Saturday, April 2, 2022

Ignatius Mabasa: Borrowing is not sowing...


 (Ignatius Mabasa)

In this wide-ranging interview, multiple award-winning Zimbabwean journalist, editor, musician and scholar, Moses Magadza (MM), talks to celebrated Zimbabwean writer, Ignatius Mabasa (IM),  about many issues, including: Mabasa's iconic PhD; promoting the vernacular; some of his books; religion and creative writing; the power of storytelling; the infamous tiff between the late Les Enfant Terrible of literature, Dambudzo Marechera and Aaron Chiundura Moyo, the current state of writing and publishing in Zimbabwe; and being a musician.

MM: You are the first Zimbabwean to write a PhD thesis on a subject studied in English in your vernacular Shona at Rhodes University, South Africa. What inspired this?

IM: There must be a first of something, right? The Shona PhD thesis had to be a first. It had to be done. Zimbabwe got its independence in 1980. We are now a 40-year-old country but we still don’t value our languages. I think it’s a scandal and a shame!

By looking down upon our languages, we are perpetuating the cognitive domination that existed during colonialism where the colonised depended on the coloniser’s concepts and categories to think about his own reality. Then what is the value of political independence if we are looking at the world through borrowed paradigms? At what point will we tell our own stories - if we ever get to tell them - because we are forgetting them and forgetting ourselves? Chinua Achebe says the story is our escort and without it we are blind. There is a mental battle going on, unfortunately in this ideological battle, most Africans are like the wolf that ate its own tail thinking it had caught a very fat squirrel.

MM: This matter about your iconic PhD has gone viral on social media across the world. How do you respond to people’s reaction to you – almost like Ngugi WA Thiongo – doing a major work in your vernacular?

IM: My PhD written in Shona has shown me that there are a lot of Africans out there who identify with the problem of being mentally colonised. There is a strong desire to decolonise the mind. The challenge is that most key institutions - like schools and universities, government departments in charge of arts and culture, and the media - are unwilling to decolonise because the decolonisation agenda is not appealing to the cocacolonised mind. We still think wisdom speaks in English. We are proud when our children are articulate in English yet look at us blankly when we talk to them in indigenous languages. Our governments must understand the nexus between language and development. Borrowing is not sowing.

MM: Your thesis is titled Chave Chemutengure Vhiri Rengoro: Husarungano Nerwendo Rwengano Dzevashona". In English, the title equates to "The folktale in confrontation with a changing world”. Please say more about your topic and your thrust.

IM: Chemutengure is a deceptively simple indigenous folksong composed when the whites came into Zimbabwe with their many wagons. The song effectively serves as art, media, theory, as well as a critique of capitalism and colonialism. Unfortunately, as part of Africa’s heritage and indigenous knowledge system, Chemutengure has not been carefully studied in African schools and tertiary institutions alongside other national narratives and symbols.

Chemutengure is “pedagogy of the oppressed,” and critiques the need for Africans to pry, as Last Moyo (2020) puts it, “the grip of Eurocentric, Western-centric, and monocultural universalism to a more progressive cultural politics of a multicultural, inclusive, emancipatory theory and pedagogy.”

 If Chemutengure is an indigenous folksong that was created to critique, to analyse, to document, to generate communal and national dialogue – it means the so-called “primitive” indigenous people without the aid of European education and knowledge could make sense of an observed reality and guide the collection and evaluation of evidence.

Chemutengure is a knowledge product that fights against what Walter Mignolo described as the “inscribing conceptualization of knowledge to a geopolitical space (Western Europe) and erase(d) the possibility of even thinking about a conceptualization and distribution of knowledge ‘‘emanating’’ from other local histories.”

MM: What did you learn from writing your thesis?

IM: I learnt that it is okay to practice epistemic disobedience. I discovered that our fear of the gatekeeping in academia is also a design in the colonial system that stands in the way of intellectualising and theorising in African languages. I thank open-minded academics like Professor Russell Kaschula, one of my supervisors for the trailblazing work he is doing to intellectualise African languages. But here in Zimbabwe we need an academic revolution and even learn from our Chinese friends on how much they value and use their languages for development.

MM: Did you do your thesis as a writer or a scholar and how does the writer in you relate with the scholar in you - which is stronger?

IM: Initially I wanted to do a PhD in creative writing, because I am a writer and a storyteller. When I applied to one of the universities in South Africa that offers PhD studies in creative writing, they didn’t seem interested in indigenous language creative writing. A Professor friend of mine, Flora Veit-Wild, told me about auto ethnography. This is a way of doing research about one’s culture, not as an outsider (the way anthropologists from Europe used to study our cultures), but as an insider and active participant of that culture.

Auto ethnography as a methodology is also a product that demands very high levels of creative writing. I read a few articles on auto ethnography and just loved it. I think it is what most of arts and culture practitioners in former colonies should be doing in big numbers – because it allows us to build our knowledge systems as well as to reflect and think critically about processes that we consider ordinary. So, my thesis is a great conversation between the writer and the scholar in me.

MM: You burst on the literary scene in 1994 with Shona poems in Tipeiwo Dariro. Could you reflect a little on that first writing project?

IM: Tipeiwo Dariro is actually one of my many poems that I wrote after being frustrated by lack of publishing opportunities and being denied a voice as an aspiring young writer. It is a plea for a space in a sphere that is dominated by established voices. I had been writing poems and being published in magazines and literary journals – and those poems published in the different publications were some type of validation that I had what it takes to be considered a formally published writer.

It was after meeting with Chirikure Chirikure on a radio show that I read some of my poems. I can’t remember who else was there among budding writers, but after the radio show, Chirikure, who besides being a poet himself was also working for College Press Publishers as an editor, asked us to submit some poems to be considered for publishing. Tipeiwo Dariro was published in 1993.

MM: You then published Mapenzi, a novel.  How did this book impact the landscape in Shona literature?

IM: Mapenzi was my first novel. It was published in 1999. It was a result of a wonderful opportunity I got to be taught the history of the Shona novel by the late Professor Emmanuael Chiwome. Having been raised by my grandmother’s folktales, and then discovering Shona novels when I was about eight years old – I got the opportunity to see the trends of the development of the Shona novel including how the early writers were influenced by oral literature. So, during the lectures by Professor Chiwome, my colleagues were writing notes to pass the exam, but for me as a budding writer, I had found a very rare opportunity to get guidance on how to write a novel that avoided the many weaknesses found in the Shona novel.

So, you find that from the title “Mapenzi” you are confronted by an almost surreal world that at the same time allows the reader to be tossed in a vortex of psychological debris.  The style is almost unlike anything one had seen in a Shona novel – it is a fragmented story that is so sincere in how it critiques society in post-independence Zimbabwe. The storyline is so many things bedevilling an independent state. In a way the moral, political, economic and social decadence in Mapenzi stinks to the core.

So, I think Mapenzi was a success because it ditched the narrative style that had become associated with the Shona novel. The use of madness as a device to drive the story allows for so many possibilities and even allows readers to feel safe in their own madness.

MM: Some people have described your other novel, Ndafa Here? as a feminist project? How do you respond to this characterisation of the novel?

IM: It is very true. Actually, when I wrote Ndafa Here? I was very worried that I was going to be attacked for trying to speak for women, yet I had to because I was witnessing the cruellest and dehumanising things that were happening to two women that I knew – and these things were being done by other women. Again, like Mapenzi – I think the success of Ndafa Here? comes from the way it does not gloss over things that make other writers feel are too sensitive to write.

Literature must speak the truth or shut up – especially when it chooses to be advocacy literature like Ndafa Here? I met a woman in Harare who approached me and asked if I was Ignatius Mabasa. I said yes – and she sighed and said something like: “Thank you for writing the Ndafa Here? story. It’s my story – you were writing about me.”

She went on to tell me about how her mother-in-law and sisters-in-law ganged up against her and caused her divorce. She ended up in tears.

MM: You also wrote the novel Imbwa yemunhu. Now that title! What was going on?

IM: Imbwa yemunhu is a very spiritual and experimental novel. It is the only Shona novel I know that takes place in locations and settings that are spiritual. When you read the book, you will realise that when we judge people we have no time to love them, but if we sincerely love people, we give them medicine to heal. Musa, the protagonist is a “failure” in life because he is running away from an old man with a pack of dogs who is only visible to him. Musa gets labelled “a dog” because he is considered such a huge failure who at 40 is failing to get married and settle down. When Musa finds love, it is a married woman who is desperate to escape her marriage to a homosexual husband. The novel seems to be asking, “Who is without sin? Let him be the first to throw a stone!”

MM: Imbwa yemunhu is often called an antinovel. Talk a little about that.

IM: These are perceptions of critics and other learned people. I am not sure why they would call it an antinovel. I know that the style is different – the setting is crazy and the storyline very experimental. It brings together visions, dreams, talking cockroaches, songs, poems and still allows the reader moments to laugh. All I know is that of my four novels – Imbwa yemunhu is very special to me.

MM: Your other works, including the latest novel Ziso Rezongororo, have often been called extended Christian sermons. How do you respond to that?

IM: I guess I have always wanted to be a preacher. I am a lay preacher, and I love the word of God. As you know, we carry ideologies of who we are, where we live, what we love and read as well as the education we will have received. I guess this is why my works have such a strong aroma of Christ. I consider creative writing as a gift to influence society and in line with the biblical command that each one of us must use their gifts for the benefit of others.

As you might know, the experiences of an artist have a way of following him in his writings whether consciously or unconsciously. My grandfather was a preacher and from when I was eight years old I used to read the Bible to him because his sight was failing. So besides being a child of my grandmother’s folktales, I loved the stories that I encountered in the Bible.

MM: You are a pious man. How do you juggle creative writing and your religious life as a Christian?

IM: I am not sure why you are asking this question, but I guess it could be to do with the belief that most people associate with artists – that they are an unpredictable and weird lot who talk to themselves or argue with their characters. Here I am thinking of Charles Mungoshi’s Garabha in Waiting for the Rain. As for me, I write and create because God has given me the spirit to create, to teach, to challenge, to disturb, to nudge and even be silly and cause comic relief.

I identify a lot with Exodus 31. I guess this is why you can sense the aroma of Christ in what I write and in my worldview.

MM: You are also a story teller on stage and radio. What does that achieve that the written book cannot?

IM: Storytelling in front of an audience is the real deal! In the beginning was the word. Of course, when the Bible says this it is talking about Jesus, but for us as a people, before the written word, God spoke and we spoke too.

I started telling stories before I could read or write. My grandmother told me stories that she heard from her mother and her grandmother. All those were not written, but stored in their heads. Now here is the power of the spoken story – it is alive and flexible. It is not fixed but it responds to situations and circumstances. It changes as society changes and that can make it very rich and relevant to the people of any given period of history.

I love live storytelling because I get to see the responses from my listeners. It energises me as a storyteller and allows the spirit of the story to envelope the teller and the audience. This is why stories traditionally were told in a dimly lit hut after supper. They were a performance that relied so much on tone and pitch of voice as well as body movements. The atmosphere would just become alive.

I remember how after a story session we would be so afraid to go to our sleeping quarters because the rustling leaves outside would make us think that the rogue hyena had escaped from the story world into our real world! Stories are better when told than when written.

MM: How does your work as a Shona novelist and a fabulist relate with your work at the University of Zimbabwe where you teach in Media studies?

IM: I teach digital storytelling, filmmaking, photojournalism, global media industries among other courses. All these are ways of storytelling. The only difference is that they are visual. So, I am very much at home and I am even challenged to explore new ways of storytelling – especially transmedia storytelling.

MM: How do you think your philosophy of life has been captured in your work so far?

IM: This is a difficult question. It has not been much about my philosophy as an individual, but about who we are as a people because none of us is as good as all of us. We need to see how our God-given values as Africans have been captured by capitalism such that we have become shallow in our relationships, in our languages and our thinking. But that is not who we are. Munhu haasi muzvinhu, asi ari muvanhu nehunhu. No matter how well we speak English or bleach our skins, we will never become white people. And if you look at it, you will see that the West is now sick and tired of itself and they want us to be like them.

MM: More recently, you wrote an essay about the tiff between writers the late Dambudzo Marechera and Aaron Chiundura Moyo in the early 1980s as regards the place of Shona language in literature. What is the major thrust of your argument on the issue between Chiundura and Marechera?

IM: As a Shona language author and advocate I didn’t take lightly the contempt expressed by Dambudzo Marechera for the Shona language and its writers. Marechera is alleged to have dismissed Shona author Aaron Chiundura Moyo on two separate occasions, saying, “Aaron munyori, he is not a writer.” Like I pointed out in my essay published by Brittle Paper, through the statement, Marechera was condescending and promoting the philosophy of imperialists who took English to be superior to the “native,” his being, language and culture.

Marechera scholars have argued that his statement was banter. I argue that treating Marechera’s utterances as banter demonstrates how effective Marechera is in exploiting cultural practices such as jokes, drunkenness, “eccentric antics” and postmodern deniability as platforms for distinguishing himself from the “village” other.

In Marechera’s fight for recognition and relevance, the local is inferior and the global superior. Marechera used the English language as a hegemonic tool to shut out narratives by the muted subaltern and remove their dignity and confidence, while also expecting cultural affirmation from them. There is no doubt that Marechera was a genius, but he mobilized the same qualities to become an agent for the exclusion of the Shona language and its knowledge systems.

MM: What have been the turning points in your life as an artist?

IM: Having my novel Mapenzi selected by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair as one of Zimbabwe’s best 75 books of the century. Being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in the USA in 1999. Being invited by the San Francisco International Poetry Festival to go to America to read my Shona poems in 2009. Being appointed by the University of Manitoba as writer and storyteller in residence in 2010. Sharing a NAMA award with Charles Mungoshi for the best creative work for my novel Imbwa yemunhu in 2014. Having my fourth novel Ziso rezongororo published by Oxford University Press who coincidentally published the very first Shona novel by Solomon Mutswairo titled Feso.

MM: What is the current state of writing and publishing in Zimbabwe?

IM: The writing is getting better and going international – see the likes of Tsitsi Dangarembga, Petina Gapah, Tendai Huchu, Novuyo RosaTshuma, NoViolet Bulawayo and others. However, domestically the publishing is getting weaker and weaker. We have lost the ground gained after independence.

We have seen local publishing houses close or scale down operations. Zimbabwe Publishing House, Baobab Books, The Literature Bureau are dead. While Mambo Press is still there, it is no longer as vibrant as it used to be. The Zimbabwe International Book Fair too is on its knees. The Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe which played a key role in mentoring and developing writers also died.

We have efforts to support budding writers by the Writers International Network, but it needs organised support from those ministries charged with arts and culture. A nation that does not invest in telling its own stories will soon become colonised because cultural productions are not just a type of ideology, but hegemony as well. Besides de-colonisation, we need to have a de-westernisation project at a national level.

MM: You are also a musician. What inspires you and what have you achieved in this regard?

IM: I am a poet who loves to blend poetry with music. I have named my poetry with music – gospoetry because it is gospel poetry with music.  I have done three albums – the first two were with Ngaavongwe Records and the third one I did independently. I see poetry served with music as a beautiful and enjoyable way of communicating. I have received good airplay on radio and I have people who still treasure the poems up to today – especially the song “Yadhakwa nyika” that I did with my friend Albert Nyathi.

+the end

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Batsirai Chigama's alternative man!


 

Title: For Women Trying To Breathe and Failing

By Batsirai Chigama, Ntombekhaya, Harare: 2021, 132 pages

Isbn: 978-177925-791-8

There are many ways of writing protest poetry. One of them is for the poet to take on that which she abhors, head on. The poet could settle on subjects like politics and violence and get to their roots, sampling their DNA, pointing out the perpetrators themselves etc etc.

The poet could also lambast the way men ill-treat women in general. She could even write against the usual clobbering of women by men for no particular reason. The poet could go round and round until the page is wet. Or, she could grieve all the way, burning a hole that runs from cover to cover.

The poet could then breath in and out, take a walk or make a quick cup of tea for herself. Or, she could just rest and settle like fog upon the earth.

But in this her new book called For Women Trying to Breathe and Failing, Batsirai Chigama has, for me, one very special section called How Love Should Be. In that section, Chigama chooses to protest against man’s abuse of women by actually giving us the alternative man. This is a rare feat! Here is a man that the women would prefer…

In school we used to call that the control experiment!

When a male reader goes through that section, he may definitely come face to face with what he could have been when the world was fresh and the hills were still soft. It is like coming home in the middle of a rainy night to find your better version sleeping in your very bed! When that happens, and you are able to control your nerves, you may see what you could have been and not the brute that you have become. We tend to come into the world too late or too early to be sane.

In one of those poems by Chigama, a woman gazes at a man and thinks, “of all the places (that) I could live, your heart is the paradise I choose.” In another, a woman refers to her man as “a best seller to me” and more specifically, “babe I would carry you around in the duffel bag of my heart, flip through you, slowly grasp(ing) every single word profound…”

Then she describes an imaginary good, lovely and well behaved man with:

“There are some rooms in your palms

Where I feel I belong

Quiet

Calm

Steady

Warm

Full of you.”

These are the kind of men’s palms that women look for everywhere without finding. Those palms with rooms! But that is only the beginning because in yet another poem, the title poem to this section itself, the poet writes about her man’s “gentle softness” and her man’s “dewy kindness that drips each time you look at me and hold me strong in the embrace of each syllable.”

And the man is so good that the woman even admits her own faults, “I am a mess I know, yet the way each vowel curves in your iris is the magnet that centres my universe.” And that electric section of poems continues unabated.

In another piece, a joyful woman reads a book of poems by the window as her caring man wears the apron to prepare a toast for her, roasting a chicken drumstick for her and the sad part is that the man does it that only on Sundays. If he could do it more regularly, the better!

Here you find a man who knows how to spell love even in his sleep. There is also talk about “a man who smiled with his eyes,” causing a woman bloom like a flower in season. That is not even enough because in yet another poem, “ a woman meets her former lover (so that she is able) to touch the wrinkles on his body and realizes that she still loves him even more than before and that it was really “stupid (hat they had) let each other go the way we did.”

Then there is a section called For Women Who Forget To Breathe While Alive, which has poems about how women’s woes affect their private and bodily lives. There are also sections about women failing to survive and another more reassuring section about “women finding their feet.” There is also a section that carries “the random thoughts of a woman sojourner.” Maybe these are about the poet’s feelings at all the different spaces she has visited (at home and abroad.)

And yes, this collection has sections about politics, particularly our turbulent politics and how much we have developed wounds that run deep. Zimbabwe of the recent times goes under appraisal.

This is Batsirai Chigama, unplugged. With this her second collection after Gather The Children, which won the NAMA award 2019, this poet decided to come out more flaming and establishing her identity as a poet about raw feelings and the troubled internal landscapes as experienced by woman and country.  

Very ably edited by fellow poet, Ethel Kabwato, with designs by Chiratidzo Chiweshe-Sauro, this book will find a place in Zimbabwean poetry alongside firebrand poets like Freedom Nyamubaya, Eve Nyemba, Primrose Dzenga, Hope Masike and others.

+ Book review by Memory Chirere, Harare.

 

Monday, November 8, 2021

KwaChirere previews Andrew Chatora's Where the Heart Is

A preview by Memory Chirere

It is not every day that one previews a work of fiction. The fast-rising UK based Zimbabwean writer, Andrew Chatora, has a second novel in the wings. It is set to be released soon on November 30, 2021 by his US based Publishers: Kharis Publishing.

The forthcoming Where the Heart Is could be, partly ‘a novel of ideas.’ A 'novel of ideas' is a novel whose story expounds and explores a particular philosophical perspective on the world. The idea is as important to the book as plot, character, and setting.

Chatora’s story clearly expounds on and explores a particular debate which may not have been fully explored by many novels from Zimbabwe. For instance; when the native leaves the periphery (Harare) for the centre (England) due to economic reasons, does it make sense for him to want to return to the periphery once more?

If he does return, is this homecoming or second coming, really possible? Are people really able to fully return to their source without sparking contradictions? The man who returns, why does he return at all? Or, to what does he return? You may go back to the source physically but is it viable economically, spiritually and socially?

Chatora’s native returns from the centre (London) to the periphery (Harare) intending to stay for good but returns to the centre in a huff! When a man goes and returns and goes away again, what do we call him? Is such a native confused or he is merely confusing the observer?

Where is his heart?

But there are some in our midst who may say, wait a minute, even if going back to one’s country from the diaspora is difficult, could it be viewed as an entirely wrong thing to do, if one wants to? Which one is one’s country?

Well, Fari Mupawaenda tries to return to good old Harare from England and through him, the novel sparks a storm.

When it finally hits the market, Where the Heart Is, is going to be one of the very few novels by a Zimbabwean that fully imagines the joys and hazards of a physical return home from the diaspora. Olley Maruma tries it with his text Coming Home (2008), but I think his main character does not leave behind any stake in the UK. His is the return of a post pubertal man. He also does not leave for the UK once more. Stanley Nyamfukudza tries it with Aftermaths (1983), but he is only working on the matter in one short story from a whole collection.

The diaspora-based literature by Zimbabwean writers rarely thinks about this crucial reverse trip and its subsequent rich psychology. It is often assumed that it is easy to return because one was born here, anyway.

Yet, as dramatized here by Chatora, the reverse trip is also a story about the human body, a memory test and the struggle between geography and anticipation. During this reverse trip, the traveller is actually carrying heavier and multivarious cargo than during the first outward trip.

In Fari’s case, part of his crucial cargo has actually remained behind in the UK. His wife, a zealous cosmopolitan, the daughter, a conflicted bed hopping undergraduate and the son; a budding homosexual, will not follow Fari in his trip to what they see as the back of beyond. They have decided to invest fully where they are.

Fari is convinced that whatever he achieves in the diaspora should only make adequate sense only if one returns to the source. He constantly judges people and things around him from the point of view of a country that he has long left behind. And yet he has changed.

I enjoy the underlying suggestion that Fari is both right and wrong in trying to return. That is the strongest lesson that I took away from this novel. If you return you are damned. If you don’t return, you are damned too!

I also want to call Where the Heart Is, a ‘thinker’s novel’ because you can never read it and not re-examining issues like culture, distance, centre, periphery, family, love, sex, marriage etc .

Just like what we witnessed with Chatora’s first novel, Diaspora Dreams, the latest novel will surely throw the readers into irreconcilable camps because the men and women in this story are not always sharing the same ideological pedestal. The women are vehement and their criticism of their men is close to the bone.

And the men, too, are not always agreeing with one another. The silent competition is an act of attrition.

 

The author also uses sexual intercourse as an extra language of unity and disunity, and this will set tongues wagging.

As in Pepetela’s Mayombe (1979), Charles Mungoshi’s Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura? (1983), Ignatius Mabasa’s Mapenzi (1999) etc the characters in Chatora’s latest offering come out very clearly individualised. They speak from a very private angle. Each of them has a distinct signature . 

Where the Heart Is, is Andrew Chatora’s second novel after Diaspora Dreams which was published by Kharis Publishing in the US.  

It’s now available to pre-order on Amazon’s url link below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Where-Heart-Andrew-Chatora/dp/1637460848/ref=sr_1_1?crid=RUCJ071FZ6NQ&keywords=where+the+heart+is+andrew+chatora&qid=1636276312&sprefix=where+the+heart+is+andrew+chatora%2Caps%2C63&sr=8-1

In Harare, copies will be sold by Book Fantasticks Booksellers reachable on:

Brian: +263 77 921 0403

Kudzi + 263 715 072 288

Email:
fantasticbooks.21st@gmail.com

 

 

https://bookfantastics.co.zw/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

KwaChirere reads Thomas Bvuma's new Historical novel


 

“The Chosen Generation” a historical novel by Thomas Sukutai Bvuma

Independently published in 2021, 207 pages, isbn: 9798585091247

(Reviewed  by Memory Chirere)

Young Masara Musamba of Sakubva, Umtali, Rhodesia, is involved in the war of liberation that gave birth to Zimbabwe as a ZANLA fighter. This is his story told under his war name; Nyika Yababa, or simply Yababa.

He quickly joins the war after beating up his white boss who had beaten him for a flimsy reason at a fruit canning factory where the boy is working temporarily while waiting to go and enroll at the prestigious University of Rhodesia.

It is a serious crime in Rhodesia for a black man to beat up a white man, for whatever reason. You would rather run before the police catches you. So Masara abandons his job, his pay and his very beautiful girl friend, Wadiwa and rashly clambers up the mountains on the western side of Umtali, crossing the border to join the guerrillas across in Mozambique by first getting to Chibawawa refugee camp in September 1976.

Masara had met some ZANLA guerilla before in his own Mutambara communal lands and had always had a romantic view of the war of liberation and the guerrillas. He had always hoped to join the liberators one day. This historical novel is renowned Zimbabwen poet, Thomas Bvuma’s first long prose offering.

But who is Thomas Sukutai Bvuma in Zimbabwean Literature? Initially, using the pen-name Carlos Chombo, Thomas Bvuma wrote the well known poem, “Real Poetry” at the height of the war in the late 1970’s.

“Real Poetry” eventually got more “visible” publication in the Zimunya-Kadhani edited post war collection called And NOW the Poets Speak (1981). Musaemura Zimunya and Mudereri Kadhani set out to bring together poems which reflected on the Zimbabwe revolution then.

Bvuma’s “Real Poetry” defines struggle as people’s real poetry. Very reminiscent in content and form to Jorge Rebelo’s poem called “Poem,” “Real Poetry” quickly became a classic of sorts.

Zimunya and Kadhani could not “resist using (the poem) as a choric prelude to this selection.” They wrote somewhere that they also “found (in this poem) the power of the intellect, control of rhythm and style well combined and married to idea, action and reaction” and that through it, one recalls the more prominent Angolan war poet, Agostinho Neto himself.” Zimunya nad Kadhani also used a section of the poem on the blurb of the cream coloured And Now The poets as the theme poem and the poem  went viral.

Thomas Bvuma, like Alexander Kanengoni and Freedom Nyamubaya, wrote poems at the war front in between battles either as a pastime or a means to reflect on the war he was participating in. He is still writing and publishing poetry long after the war of liberation and some of his key pieces constantly jog one’s mind. More of Thomas Bvuma’s poems were later published in Every Stone That Turns (1999) almost two decades later! They are arranged in a way that sets out to capture the changing times from war to independence.

But his latest work, the historical novel called The Chosen Generation, appears to give the more elaborate materials that inform the turmoil and thought that one finds in the poem “Real Poem” and the collection of poems called “Every Stone that Turns.”

This novel fits in and tucks in real critical geographical and historical factors that have been glossed over by many writers of Zimbabwean war fiction and even those in war history..

Through this novel, places critical for training and refugees like Chimoio, including its attack by Rhodesians on 23 November 1977, Chibawawa, Tembwe and others are brought to life from the point of view of a recruit and soon to be a trained cadre. There are no sacred cows in this narrative. 

As you read this novel, you are forced to compare and contrast it with such iconic works such as Chinodya’s Harvest of Thorns, Kanengoni’s Echoing Silences, Mazorodze’s Silent Journeys From the East, Mutambara’s The Rebel in Me and Miles Tendi’s The Army and Politics in Zimbabwe: Mujuru, the Liberation Fighter and Kingmaker.

The story is written from a rather laid back point of view of an ex combatant now sitting in his house in poverty stricken post war Chitungwiza township of the economically tumultuous 2008. He is for searching his place in all the tricky things that have happened and sometimes he thinks that his generation is not chosen but cursed. But he insists that he wants to judge them fairly.

The narratives moves gradually, with ease, finding facts and fallacies, even fitting the 1970’s within the context of the world’s rebellious youths of the hippies, rock music and many other things. The story takes you to places and decisions made outside Rhodesia and the war front. The war in Rhodesia is part of world events and that is the strongest theory propounded by this book.

In chapters 10 to 13, which are very critical, the writer recreates Chimoi as it was in the context of the war against Ian Smith. He goes for geographic space within historic and social context. You begin to read into the d├ętente period, Zanla conscription methods as from 1976, the rise and fall of the Vashandi ideology, love affairs, betrayals, Zipa, Zanla-Zipra relations, the battle of Mavhonde, Tongogara, Herbert Chitepo, Robert Mugabe, Rex Nhongo and the attacks and counter attacks between and amongst people and systems.

This book is a must read for all people with a genuine interest in the emerging perspectives on Zimbabwe’s difficult war of Independence and how much it is a prelude to what took place within zimbabwe soon after.

 

 

Friday, June 25, 2021

KwaChirere reads Ignatius Mabasa's 4th novel, Ziso Rezongororo


 

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.