Monday, May 15, 2023

KwaChirere reads Austin Kaluba's new stories

Author: Austin Kaluba
Title: Mensah’s London Blues and other Stories
Publisher, Carnelian Heart Publishing in the UK, 2023, 117 pages
Paperback ISBN 978-1-914287-04-6
Hardback ISBN 978-1-914287-05-3

The exciting Zambian author, Austin Kaluba, who once wrote a letter artistically and impeccably, like Dambudzo Marechera, has published his own collection of short stories with Carnelian Heart Publishing in the UK! It is a book entitled Mensah’s London Blues and other Stories.

Amongst these short stories, of course, is the people’s favourite piece “Dambudzo Marechera’s letter to Samantha” and Kaluba’s fans will be happy to find it here. Until recently, very few people knew that the so called “Dambudzo Marechera’s letter to Samantha” was not written by Marechera himself but by Zambian writer, Austin Kaluba, as part of a broad 2011 project in Marechera’s memory. Kaluba imagined what Marechera would sound like writing to his ex-girlfriend after having expelled from Oxford University.

Kaluba's “Dambudzo Marechera’s letter to Samantha” generated an avalanche of positive responses in Zimbabwe and among Zimbabweans in the diaspora. Because of the very successful imitation of Marechera style and language demonstrated in that piece, many believed it was actually written by Dambudzo himself. The responses even crossed to academics who thought the letter was written by Dambudzo himself. When it was revealed that the letter to Samantha was not written by Marechera himself, many were disappointed to the extent that, for a while, they rejected the revelation itself. Such is the power of art.

When I interviewed Austin Kaluba a few months ago, he had this to say about his "Dambudzo Marechera’s letter to Samantha": “I had read works by the late Zimbabwean writer and tried through extensive reading on his life to understand his troubled upbringing in colonial Zimbabwe, his years in England and his bohemian life that could have qualified him to be some kind of black Oscar Wilde. Yeah, I had to get it right by not leaving any detail that summed up the life of the shamanic writer he was…”

Kaluba continued, “Marechera’s vulgar language and mistrust of any other person who did not share his views about the crooked world had to be crammed into the story. Dambudzo thrived on shocking people using sexual symbolism and other unconventional ways of driving his point home. I had to get all this right. I also ensured the story worked at two levels; Dambudzo representing Africa explaining himself to his white girlfriend who is representing Europe. In short the story is about the damage Europe has done on its former colonies…”

The Marechera letter begins: “Dear Samantha. I think by now you have heard what happened when those hypocrites in administration chased me from their white university giving me an option between being sectioned or expelled. I chose the latter, a decision which shocked them out of their warped wits. I have forgiven them because together with you they thought as an African student from some remote Southern African country I was privileged for receiving tertiary education at Oxford, a learning institution they have overrated as a citadel of knowledge just like Cambridge or Harvard. It is such  academic mad houses that  keep on churning out arrogant, snobbish, hypocritical and pea-minded bastards who enter the world with the superior airs of holier-than-thou, we and them attitude calling themselves Doctors, Professors or any stupid titles to distance themselves from other ordinary folks whom they look down on as dunces…”

The story about Marechera’s troubled stay in England is well known as it appears in many versions in many of his autobiographical narratives and they have now over spilled into Kaluba’s collection.

In Mensah’s London Blues and other Stories, Austin Kaluba writes short stories about characters from across Africa; apartheid South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and others, sometimes picking snippets of the various mother tongues from each of those countries. It is a collection that shows how the UK has become a melting pot, a cultural confluence even. There is the overpowering sense of how Africans play out their crucial drama away from Africa.

There is an antagonistic relationship between the destination and the home left behind by the one who travels. This is more closely related to the old but constantly resurfacing ‘centre – periphery’ theory.  Generally the western city is the centre and the home of those in the Diaspora is the periphery.

The characters in these short stories are constantly aware that they are in foreign territory. Their activities show that they are constantly looking back at home in the periphery, which in turn is either checkmating them or aiding them down a rebellious path from the culture and norms of home.

However, this collection makes a calculated and laid back take off with a child narrator’s story called "Kippie Goes Home."  It is during apartheid South Africa, a boy is given a suicide note written by a neighbour’s son so that he could read it loudly to two elderly women. After that the letter reader is never the same again. He is transformed. The boy from next door who has slaughtered himself suddenly comes alive. As he reads the letter, the boy is transfigured. He is nolonger reading. he is now living the life of the writer.

The title story itself, "Mensah’s London Blues" begins with the voice of a forlorn Ghanaian man: “I came to England as John Mensah, then I became Kofi Gyan, and later I came to be known as Kwame Ampiah. I was busted for my deception when my real name appeared in all the newspapers. My dark face popped out of the picture sheepishly, as if butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth. The headlines mostly ran along the lines of “Illegal Immigrant Arrested for Drug Trafficking.”

It is a story about the life of many migrants to the UK. It recalls the writings of Brian Chikwava, Andrew Chatora, Leila Aboulela and others. The current migration of young Africans from Africa to the West for economic reasons has given birth to a rich literary tradition that tries to open up the challenges and even the opportunities brought in by this mass movement. In these stories, western space causes a lot of havoc on the body and mind of the traveller.

Maybe my favourite story in this collection is "Mrs Skerman." It shook me to the core. Because his visa in the UK is running out, Kofi plans to find just any female British citizen to marry and be allowed to stay. In this tragic-comic story, the hunter becomes the hunted! Kofi meets Mrs Skerman through a dating agency. She is 20 years older than him! His first description of her is something to recall as it reveals Austin Kaluba’s power of description which also runs through this collection:

“The first thing I noticed was her pronounced ugliness. The skin on her face was thick and leathery, making her resemble a walrus. She had wrinkles around her eyes and a deep frown line in between her brows, as though a small axe had made its mark. She had a fleshy double chin with a beard sprouting from it, and though she shaved every morning, it never helped to smoothher complexion. The blade left ugly red marks which were worse than the beard. She was also unusually tall for a woman and walked with a shuffling gait, her meaty hips moving piston-like. She spoke in a halting voice that fell somewhere between a whisper and a growl…”

And their first dance in the seedy bar is described thus:

“With so many beers in my belly, when she suggested dancing, I jumped up and led her to the dance floor. It was a slow beat. She held me close in a bear hug, our movements closer to body combat than ball dance. I repeatedly stepped on her shoes, but she didn’t seem to notice. I felt we really looked funny, but the other people were too drunk to see…”

What follows in this story is a huge lesson to all young African men who think that they can take advantage of elderly white women to win what may look like easy pickings. The final twist to this tale left me wanting to laugh and cry at the same time.

“Auntie Agatha’s Quest” is a story about a Zambian woman whose imitation of whiteness goes overboard. She is always constantly writing her O level English and failing. The harder she tries, the harder she falls. When she crosses over to settle in England with her husband, her drive for white things is still unstoppable and this leads to one tragic moment after another. Only when she is ill does she resign and loudly break into perfect ChiBemba, “Ntwaleni kumwesu eko nkaye fwila. Teti mfwile mwanabene. We chalo uli mukali.” – Take me home to die. I don’t want to die in a foreign land. Oh, what a cruel world.

“Maria’s Vision” is a story about two Zimbabweans in the diaspora who are drifting apart. They are coming from a tumultuous Zimbabwe but as soon as they get to England, that change of zone helps them realise that they are just a terrible mismatch.

The more Tapiwa watches tv the more they re-enact what is on tv: “Tapiwa finished his meal and switched on the TV. He changed channel after channel till he settled on a repeat boxing match between Daryl Harrison and Danny Williams. He moved his head at the landing of each punch from the two boxers. Maria hated finding herself with such a difficult man. She had thought long and hard about how she could end her miserable marriage, especially now that she was in Britain where divorce was easier than back home. But something always held her back, not least of all the fear of shaming her family and acting contrary to her Christian faith…”

Then there is the Nigerian, Obi Akwari who is always writing essays about why the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria ought to secede from the rest of the country. In his work, he is not only targeting Nigerians, but the Western world as his audience, especially the Britons and the French, who were responsible for the genocide against the Igbos during the Biafra civil war during the late '60s and early '70s. He believes in his work so much so that he sometimes faints with emotion in the middle of his sentences!

Austin Kaluba’s best stories have a psychological realism and concision seldom matched by other writers.

About his own life as a writer Austin Kaluba once said to me: “I am an introvert who is highly opinionated and bohemian. I write poetry, short stories and do translations. One of my translations Frown of the Great in English was previously published as Pano Calo in ci-Bemba (the commonest language in Zambia). It has been re-published in Zimbawe by Mwanaka Media and Publishers as a bilingual collection.  I am also working on a collection of short stories Mensah’s London Blues and Other Stories to be published in England. The collection has two stories with Zimbabwean characters A Dream Deferred and Maria’s Vision. The latter has been made into a movie by Tendai Mudhliwa, a UK-based Zimbabwean film maker. The movie stars Memory Savanhu and a cast of UK-based Zimbabwean actors like Goodwin Ngulube, Lydia Nakwakilo,Ashley Majaya ,Belinda Majego and Kudzai Manyeku. So you see Memory, my love for Zimbabwe has not ended with writing about Dambudzo but contributing a movie to Zollywood. I have also translated John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress into ci-Bemba…”

+Memory Chirere






Monday, April 10, 2023

When Three Sevens Clash: a book review

 Reviewing When Three Sevens Clash

A book review by Memory Chirere, Harare.

I am yet to recover from a tumultuous experience I had recently in coming in touch with When Three Sevens Clash, a book cum magazine conceived and published by veteran journalist, Percy Zvomuya, as his own initiative towards the end of 2022. The major focus of this work, largely in narrative form interspaced with drawings and pictures, was to highlight the life and music of legendary Zimbabwean musician, Thomas Mapfumo.

From a distance, Thomas Mapfumo appears to be generally intimidating but on the cover of this publication, there is a mug shot of him smiling. It is as if Thomas is a boy again; looking down at his peers from atop the bus window, just before a trip from the Chihota Communal lands where he spent part of his boyhood. In the 1950's journeys by bus from any place to Harare, Salisbury, tended to be far apart. These were considered great occasions as one’s folks came to the bus stop to say goodbye. There would be tears of joy and pain, too.

We are fortunate that a group of renowned writers and artists; Farai Mudzingwa, Geraldine Mukumbi, Tony Namate, Tawana Mudzonga, Brooks Marmon… have just given us a cross sectional gaze at the life and times of Thomas Mapfumo. They delicately marry the music to the environment, explaining and clarifying the many things around Thomas Mapfumo. 

The pieces by fictional authors, Musaemura Zimunya and Brian Chikwava are particularly most focused on Thomas Mapfumo, from the 1950’s to the present day. For me they make the pith of this magazine and should not go without mention.

Editor, Percy Zvomuya says the title When Three Sevens Clash comes from Joseph “Culture” classic Hill’s 1977 album Two Sevens Clash. When on 7 july 1977, whe actually four sevens clashed; seventh day, seventh month, seventy-seventh year, many in Kingstons did not venture out lest they be caught up in the apocalypse. Thomas Mapfumo, who was born in 1945, turned 77 in July, the seventh month of the year: three sevens clashing once more!

Percy Zvomuya meets Musaemura Zimunya at the funeral of Thomas Mapfumo’s musician young brother, Lancelot’s burial at Warren hills in Harare on 10 October 2022 and it becomes a moment to review the route and roots of Thomas Mapfumo and Chimurenga music. A kind of workshop is planned and this book carries such proceedings.

The longest rendition comes from renowned Zimbabwean poet, Musaemura Zimunya, himself a relative and once publicist manager of Mapfumo when Coen and Merz were attempting to do a documentary on Thomas Mapfumo in the mid 1980’s. Zimunya writes with care and precision.

Place and people are critical in Zimunya’s rnarrative. Born and raised in Chihota Communal lands amongst his mother’s people, it is indicated that Mapfumo has a Christian background, rather untypical for a man who eventually becomes the icon of Zimbabwean traditional music with mbira at its core.

It is all in order that during his early days in Salisbury, now Harare, Thomas played drums and the saxophone in the the African Christian marching Church where he went with his mother.. He was imbued in the Christian harmonies and vocal arrangements. But latter you learn that this was an unintended apprenticeship! Suddenly you notice that this s the same route that other Zimbabwean musicians tended to take.

Then there was the dramatic entry of rock and roll into the life of Thomas from the big world out there. Out goes classical jazz, and Thomas is now in Mbare, then Harari township. Thomas and his peers are found  spotting the rockabilly haircut  known as “the Elvis cut” after Elvis Presley of rock music, of course. Teenage radicalism and the windfall of  sixties enter and Thomas escapes rather forcefully from the conservative Christian clutches of the family. He finds himself with a band, the Cosmic Four Dots which he forms with his peers. They are doing covers for various rock artists. Life is sweet. Thomas is good on stage and soon, he sings Prestley’s part for the Springfields  at an event in Harari and they immediately smuggle him!

Thomas is now very active. he quickly helps compose and record Shungu Dzinondibaya, Anopenga Ane waya and Conie, in chacha style, songs that later became great hits in Shona music. But soon Jimi Hendrix dies, and with him, the hippies. Thomas had to move on musically.

Zimunya’s first encounter with Thomas was is in 1973 when he is sneaking out a politically turbulent University of Rhodesia. Just about the historic mukwembe demonstration that brough black students in collision course with Iam Smith’s bully boys. Thomas was at home busy learning to play the saxophone. His reason was that Jimi Hendrix and the guitar had been too mainstreamed in the community and that there was need to move on and create other sounds and other images.

In their young men’s conversations, Zimunya works out that Thomas imagined starting on African rock in which the brass would play a central role almost in the mould of Osibisa, the Ghanaian British outfit of the times. More and more, the big black world was becoming radicalized. In the US, the great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated in 1968. In Rhodesia itself, there was a growing political crisis that saw the detentionof nationalist leaders like Ndabaningi Sithole, Joshua Nkomo and many others. Accordingly the sociopolitical space naturally spawned new expressions, thrusts and genres.

Soon the emergence of the Hallelujah Chicken Run band at the Mangula Mine west of Salisbury, created space to experiment with traditional Shona rhythms. At the centre of this project were trumpeter Daram Karanga and bassist Robert Nkati and they needed a vibrant young vocalist and in came Thomas Mapfumo on vocals and drums. There would be guitarists, Elisha Jossam and Joshua Hlomayi Dube. The journey from rock and roll and pop music to African based sounds and rhythms was set.

There came the singles Hoyo Murembo and Torido Mutoridodo.  The experiments were quite rich and soon Thomas Mapfumo the vocalist and front man of this band had opportunity to reenact the Shona svikiro medium during the shows. In one picture in this magazine, Thomas is shirtless, holding in one hand, the microphone and in the other, a gano, the traditional ceremonial axe and a spear. Below that Thomas is wrapped in retso, the spiritual cloth. At this moment, Thomas had crossed the threshold. In Highfield in 1965, Zimunya says Mapfumo mesmerized the urban revelers with his trance like performance of the revolutionary traditional song, Hoyo murembo.

Mapfumo and his musical peers; Zexie Manatsa, Oliver Mtukudzi and others become typical characters in typical circumstances. They started to forge music “that told of the cunning brutality of the settlers, their seizure of land and the suffering of Africans through forced labour,  political detention and imprisonment.” A revolutionary spirit had seized them. Music is being actively directed by the events on the ground. Often they clash with the powers that be but the audiences across the country urge them on.

Musaemura’s critical view is that; by fusing the traditional Shona sounds of mbira  and modern pop sounds such as Afro rock, Thomas helped to reconfigure Zimbabwean music and that “in the five short years it took him to rise to super star status, he dragged a brainwashed and reluctant people out of their confusion and defeatism.” No wonder his music became known as Chimurenga music. Murenga is the term for the radical and warlike great Shona ancestor.

This article also traces the key figures in Zimbabwean music who have worked closely with Mapfumo as his Chimurenga music develops. These are many watershed characters in Zimbabwean music. There is the guitar maestro, Jonah Sithole a co-founder of the Chimurenga music because Chimurenga is said to be based on his mbira guitar. In his moments of anger, he loudly reiterates this fact to Thomas Mapfumo himself.

There is also Charles Makokowa who was also good at adapting well known popular songs and sounds from the Shona folk tradition. There is Chartwell Dutiro, who could play the tenor saxophone, the mbira, ngoma, hosho and provide backing vocals. There is trumpeter, Ernest Ncube and trombonist, Cannan Kamoyo. There is the inimitable keyboard player, Lancelot Mapfumo, and the heavily disciplined bassist, Washington Kavhayi. For a musical form to develop there must always be consistent instrumentalists.

Thomas Mapfumo produced great hits that have become part of the Zimbabwean folklore like Pfumvu paruzevha, Dangurangu, Wakura, Bhutsu Mutandarika, Kariba, Corruption, Hanzvadzi, Chipo change, Pemberai and many others.

Zimunya is acutely aware of the ups and downs in the life and music of Thomas Mapfumo and his tendency to openly lampoon whether the country is under Ian smith or Mugabe or Munangagwa. This is his most consistent feature. Maqpfumo’s fall out with the ruling style of Robert Mugabe, whom he previously supported, is well known. Subsequently, Mapfumo goes into self imposed exile but exile appears to be the downsize as it coincides with the coming of age of the great artist.

Zimunya’s article dovetails principally with that of Brian Chikwava, a distant admirer of Thomas Mapfumo from a different generation and now living in the UK. He is the author of the prizewinning novel, Harare North.  Brian Chikwava has very interesting observations. One of them is that Thomas Mapfumo, just like Robert Mugabe, is a proud and headstrong man, especially where sticking to principles is concerned. In Chikwava’s view, the two men are each other’s shadow! Two men with a rural and Christian background who find themselves supporting the same cause albeit from different angles and eventually clashing…

Chikwava writes that Mapfumo could not be short changed because, for example, he knew his real worth. Chikwava recalls one moment when Thomas arrives at the Harare Agriculture show with his band to play and asks the organisors, “So how much are we getting paid?” The organizers mentioned a number and emphasized that that it is what everyone was getting. “Saka mungatienzanise nana Pengaudzoke?” (Can you equate us with the little band Pengaudzoke?) and Mapfumo asked his band to leave the place immediately.

Using the iconic song Zuvaguru as the quintessence Thomas Mapfumo music, Chikwava says that song is “the soundtrack of my childhood post independence Zimbabwe.” Zuvaguru was that song which Chikwava’s father invariably put on the gramophone when they had visitors.

It is a song about the great day when what has been hidden in the bushes will come out. On the flipside is Motobika doro in which Mapfumo goes deep into the roots of the new nation, Zimbabwe, into the customs and traditions out of mbira out of which Chimurenga music emanates.

Brian Chikwava wonders why this record is never found amongst any of Mapfumo’s music on cd or vinyl, or to download or stream. “I have only the vinyl copy that once belonged to my father.”

About Mapfumo’s project of bringing mbira to the people through electric guitars in modern venues with Dube and Sithole, Chikwava has this to say, “(this is) the luminous discharge of energy that manifest when Africans brought their sensibility to bear on a space previously assumed not be theirs. At these crossroads, new identities are forged, there is an awakening, and we see new horizons beyond which the song persists, even after the physical object has varnished.”

When Three Sevens Meet is a critical read for those connoisseurs who wish to get accurate details on the development of Thomas Mapfumo as a musician in oreder to fill in the gaps. The other articles in this book dwell on musical venues of the times, the cultural setup from which Mapfumo derived his music and many other exciting things.








Monday, March 13, 2023

Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya’s A Portrait of Emlanjeni: a preview


Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya’s novel, A Portrait of Emlanjeni, is set to be published by the UK based Carnelian Heart Publishing this March of 2023. It will definitely bring us to the literature and environment subject. From a human perspective, it is very easy to declare that this is a story about the rise and fall and rise of one Zanele, the daughter of Hadebe of Matobo, Zimbabwe.

The first time that I read the opening phase of this intriguing novel, I kept on saying to myself, but where are the people, where are the people? As in Mungoshi's Waiting for the Rain and Vera's The Stone Virgins, you may only fully appreciate the people if you are ready to feel the pulse of the landscape from which they erupt.   

In what many will be able to call an environmental novel, Emlanjeni in Matobo, is integral to the story and it becomes one of the major and very active characters. It is an art that uses a known geographical area thoroughly, describing and dwelling on its natural features elaborately in order to show that the life, social relations, customs, language, dialect or other aspects of the culture of an area and its people, can indeed become overridden by what the environment is becoming.

“To reach Emlanjeni, one has to plan a three-hour drive from Ematojeni, about twenty kilometers South of Bulawayo. Ematojeni Hills of the famous Njelele Shrine and Matopos National Park, a national heritage site, lies on the village’s north. You drive on a strip road, curving, turning and meandering around huge rock boulders, past the balancing rocks…” the novel begins. 

You know that you are already journeying. Then you are warned, “The place is dry. One can smell its dryness. Acacia bushes dot the flat landscape which is littered with little, whitish, dusty stones. The whole surrounding area, all the way to Mwewu River, is mostly gullied and dry, giving the impression of a place being frequently cleaned by nature’s maids....”

Then you are taken into the sky: “If one cared to imagine the aerial view of the two rivers bordering the village, Simphathe and Marabi, with the Kwanike hillocks on the south, the picture would be a breath-taking one, the kind you find framed as a monument in a museum. The sandy loam, some patches of black clay on some areas and red soils on the other, holds the ground together. Grass slowly dies of thirst after the February-March rains only to come to back to life during the October-November planting season…”


Then you are told that the journey has always been bumpy, “...that is the bridge that makes bus drivers forbid women and children from occupying the front seats. As the bus descends, fearful passengers on their maiden trips to Bulawayo, koNtuthuziyathunqa, let out shrieks which sometimes cause the driver to lose control of the steering wheel…”


Eventually the people fully pour into the story, creating a din- “Most young boys in Emlanjeni do not take school seriously. The schools are far apart such that pupils walk long distances. Even if some, especially girls, want to pursue education, they fail to do so because idlers and school dropouts wait for them on their way from school. These girls are persuaded and forced into love affairs which lead to pregnancies and hastily planned marriages…”

You have now landed in the territory of Malayitshas who bring groceries in big tshangana bags from South Africa and Botswana, blankets and other items given to them to take home.  It is said that some mothers, upon receiving these parcels, forget their disappointment. Those whose daughters send a malayitsha frequently, are seen wearing beautiful izishweshwe dresses, berets and sneakers to village parties and other communal meetings.

It is also indicated that everyone cycles in Emlanjeni and women even as old as seventy cycle to church, miles away. They are serious about attending these church services where they give God the love they could have been giving to their absent children and spouses! At the local St Joseph’s Secondary School, bicycles can be seen balancing on each other, piled on trees within the school premises. Younger women cycle to clinics with babies strapped on their backs. Some experienced women even cycle balancing beer calabashes to village parties.

Then suddenly we come to the eye of the storm when Zanele, the apple of Emlanjeni’s eye, and one of the greatest scholars in the region, realises that a “wrong” person has made her pregnant somewhere in the thorny bushes! She decides that this has to be her secret because if the world knows then her very own world will fall apart.

Zanele has a very challenging predicament. The man who makes her pregnant is a known layabout- a long time friend of hers who dropped out of school because he has nobody to pay his fees. Sipho is his name and he herds cattle, reading books and writing brilliantly desperate poetry in the arid bush.

During some moments, Zanele thinks that she loves Sipho. But in some, she tends to think that she actually pities him and that this cannot be the basis for a good marriage. Besides, Zanele wants to remain in school like her niece, Nonceba. But… Zanele is already pregnant! How will she go back to boarding school? 

Sipho wants her to stop going to school. Sipho does not want to see any man close to Zanele. His knife is already sharpened and ready. He follows her everywhere, listening into her conversations with people from behind the scanty bushes.  He is becoming an animal, making appointments with Zanele in the bush so that he beds her with a curious sense of vengeance. Zanele is both attracted to and repulsed by him…There is a morbid attraction between them and that thing runs across this story. You read on with a sense of trepidation as the least expected happens…Discordant lovers in their beloved dry land.

Meanwhile the dry countryside goes on, rendering this book a festival of a variety of cultural materials. This novel is a bewitching manual on how to make beer for the rain making ceremony. You read about the ijumo ceremony: “This is a cleansing custom which is performed before the rain dance ritual they are brewing beer for. All village men, including boys, wake up early to clean the forests of dead animal carcasses and bones, bringing down disused birds’ nests, removing debris thrown on the riverbanks and destroying abandoned homesteads.”

This book teaches you;  how to prepare isitshwala with impala biltong in marula-nut sauce,  how to prepare isitshwala senyawuthi, a type of thick porridge cooked with finger millet, served with amasi for supper, how to use the umsuzwane herbs to heal deep wounds, how to draw beautiful portraits on walls of huts using  white ash, how girls play the inkente game and you also read about the character of the now defunct Nholowemizana ritual, which was about a bride having to have sexual intercourse with her father-in-law… and many other items.

This book teems with characters; various and unpredictable. There is Mamoyo who “would darn, darn and darn, her hands moving softly, slowly and carefully.” There is Sikhwehle Jiyane, a fully grown man and “had things been alright with his mind, he would have made a wonderful husband and father. What baffled a lot of people was that most of the time his faculties seemed quite alert. This made some people think that he was alright after all, while others were not too sure of that. He was one of those people the villagers called ‘umuntu kaMlimu,’ meaning God’s person.” There is Sibanda who rapes his daughter in front of his wife. There is also Tholakele Mpunzi, an extremely beautiful woman in her late twenties who is married to an old man and men try every trick in the book to woo her.


A Portrait of Emlanjeni tries to take a panoramic picture of this place from the unique landscape, the minds of the people, their rich culture and the subsequent challenges that they face in the changing times in Southern Zimbabwe. It is a story told through a woman’s gaze, very sensitive on how women experience a landscape made by nature and men.


Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya grew up in Matobo in Matabeleland South, Zimbabwe. She was first published by University of South Africa Journal, Imbizo, in 2014. In 2016, Radiant Publishing House published her first novel, Izinyawo Zayizolo written in her mother tongue, IsiNdebele. The novel was received with much critical acclaim in the academia. In 2017, Royal Publishing House published her collection of short stories titled, The Fifty Rand Note.

+previewed by Memory Chirere, Harare.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tariro Ndoro reviews Chatora's HARARE VOICES & BEYOND


"Harare Voices and Beyond" – Confessional Family Drama Extraordinaire: A Welcome Addition to the Canon

Child abuse, domestic violence, and incest all find a voice in Chatora’s new book: Harare Voices and Beyond which offers a difficult but essential read.

Tariro Ndoro


While the literary novel dominates the Zimbabwean scene, genre fiction is no stranger to the nation. The crime novel is a particularly guilty pleasure with titles such as All Come to Dust by Bryony Rheam and the “Detective Sibanda Series” (Sibanda and the Rainbird, Sibanda and the Black Hawk Sparrow, Sibanda and the Death’s Head Moth) by C.M. Elliott being prime examples. Although these novels are mainly set in the southwestern region of Matebeleland, Andrew Chatora’s Harare Voices and Beyond is a welcome addition to the cannon.


Set in the capital city of Harare and mainly narrated from the confines of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, Chatora’s novel is greatly reminiscent of Petina Gappah’s A Book of Memory. An  interesting twist to Harare Voices and Beyond, which would make it more of a suspense novel than a traditional crime novel is that the plot opens with the main protagonist, Rhys Williams, on trial for killing his brother, and at no point does Williams deny the murder, rather choosing to allude to extenuating circumstances that led to the death, making Harare Voices and Beyond a "whydunnit" rather than a "whodunnit." Such a theme is brought out well in crime novels that often ask the reader to weigh what they deem good, bad, and morally grey:

This is it for me and mother. Are we going to die. There’s no other way the courts will let us off for the murder of my brother, Julian – Mother’s youngest son gone rogue.


Rhys Williams narrates the story of his brother’s death, beginning at the point in time when his family traumatically lost their farm in Mazowe at the time of the Land Reform Project in Zimbabwe. Traumatised, his younger brother, Julian, turns to drugs to numb his pain and it is this addiction that eventually leads to the destruction of the family as a whole. However, the novel as a whole is narrated from the viewpoints of multiple characters.

As Chatora wrote this story, he showed all sides of Julian’s addiction, highlighting the circumstances that often lead to drug use and abuse in Zimbabwe, which is an important theme as drug abuse in Zimbabwe is on the rise owing to youth unemployment and poverty. As one of Julian’s drug dealers note:

In reality most of my ilk in our downtown Harare gang had similar lives like me stemming from broken homes devoid of a father figure. Those who ran away from home, living on the streets. Ben was one such fellow, he was brought up without a father, his mother struggled to make ends meet, so he used to do anything for a living.


This opens up the broader conversations surrounding addiction in Zimbabwe as many young people are recruited into drug rings early. Another ugly aspect of the drug trade is the way in which it tears apart families as addicts care less and less about the people around them as they chase the next high. Chatora capably describes Julian’s downward spiral into stealing from his family to feed his meth habit:


But I needed a fix. How else can I get my fix if I don’t get to nick Doris’s jewellery or any other household valuables which came my way? One has to do what one has to do. What people seem not to know? Downtown Harare drugs didn’t come cheap. And hearken people, you don’t really understand what it’s like when one needs their fix do you? Now, don’t you go tell me you do, because clearly you don’t. 


On the other hand, Rhys Williams meets sultry Marina Thompson a vivacious mixed race British lassie. Whilst Julian’s story is that of a privileged young man who turned to drugs after surviving trauma, Marina represents the other side of the coin as she grew up in the British foster care system as a drug addiction rendered her only parent an unfit mother. Despite her disavowal of recreational drugs, Marina finds herself embroiled in this world through no choice of her own. Perhaps Chatora chose to include Marina as a character to embody the long-term consequences of drug abuse in society. 


Chatora also looks at other themes such as belonging. While his earlier works position Zimbabweans in the Diaspora and provide social commentary on their adaptions to living in the UK, Harare Voices and Beyond questions the place that white Zimbabweans and immigrants (Malawian and Mozambican) hold in their nation and how this speaks to their enfranchisement or lack thereof, posing the question to the reader of who should belong and which criteria (in any) guarantees nationhood.

Harare Voices and Beyond asks its readers to actively participate in the conversations surrounding weighty topics such as substance abuse and belonging while itself taking the accessible form of a suspense novel and thus making these topics alive for both literary aficionados and the casual reader alike.

Harare Voices and Beyond is published by Chicago-based Kharis Publishing – an imprint of Kharis Media LLC and is released on February 27, 2023. Copies are shortly available to order in digital, paperback and hardback format from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Walmart, Target Christian books and other online book retailers.


The book adds on to Chatora’s growing stable of contemporary fiction/migrant literature. It is a welcome addition to his catalogue, Diaspora Dreams and Where the Heart Is, also published by Kharis Publishing and available from  Amazon.


Author Biography

Andrew Chatora is a Zimbabwean novelist, essayist and short-story writer based in Bicester, England. He grew up in Mutare, Zimbabwe, and moved to England in 2002. His debut novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was approvingly received and nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards (2022). His second book, Where the Heart Is, was published in the same year to considerable acclaim. Chatora’s forthcoming book, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a brave, humorous and psychologically penetrating portrait of post-Brexit Britain. Chatora is noted for his acerbic and honest depiction of the migrant experience. Heavily influenced by his own experience as a black English teacher in the United Kingdom, Chatora probes multi-cultural relationships, identity politics, blackness, migration, citizenship and nationhood.

+Reproduced here with the kind permission of: "Harare Voices and Beyond" – Confessional family drama extraordinaire: A welcome addition to the canon (








Sunday, January 1, 2023

KwaChirere reviews Starfish Blossoms by Vazhure


Title: Starfish Blossoms

Author: Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing, 2022

Hardback: isbn: 987-1-914287-27-5

Paper back: isbn: 978-1-914287-28-2

E-Book isbn: 978-1-914287-29-9


I am hoping to refer to Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure’s latest collection of poems, Starfish Blossoms, as a multi-tasking anthology.

It often occurs to a poet that one of her books may carry pieces from the many different periods of her life, ably reflecting continuity and change of the poet’s vision and methods over time. This is the essence of a multi-tasking collection. 

Through such a book, the poet makes definitive statements on a wide range of themes and subjects under one cover. Later in life, the poet herself may actually sit back, like any other reader, and re-read her own book in search of the growth of her own philosophy of life and the development of her craft.

As a result, Starfish Blossoms is a festival of sorts. Many of these poems ring with the unmistakable clarity of biographical information from the life of the poet herself; the ups and downs of life, the poet’s discoveries, the poet’s mental experiments and the poet’s acute personal memories. You could draw the poet's graph, underlining your favourite pieces and flipping over others for further reading.

I may want to call this book a diary anthology, too.

What is however clearer to me than my other observations is; this collection is decidedly based on the firm foundations of the wisdom of one’s female ancestors, both in mythical and real time. This book can be read as an archive of women's thoughts and sweet secrets from one generation to the other.

In these pieces, there is the hovering presence of the persona’s paternal grandmother, vaChivi. She is the spirit of the lioness, hunting relentlessly for game in order to feed her pack of cubs. VaChivi is more vicious and runs much faster than her lazy and redundant male counterpart. Hunting is not sport. It is a matter of life and death.

There is also the maternal grandmother, aChihera, the woman of the Shava Eland totem. Charwe Nehanda of the first Chimurenga is amongst the strong Chihera women of Zimbabwe. They are renowned in Shona lore for their resilience and sometimes they are known to be strong headed, fighting harder than their fathers or their husbands!

These two archetypes VaChivi and aChihera demonstrate that this poet is coming to the world stage already armed with ready-made stories of the brave women from her own community. She is not looking for new heroes. She already has the blood of heroines running through her veins. She is only looking for a broader audience. For me this is Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure’s greatest achievement.

In the very first poem the persona recalls her time with her grandmother out in the countryside. It is a return to the stable source and to roots that go deep.

Grandmother hides her monies everywhere; inside her crimpling doek, under the reed mat and even inside her G-cup bra. Meanwhile the corn is roasting by the fireside. When she asks her granddaughter to count her money, the younger woman says, “but you can’t see the money even if I were to count it for you!”

And the elder answers: “These eyes can see what they want to see.” Meaning I would not have asked you to count the money if you were not a trusted fellow. This poem is a story about the easy camaraderie between women from across generations.

In the poem Hanyanani, the poet goes even deeper into the Shona mythology. An old woman lives in the drought smitten district of Chivi in a year when the famine is at its bitterest. There is danger that the many-many orphans that she is keeping in her homestead may actually starve to death. VaChivi goes up and down amongst her neighbours and she finds no food to cook. But the orphans gather around her crying louder and louder...

VaChivi comes up with a plan which has become legendary amongst the Shona people. She lights a fire as if everything is alright and puts a pot full of water on the fire. There is still nothing to cook and VaChivi picks pebbles from the bare ground and throws them into the pot and she tells her grandchildren that she is now cooking something and she will make soup out of it. She dishes out the ‘soup’ eventually. It is the mere hope amongst these children that the hot water that they are taking in is real soup. That saves their lives;

And there’s an old woman from Chvi

who cooked stones and drank the soup.

She did not swallow the stones.

Did she not know that those

who swallow stones do not die?


The Chivi woman’s story is about intense hope and resolve. In the same area there is a contemporary tale about Hanyanani, a ghost that goes ahead with its ghostliness without thinking about what people say about her as a ghost. Sometimes Hanyanani terrorises wayfarers who walk the paths in the middle of the night from beer drinking binges.

The daring drunkards even think s Hanyanani is a fresh new prostitute from more urbane place like Masvingo, Harare and Bulawayo and on being taken to her home, the men fall into deep sleep. When they wake up they find that they are actually resting in the graveyard! In a more contemporary period, Hanyanani is often reincarnated as Peggy, the other terror ghost of the other Zimbabwean towns of Chiredzi and Triangle.

These are stories about woman triumphalism retold in poetic form. Vazhure does not exactly rewrite these myths but her allusions to them through her poetry are powerful and strategic. Vazhure uses local materials to talk about global issues.

The story of the girl, Fatima, in the title poem Starfish blossoms, is retold by a girl child narrator. Fatima works for other people looking after their home and children. Fatima uses herbs in order to elongate her sexual organs and improve the general fecundity of her body. She is aiming at attracting one powerful suitor. The result is tragic but Fatima does not collapse and cry. Her spirit of resistance remains in the mind of the girl narrator who tells this story. The narrator wants to avenge Fatima and create a freer version of her. Fatima, Just like the widely spread starfish flower in blossom, has some overarching influence on other women including the persona.

In one transcendental poem, My mother aloft a raging fire, the persona sees mother way before mother is born. That recalls the Shona proverb chisionekwi humhandara hwamai, it is impossible for anyone to meet their mother during her girlhood! But the persona is that rare seer who has powerful visions of her own mother’s girlhood. She was there before and during her own mother because she is a fellow woman:

In my dreams of mother, rare as true love

she looks nothing like the end, but rather, the beginning

before I was born – a vivacious stunning queen…

Afro glowing like a golden halo…


In her youth, which no son or daughter can ever see, mother was a terrible beauty. Strangely, when mother tries to pass on the cooking stick, like a baton in athletics, she is raising it by the wrong hand and the persona runs away from receiving the cooking stick! Presumably, the daughter is running away from the seemingly disabling traditional women’s duties. But is clear that in her wild and speedy flight, the daughter persona runs with no baton, tripping and falling along “abysmal tracks” of athletics and wakes up very tired and exhausted.

This poem challenges us to see the womanly duties differently. You may choose to see slavery in women’s domestic duties but beyond that, the caring duties of motherhood have actually sustained generations.


Woman’s duties have been a subject of heated debate. If you perform them you are damned, if you don’t, you are damned too. The life of a mother appears to beg for a more careful reading. There is pain in a mother’s life but there appears to be life at the end of mother’s pains. We have come this far because of our mothers.


Down the pages, in a more cryptic poem, the poet clarifies her position: “An abused mother is too sore and too drained to nurture her children the way Mother Nature intended her to.” As confirmed in Barbed crowns, suffering should not be the crown of thorns that a woman should continue to wear. Women should rebel from oppression but should not refuse the natural task of suckling and healing the whole nation.


Samantha Vazhure’s poems are a useful addition to the rich tradition of Zimbabwean poetry. Her views on how women ought to proceed from the concrete local foundations as they grow globally, are going to provide space for discussion amongst scholars and theorists. Samantha Vazhure studied Law and Business Administration at the University of Kent. She works in the UK as a regulatory consultant in financial services. She has published various collections of poems and short stories in Shona and English.

-   Reviewed by Memory Chirere