Monday, April 29, 2024

Onai Mushava dissects Andrew Chatora's latest novel


Onai Mushava dissects Andrew Chatora’s latest novel:

Andrew Chatora’s 2023 novel, Harare Voices and Beyond, interrogates land, race and nationhood in Zimbabwe.  Literary journalist Onai Mushava picks apart the allegorical layers of the book.

Andrew Chatora is a storyteller who hides his stakes in plain sight. The UK-based Zimbabwean novelist gives away the combustibles of his story at the earliest convenience but only names them as they go off in the endgame. Chatora’s books end with a twisted insight that questions our sense of detail and reflows what was already in our face from the beginning.

In Chatora’s debut novella of 2021, Diaspora Dreams, which set tongues wagging, we cycle back from the kicker to make sense of the revelation, somehow hinted all along, that the narrator is writing from a mental asylum. However, literary critic Tariro Ndoro insightfully characterizes Chatora’s 2023 crime novel, Harare Voices and Beyond, as a why-dunnit rather than a who-dunnit.

The novel’s narrator, Rhy Williams, all but confesses to murder in the beginning: “There is no way the courts will let us off for the murder of my brother, Julian – Mother’s son gone rogue.” Going on, we suppose the narrator will now psychoanalyze a family saga and walk us through Harare’s mean streets. While Rhy’s opening confession holds up in the final analysis, the big reveal is that he was not so much the accessory to his mother’s murder of Julian; she was, in fact, his unwitting accessory in the murder. Just like the evil genius, Chatora, to switch the game from the unshuffled card of his deck.

Harare Voices and Beyond is remarkable as a black writer’s handling of Zimbabwe’s land reform from a white perspective. It is a counterintuitive gambit literary critic Memory Chirere associates with Chatora by now. After all, the Mutare-born writer’s first book is unusually about an African man who goes to Britain to teach English to the English. In Harare Voices and Beyond, the land resettlement programme extends, by default, into the questions of race and nationhood in Zimbabwe. With black and white writers usually playing their part to expectation, it is a rare writer who will imagine what it is to be on the other side.  Different sections of Zimbabwe come together uneasily as the book further juxtaposes drug abuse, usually associated with poor urban communities, with the elite underworld of organized crime. For a book packed with as many questions, Chatora wedges his unlikely nation with layers of suspense approaching Dostoyevskyan mindfuck.

Chatora’s main achievement in this novel, I think, is not his journalistic  faithfulness to the faultlines of Zimbabwe’s nation-building. The novel can be better appreciated as an allegorical deconstruction of nation as such. The story follows the narrator’s mother, Mrs. Doris Williams, watching helplessly as the physical and psychological violence of the fast-track resettlement programme claims the lives of her husband, her daughter-in-law and finally her son, Julian. The eternally intoxicated Julian overreaches himself when he sets his mother’s house on fire. Mother fatally knives son in self-defense and falls under the charge of her eldest son who must instruct her in hiding the crime and keep her going. As a mother, Mrs. Williams is the symbol of the nation; as the killer of her rogue son, she embodies the power of life and death a nation administers in the name of justice.

In this case, she is in league with her dutiful firstborn son who could do no wrong. Only, we learn in the end, that narrator firstborn, Rhy, is, in fact, masterminding, sponsoring and profiting from the drug and sex rings Julian finally falls prey to so that he is, by moral judgement, his brother’s killer.

“Doris now has longstanding insomnia,” we are told in the opening passage. As we learn from Fight Club, “When you have insomnia, you’re neither really asleep, and you’re never really awake. With insomnia nothing is real.” Apart from insomnia, Mrs. Williams is “now on chronic restorative medication.” In the Persian classic, Soraya in a Comma, the comatose girl waited on by a cynically detached diaspora is a figure of the country Iran.

Chatora’s figure of Zimbabwe, Doris Williams, is not just a black widow type but is herself undead: not quite dead but then not quite living!

Chatora is deconstructing the notion of nation itself. There is a part of Zimbabwe that still exists and a part of Zimbabwe that does not quite exists. On yet another scale, distributive maybe, Zimbabwe exists for part of the population but not the rest. The idea of patriotism that is constantly rammed down one’s throat with ideology schools, propaganda curricular from primary to tertiary education, commandeered churches, arts, media, civil service and so on for narrow partisan designs in the name of nation building merely avoids the question: Who is Zimbabwe still working for and who is Zimbabwe no longer working for?

In the family allegory, the dutiful firstborn and the rogue lastborn personify state capture and ideological whiplash, by turn, in their contrasting relationship with their mother. To translate this to an actual lived picture of everyday Zimbabwe, the party in power is represented in office by alleged drug dealers, alleged bankrollers of forex trade, alleged gold mafia, alleged untouchables whom the criminal justice system simply doesn’t exist for. Like the dutiful son, Rhy, beating around rogue Julian, these are also the people preaching patriotism and propriety on television and ideological cost centers every day.

On the other hand, we have the Julian, traumatized and intoxicated all the time. Here is a local exile for whom a mother-son relationship simply does not exist. He almost never calls her mother; only Doris. These are local exiles for whom the nation-citizen relationship  simply does not exist, just as narratives of belonging no longer translate to actual lived inclusion. These are poor Zimbabweans, young Zimbabweans throwing away their lives to drug abuse, disenchanted Zimbabweans un-Zimbabweanizing themselves at home and abroad, chameleon Zimbabweans changing all the time just to avoid change – changing the material of their laughter, changing party colors, changing lines of petty crime and small-time corruption and so on just to avoid addressing the question of fixing their dysfunctional relationship to Zimbabwe.

The undead mother-figure as she walks through Chatora’s novel calls to mind Marita in Chenjerai Hove’s Bones.

If Marita and Doris are heroines in the respective novels, then they are no superwomen. The Zimbabwean nation waits on a revolution to come, when the bones of Nehanda will awaken to break all manner of chains, colonial, postcolonial and patriarchal. But the revolution conceived by Hove and Chatora for women constrained by “egregious disempowerment, exploitation and violence by colonial and postcolonial masculinities” as Kizito Muchemwa puts it in his preface to the Weaver Press edition of Bones, is not a revolution marshalled comic-book style by a superwoman from someplace. It is the revolution of the broken, pictured by Hove as the revolution of “the black bird with broken wings.”

In deconstructing the national mythology embodied by Nehanda, historian Ruramisai Charumbira (2008) revisits two Nehanda traditions, “Musoro waNehanda” (the head of Nehanda) and Makumbo aNehanda” (the legs of Nehanda). From here, it’s one step to imagining a Freudian twist where the head represents the sublime tradition of Nehanda, whereas the legs represent the profane tradition of Nehanda. Not a compartmentalization of spirit and sex given that Nehanda dually represents fertility and memory. On the sublime level, the national matriarch is embodied among the living by celibate guilds, rainmakers, royal oracles and freedom fighters. But there is a profane and unofficial level, freely interpreted here from Charumbira’s book, where both Nehandas are abused, outnumbered and condemned in the courts of men. Nyamhita is raped by her brother while Charwe is denied by her male co-accused, Kaguvi, and put to death by a colonial and patriarchal court.

The connection made by Muchemwa between Hove’s Bones and the prophesied awakening of Nehanda’s bones is not immediately obvious. Hove and Chatora’s matriarchs come across in vegetative, scatological and traumatic trappings. In her disembodiment, Nehanda’s head is spirit to come while her legs are the censored unconscious. A detour through Imagining a Nation, where Charumbira picks apart grand national mythology and imagines Nyamhita and Charwe outside their superhero capes, helps bring the dream of freedom down to earth, within the reach of Hove and Chatora’s “little women.” A solution cannot be better that its subjects, just as an intellectual cannot be better than her people. So, we start thinking about Zimbabwe beginning with the damaged life, with the abused, the jaded, the dismissed and the forgotten. Until they are the answer, freedom is not the question.

Besides Doris being white, a demographic rarely ever associated  with emancipatory ambition outside Chatora’s novel, she officiates in the bloody stakes of a sibling conflict. She is closer, in this sense, to Nyamhita’s mother presiding over her son’s rape of her daughter to fulfill the fertility tradition of ritual incest. In “BLOOD.” the opening track for Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer-winning album, DAMN. the narrator goes up to help a visually impaired woman who is apparently in search of a lost object on the sidewalk. “It seems to me that you have lost something, and I wanna help you find it,” the narrator accosts the woman. “Oh yes; you have lost something. You have lost your life!” the woman responds as her gun goes off. In this allegory, we are confronted with a figure of justice, a woman who must embody the saying that justice is blind. While the metaphor is meant to represent impartiality, in the case of Kendrick’s encounter, it represents failure to look into the nuances of the album’s most repeated refrain, “Is it wickedness or is it weakness?” Going back to the question of what is wrong with Mrs. Williams’ family, what is wrong with Zimbabwe as a nation and as a purveyor of justice, we find that Zimbabwe and her kind of justice kills the weak and pampers the wicked.

Chatora was this year’s silver recipient of the Anthem Award for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, held in New York, for his 2023 novel, Harare Voices and Beyond.  “Fellow creatives, together we can keep the momentum, reflect the iniquities of our societies! Yes, we can!” he said in his filmed acceptance speech.

Andrew Chatora is a prolific Zimbabwean novelist noted for his counterintuitive approaches to diversity politics. He has written Diaspora Dreams (2021), Where the Heart Is (2021), Harare Voices and Beyond (2023), Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Stories (2024) and Born Here but Not in My Name (forthcoming). Amid polarizing reception, the UK-based writer continues to distinguish himself as a distinct voice in African diaspora literature and implacable champion of the marginalized. Chatora was recently awarded the 2024 Anthem Silver Award for Harare Voices and Beyond.

+This review was first published on Zimbabwe’s leading digital investigative reporting, breaking news and analysis platform: The News Hawks on 16th April 2024. Onai Mushava is a writer and literary critic based in Harare, Zimbabwe

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

KwaChirere reads Mukondiwa's book on Mtukudzi

Oliver Mtukudzi and me

Author: Robert Mukondiwa (2021), Harare

Isbn: 978-1-77921-573-4, 220 pages


A book review by Memory Chirere

Robert Mukondiwa’s book; Oliver Mtukudzi and me: A Life in Song and Media, is a simple but very effective book for many reasons. Robert Mukondiwa is famed for his incisive feature articles, and it is evident throughout this book.

First, the book positions itself as a special insider’s story about Oliver Mtukudzi. This is a young man’s story about a man who is both his father and elder brother.

Books and journal articles on aspects of Oliver Mtukudzi’s music and life are fast increasing. We have a growing number of books specifically on the late Zimbabwean musician, Oliver Mtukudzi. There is one by Jennifer Kyker, another by Shepherd Mutamba and one multiple authored academic book edited by Ezra Chitando. Each of these books takes a specific slant. Robert Mukondiwa’s book comes across as laid back but equally penetrating.

Mukondiwa sets out on a particularly special trip; writing about “my Oliver…because that is how I would rather remember him…this, is after all my story…it is not the story of Oliver Mtukudzi. Or is it entirely mine…?”

You quickly sense that this could be a complicated book; now operating from under the water, now floating on the surface and sometimes having to become the water itself!

Mukondiwa creeps and crawls about, delicately linking his own life to the few but key moments he interacted closely with Oliver Mtukudzi - the man and the music. It is critical to realize that even Mukondiwa himself is not clear if the man and his music are always separate and that if they were separate, how and where would they confluence once more on their way home.

Not even once does Robert Mukondiwa claim that this story is watertight and that is a strength. He admits that he is a fan. This is one point that he repeats all the way. However, he realizes that he has to write this story as a journalist. That is one warning that he raises all the way. And when the time comes, Mukondiwa learns that he is family with his hero. The multiple identities of the author propel this story in the manner of a thriller. You investigate a man and then realise that your target is, in fact, a relative!

This is also a story about huge fallout between Mukondiwa and Oliver Mtukudzi after Robert Mukondiwa and his colleague, Garikai Mazara, write about what Mwendi Chibindi chronicles in her diary; her private relationship with Oliver Mtukudzi. The late Mwendi was one of Oliver Mtukudzi backing vocalists. The Sunday Mail and Robert Mukondiwa and Garikai Mazara, are however stopped in their tracks through a court injunction.

Mukondiwa is caught in between. How do you deal with a man whose unsavory story you wrote about last week? Do you say, “How was my story, mkoma?”

Mukondiwa and Mazara try to write truthfully about some of the misdeeds of a man whose music they love dearly. As soon as they do that, they are conflicted and do not find peace for a long time. They learn that their occupation has deep hazards.

Then one day Mukondiwa receives a thorough beating by strangers at one of Mtukudzi’s shows at the Hellenics Arena in Harare in what appears like an ordinary scuffle. However, it is not clear if it is Mtukudzi who unleashes these men on Mukondiwa. And if it is Mtukudzi, could it be for the Mwendi story? A sweet revenge? When Mukondiwa and Mutukudzi finally make up, months later, neither of them is keen to discuss this nasty incident. They also cannot talk about Mwendi's diary.

Robert Mukondiwa of The Sunday Mail, is able to come close to Mtukudzi once more at an Emerald Hill house when Mtukudzi is rehearsing with the band for an anti malarial campaign.

When Mukondiwa and his news crew get to the house, Mtukudzi and band are immediately apprehensive. They pause briefly and Mtukudzi himself asks, “Ndianiko uyu? Ndashaya.” (Who are you? I can’t recall your identity) Mtukudzi could be standoffish and vengeful when it suited him, Mukondiwa soon learns. 

Later on, as they walk about with Mtukudzi for an interview, Robert volunteers, “I am Nhari une ndoro. A Nzou too.” Then Mtukudzi warms up and says, “Uri munin’ina wangu.”

They also discover that Robert Mukondiwa’s father, the veteran journalist Pascal Mukondiwa, actually had a long standing relationship with Mtukudzi on account of their being fellow Nzous and that Robert’s mother is a childhood friend of Mtukudzi.

Mtukudzi admires his rival’s ability to write about the arts and his critical ear for good music. Soon Robert is being asked by Mtukudzi to listen to the demo tapes of his forthcoming albums to give the elder an honest opinion. Robert evaluates the elder’s work without flinching.

Mukondiwa goes: “The lyrical content of the (Tsivo) album was flawless, the beautiful korekore dialect and rhymes, which were his most distinct… then I talked about the rather sh- mastering. Someone had to do so!”

The youn man had done what was generally not allowed, pointing out Mtukudzi’s mistakes. But when he meets with Mtukudzi a few days after the damning review, Robert is terrified, unsure of the eldre’s reaction:

“ Robert.”


“I read the story you wrote this past Sunday about the album. I am glad you have that ear for music. You see, I was not happy with the mixing and mastering. I pondered once whether to release it like that but it would be unfair on the fans so we had it redone. In fact, that is why it is not available on the local market…Now I know that you are a real mukorekore, not a fake one,” Mtukudzi said.”

One day Mtukudzi asks Robert to accompany him to Muzarabani to see Robert’s father who had retired from the media. This becomes a trip during which Robert had greatest insights into the life and music of Oliver Mtukudzi.

They are on the road trip, alongside someone called Uncle Nick. Mtukudzi talks about his youth and his battle with diabetes. They go to Muzarabani and on the way back they go through Mtukudzi’s rural home at Kasimbwi, Madziva. It is a very loaded trip. The longest stretch of continuous time any writer has ever dedicated to Mtukudzi.

Deep in the Muzarabani night, Mtukudzi, Uncle Nick and Robert’s brother travel even deeper into the Dande valley…Where were they going? The mystery continues!

The climax to this book is the death of Sam Mtukudzi and Owen Chimhare in a horrific road accident. This death shakes the foundation of the Mtukudzi family. Mtukudzi is inconsolable, sometimes walking about screaming and waving his hands. Then at some point he sings into the ear of his dead son. Sam’s mother is worse off. The lioness has lost its beloved cub.

The narrator is young and harmless, so it seems. He cannot compete against Mtukudzi. It is an unequal relationship. The narrator’s relationship with Mtukudzi allows him to go into many of Mtukudzi’s foibles without using the word foible. Robert does not rush to praise Mtukudzi for his immense talent. It simply comes out. He is the boy in the vicinity of a great man who happens to be a familiar man.

This is a story that touches on many other characters on the Zimbabwean entertainment scene; William Chikoto, Josh Hozheri, Garikai Mazara, J. Masters, Tongai Moyo, Debbie Metcalfe and others.

This story exits with Mtukudzi’s death and his colorful funeral. This effortless book is easy to read as it does not claim authority over anything. And yet it establishes the fact that Oliver Mtukudzi had a life beyond music. “There will be other stories, but this story has been about Oliver Mtukudzi and ME,” Robert Mukondiwa signs off.

+for sales contact: +263(0) 772888839



Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Rodney T Munemo reads Shamhu YeZera Renyu

                                                       ( Rodney T Munemo)

A day after I finished reading Memory Chirere’s latest collection of poems, Shamu YeZera Renyu, the book won a National Arts Merit Award, as best book of poems by a Zimbabwean in 2023! Amazing.

I find Memory Chirere’s poems in Shamhu YeZera Renyu to be therapeutic to the mind, with one poem particularly dwelling on the poetic charm of a child who is running after a bird in the sky while he is on the ground, in the morning, soon after; he is running to complete a chore, and after that, running to play with other children in a running game away from home, before running back home at the end of the day. Running…

These poems help one to navigate through the diverse, intractable, heinous and vociferous forces of one’s life in Zimbabwe and Africa; being born, growing up and eventually dying.

I think that Chirere is a Shadrach + Meshach, and “A bad Nigga”/ Abednego type of an author. This is because he refuses to comply or submit to the whims of pain and he has also long discovered the art of taming pain. Through his works he invites the pain of human life to the arena and he says to it “dance while I beat the drums”.

In another of Chirere's poems, a man wants to wander away and never return home. From now on, he wants to live only in the memory of his wife, children and friends. He thinks that is better than suffering alongside them without being able to help.

In yet another poem, a woman laughs at a man because he looks like her dear lover, long lost in the past. In the other poem, a man carries a goat on his shoulders for a long time down a township road and discovers that he has been sold a ritual goat! In another, a woman and man nearly fall in love gradually as they silently spy on each other through the gap in the fence of their houses. Then something more excruciating than love takes place to stop them...

Published by the fast-rising Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure's Carnelian Heart Publishing LTD in the UK and available through Amazon, Memory Chirere's "Shamhu Yezera Renyu," or "Sjambok of Your Generation" in Shona, is not your typical poetry collection.

Written entirely in the vibrant, beautiful and evocative Shona language, Chirere wields his words like a traditional whip/sjambok, to both challenge and entertain his readers. Chirere outwits pain with humour, his poems delve into the complexities of everyday life, tackling relatable themes of love, loss, societal pressures, and the ever-present struggle for self-discovery.

His masterful use of humour infuses a refreshing dose of lightness, preventing the poems from becoming mired in despair. One of his poems is about the effects of bird song. You hear a bird singing in the morning and sometimes you think that it is calling out your name, just in the manner of your mother or loved one. I also love the poem in which a man eats the child’s plate of porridge, hoping nobody sees. The most stunning poem is in which a nameless man watches a wedding couple kissing and starts to think about the meaning of kisses.

Chirere navigates the tightrope between social commentary and witty observation, prompting introspection and laughter in equal measure. Although he wrote this book in Shona, the emotional core transcends language barriers.

The book’s vivid imagery and themes resonate with readers regardless of their linguistic background. I agree with Ignatius Mabasa in the introduction that; there is no writer like Chirere, however, I think the full richness and depth of "Shamhu Yezera Renyu" can be lost in translation for those unfamiliar with the language.

Two poems in this captivating compilation of Shona poems that navigates the tapestry and intricacies of human experiences with a unique blend of humour and insight are particularly outstanding for me and these are; “Mukanwa” and “Muchipatara.” In these and other poems, Chirere demonstrates a unique ability to balance levity with depth is a testament to his poetic prowess. Thus, making "Shamhu yeZera Renyu" a testament to the enduring power of poetry to illuminate the human experience.

I am not surprised that this collection was ranked ahead of all other books of poems.  Many thanks too, to Tinashe Mchuri, another great poet, for editing this book.

I first came across Memory Chirere through his short story Maize in “Writing Still”, a text which we covered in High School. Like all of my classmates we assumed the name Memory was for girls. We had limited resources to search for the writer, but thanks to the sweet bitter humiliation and correction that came from our Literature in English teacher whenever we referred to Chirere as “she.”

During my first year at the University of Zimbabwe, my roommate Brain used to play Chirere’s youtube videos at Manfred. We would gather around the laptop as UBAs listening to Roja raBaba vaBiggie. My dream came true during my Masters studies, I talked to Chirere and found that one cannot separate him from his works/humour. To my A level classmates and everyone else who loves reading, Chirere is still writing and yes, he is a man. If you are in Zim, find the book through Brain Garusa door to door delivery at: 0779210403

+ The writer of the above review, Rodney T Munemo is a Social Anthropologist (PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh). Rodney is a recipient of the coveted Edinburgh-Leiden studentship, awarded in 2022 in recognition of his academic excellence. His current doctoral research delves into the critical nexus of youth waithood, liminalities, urban poverty, development, and religious infrastructures in Zimbabwe. He remains deeply invested in exploring Inclusive Education, the transformative potential of Online Learning, and the complexities of Gender and Land Governance in Zimbabwe. His dedication to these diverse fields reflects a multifaceted and intellectually curious scholar.


Monday, February 19, 2024

KwaChirere reads Shards by Cynthia Marangwanda

Shards, a novella by Cynthia Marangwanda, published by Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd, ISBN-13: 9781914287404, Price: US$12.99

 (A book review by Memory Chirere)

Before I came across Cynthia Marangwanda’s novella, Shards, which was first published in 2014 by A LAN Readers Publication in Zimbabwe, and republished in 2023 by Carnelian Heart Publishing Ltd in the UK, I had always associated the Dambudzo Marechera style and approaches with male writers only.

From my very close experience with students of literature in Zimbabwe, the excitement with Marechera is more pronounced in young men than in women.

The female students tend to find Marechera rather outrageous and frightening, too, because of some of his scenes that are full of violence against women characters. The female students feel that Marechera is “too macho” in his writings and that he does not pay much respect to “women’s sensibilities.”

On pointing out that Marechera’s work is, in fact, protesting against the dehumanisation of women, one of these female students felt that “Marechera protests, right, but he still writes about violence against women the way men do.”

However, Cynthia Marangwanda’s writing in Shards carries close and vigorous stylistic and linquistic echoes of Dambudzo Marechera. Marangwanda’s hypnotic and intense writing style, done in a language laden with abstract and acidic imagery, create a mood with very close echoes to Marechera. 

For example, describing the house servant, Marangwanda’s narrator says, “She casts me a slanted glance, the type a cat would throw a mouse asking for directions…” and later, “she throws me an angular look, the type a crocodile would cast a fisherman standing by the river…”

On describing her first meeting with Pan, the narrator says, “Perception rotated on its axis and tilted abnormally to the side. A revolution was abreast…the moment was shattered into scattering shards…The strange young man’s voice was like scissors…”

When the narrator is locked up in the mental facility, after what her family assumes is a mental breakdown, a Marecherean presence joins her: “As if from nowhere a youthful creature came and sat beside me. His hair was a field of short dark spikes jutting out like upturned nails, his build was awkward, as if his body had tried and failed to wrest itself from the clutches of adolescence, and he wore the most elaborate horn-rimmed glasses I’d laid eyes on. The air he exuded was both manic and moody.”

This figure she calls Benzi, as he calls her Mupengo. Together they discuss the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Christopher Okigbo.

When you set aside language and style, the Shards story has a lot of other intrigues. It is a story about a sensitive 23-year-old woman from the medium density suburb, relatively comfortable, cosmopolitan and erudite. She is in the midst of rebelling against the nationalist generation of her parents. She vigorously claims that they are failing to instill order in the community and all around them is a life that is bereft of dignity and integrity.

She calls herself a practicing nihilist. She thinks that “life is a gradual succumbing.” When the novel begins, she is clearly against everything and everybody.

She joins two institutions of higher learning as a student, and drops out because, as she says, she finds “formal education to be a sort of death of information.”

She wears tribal print dresses that sweep the floor. She likes township jazz and reggae tunes.  She is into black consciousness, reading a lot around the ideas of Marcus Garvey. She is also being courted by an elderly Pan Africanist filmmaker.

She has tried to kill herself once through self-poisoning but has stopped trying “because of a fear of failing again.”

She has a friend called Pan, a fine art practitioner who lives alone in a flat rented for him by an elderly woman in Russia in exchange of sexual favours whenever she visits.

The first time that the narrator meets Pan, it is love at first sight that jolts her to her roots. “And so we stood there for what seemed an interminable second staring sharply through each other… A revolution was abreast, and its focal point seemed to be an area of grey matter, a lace of blurred lines. The moment was shattered into shards by the voice of the unusual young man.”

Another exciting side to this novel is how the narrator is overwhelmed and haunted by the spirit of her dead grandmother. You may want to think that this is a version of spirit possession. She sees Grandmother and is immobilised by her. The people around her think that she has mental problems.  

Grandmother first appears to the narrator six years after her burial when the narrator is having her hair plaited by a talkative hairdresser who is going on and on about the men that she stalks. Listening to the woman’s escapades, the narrator appears to fall asleep and that is when she sees “my buried grandmother standing slightly to the side, in front of me.” The narrator is startled, and the hairdresser is silenced, assuming that the narrator has been stung by an insect.

Grandmother appears “with her hair soaring.” and “she was holding out an ochre coloured wrap cloth” which she is asking her granddaughter to receive. When the narrator does not accept this ritual gift, Grandmother becomes very angry and menacing.

Grandmother eventually flies out through the window!

The girl assumes that this may not take place again and that she has been going through a bout of schizophrenia. But grandmother returns three days later, as the narrator is in her bedroom, surfing the internet! This time Grandmother is holding a wounded white lion cub, but the narrator rejects this gift as well.

Grandmother advances towards the frightened girl as “she bared her decayed fangs, and her eyes began to flash in a manner suited to lightning…”

Sometimes, when the girl is intoxicated with alcohol, Grandmother’s visitations increase. Grandmother appears everywhere and more regularly. She wants the girl to accept something, but the girl is adamant. The duel continues and neither the Christian bible nor the psychologist is able to rescue the young woman.

This story is special in the sense that, to my knowledge, it is the first novel from Zimbabwe to explore the experiences of a character who is going through the early days of manifesting shave (alien spirit) or mudzimu (ancestral spirit). This is a process called called kurwadziswa or kusunyiwa nemweya (the early body and spiritual pains) experienced by a medium (homwe) until the shave or mudzimu are ritually accepted and welcomed. At this stage the medium may become sick, mentally and physically until the matter resolved. Marangwanda explores this with a postmodern brush, much like what Marechera does in House of Hunger, capturing how the boy in school hears voices and feels like he is being pursued by invisible strangers. However, in Nehanda, Yvonne Vera explores real spirit possession, the experiences of a fully established mudzimu.

The girl soon teams up with various other radicals. There is her former school mate, Sheba. She is “dazzling. Wondrous. Diabolically beautiful.” Sheba’s parents want her to study Architecture, but Sheba ends up choosing to go to Vienna where she studies Fine Art.

Sheba makes the narrator feel inferior as Sheba is more physically and mentally endowed. She has already tried to commit suicide three times with a razor and dozens of pills. She says she wants to die in order to escape from what she calls “the agony of a fraudulent existence.” Ironically, suitors flock around her, desperately. But she wants to die. She wants to extinguish herself like a candle.

There is also another radical, a sculptor called Shavi. He is “renowned for his grotesquely exquisite sculptures that hint at macabre areas of the subconscious.”  Shavi explains why people of his generation are suicidal: “Alienation is the root of it. A widening remoteness and detachment that refuses to be bridged. One can’t help but fall headlong into the gaping gap…. These are futile times we are living in… I remember the days a handful of us would meet in the park. We were all twenty something, jobless and godless…When one of us surrendered and slit his throat open on a sunny day in full view of our windowless eye, we knew the implosion had begun…”

While they are at it, Pan appears from the gallery where he has been trying to hand in his work. His news is that: “They said my work doesn’t fit the criteria. What f- criteria? They said it is difficult to categorise, it screams too loud…what in Satan’s bloody hell does that mean?” he bellows.

Soon they all feel futile and helpless, and they go away in search of anything exciting and they come across a demonstrating mob that they all happily join, crashing into cars and buildings until they fall flat. Anything that opposes the establishment is good for this generation.

The major message is that; when you are in a society which does not accept the contributions of your talent and skills, then you are doomed to go round and round the face of the earth.

Meanwhile Grandmother pursues the narrator. She has many offerings. She will not relent. How will the narrator knock off this intruder from her mind, or will she start to listen to Grandmother? But how can a rebel listen to an elderly woman from beyond? Is a return to tradition and roots the answer to all this angst?

Shards, vacillates between postmodernism and spirit possession. It races on with no calibrated chapters. We turn and turn in the cauldron like the old fisherman in Hemingway’s Oldman and the Sea.

Shards won the National Arts Merit award in 2015, in the Outstanding First Creative Work category. Cynthia Marangwanda is genuinely talented. She is spontaneous and writes madly. She is a writer and poet from Harare, Zimbabwe, who is passionate about decolonisation and uplifting authentic African spiritual identity. She is a holder of an honours degree in Women's and Gender Studies. Her paternal grandfather, Mr John Marangwanda, is part of the earliest generation of black Zimbabwean writers. The republication of Shards should give this shocking story a new lease of life.




Thursday, February 8, 2024

Andrew Chatora’s Literature award…a background


Mainstream media in Zimbabwe has announced that Andrew Chatora, the UK based Zimbabwean author of Diaspora Dreams, has won the 2024 Anthem Awards, Silver category, with his rabble-rousing third novel, Harare Voices and Beyond which was published by the Chicago based Kharis Publishing – an imprint of Kharis Media in February 2023.

Writing on his online X handle (formerly Twitter) a few days ago, Chatora said, “(I am )thrilled to share the news that my debut short story collection Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories is published today, which incidentally is my birthday. I am equally excited to finally reveal I am an award winning author courtesy of my third book: Harare Voices and Beyond which has recently been awarded The 2024 Anthem Silver Award on Tuesday’s cocktail ceremony in New York Thank you to all those who read me and my esteemed Publisher: @KharisPublish.”

This hat trick is just deep and will surely shine a bright light on Zimbabwean Literature and particularly the city of Mutare, where Andrew Chatora grew up. Currently he writes from his base in Bicester, England, where he teaches English and Media Studies.

The winner in this category is for “any published book or other written work that aims to document or raise awareness for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. This can include fiction and non-fiction literature, history books, children's story books, essays, op-eds, and more.”

In Chatora’s winning novel, a white Zimbabwean family; The Williams loses land in the Zimbabwe land reform and they are thrown into chaos and move from being previously well heeled and privileged white Rhodesians to being mere scarecrows, who are sometimes pitied by their former black employees. They have to go to downtown Harare and sometimes grovel to black people more like what you see in Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People. In Chatora’s novel, the empire is somehow deconstructed. The story is based on Robert Mugabe’s  post-independence Zimbabwe, exploring without restraint, a multitude of topics including family feuds, money, identity, love, substance abuse, mental health, and politic, among others.

This is a shocking glimpse into the lives of white Zimbabweans and their struggles in a country that is built on the corruption, part of which they entrenched before losing power by 1980. We see the ripple effect of the land reform affecting Julian, a young white Zimbabwean man who loses his father, wife and children. Harare Voices and Beyond tells the stories of the predator, the prey and everyone else in-between.

This is, to my knowledge, the first fully fledged novel by a black Zimbabwean writer to look at the setbacks suffered by white folk during the Zimbabwe land reform. Andrew Chatora searches delicately for the place and scope of the white community in post independent Zimbabwe.  Being a pathfinder of sorts, many may find this novel either unsettling or satisfying, or both.

Many critical questions shall be asked, however. How do you write white people effectively when you are a black writer from Zimbabwe? Would that tantamount to speaking on behalf of the enemy? Would you be able to show that their loss is as a result of complex events within and beyond Zimbabwe? The author’s real test was in tactically navigating this very contentious terrain.

However, Chatora speaks clearly about this matter in his acceptance speech: ‘‘Much as I’ve been denigrated in some quarters as taking the side of whites, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s not about taking sides really.”

With my novel, Harare Voices and Beyond, I was attempting to fill in the missing link, the constant question on how it could have felt on the other side, the landed white community during the land reform,”

So much had happened to white people during the land reform. Now, this should not be conflated with I am anti-land reform as charged by some of my detractors. But, to reiterate, that is the essence of the writer. I will always defend my right to write without fear or favour on any contentious issues affecting our society.’’

In his debut novel of 2021 called Diaspora Dreams, which was a national Arts Award nominees in Zimbabwe, the main character, Kundai Mafirakureva, is following up on his teacher wife in England, Kay. Her pregnancy is now very advanced and Kundai has come to be with the beautiful Kay in her time of need, something far away from Chikwava’s man in Harare North.  Kundai does not know that he has in fact come to ‘school’ to learn about what women can do, sometimes, to their unsuspecting men when the survival instinct rises above love ties. When you are used to the many books that dwell on how men typically abuse women, then this book is something else, in terms of how it treats the losing black male psyche.

In his second novel, Where the Heart Is, Chatora comes out as one of the very few novelists from Zimbabwe to fully imagine the joys and hazards of a physical return home from the diaspora. A man moves from Zimbabwe to the UK, returns to Zimbabwe but finding it necessary to return to the UK, as the centre can no longer hold for him. It is a charmed book about going to and fro. Its place in African literature is lofty.

In his fourth work, which is a collection of short stories called  Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories Chatora temporarily quits the novel to give us this charmed confluence of the novella, the short story, the vignette, and the poetic essay.  A collection of shorter forms usually allows the artist to tell his story in tit bits and with more varied urgency than what a novel allows.

Amongst some of the leading celebrities honoured in this year’s 3rd Annual Anthem Awards in New York were notable luminaries such as Hollywood actors Matt Damon, and Kevin Bacon. Other conspicuous recipients of the Special Lifetime Achievement includes Misty Copeland, Aurora James and Leon Ford inter-alia. These are people who have distinguished themselves in different spheres of life and thus honoured for their diverse roles and contribution in the field of Arts and popular culture and it is this group that Zimbabwean, Andrew Chatora joins!

Author Biography

Andrew Chatora writes novels, short stories, literary essays and hails from Zimbabwe. His writing explores multifarious themes of belonging, identity politics, blackness, migration, multi-cultural relationships, citizenship and nationhood. He lives with his wife Priveledge and their two children in Bicester, England where he teaches English and Media Studies.







Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Tariro Ndoro reviews Andrew Chatora's short story book


Navigating Zimbabwe and her Diaspora: Through the Years

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories Reviewed by Tariro Ndoro


When it reaches the bookshops in your neighbourhood soon in the first half of 2024 you may see that  Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories offers a fine assembly of different tones, voices, and settings, giving a view of a Zimbabwe and her Diaspora that is multifaceted writes Tariro Ndoro.


Zimbabwe’s socio-political landscape and the acutely complex circumstances of the Zimbabwe diaspora informs the eleven stories that form Andrew Chatora’s fourth book and debut short story collection, Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. Told from the viewpoints of several narrators living in diverse locales, Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories touches on the themes of turmoil, tenacity, broken society and sometimes sheer desperation.

When it reaches the bookshops in your neighbourhood soon in the first half of 2024 you may see that Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories offers a fine assembly of different tones, voices, and settings, giving a view of a Zimbabwe and her Diaspora that is multifaceted writes Tariro Ndoro.

The collection opens with the scene of a man being thrown “kicking and screaming” into a Harare jail cell in the title story, “Inside Harare Alcatraz” which takes place in Harare’s maximum-security prison. The prison is nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’ after the now defunct impenetrable and infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary Prison off the coast of San Francisco. In this story, Chatora weaves the tale of an unnamed man who is assigned to go to this prison and pretend to be a prisoner in the same cell as two “infamous” political prisoners, highlighting the harsh and politically abused environs of Zimbabwe’s correctional services. In this story, Chipendani the protagonist must make difficult and surprising choices that will change the shape of his life forever.

However, the bulk of the book is set in Dangamvura, a township in Mutare, Zimbabwe’s third largest city. Although Chatora has affectionately mentioned both Dangamvura and the greater Mutare in his first two books, it is in Inside Harare Alcatraz that he fully pays homage to his hometown. 

“Estelle the Shebeen Queen and Other Dangamvura Vignettes,” for instance, is the  story of a Dangamvura  shebeen queen who runs a not so covert brothel in which she employs her own daughters:

I was privileged enough to be neighbours with Estelle and only lived two doors away from her. Estelle was an unmarried woman in her late fifties with a brood of daughters, who mostly were single mothers crowding at her famed 4 roomed house; kwaMagumete as it was called; though it beats me how they were able to live comfortably under such squalid conditions of overcrowding, constantly stepping on each other’s toes. The irony growing up in my hood, Estelle’s house was termed four roomed house but in reality, they were two bedroomed houses itself an indictment of the colonial regime which never seem to take into account the big number of African families and how they could benefit from corresponding adequate housing.

Chatora fully describes the underbelly of township life as he details Estelle’s and her daughters’  methods of ensnaring hapless patrons and then mortgaging their debts to the hilt. These women are villains but, like in Yasher Kemal’s Memed My Hawk, the villain can as well be a plausible hero. Estelle and her daughters must be hitting back at society that has always disposed women.

In one other story in this book, one family, the Chatikobos, barely survives. Later on, Chatora delineates the foibles of the newly rich black middle class in “Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us” as one man sacrifices his cultural upbringing at the altar of upward mobility. His wife is a louder expression of what Kongiri is able to hide about himself. After the sinister matter-of fact tone displayed in “Estelle the Shebeen Queen,”Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us,” one has already experienced a more playful side of both Dangamvura and the author.

Chatora then uses the template of court hearings and legal procedure to illustrate gender politics and the violence that often surrounds sex. Two such stories are “A Snap Decision” and “Tales of Survival: Avenues and Epworth.” The former takes place in the United Kingdom, in which a woman; Pamhidzai has been accused of killing her mother’s lover. The story is, in many ways, reminiscent of Jag Mundhra’s 2006 film, Provoked, which tells the story of a young Indian woman who migrates to the United Kingdom for an arranged marriage and yet she only face years of abuse at the hands of her husband. Seeing no other way out for herself, she snaps and burns him alive. Chatora has a knack for steeping his stories in legal complications. You may want to coin a term legal-literature around Chatora’s works.

In “A Snap Decision,” the protagonist, Pamhidzai, endures abuse at the hands of a revolving door of men who date her mother. In the end, she stabs the last one to death. Pamhidzai’s story also highlights the effect of emigration on African families, a theme Chatora often visits in his other books:


It was moments like these when I felt myself spiralling into a dark pit of despair, I was unable to extricate myself from or to claw myself out of. Why did I have to belong to such a dysfunctional family as ours? I hated mummy more and blamed her for driving dad away in the first place.


 “Tales of Survival: Avenues and Epworth,” on the other hand, describes the life stories of several sex workers living in one of Harare’s diciest ghettoes – Epworth. Herein Chatora highlights the social and economic ills that force young women to take to sex work when they are robbed of other choices. But the most important thing is that several key people try to put a stop to all this. Whether this is achieved or not, is for the reader to decide.

Andrew Chatora’s Short stories remind me of what Elizabeth Bowen’s words that the short story, more than the novel, is able to place man alone on that "stage which, inwardly, every man is conscious of occupying alone."

 Chatora’s other books, Diaspora Dreams,  Where the Heart Is, and Harare Voices and Beyond are set in Thames Valley, England with several scenes set in Zimbabwe. The three  books have the story of one family told in long form fiction over a long period of time. Not so with Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories. In this instalment, Chatora uses more characters to inhabit more locales and the greater part of the book is set in his native Zimbabwe. From the jail cells of Chikurubi to the leafy suburbs of Harare, Chatora methodically reveals the desperate lives of the base.

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories is available through and major online retail sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble,, Walmart, etc., or by contacting the author at: Order your copy today!


Reviewer Biography

Tariro Ndoro is a Zimbabwean poet and storyteller. Born in Harare but raised in a smattering of small towns, Tariro holds a BSc in Microbiology and an MA in Creative Writing.


Her work has been published in numerous international journals and anthologies including 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (Brittle Paper, 2018), KotazNew ContrastOxford Poetry, and Puerto del Sol. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the 2018 Babishai Niwe Poetry Prize and awarded second place for the 2017 DALRO Prize. Agringada is her debut collection.