Ziso ReZongororo, a novel by Ignatius Mabasa
Published by Oxford University Press, 2021, Cape Town.
Isbn:978 0 19 072177 0.
A Review by Memory Chirere
Ziso Rezongororo, which translates to; the eye of a millipede, is the most recent Shona novel by the inimitable Zimbabwean writer, Ignatius Mabasa.
These are Shemhu’s very-very delicate recollections of his very turbulent boyhood. Shemhu, the dramatic name, is equivalent to shame in English. That name worries the boy immensely as he refers to it as ‘zita rinorwadza.’ He wonders if his parents were ashamed to have a baby boy or; they were having a go at all the people who, for some reason, had declared that they would never have a baby.
The boy’s insensitive teacher would look at Shemhu in class and say, “Shame on you, Shame.” The boy would cringe.
Shemhu’s parents divorce when he is just a boy of five. On the day his mother leaves the homestead, somebody very sympathetic asks Shemhu to go pick some cucumbers from the fields, and when he comes back, his mother is gone and gone forever!
The boy hopes his mother has gone away on an ordinary visit. He waits for days on end and his spirit crumbles. When she does not return, that is when the boy learns about the terrible word ‘divorce’ for the first time.
Years later, Shemhu writes a letter to his mother but neither does he know her address nor affords an envelope and a stamp. The letter eventually rots in his back pocket. Part of the letter goes: Amai, muri kupi? Muri kuitei ikoko? Muchadzoka here? Muchiri kundida here kana kuti mandikanganwa? Mufunge zvenyu amai, ndakatukwa ndichinzi uri mwana wenyoka.” Something like; mother where are you? What are you up to? When are you coming back? Do you still love me? Mother, they say that I am the young one of a snake…
Every child appears as innocent and seemingly as blind as the millipede; zongororo. But the millipede is to be seen going everywhere, feeling its way up and around objects, almost blind but sensitive. For Ignatius Mabasa, the mind of a child is like that, questioning, active, indefatigable and overly sensitive. That is Shemhu’s condition.
As he gropes on after his parents’ divorce, Shemhu goes on an intense mental search. Many people don’t know how it feels for a boy to try to work out why his parents can no longer be together. That is the forte of this novel.
Shemhu asks Dhanyere (an older nephew whose parents are also divorced) about the meaning of divorce and all he says to Shemhu is, “It (divorce) is something close to what happens when a cow is forcing its calf to stop suckling when the calf still desperately needs to suckle…, the cow running away from the poor calf and sometimes having to kick the poor calf in the face..”
The boy, Dhanyere, works out that divorce is not mutual; the cow wants the suckling to stop but the calf wants to continue…Your mother is gone, the people eventually tell Shemhu. But Shemhu wonders why he was not consulted before the so called divorce!
Immediately, Shemhu’s father gets married to a new woman. Shemhu fails to relate with the new woman. He also loses touch with his father. You come face to face with what a child feels to see his dear father being suddenly tender to a new woman who is not the boy’s mother!
Eventually, Shemhu’s father dies too and the boy is adopted by his father’s brother who transplants Shemhu from the village to the city. Sadly, Shemhu’s uncle takes the boy home with no prior arrangement with his wife, maiguru, in the city. When uncle gets to his Highfields house with Shemhu there is a huge row between him and maiguru.
The well fed and stubborn woman complaints loudly that she will not tolerate God forsaken strangers from the village into her home just like that: Zvekuunzirwa tuvanhu twune mazino anenge embeva, twusingagezi ndizvo zvandisingade” The frightened boy waits outside the house as he hears his uncle plead with his wife until he is grudgingly accepted.
You tremble with the book in your hands.
For me, the tense relationship between Shemhu and maiguru is, most probably, the worst person to person relationships that I have encountered in all Zimbabwean literature. Shemhu says, “maiguru vaindibata sebepa rafuriswa madzihwa rinofanira kuraswa,” meaning; maiguru treated me like used tissue paper that needs to be thrown away.
Shemhu is very dark in complexion. He is generally darker than all the people around him and he suffers from a kind of racial segregation in the extended family. Maiguru tells Shemhu that he is just too dark and scary to look at: “Shemhu, unotyisa unozviziva! Maziso ako matsvuku ayo, neganda rako dema iro zvinoita kuti uite kunge munhu wemashave. Chakachena chete pauri mazino.”
At some point, maiguru tells her son, Simbai that Shemhu is a monster! “Simbai, tiza! Hokoyo naShemhu uyo!” afterwards she bursts into uncontrollable fits laughter. She also says words like, “Shemhu uri firimu chaiyo. Uri Chituta chine kirimu!” meaning the boy is as amazing as a film star and is prince of all idiots.
One day, when maiguru is miffed that Shemhu is taking too long in the bathroom, she bursts into the little room and starts to relieve herself in full view of the stunned boy who is still bathing!
This is a story that will make you cry. This is a story that will make you laugh. This story will change your relationship with children and young people. You will be happy to know that this story has no sad ending and that Shemhu’s relationship with maiguru ends well.
Ziso ReZongororo has been prescribed by Zimsec for A level Shona exams from 2021 to 2023.
It is not difficult to see why Ignatius Tirivangani Mabasa is considered one of the leading writers of his generation in Zimbabwe. He is also a storyteller, and musician, who writes mainly in Shona. He was born in Mount Darwin and grew up on his grandfather's farm there. Mabasa is the first Zimbabwean to write a PhD thesis in Shona at Rhodes University, South Africa. Mabasa's debut novel, the satirical Mapenzi (Fools), won first prize in the Zimbabwe Book Publishers’ Association Awards in 2000. His second novel, Ndafa Here? (Am I Dead?) won the 2009 (NAMA) Outstanding Fiction Book as did his novel, Imbwa yemunhu (You Dog) in 2014. He lectures in Media and Journalism studies at the University of Zimbabwe.