni’s conclusion is that the Shona war novel reveals developments that are parallel to those in Ndebele. Although these are important novels in the development of Zimbabwean literature in general, most of them tend to end where battles are won or with the celebration of the return to normal life. Their plots give the impression that the struggle ends with the end of the war. This approach disengages the minds of the readers from reflection on contemporary dimension of the struggle. As the freedom fighters in this novel are demobilised and gathered in assembly points, so are the minds of the readers. These novels end as if the war itself is the attainment of freedom, Chiwome and Mguni reason.

The other chapter to look forward to is the one on the disturbances that occurred in Matabeleland and the Midlands between 1982 and 1987. Chiwome and Mguni spell out that literary creativity on this subject needs to be understood in terms of the efforts to provide insights into a deeper understanding of history. Novels in this area are assessed in light of their capacity to unravel the history. Chiwome and Mguni say that they are mindful of the fact that artists, unlike historians who rely on hard facts, can read into the silences.

There is a lot of fiction on this area whose slants fall on either of the two sides of the conflict. Many breath taking novels were written. Some of them; Okukhulunywa Ngabantu; Sasisemeveni, Mhandu Dzerusununguko and  Uyangisinda Lumhlaba. Chiwome and Mguni feel that in matters that involve suspicion, insurgency and counterinsurgency reality is shrouded in secrecy and speculation. They find the  novels about the conflict in Matabeleland to be too episodic to create a convincing link between cause and effect. What remains clear is the effect of the conflict.
Maybe the most visible weakness of this history making book is chapter 14, the conclusion itself. It is rather unstable and eclectic for a book of this magnitude. One felt that instead of concluding, there was a rather surprise inclusion of new perspectives that may need another book length to settle. In addition, for a book published in 2012, there is a glaring absence of literature from the very active decade that we have gone through in Zimbabwe.

One is however very impressed that such an important book is published by a new publisher; Booklove Publishers in Gweru, Zimbabwe. The binding, design and editing are just world class! But then; you don’t publish a book of this magnitude and leave out the authors’ biographies entirely! Zifikile Mguni is currently Associate Professor in the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of African Languages and Literature where she lectured in literature alongside Professor Emmanuel Chiwome until his death in early 2003.

 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where is the literature of the Zimbabwe fast track land reform?


 When will "you people" tackle the fast track land reform of your country in your literature? This is the question that you are often asked as soon as people learn that you are a writer from Zimbabwe.

The first assumption is that nothing has been written on this subject and that the Zimbabwean writer is a betrayer. The other assumption is that one should write fiction on things as soon as they happen like journalists do. The most awkward of these people assume that since you are a writer, you must ‘know everything’ enough to sit down and write now-now! They think you will be happy by merely chronicling events during the fast track land reform.

In a widely circulated website interview with Nordiska Afrikainstitutet of February 2004, Zimbabwean writer and critic based in South Africa, Professor Robert Muponde argues that ‘Land is the text of Zimbabwean History and Literature.’ He was referring to the centrality of Land in seminal Zimbabwean literature texts set in Rhodesia. Some of them are Charles Mungoshi’s ‘Waiting for The Rain,’ Shimmer Chinodya’s ‘Dew In The Morning’ and Yvone Vera’s ‘Without a Name.’

Muponde even argues that Zimbabwean writers of fiction (at home and abroad) are currently lagging behind the politicians who have championed real activity on the land issue on the ground that the writers cannot tell whether the new activities on the ground are akin to what the writer had called for before and just after independence.

Robert Muponde’s actual words are: “…the writer who a year ago was urging the politician to seize land, even factories and shops belonging to white people (as suggested in Mujajati's Victory), in the name of the people, now finds that the politician has not only outdone the writer in shouting the presence of inequalities in society. The politician has gone further. He has left the writer with two stark choices: the writer must endorse the politician's and war veteran's actions because that is what he (the writer) was urging in his poems (in the case of musicians, in their songs), or he must condemn the actions as reckless, etc.”

Whether Muponde’s intention is to identify the irony of such a situation or not, his point here is interesting. Seminal Zimbabwean Literature set in Rhodesia portray a certain cultural symbiosis between indigenous Zimbabwean people and their land. More acute is the people’s hunger for land and space in general.

For example in Mungoshi’s ‘Waiting For The Rain’(1975) the following passage stands out on the reader’s mind long after: “The sudden transition from the rolling ranches of Hampshire Estates, with their tall dry grass and the fertile soil under that grass, into the scorched nothing-between-here-and-the-horizon white lands of Manyane Tribal Trust Land, with the inevitable tattered scarecrow waving a silent dirge in an empty field, makes a funereal intrusion into the bus.”

The ever present sense of dryness of the Manyene Tribal Trust Land, contrasted against the vigorous fertility of the rolling Hampshire Eastate in this part of the novel highlights the series of land apportionment acts in the 1930’s in Rhodesia that threw the black from the fertile lands. This dryness also expresses itself when Tongoona is working on the dry field, a day before he goes to pick Lucifer from the bus. It is also felt by Betty as she walks to the township. It also expresses itself when Lucifer walks across the Charurwi landscape (in Chapter 38) and vows that there is nothing to love here in this wasteland.

In Dambudzo Marechera’s poem of 1973 called ‘Pledging My Soul,’ Land is described first as a potential sex partner:
             
            When I was a boy
          I climbed onto your granite breasts
          Smooth and round….
          I was yours
          And you were mine.

And in spiritual terms much later in the poem:
         
           Shall I not kneel to kiss the grains
           of your sand
          To rise naked before you- a bowl of incense?
          And the smoke of my nakedness shall be
          An offering to you
          Pledging my soul.
 
Another Zimbabwean scholar based in South Africa, Professor Maurice Vambe has also a widely circulated essay on Zimbabwean Literature and Land called ‘Celebrating Land Resistance.’ Although the tendency here is to categorically point out the moments when the Land issue appears in literary texts of Zimbabwe, Vambe is somehow convinced that so far the writer has ‘merely mentioned the matter.’


He argues that there is need for writers to explore the issue further since Land in Zimbabwe has been central to political discourse from as far back as the wars of resistance in the 1890’s. There is need, he emphasises, for the fictional writer to reflect on the recent ‘very active, phase of the land reform. Or, have the writers gone dry?
 
In February 2005 a Zimbabwean journalist called Chris Gande published a novel based on the Zimbabwean fast track land reform. This novel is called ‘Section 8.’ Again, Chris Gande was based in South Africa at the moment of writing. His novel could be one of the very first few that uses The Zimbabwean fast track land reform  as a background. The term ‘Section 8’ is apparently a Zimbabwean legal instrument used to notify white farmers that their former properties have been designated for compulsory acquisition by the Zimbabwean government. In ‘Section 8’ Themba Moyo a twenty-year Minister’s son finds love across the racial divide and falls for Jane, the daughter of a white commercial farmer.

 Members of Zimbabwe’s now defunct  ‘Budding Writers Association Of Zimbabwe’ published a whole literary journal on the Land reform issue in 2004. This journal, which contains short stories and a novella, is called: ‘Exploding the myths about Land.’

In this journal a novella by the late Martin Denenga called ‘Weeping.’ Up until 2004 ‘Weeping’ was the most incisive literary piece on the fast track land reform. ‘Weeping’ is about a conflict between a black community and a white farmer over the adjacent land to the farm and the farm itself. Denenga does not limit the land conflict to one historical epoch. This helps prove a historical fact that the animosity between blacks and whites over land is as old as colonialism itself. The writer presents complex characters, black and white and helps to dispel the myth about a superior race. He feels deeply into the lives of ordinary farm folks, villagers and the white community. There is pace, wit and thought here.

There was general hope that ‘Weeping’ would later be published separately. Sadly, Denenga passed on and the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe itself folded.

 In 2005 by D.E. Mutasa published a novel on the Land issue  called ‘Sekai Minda Tave Nayo.’ Dr D.E. Mutasa is the author of a popular book called ‘Nyambo DzeJoni’ which appeared once on the Zimbabwean school syllabus. Mutasa is a Professor at the University of South Africa. 

A highly experimental novel, Sekai Minda Tave Nayo  operates by way of letters written between and amongst Sekai and her former classmates and their families. The whole web of letters puts the land issue right at the centre of the discourse of a generation that is trying to come to terms with the fast track land reform in Zimbabwe. Suggested here is the idea that the rearrangement of land ownership in Zimbabwe has not only operated at a physical level. The mass movement of people, animals, goods and properties has also resulted in a radical evolvement of mindsets and attitudes.

 
However, the feeling that not enough fiction has been produced on this matter remains. But this view does not come from the writers themselves. You may want to be reminded that a lot guides the writer’s choice to write on any subject. Maybe the writer, like the politician and everyone else, is also busy on the land itself, either on the side of those tilling it or those fighting against the land occupations. Maybe for now the land issue can best be dealt with by the essay forms and the academic books and there are many of these now on the internet and the bookshops. Maybe with the help of time and objective distance, the fictional writer will only be able to look back and slowly write. And... there will not be one story!
 Memory Chirere

 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yvonne Vera's mother does it again!

Picture: Ericah Gwetai
 
Embracing the Cactus By Ericah Gwetai
Printed by Mambo Press, Senga Road, Gweru, 2012
Isbn: 9780797450653
144 pages
Reviewer: Memory Chirere
What happens when a married city man marries a second wife without the knowledge and consent of his people and that of his rural wife? Turmoil and tenacity. Such an experience is at the centre of Embracing the Cactus, a novel by Ericah Gwetai nee Mugadzaweta. She is mother to late writer, Yvonne Vera.

It is around 1950 and train driver, Sabelo Moyo meets Janet Gumede, a very beautiful Bulawayo nanny at Shangani railway station. They fall for each other instantly. Within a year, they get married. But Sabelo is already married to Immaculate with whom he has three children. Immaculate stays in Sabelo’s rural home not far from Bulawayo. Sabelo and Janet are fully aware of what they are doing but are not prepared to follow tradition.

When Immaculate eventually learns about it, she becomes bitter because tradition has not been followed. She has been taken for granted. The headman in Sabelo’s own village explains what should have happened: “Polygamy is part of our culture. There are, however, certain procedures and rituals to be followed and undertaken by a man who intends to take in a second wife. First… the man should send his sisters to inform his first wife about his intention… If she allows her husband to take another wife a ritual is performed… A goat is slaughtered and shared equally between the first wife and her rival. The goat symbolises the man that the women would share equally… the ritual is called ukuhlanganiswa meaning to be united with your rival.”

Ill luck strikes and Sabelo loses his job in Bulawayo. He has no choice but to take Janet and her soft urban children to face Immaculate and her rural children. A bitter turf war begins. Janet and her children are declared trespassers in Immaculate’s compound. Immaculate decides where they are going to be sheltered temporarily. They have to seek her clearance whenever they have visitors or want to have a family function. Immaculate decides that since she is Sabelo’s legitimate wife, she can have Sabelo in her bedroom six nights a week only allowing him to see Janet once a week.

One day Janet travels on the scotch cart from the bus stop with one of Immaculate’s sons. From nowhere, the boy rudely tells Janet that she must get ready for him in the event that Sabelo dies or becomes invalid. Janet is shocked and notices that the boy may actually rape her. She escapes into the bushes, calling for help. The boy pursues his father’s illegitimate wife. His mother has been saying many nasty things about this woman from the city. As they are doing that Janet tragically falls into a smouldering saw mill dump and is burnt severely. Her legs have to be amputated.

As if that is not enough, Janet is rejected by her own daughter, Precious. Her complaint is: Mother, why did you marry father when you knew that she was married to another woman? Precious has a meeting with Immaculate just to say: I am sorry that our father went on to marry our mother, violating your own marriage. Precious sides with Immaculate against her own mother. Eventually she escapes to Australia where she becomes a nurse. And when there is turmoil in her family back home, she writes a letter clearly stating: GIVE ME A BREAK! How many daughters out there can stand with their mother's love rivals against their very own mother? How many daughters can severely punish their own mothers for marrying their fathers?

This book is going to give all those readers and scholars who are into feminism, womanism and related ideas something to think about. Here is an African tradition ukuhlanganiswa that demands that women be respected and consulted in matters that involve them. Yet more often we are told that it is tradition that oppresses women when in most cases it is actually abuse of tradition by the uncaring that brings women down. 

Embracing the Cactus is Gwetai’s debut novel and her third book. Previously, she wrote Realities, a book of short stories and Petal Thoughts, a must read biography of her late daughter, Dr. Yvonne Vera. The biography could well be a ‘first’ ever to be written by a mother about her child. She died in April 2005. To date, the late Yvonne Vera could easily be the most outstanding woman writer from Zimbabwe writing in English.

However, readers must be warned that although Ericah Gwetai is mother to Yvonne Vera, she is her own woman. Here you do not find Yvonne’s intense prose poetry. What is on offer here is a deeper and more amazing understanding of African cultural intricacies, rendered in a far simpler and unaffected prose. Her episodic chapters and very unpredictable plot constitute the Ericah Gwetai signature.

However, the production of Embracing the Cactus is not impressive. On pages 2, 3, 5, 18,114 and in so many other places, the paragraphing and annotation are not regular. One wonders if the editors and typesetters ignored the fact that this book would definitely attract an international audience. The cover too was rather hastily done. If the artist was going for an abstract representation, then it was overdone. Besides, it is not any abstract painting that can smoothly transform into a useful picture for a book cover.