Sunday, January 19, 2014

Only the survivor lives to face the vagaries of the day

Title: Kusara Kunze Huona
Author: Colette Choto Mutangadura
Publisher: Zimbabwe women Writers, 2013
pp105, isbn: 978-0-7974-5679-2
Colette Mutangadura's latest Shona novel, Kusara Kunze Huona is to date one of the very few fictional narratives in the Shona language to dwell extensively on what has come to be known as Zimbabwe’s decade of crisis. This is a period around 1998 to 2008. Whichever way it is considered, this Zimbabwean crisis is characterised by political strife, serious economic meltdown, an acute brain drain and the general collapse of public amenities that the country suffered.

An urban based widow and grandmother, vaHazvinei is caught up in this serious crisis. All her sons and their wives and all her daughters and their husbands fall victim, one after the other, to the Aids pandemic, leaving her with their numerous children  in the tiny two rooms of her four roomed old house in Joburg lines, Mbare Harare. There are some lodgers in the other two rooms and in this crisis, they pay her once in a long-long while.

Kusara Kunze Huona, a Shona saying precisely means that only those who survive live to face the vagaries of the day. This is exactly what happens to vaHazvinei. At a time when even the able bodied have nowhere to turn, the old lady swallows her lifelong pride and goes out to beg at Mbare Musika, with some of her grand children in tow.

Then one day she comes back home to find her fourteen year old grandson in the process of raping her seven year old granddaughter! The boy is from vaHazvinei's late daughter and the girl is from her late son's side. Will vaHazvinei report the poor boy to the police? Will vaHazvinei tell her injured granddaughter to keep quiet about it all? Will the girl’s school teacher keep quiet when she learns about this?

The marauding boy storms out returning only in the middle of the night, then going away for good to join the growing gangs of criminals of impoverished Harare. Soon he is into pickpocketting, carjacking, prostitution, drug abuse and the other numerous vices.

Meanwhile, the crisis rages on and there is Operation Murambatsvina, the political violence, the fast track land reform and the curious stories about the raping of men by women and vaHazvinei is caught in between. Will she survive with half a dozen orphans in Mbare? And… from nowhere, a friend of her late daughter bumps into the old lady.

Mutangadura is a traditional writer in that when you read her text, it feels like you are listening to a friend sitting on the other side of the hearth, telling a story. Her Shona language rings with the clear clarity associated with Shona griots. The novel begins abruptly with: VaHazvinei vakamuka ndokusaidzira magumbeze kumakumbo. Chimba chavo chekuMajubheki chakanga chasakara zvaisemesa. Vakagwabvura musoro wavo zvine simba vachiedza kunyaradza kuvava nokuswinya kwawainge woita. Mupumbuchena uyu akakwenya zvokuti dai raiva ganda rechidiki kana ropa ringadai rakaerera, asi nokuda kwokusharuka ganda ravo rakanga ratindivarara uyewo rasvava zvokuti ropa rakange rave shoma. (Old Hazvinei woke up with a start and pushed the blankets down to her feet. Her blasted house in Joburg lines was now old and filthy. She scratched her head vigorously, trying to silence some irritation. The old fellow scratched so hard that had it been young skin, blood could have oozed. Now her skin was old and wrinkled, betraying the little blood underneath.)

Mutangadura can be very dramatic, in a traditional Shona way:  Mbuya vakabuda panze kuti vaende kuchimbuzi. Vakatambirwa netsvina isina akamboona. Ndove yevanhu asi kunge danga renguruve, iro zimweya rinounza nhunzi dzorufu kase. Kwakange kusina mvura musiyo. Chembere yakaombera maoko, “Zvino ndizvo zvinonzi Harare izvi?...” (Grandma went out intending to go to the toilet. She was met with lots of human dung. Human dung that looked like pig dung and the smell that brings death everywhere. There was no tape water on that day. The old lady clapped her hands in exasperation and cried, “So this is what Harare has become?...”

However, the old woman’s thoughts as she watches a country in transition remain an upward quest. She is constantly looking for anything useful in this strife; a whisper, a pat on the back, some pumpkins, news about those in the Diaspora, dreams about a piece of land of her own, the smell of perfume that reminds her of any of her long gone children, awkward political slogans...She is always listening and wondering which side is right or wrong. Which side will triumph…when, why and how? Her mind is an encyclopaedia.

Published in several anthologies mostly by Zimbabwe Women Writers, Collette Choto Mutangadura was born on 19 March 1945 in Hwedza and has a lot of work accredited to her name. Mutangadura’s first novel Rinonyenga Rinhwarara – ‘A beggar humbles himself’, was published in 1983 by Mambo Press in association with the Literature Bureau is a love story. In 2007, she compiled traditional recipes by women from around Goromonzi area about 50 km east of Harare, Zimbabwe.  It is called ‘Kubika Machikichori' Shona for preparing delicious meals.

Her second novel, Rutendo: The Chief’s Granddaughter (2009) is about Rutendo, the most promising daughter of in an African village who comes home on holiday from a white man’s college to find her grandfather, the chief’s homestead guarded by white soldiers. It is during the bitter war of liberation in Rhodesia. Suddenly Rutendo's romance with the liberation movement in the village seems compromised as her heart wonders off into a white soldiers’ tent. She falls in love with the white soldier, Barry!

The author is one of the founders of Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW). Formed in 1990, (ZWW) is an arts and culture trust concerned particularly with the promotion of women’s literature in Zimbabwe.

Kusara Kunze Huona is particularly compelling and a must reader for those who want an insider’s insights into Zimbabwe’s so called decade of crisis.
(Reviewed by Memory Chirere)

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