Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year with Primrose Dzenga

If He Made Love
(By Primrose C Dzenga)

If he made love,
With such joy and abandon
Tenderness and care

If he caressed
Velvety feverish caresses
Like he did the cords,
Sweet cords of his piano

And revered, with lavished concern
Like he did, the wide amble bosom
Of his lady marimba churning
She, creaking and groaning
To the fevered touch and pitch
Of a practiced master in love

My soul was a virgin
Till the echoes of his drums
The wailing and moaning of his piano
The sheer joy and celebration
Of his marimba in love

Awoke my spirit to canal desires
Unquenchable lust and need
For more of this music
This melody and joy
Making love to my soul

Peeling away the blinds and mists
Of naivety, being green
My soul was sated, sated to voluptuousness
But now…? Im sated no more
I’m addicted to the quick

For the hunger now gnaws
Craving, the wails, the echoes and ululations of joy
In their chosen trio on a journey
Have left a hunger I could never quench

The melodies wafting thru me
Taking me, my spirit on a journey
Pitting me with the moon
For a dance under the African sky

If he made love
Like he massaged the piano
And smiled into the marimba
And tickled his drums to fits

There would be no more need for love
All would be sated like I was
But I’m sated no more
So I beg you, play on.
With your three ladies of choice

You bring out the best in them
And springs of joy to the world
Initiating most, to a higher level
Of appreciating music and nature

If he made love
Like they did to the three
Conceiving such sweet melodies
I beg you gentlemen, please
Make some more, do make some more.

**inspired by Trio ivoire-4 may HIFA 2007.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

3 poems by Tinashe Muchuri (my selection)


don’t worry
they are not coming
they are dying away.


They are body – guarded against death
But they die in the eyes of their guards


Smile and make my day
Laugh and heal my heart

**Tinashe Muchuri is a poet, performer, actor, and writer currently living in Harare. He performs regularly at arts festivals in Zimbabwe and he features in a local historical soap called 'Tiriparwendo' as the character Jecha. Muchuri has just finished a novel script in Shona, 'Chibarabada' which explores squatter camp subcultures of Zimbabwe and how they interface with power and the 'conventional' society.

Not anymore

Not anymore
(by Memory Chirere)

My job does not pay me anymore.
It all started slowly:
First, the pay day was delayed.
Later, it was switched thrice
coming only when I had forgotten.
And now they do not pay me at all!
And they know that I know it.
I turn to odd jobs in order to live
I borrow in order to go to work
and borrow again in order to get back home.
I find more odd jobs in between.
I go to work only when I can
and my boss looks aside
every time I turn up with a smile
or putting on new shoes
and clutching a full lunch box.
He knows that I am a miracle.
I work when I make it to work
and stroll home humming an old wartime tune.
My wife winces and looks aside
when I walk in like a wayfarer.
My father doesn’t understand what I know
about my once prestigious job
but he knows that I will not quit
and that on an ordinary day I’m no fool.
So I continue and it continues
And maybe, we all know that we are not mad.

** today I came across this piece, above that I did in October 2008. Because of drought, negative politics and inflation, 2008 was terrible for most Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe. 2009 has been much better and everywhere around me, people think 2010 will even be better.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A story for Christmas (from the Zimbabwe fast track land reform): ‘Baas, are you packing?’

‘Baas, are you packing?’

(flash story by Memory Chirere)

Mundoza found farmer John Hurston furiously pacing up and down the farm workshop, gathering pieces of metal and wire. Mundoza wanted to pick a rack and disappear to the garden, but, feeling taut himself, asked, “Baas, are you packing?”

John dropped everything. In his deep blue overalls, the gardener surely meant no harm. “Mundoza, tell me, are they finally coming here for the farm?”

“Who, coming baas?” Mundoza asked, picking the rack clumsily.

John knew, from experience that the bird had flown. He had always lacked tact and he knew it. There would be more days and nights of hoping against the worst. Many nasty things had happened on the farms in the districts recently and for some unclear reason, John felt his turn was not very far ahead in the future.

“Who is coming, baas?” Mundoza repeated and came nearer, screwing up his eyes.

“Oh, just a thought.” John said. He walked to the vice – stand, as calmly as he could. No need to panic, he thought. The following day he summoned Mundoza and showed him a billy goat. “Take it to your family. I forgot to give it to you last new- year’s day.”

Mundoza gave thanks and hat in hand, dragged the not so reluctant goat on a leash until he disappeared behind the gum trees towards his home in the villages across the river.

Then something must have dawned on John for he suddenly called, “Mundoza! Hey!” but Mundoza had gone beyond earshot. John laughed, excitedly and dashed indoors. He went for his biggest and ripest wine. I must think, think, think, he thought. He measured out a deep glass and soon he felt the fog rise slowly from a long way inside him.

After the weekend, Mundoza came across his employer in the orchard and said, “Baas, last night in the village we heard gun – shots and we thought maybe you were on a goodbye hunt, shooting in the land- rover light, too! But then, we realized that it was too early in the season to shoot kudu. So we argued and argued amongst ourselves, in the village and I said I would get the truth from you.”

“What?” John asked. “Mundoza, what good- bye hunt do you refer to?”

Mundoza laughed and the mischievous twinkle in his eye was hint to a sudden mood shift.. “Oh, we thought you were bidding good- bye to the old season, baas. You do it often between seasons, baas.”

John stood still and said, “Liar. You lie, my friend.” And that phrase – my friend, irked John the white man like a fresh wound. It told an inside story about the new happenings, fears and anxieties on the Zimbabwean farms and estates exactly hundred years after the first Hurston settled here.

John immediately drove to the village on the other side of Mupfurudzi in his jeep, wanting to get the story out of them. He thought he was working on an impulse and he felt it was natural and was glad. Would they sing and dance and flood onto his farm Svosve and Masembura style? True, they could still count their ancestral graves on his farm. Would they come? Would they not? And if they did? If...

“How does one get to old Mutero’s homestead?” John was asking at every stop.

And each time, an interviewee on the footpath or cattle track looked at him and said, “ Oh, Hesoni, too late.” Or, “Hesoni, the world gave in. Go round there and when you get to the fig tree, turn right and the third compound is what you are looking for. Is all well with you, Hesoni?”

Back in the farmyard, he asked, “Mundoza, why didn’t you tell me old Mutero is nomore? He was Pa and Grandpa’s friend, you understand?”

Mundoza dropped the garden fork he was working with and cried, “Is it?” But he quickly feigned calmness. “Oh, I have heard it said, but, from what Mutero himself used to say about all this-” Mundoza pointed at the orchard, the house, the fields and the hills. “From what Mutero said about all this and about your Pa and grandpa, then, I think there is... there was an unfinished story, baas.” Mundoza looked at the garden fork and added, “There were Cat and Mouse games between your people and us, Mutero’s people since the end of the wars of the Germans.”

“Come on,” John said. He came closer to Mundoza but hesitated because he thought Mundoza had picked up the fork and held it in an awkward way, prongs up. “Grandpa came here from the wars and you know very well that they gave him and others this side of the river because you folks here could not work this heavy clay in summer. You get it?”

“I see,” Mundoza said. He looked up at the hills and said, “Maybe the story has its left and right shoes and all we see is a shoe on the wrong foot. But, why don’t we wait, baas?”

John knew Mundoza to be generally well meaning. Not much older than John, Mundoza had a distant look, sometimes, like a cat stalking a not so identifiable roddent.

“You take all these vegetables home, Mundoza,” John said, for want of a more friendly subject. “We want something different now, say spinach or covo.” Were they not playmates? Were they not sparring?

In the evening, John saw Mundoza spring away home with a bundle of vegetables in his armpit, looking all over, furtively.

John prayed for a peaceful night. No knives and knobkerries from the gloom or a loud descend into a Mupfurudzi pool, with a boulder tied to one’s neck. No, they will not do that. This time they are quite clear, he thought. Don’t they sing in a mob to announce their arrival, even in broad daylight?

Monday, December 21, 2009

ZIBF Indaba 2009

ZIBFA Indaba remains the most outstanding literary event inside of Zimbabwe in 2009, I think, and the report below by author, David Mungoshi could be useful to some. I was there and I kept thinking about issues in Zimbabwean literature. (The ZIBFA Indaba is an annual Conference which is the major forum for debating critical issues to the book industry in Africa. It is also a unique national platform for networking and collaboration among stakeholders.)

An ABRIDGED report on the ZIBF Indaba 2009: 27 JULY – 29 JULY 2009 compiled by David S Mungoshi

The ZIBF Indaba for the year 2009 was held at the Crowne Plaza Monomotapa Hotel, Harare from Monday 27 July to Wednesday 29 July. The 2009 Theme was: “Reading and Writing Zimbabwe” The first two days were devoted to the main Indaba while Day 3 was set aside for a young people’s Indaba. Despite the non-appearance of one or two people originally assigned to perform certain tasks and who had to be replaced, the Indaba proceeded quite smoothly indeed.

Official Opening of the 2009 Zimbabwe International Book Fair

•In the absence of the Honourable Minister of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture, Senator David Coltart, his speech was read on his behalf by the permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dr Stephen Mahere.

Keynote Address
Professor Hope Sadza, Vice Chancellor at the Women’s University in Africa delivered the keynote address and highlighted the following issues:
oThat in the context of a vast expansion of information technology, consideration must be given to how the Zimbabwean story is being packaged;
oThat the implicit dichotomy between black and white needs looking at with a view to properly defining and placing Zimbabwean Literature;
oThat the question of gender and literature must be resolved in a way that recognizes the true meaning of the word ‘gender.’
oThat the authorship of children’s literature should perhaps rope in child authors as well;
oThat media practitioners should start thinking in terms of asserting their independence and not just bemoan the controls they work under, real or imagined;

The 2009 Indaba Topics
Speakers formulated topics and designed papers based upon the following broad areas:
Colonial literature in Zimbabwe;
New writings from Zimbabwe;
Publishing and Marketing;
Intellectual property and copyright;
Media Reading and Writing;
Reading and Writing Gender in Zimbabwean Literature;
Reading and Writing children’s Literature in Zimbabwe.

Presenter-Responses to the Broad Areas
The Language Question:
Andrei Gromyko, one-time Foreign Minister in what then was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, is generally accepted as being the longest-serving Foreign Minister in modern times. Of interest is the fact that despite having being educated at Harvard University in the United States of America, and despite the fact that he spoke flawless English, at all public functions Gromyko always communicated through an interpreter. When quizzed about this anomaly Gromyko observed that this always gave him the advantage of hearing everything twice. There is perhaps some merit in everyone speaking more than one language. And there is definitely a strong case for Zimbabweans of all manner and shade speaking at least the three national languages (Ndebele, Shona and English). Such a situation would bring about democracy in the area of language and communication.

Jerry Zondo’s paper cries out for admission and justice in Matabeleland in the aftermath of 5 Brigade. One postulates that it is Zondo’s view that national catharsis can only happen if and when the 5 Brigade issue is returned to with greater openness. Perhaps by the same token all such issues would have to be revisited and dealt with openly. We would all have to accept that these things happened: Entumbane about which there is usually a notable silence happened. Forced translocation from areas around the country to Lobhengula’s realm happened. Economic sanctions, declared and undeclared, happened and are still happening. Everyone is culpable. Such things are the totality of whom and what we are as a nation and are especially relevant in the current dispensation that espouses national healing as a policy. Recognition of all the imperatives can give renewed impetus to Ndebele reading and writing.

Historical Perspectives into the Development of Literature in Zimbabwe since Colonization
Two papers with a historical bent were presented by Dr Rosemary Moyana and Musaemura B Zimunya. Dr Moyana’s paper was entitled,’ Reading our Past: Introduction to the White-Authored Novel in Zimbabwe’ while Zimunya’s paper went under the title, ‘Rhodesians and Zimbabweans: Black and White Poets since 1960.’

The White-Authored Novel
Dr Moyana’s argument at the outset was that while popular belief amongst majority Zimbabweans suggested that Zimbabwean Literature was necessarily that which was authored by black Zimbabweans only, this assertion was, in fact, fallacious and limiting.

Moyana expressed the view that in order to have a full picture of literature in Zimbabwe and in order to be able to ‘read our past’ it was necessary to examine unfamiliar literature which by definition had to be ‘that written by white people who occupied the country in 1890.’ In Moyana’s view, white-authored literature is comprised of a ‘... of literature that was written in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods.’

The white-authored Rhodesian novel is set apart by the prevalence in it of prejudice, racism and a general downgrading of Africans as characters. The reading reveals the author’s voice, vision and point of view.

Further, Moyana argues that study of this white-authored literature is important for the insights it gives into the present socio-political state of Zimbabwe. Moyana referred to the views of Natalie Zemon Davis among which is the view that literary figures are ‘expert, sensitive observers of their times and in their expression of opinion, pithy and penetrating,’ to the extent that they open an important window in the work of a historian or history student. Given this tool of analysis It becomes easier to understand some of the titles of prose works by black Zimbabweans and these include the following: On Trial for my Country (Stanlake Samkange), Waiting for the rain (Charles Mungoshi), The House of Hunger (Dambudzo Marechera), A Son of the Soil (Wilson Katiyo) and Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangarembga) etc. These titles would appear to be responses to an earlier period, that is, to the period when white-authored literature was dominant.
Moyana then made the observation that according to T O McLoughlin, African novels set in pre-independent Zimbabwe are mostly about the experience of subjection (Moyana 2009, 4). Conversely, therefore a study of white-authored literature constitutes a study of the subjector. In Moyana’s view this progression is logical since ‘the subject matter of the white Rhodesian novel is

Moyana precedes her discussion of selected white Rhodesian novels, by pointing out that the history of Zimbabwe shows that ‘land was at the centre of people’s lives as everywhere in the world), before the arrival of white people; and at the centre of the controversy from the time that the white people colonised the country in 1890.’ Moyana further asserts that the question of land in Zimbabwe today still generates controversy because its tenure and husbandry has been a cause for concern. She also makes the observation that ‘the subject of land features prominently in the white authored novel in a way that allows the reader to join in that land re-distribution debate rather vigorously.’ Moyana then suggests that this principle can be used to explore white-authored novels.

Moyana’s selection of novels can be grouped into eight distinct categories, that is, novels inspired by the Great Zimbabwe Ruins, the historical novel, the role of women in colonial Rhodesia, novels critical of the colonial dispensation, novels dealing with African nationalism, novels on the theme of miscegenation, novels of reminiscence and novels that describe the 2000 fast track land re-distribution exercise in Zimbabwe.

Novels inspired by the Great Zimbabwe Ruins
Moyana starts by referring to the observation by Chennells that, ‘any discussion of the Rhodesian settler novel has to begin with the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and the hold they had on the settler mind.’ The earliest white authored novels in the country were preoccupied with explaining away the historical monument at Great Zimbabwe as something that could only have been built by outsiders who, of course, would have been ‘more intelligent and civilized than the indigenous black people.’ This is what novels like ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ by Rider Haggard, according to Chennells, tried to do in order to ‘deny that Africans were capable of taking initiative, of ordering their lives, or of being creative without the authority and example of some higher race. Moyana points out that despite the racist stance in Haggard’s novel, he nevertheless, jettisons the settler notion that Africans were ignorant, unthinking and easily mesmerised when he shows how Gagool shows that she recognizes that there is an eclipse of the sun and is therefore not fooled by the attempt of the whites to depict the dimming of the sun as a demonstration of their power.

The Historical Novel
Novels in this category usually trace the journeys of white people from Great Britain to the South African gold and diamond mines. Invariably many of the journeys end up in Rhodesia to the north, a country named after its chief coloniser Cecil John Rhodes. Rhodesia was regarded as an extension of South Africa so it was natural for whites to want to enter its territory in order to try and find more gold and more diamonds as well as to settle on rich farmland there. Moyana lists ‘Men of Men’ (Wilbur Smith), ‘Wagons Rolling North’ (Wilfrid Robertson), ‘My leaves are Green’ (Eve M Slatter) etc. Land is seen to be crucial in these works and accordingly he plunder of African land and wild life are dramatically portrayed.

Novels on the Role of Women in Colonial Rhodesia
Most of the novels in this category are female-authored and attempt to show the role of women in colonization. Gertrude Page’s novels, ‘The Pathway’ and ‘The Veldt Trail’ portray women as active participants in the act of colonization. Madeline Heald’s ‘Down Memory Lane with Some Early Rhodesian Women, 1897-1923, belongs to this kind of novel.

Moyana argues that Heald sets the tone for the Rhodesian novel with a quote from a book by Mrs E Tawse Jollie who observes that ‘The true story of Rhodesia is contained in the records of her settlers, their struggles, their hopes, their failures and successes and to get the atmosphere of the country one must know what her people are thinking about, talking about, what are their domestic, social and economic problems.’ In attempt to portray these issues the women writers of Rhodesia generally portrayed the African male servant in a disparaging manner. This is most explicit in Gertrude page’s novel, ‘Jill’s Rhodesian Philosophy.’ In this novel humour is created around the figures of Jill’s cook and houseboys who have no sense of time and go to the river to wash their garments at 12.30 when they should be getting ready to serve lunch. When lunch is finally served the situation is further exacerbated when the cook spreads mustard on the trifle for dessert instead of custard. The politician’s wife begins to choke on the trifle! The book has a catalogues of these situational mishaps meant to show that the native is an infantile being. Sally’s cook boy, Whiskey, ‘pitches up wearing the mistress’s best embroidered garment, claiming ... that those were the instructions given...’ Ironically, the African male servants seem to behave foolishly because this is what is expected of them and are, consequently able to escape retribution. The portrayal of the ‘black cook and house boy’ can be interpreted ‘as a critique of the white man’s treatment of grown men, whether intended or coincidental.’

Novels critical of the colonial dispensation
Moyana made the observation that ‘from as early as the 1890s, there were novels written by white Rhodesians that criticised colonial ideology, policies and practices.’ These novels tended to predict the demise of colonialism, something which by the end of the 1970s had come to pass. This category had among others the following novels: Trooper Peter Halket of Mashonaland by Oliver Schreiner, Stronger than Armies by Peter Gibbs, Rhodesia: Little White Island by John Parker and Bay-Tree Country and Brooding Earth by Arthur Shearly Cripps.

In Brooding Earth Cripps links the land grab in England to the land grab in Rhodesia. One of the characters in Cripps novel, a woman belonging to the family in England buys land in order to return it to the people displaced in the enclosure system. A brother of the woman commits suicide in Rhodesia after trying to cheat a black neighbour out of a piece of land. The man believes he is haunted by ‘the Earth Woman.’

Novels on African Nationalism
Novels in this category deal with the rise of African nationalism and the war of liberation. The novels range from the pessimistic ones to those that depict the actual bush war and include the following: Toward the Tamarind Tree by Antony Trew, The Rain Goddess by Peter Stiff and Explosion by Merna Wilson etc
To Breathe and Wait by Nancy Partridge looks at the liberation war through a woman’s eyes and suggests that all women are united against the common enemy, that is, racism. Books like Kandaya: Another Time, another place by Angus Shaw, White man, Black War by Bruce Moore-King and Karima by T O McLoughlin portray the disillusionment of young white conscripts who have to fight a war whose ideology and values they do not subscribe to. Of interest is the fact that Peter Rimmer in his novel ‘Cry of the Fish eagle’ weaves his story around the emotive issue of land. Those who are dispossessed of their land in England dispossess others in Rhodesia.

Novels on the Theme of Miscegenation
Miscegenation is inevitable where two racial groups meet and Rhodesian novelists made an attempt to explore this reality and did so through novels like The Burning Man by Sarah Gertrude Millin, Hippodile by Ronald Leavis and Raina: A story of Africa by Charles Bullock.

Novels of Reminiscence
This category contains introspective works in which the main character reminisces on his life in Rhodesia before his departuture for the UK and the USA. Peter Godwin’s book Mukiwa and Alexander Fuller’s Don’t let’s Go the Dogs Tonight are typical of this grouping. While much use is made of humour the novels do not ‘acknowledge a progressive position for the African in Zimbabwe.’

Novels on the Fast Trek Land Resettlement Programme in Zimbabwe
Moyana stated that there was as yet only one title under this category and that title is Jambanja by Eric Harrison. According to Moyana this novel continues along the typical path preferred by most white novelists in the country in that it still depicts Africans as being inconsequential to the scheme of things. The dichotomy between white affluence and the lack of it in the black community creates an antithesis that is difficult to ignore, yet this anomaly is seldom acknowledged as a reason for the most recent ‘land grab.’ Moyana’s view is that this novel is a good one for the present generation because of its potential for starting debate in the classrooms on land resettlement in Zimbabwe. In conclusion Moyana expressed the hope that white-authored Rhodesian novels can find their way into literature classrooms and lecture rooms as this can enhance understanding of the socio-political relationships between whites and blacks in the country.

Black and White poets since 1960
Musaemura Zimunya prefaced his talk by recreating the scene emanating from effective colonization and asserted that blacks and whites were at one time de jure Rhodesians bound by the same laws and using the same passports. Things changed when the white began to parcel out to themselves the most fertile pieces of land in the country. Zimunya asserted that as the whites progressively entrenched themselves and arrogated all sorts of privileges to their race it became obvious that they were unwilling to honestly engage their circumstances. White writers in general tended to reflect in their writing the values of Rhodesian society. The poets in particular ‘developed a tradition which owed its values to the metropolitan imperial culture.’ Zimunya argued that in retrospect it was possible to see that the culture subscribed to by white Rhodesian poets was ‘static, and in a lot of cases, old-fashioned to the point of even being Victorian.’ Not surprisingly, the best of the white poets, according to Zimunya, thrived on imitation of English ‘greats.’ Consequently, their poetry was couched in forms that were out-of-date and ill-suited for portraying the African experience.

Conversely, the blacks increasing began to write with more self-awareness and self-consciousness. The self-consciousness manifested itself in early black poetry as sheer excitement about the English language. The content was also borrowed: the imitation of white perspectives and attitudes to blacks: drunks, prostitutes, crooks and layabouts. This was in addition to imitating traditional European forms which by definition were foreign.

Zimunya observed that some of the earlier black poets sought to gain acceptance among the whites and began to publish their poetry in publications like Two-Tone, Rhodesian Poetry and Chirimo. This early black poetry, Zimunya argues, should be seen as ‘part of the process of awakening to a world which was not only fascinating, but was brutally powerful and had to be conquered, in time.’ The new world could only be conquered through the reassertion of lost traditions and by an exhortation to return to a past where the lost traces of human dignity could be found. This past could help regain the present and redeem the future.

Zimunya’s assessment is that while there was this apparent fixation with the past it was not clear what the past could offer by way of strategy. This dilemma was the cause of a crisis within nationalist ranks until a call to arms pointed the way to a possible revolution. Zimunya also argues that given the fact of oppression under the Smith regime and given that Smith’s forces could not have tolerated an open call to arms a more privileged generation of critics and authors has to surmise the fact that a return to the past was more than just a bit of nostalgia for the past and that it, in fact, was a strategic call to arms rather than simplistic escapism. Zimunya’s view therefore, seems to be that a return to the past would necessarily come face to face with ‘ chimurenga’ and thus point the way to future action.

In order to come up with a balanced study, Zimunya based his analysis on the following texts:
Poetry in Rhodesia (College Press 1968);
The Sunbathers and other poems (Poetry Society of Rhodesia);
A Patch of Blue Sky and Zimbabwean Ruins (Poetry Society of Zimbabwe)
The Milkman does Not Only deliver Milk and Musical Saws (Poetry Society of Rhodesia);
And Now the Poet’s Speak (Mambo Press);
Mambo Book of Zimbabwean Verse (Mambo Press).

The Editor’s foreword to the anthology entitled ‘Poetry in Rhodesia’ reads:
As in local art, too, the decade has seen more
and more Africans contributing to Rhodesian Poetry
and the freshness of their vision is at once apparent.
Rhodesians owe a debt of gratitude to Phillipa Berlyn
Whose encouragement to Shona poets may make
the emergence of our own Senghor possible.

Zimunya points out that the word ‘Rhodesians’ is used here to refer to whites while the word ‘Africans’ is used to refer to blacks. Therefore, the conclusion to be reached is that the black poets are being accommodated, that is, brought into the fold, not integrated. Accordingly, Africans can only produce a Senghor and no one else.

Zimunya referred to ‘Envoi’ to show that it is one of the few white-authored poems that evokes the tensions within the land at the time of its writing. Cripps poem reflects upon the irony of the white oppressor preaching Christ to the black man who in his own way is a veritable martyr – deprived of all- land, wealth and culture. The rest of the white-authored poetry speaks of wild life – the frogs, the beetles, the snakes and the elephants and the seasons and so on. By contrast, black poets were concerned to describe the world around them as opposed to dwelling issues and themes from colonial literature.

Zimunya’s view is that black poets could be regarded as a people groping for comprehension of their own destiny. Thus Henry Pote’s ‘Look, Watch Those Trees’ and ‘To A White Child’ were already depicting the cultural conflict inherent in a black-white colonial situation. But Zimunya went on to show that Pote’s cultural background and missionary education gave him an ambivalence that made him appeal to both Christ and his ancestors in the same poem.

Not unexpectedly certain poems by blacks in Poetry in Rhodesia were what Kizito Muchemwa was later to call ‘puerile excitement.’ The example used by Zimunya was that of a poem entitled ‘Beer Pot.’ The poem praises the beer pot ‘in a manner that invites the white reader to laughter at the expense of the African. This uneasy partnership between black poets and white ones went on for a while with the result that black and white poets were often paired (Borrell and Zimunya and Mungoshi and Style). However, Zimunya is of the view that these pairings were convenient arrangements for editors more than anything else. Zimunya showed successive white editors (Phillipa Berlyn, LB Rix and others) failing to accede to the new realities of a world in transition to a new dispensation that would require new sensibilities.

In Zimunya’s view the break came with Kizito Muchemwa’s Zimbabwean Poetry in English, an anthology which for the first time described black poets as Zimbabweans rather than Rhodesian Africans. And when the volume ‘And Now The Poets Speak’ was published the break was complete since this anthology was the most radical to date because of its location in the war for national liberation.

There was a captivating episode here with the concept of gender being interrogated in a variety of ways. Dr Vimbai Chivaura’s presentation generated some heat that spilled over to Day 2 of the Indaba. He illustrated how gender stereotypes have been propagated and sustained by continued misreading of the story of creation as given in Book of Genesis (Chapters 5:1-2 and 1:26).Whereas the Bible records that God created both male and female and gave both of them dominion over the earth and all that abides upon it, sexist readings have consistently assigned inferior roles to women.

In defining gender Josephine Muganiwa made reference to the UNESCO definition which states that gender ‘... refers to the roles and responsibilities of men and women that are created in our families and our cultures.’ This definition makes it clear that gender has to do with roles that are socially determined and has nothing to do with sex which is a biological phenomenon. Accordingly, therefore, gender speaks to both men and women.

In furthering the gender debate, Tsitsi Dangarembga brought in the need to read and write gender in Zimbabwean literature, now. She defined gender as a system of differentiation propagated for the purpose of subordination and suggested that a stance that recognizes that ‘the personal is political’ could be used to fight against gender insensitivity.

Nehemiah Chivandikwa presented a paper entitled ‘Gender Viewership/ Readership in Zimbabwe: Towards Engendering Subversive Spectatorship/Readership in Zimbabwe.’ The paper discusses the problems of codification, image construction and feminization according to which, for example, most available plays in Zimbabwe have minimal attribution of agency to female characters. To illustrate objectification, Chivandikwa referred to the Book of Revelations Chapter 17:3-4 which he said if interpreted superficially could mean allsorts of things.

In all cases the presenters on gender suggested that there was a need for gender-sensitive discourse when creating new works.

Publishing and Marketing:
Irene Staunton’s paper was entitled, ‘Marketing: Is there a Link with Reading and Writing? The main thrust of her presentation was to do with marketing and its cost. She observed that all appetizing programmes for promotion purposes made marketing largely expensive: pictures, pamphlets and T-shirts. There usually were no corresponding returns and, in particular, reductionist attitudes that make people say that books are or should be read for examination purposes only, do not help. In this regard, Staunton felt that there was a need to come up with strategies for improving the situation and that these strategies could include applying pressure on the Ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture to fund libraries for schools and communities and encouraging booksellers to read the books that they sell.

Publishers could also identify and link up with partners in the media and bookshops to see how they can share a common interest and consequently promote a writer together. Another strategy was to discourage the practice of photocopying whole books and encouraging the purchase of such books instead.

Media reading and Writing:
William Chikoto, the editor of The Herald discussed the roles that a newspaper has to play and stressed that the important one was that of reflecting what happens in society. Editors often had to make critical political choices in terms of what to publish and what not to publish and asserted that there was an important link between an open media and free and effective economies. Chikoto also made observations about the nature and purpose of journalism and the fundamental need to serve public interest. The idea of public interest made it necessary to discuss the meaning of national interest and how it is different from public interest.

Other submissions from Chikoto were to do with the need for a paradigm shift in journalistic demeanour and operations, the need to challenge stereotyped mind sets and the need to question sensational journalism that is headline-driven. In subsequent discussion in response to comments from the floor, Chikoto acknowledged the existence of powerful interests such as advertising and the state on the print media.

Supa Mandiwanzira concurred with most of the views expressed by Chikoto whom he described as a cool-headed editor but added that when all was said and done writers had to think of writing as business. In addition, and with reference to the film industry in South Korea, Mandiwanzira asserted that writers should lobby government in order to bring about the promulgation of regulations that would enhance growth and development and that it was time to organize indigenous funding for books and film in preference to outside funding.

Reading and Writing Children’s Literature in Zimbabwe:
Insightful presentations were made by Stephen Chifunyise, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Anna Chitando and Charles Pfukwa. This panel was observably passionate about their subject with Chifunyise taking us through his childhood experiences as a developing reader and Nhamo Mhiripiri asking pertinent questions about the definition of childhood and where adulthood starts. Anna Chitando argued that there was a need for serious scholarly attention to be accorded to Zimbabwean Children’s Literature while Charles Pfukwa examines the meaning and import of the names that writers give to the characters in their work.

The Young People’s Indaba
Wednesday 29 July was given to the Young people’s Indaba and attracted a mixed audience of high school students as well as school-leavers.

Feedback on Manuscripts submitted to the Zimbabwe Women Writers (ZWW)
Ms Eresina Hwede took to the podium straight after the keynote address by Prof George Kahari and proceeded to give the young writers feedback on the manuscripts that she had assessed. Hwede made the following observations:
oMany of the manuscripts submitted to her for scrutiny were unrealistic in that the writers gave them settings they had no knowledge or experience of, e.g. one story was set in the UK in the year 1926, another was set in present day California although it was clear that the writer has never been there;
oMany of the characters were unconvincing and difficult to identify with;
oA writer must have a specific audience/readership in mind before setting pen to paper;
oA writer must choose a form/ style that is suitable for the story being written;
oTheme was also an essential consideration in writing. The writer must be clear what she is writing about;
oPassion for writing is a must-have, especially where poetry is concerned.

Hwede concluded her presentation with a few reminiscences about her experiences during the formative years of her writing. She argued that one’s own reading can be pivotal to the development of writing skills later on. She was then followed by the break-away groups.
The main programme for the day was organized around skills development sessions run by established writers as follows:
•Tsitsi Dangarembga – Script and Film;
•Stephen Chifunyise – Theatre;
•Memory Chirere and Jerry Zondo – Short Stories;
•Musaemura Zimunya – Writing Poetry;
•Tinashe Muchuri – Performance Poetry;
•Aaron C Moyo – Indigenous Literature;
•David Mungoshi – The Novel.

The Indaba of 2009 has, by all accounts, been lively and pertinent. What we read from this is the fact that much thought went into the planning of this year’s programme as indeed into most other such programme’s preceding this one. Some among us may find it interesting that after all these years certain topics and/or concerns refuse to go away. Might this be an indication of stagnation on our part or could it also be that other imperatives and imponderables have surfaced? The seeking of answers to these and other questions could perhaps be the subject of research by us as well as by interested significant others.

Thus we find the following issues having come up, both explicitly and implicitly, at this year’s Indaba:
•The role and place of history, including the history and development of literary pursuits, since the advent of colonialism in 1890 in the land between the Zambezi and the Limpopo;
•The role and place of ideology in the quest for writing excellence and relevance;
•The role and place of philosophical and aesthetic models and the tension that will always exist between those advocating different and even antithetical models;
•The question of a national language policy for Zimbabwe;
•The question of what language to use in both creative/imaginative writing as well as in academic writing;
•What to write about, how to write it and for whom: if necessity is the mother of invention can MDGs be a mother of writing?
•How to manoeuvre and negotiate a universe in which the forces of cultural assimilation and syncretism are still forcefully evident;
•The dichotomy between self-assertion as a people and accommodation with the usual attendant evils;
•The challenges emanating from the information age that we live in and in particular the challenges related to the internet and the integrity of intellectual property deposited there;
•How to deal with the paradox of a highly literate nation that still has to discover the pleasure of reading for non-utilitarian purposes;
•Publishing, marketing and sales in times of economic stress and reduced spending power;
•The fate of writers in the book chain – can they and should they reap material, financial and other benefits from their endeavours?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Prep talk

Prep talk

I love short stories. Sometime in the first third of 2010, Lion Press (Sarudzai Barnes)in the UK are going to publish what is going to be my third short story book, ‘Toriro’s goats and other stories’. In this one (just as I did with Tudikidiki), I am still searching for a tempo that is accessible to both the young and old. I just love short stories. There is the Mozambican short story writer, Luis Bernardo Honwana. I keep going back to his smallish collection of short stories, ‘We Killed Mangy Dog’. I also keep going back to Charles Mungoshi’s stories, ‘Coming of The Dry Season’. I also cannot avoid ‘Luanda’ by Viera of Angola. I have come across many better and bigger books but those three are important to me.

Now here (below) is just the first quarter of one of the short stories in ‘Toriro’. It is called ‘Nakai, you are killing me’

NAKAI, YOU ARE KILLING ME (A short story by Memory Chirere )

Nakai was a simple girl of nine. She was in the fourth grade. Her friends were Nyasha, Tsitsi and Marita. After school they would come out of the gate and sing and run home.

First they would turn right into Nyani Lane. There were houses on both sides of the lane. They were red brick houses with neat lawn beds in front of them for children to play. Towards the end of Nyani Lane, Nyasha would say goodbye to Nakai, Tsitsi and Marita and walk through one of the gates.

The other girls would wave at Nyasha and turn right into Mutamba Circle. They would sing louder and louder as they went and Marita would say goodbye and walk into her home. Nakai and Tsitsi would go on home towards the end of Mutamba Circle. Nakai and Tsitsi stayed next door to each other. They would both walk through the gates to their houses, wailing to each other, “Be- be-be-be a sweet girl!” Only they knew what it meant.

In the morning Nakai and Tsitsi would come out of the gates at the same time! It always happened like that but they had no watches. It was fun, always running out of two different houses at the same time. They would go down Mutamba Circle. They would call out to Marita until she came out. Together they ran on because soon the bell would ring and they must not be late. In Nyani Lane Nyasha would join them. They would run and run! Finally they would turn left and walk into the school gate.

They would go straight to Grade 4A. Their teacher was Ms Chirara. She was a pretty lady. Ms Chirara liked children but everyone knew that she could hit pupils for any silly thing anytime. Silly things like laughing when you should all keep quiet and get to work. Silly things like dropping your ruler loudly onto the floor.

If you did a silly thing Ms Chirara would ask you to come forward. She would then ask you to bend down and touch the table. Then she would whack your back side with a huge rubber rod which she kept in her drawer. Whack! Wham! Just like that. She would order you to quickly go back and sit down and be quiet. That was not a good thing. That is one thing the pupils did not like about her. But the pupils saw that she was a pretty woman and who liked children.

Nakai was a simple girl of nine and she liked school. She liked Ms Chirara. She liked to look at her dimples and plaited her and her brown shoes that made her look nice.

One day Nakai dropped her ruler by mistake onto the floor. It clattered onto the floor very loudly. Everyone stopped reading and writing and turned their heads.

“Sorry, madam,” Nakai said.

“Come here,” Ms Chirara said to Nakai. When she was angry, her dimples disappeared. “Come here, girl.” She said to Nakai. She was very cross with Nakai.

Nakai went to the teacher’s table. “I am sorry,” Nakai repeated.

“You know me, Nakai,” the teacher said. “Bend down and touch the table.”

Nakai was sorry. She was just a girl of nine who had just made a mistake. The teacher was very cross. Nakai bent down and touched the table. Whack! Whack! The rubber rod sang on Nakai’s back. It was not a good thing.

Nakai cried out in pain. The whole class cheered. Nakai looked at the teacher without blinking. She was in so much pain. She continued to look at the teacher without blinking. Teachers do not know how angry their pupils become when they hit them. It is bad to be hit by your teacher when you like her so much.

“My God, fire!” the teacher suddenly cried out. The teacher staggered back from Nakai. She dropped the rubber rod and held her chest, “Fire! Nakai, you are killing me!”

Nakai did not see any fire. She was only angry with Ms Chirara. All the other students saw no any fire too. They only saw Ms Chirara holding her chest and crying like a baby.

Nakai was still angry. She looked again straight at the teacher and the teacher cried out again, “Fire! Nakai, stop it! Do not burn me.” Then she pleaded, clapping her hands, “Nakai. Nakai, my dear!” The teacher staggered and went out of the room. “I am burning up, Nakai.”

In silence Nakai walked back to her place. There were tears in her eyes. She had dropped the ruler on the floor by mistake. She was just a grade 4 girl who stayed at Number 1890 Mutamba circle. She went back to her place and sat downs and cried. It was not nice to see Nakai crying. Her friends Nyasha, Tsitsi and Marita started crying too.

A big boy called Hardline asked loudly, “What is the fire about, people? Ms Chirara talked about fire. Nakai, what was it all about?”

“I do not know anything,” Nakai said, crying. She did not know anything. Nyasha, Tsitsi and Marita knew Nakai very well but they all did not know anything about the fire.”

Just as they were all settling and getting quiet, Ms Chirara came back into the room with the headmaster. He was called Mr. Pasi. The boys called him Danger because he was short tampered and you did not want to make him angry.

Ms Chirara kept holding her chest. There were tears in the corners of her eyes. Nobody wanted to see Ms Chirara crying. She was a pretty woman with nice dimples. Now she looked sad and it was not good.

Ms. Chirara and the headmaster came very gradually to Nakai’s desk.
“How are you, girl?” the headmaster said.

“Fine and how are you, sir?” Nakai said.

“What was it about?” the headmaster asked and touched Nakai calmly on the shoulder.

“It was a mistake, sir. I dropped a ruler and she hit me. I said I was sorry but she hit me. I love her but she hit me.” Nakai began to cry.

“What about the fire that burnt Ms Chirara?” the headmaster asked

“What fire sir?” Nakai replied. She was surprised. The whole class was surprised.

“You caused the fire that burnt Ms Chirara, didn’t you?”

Nakai was surprised. She did not know about any fire. She was only allowed to make a fire at home when they were a power-cut. She was not allowed to make fires. Children were not allowed to make fires. She got frightened and began to cry. She liked Ms Chirara and the headmaster but why were they thinking that she made fires without permission? She burst out very loudly, crying.

Then the headmaster who was still holding Nakai’s shoulder suddenly screamed and shot up, “I’m burnt! Oh my God.” He ran towards the door rubbing his hands and looking at them...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The knife, the tree and the boy

The knife, the tree and the boy
(By David Mungoshi)

The October sun
High and hot

I heard it whispered in the wind
By the bending trees –
The cicada’s song
That with rain must come life

The year’s end brought
The end of a road

Would I ever see the old familiar place again?
Despairing, I carved my name
In the tearful tree trunk –
And the knife shook with agitation.

*(This is my favourite of David Mungoshi’s poems. He is a prominent Zimbabwean author and poet. Lion Press of UK, have just published David’s amazing novel called ‘The Fading Sun’ which I will review here very soon)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lecture at the South African boarder

Lecture at the South African boarder post
(by Memory Chirere)

You Zimbabwean fools
Go back across the boarder, quickly
You chased away your white men
and now you cross over here in such a hurry
to grab all our jobs and women!
Go back across the boarder, quickly
And stop chasing away your whites,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

death and thoughts


kungofawo here
usina kuvaka

Kungofa kunge
inofira rwendo

(naMemory Chirere)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mother writes Yvonne Vera’s biography

Title: Petal Thoughts: Yvonne Vera
Author: Ericah Gwetai
Publisher: Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe, 2008

Reviewer: Memory Chirere

Imagine your mother writing your biography! What would she say or leave out and why?

The late write Yvonne Vera’s mother, Ericah Gwetai nee Mugadzaweta has written a biography on Yvonne Vera. It is called ‘Petal thoughts: Yvonne Vera: A Biography.’ More than anything, this amazing book shows that there are highly biographical elements in most of Yvonne Vera’s literature.

Did you know that ‘Yvonne was a result of an unwanted pregnancy’? Ericah Mugadzaweta, a Luveve girl, discovered by accident that she was two months pregnant when she felt dizzy and passed out at Lobengula Street bus terminus. Ericah was seventeen and the man responsible was one Jerry Vera who worked as a waiter at the Happy Valley Hotel in Nguboyenja township of Bulawayo.

Ericah eloped to Jerry and they even tried unsuccessfully to terminate the pregnancy because Ericah wanted desperately to go for a nurse training course. Readers of Yvonne’s Butterfly Burning will remember that there is such an anguished woman in the novel.

The girl, Yvonne moved constantly with her mother to various teaching posts in Bulawayo, Harare and Tsholotsho.

Yvonne’s parents parted ways in December 1970 after a huge quarrel when Jerry lost his job. Jerry found it hard to find another job and ‘he became aggressive’. Ericah and Yvonne eventually left for Tsholotsho where Ericah met and fell in love with one Lambert Gwetai. Yvonne fell in love with butterflies out there in the countryside.

In 1984, during her teaching practice (from Hillside Teachers’ College) at Njube High School, Yvonne met a Canadian Maths teacher, John Jose and they fell in love. They were married in 1987 in Canada. They remained married until Yvonne’s death in April 2005 although they sometimes lived in separate locations because of Yvonne’s insistence that she kept in touch with her Zimbabwean writing base.

This biography shows that Yvonne’s life and writing culture were dramatic. For instance during one of her visits to Zimbabwe from Canada in 1994, Yvonne read a story from The Chronicle about a woman who had strangled her baby with a necktie. Yvonne immediately disappeared from home. Her people reported her missing with the police. She returned home six days later with a manuscript that was to become ‘Without A Name’.

There are indications in this biography that Yvonne was headstrong and had a temper too. When she left for Canada in 1987 to marry John she just left without saying goodbye to her mother.

And more interesting Yvonne’s mother writes: “In 1996 Yvonne was going to interview some female artists who did woodcarving. It was in the evening and I told her that it was not safe for women to travel alone… We argued about that. She bolted out of the house and stood in the middle of Matopos Road. She wanted to commit suicide by being run over by a car… but when cars screeched and swerved to avoid her, I realized that she was determined to do it…”

This book will surely open windows into Vera literature. It also contains testimonies by scores of people close to Vera like her best and long time friend, Kupukile Mlambo (to whom Vera’s first full novel, Nehanda is dedicated), her editor and publisher, Irene Staunton, friends: Flora Wild, Terence Ranger, Virginia Phiri and others.

The late Yvonne Vera is probably the most successful woman writer in Zimbabwean to this day in terms of output and intense experimentation with prose.

She specialised on abominations, those subjects that harm the woman’s body and mind like rape and abortion. These are subjects that Zimbabwean novels rarely spend their maximum length on. Her women come out of it hugely scathed and with a statement that woman’s meaningful space is very difficult to find in this world.

Vera’s prose texts are a collection of short stories called Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals(1992) and her novels; Nehanda(1993), Without A Name(1994), Under the Tongue(1996), Butterfly Burning(2000), and The Stone Virgins(2002). Yvonne Vera won the 1997 Common Wealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) for Under the Tongue. In 2004 she won the PEN Tucholsky Prize for a corpus of work dealing with taboo subjects.

Why Don’t You Carve other Animals is a collection with stories that portray women in various circumstances that ask them to step out of their ordinary roles as mothers and wives. In the background is the war of liberation of the 1970’s.

Nehanda, Vera’s initiation into hypnotic prose poetry writing is based on the Zimbabwean legendary liberation fighter from the 1890’s into the Chimurenga of the 1970’s. This novel is centred on fictionalising some central aspects of this world-renowned heroine. This novel was short listed for the Commonwealth Prize of 1994.

Without A Name is arguably the most talked about of all Vera literature. Like Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Vera’s story is about a woman who travels across society, from one lover to another, in search of love, freedom and fulfillment. Her innocence is shattered much early in life when she is raped by a man in uniform. The touching moment in the text is when she kills her newly born baby and straps the corpse on her back and boards a bus back to her rural home.

Under The Tongue probably marks the maturation of Vera’s style and maybe that is why it is considered as her most ‘difficult’ novel. It is generally the story of a child who has been raped by her father and who, as a result, loses her mother. There are suggestions that the mother kills the husband on discovering his crime and due to death or imprisonment, leaves the child Zhizha with her grandparents. This is a novel with a very haunting quality to it.

Butterfly Burning is about a girl, Phephelapi who meets an older man, Fumbatha in Bulawayo during the 1940’s. Their relationship offers the girl a certain measure of comfort but her pregnancy shatters her desire to become a nurse. A resultant abortion ruins her relationship with her man. After her second pregnancy she kills herself by dousing herself with paraffin and setting herself alight because again the pregnancy is connected with her failure to join nursing. This excruciating novel highlights the plight of ambitious women in a colonial set up.

The Stone Virgins won Vera the Macmillan prize for Africa in 2002. In 2006 it won the Aidoo/Snyder Prize, two years after its publication. Set in the outskirts of Bulawayo, this novel explores the trials and tribulations of very close sisters, Thenjiwe and Nonceba during and just after the war of liberation. It opens up the effects of the counter warfare between government forces and dissidents on the lives of ordinary people.

Along Leopold Takawira street

Along Leopold Takawira street
(By Memory Chirere)

I was going down Leopold Takawira
in search of an affordable pair of shoes
when I saw a hulky officer
leading away a handcuffed skinny boy.
Petty pick pocket, I thought
When the officer stopped to greet acquaintances
the boy stopped too and listened.
I didn’t like the boy’s red eyes
And long trousers that went down
to his shoes with tilted heels.
But my eyes returned to the cuffs
because ‘I hate everything that diminishes
the individual’s blind impulse’
and ‘I know how the caged bird feels’.
Then as they went by
boy said to officer:
“I didn’t know you were round the corner.
I made very poor judgment!”
I wondered all day into night
why the two looked like buddies
going back home to the village of their origins.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The missing lunch box with two sandwiches

(Short story by Memory Chirere)

The boy with big ears and a small head ranted and raved, “My lunch box! Someone took my lunch box from here. In it were two sandwiches! My mother, oh, I will have to tell her when I get back home!”

Teacher Chirara turned from the board and the arithmetic statements he was putting up. “Stop talking,” he said. “George, sit down. George Mrehwa!”

But George lifted his hands in what looked like both a plea and surrender, “But how will I go on today without my sandwiches?”

“George!” Teacher Chirara called again and then sang very gradually and proudly too, “Shut-your-bacol-cavity, George.”

But George spun round again. He had big ears, a small head and a wide mouth. “This is the second time that such a thing is happening to me. My lunch box is missing from my drawer here. Come and see for yourself, sir. Come and see if you think that I am lying.” He folded his arms and Teacher Chirara was almost sure that the boy was through and would eventually settle down. Instead the boy went on and on.

“What colour was your lunch box, George?” Idah the class monitor asked.

“Eh, how will that help, Idah?” Teacher Chirara said.

But George cried out, “My sandwiches! The big one and the small one! Oh! Oh! Oh!”

“Get out, George! Out, you!” Teacher Chirara gesticulated at the door less doorway into the patchy school grounds where a board which read: ‘Our rockery, the heart of Gondo School’ stood in the middle of a flowerless rockery.

George ran out of the classroom, protesting and you did not know where he would go when he went past the classroom door steps into the midmorning winter sun. Inside there was silence and Teacher Chirara went back to the board and the class started again to take down the work from the board.

“Sir, why don’t we conduct a search?” Idah again. “Because we all only went out for a P. E. session (she meant physical education session) in the grounds and when we come back, the sandwiches are missing.”

“Do you know something about it, Idah?” the teacher asked.

“Sir, let us search everybody,” Idah’s eyes roamed the schoolroom.

“Fine.” Teacher Chirara said. “Begin from over that side, Idah and I will begin from here. Let us meet in the middle. Let us search everyone. If we catch the culprit, he will be sorry.”

So Idah and the teacher started: Take out every item from a desk. Return them one after the other and be on the lookout for the lunchbox with the sandwiches. Pat every boy and girl’s pockets (in order to be sure) before you move on to the next. Ask those who have been searched to remain apart from those who are yet to be searched. Be wary of the fellows close to the windows, they might throw their booty out of the school room.

But then George came back hollering, with the headmaster himself in tow.

“What is this, Mr. Chirara?” the headmaster said.

“That is why we are searching, sir,” Teacher Chirara said.

“Stop! Everybody!” the headmaster cried. “Now, where is George’s lunch box? Everybody, come on, tell me?”

“We all went out for P.E. and when we came back George said he could not see his lunch box with the two sandwiches,” Idah said.

“Idah!” the teacher cried, “I speak first, you hear?”

“I see,” said the headmaster. “Mr. Chirara, come here please.”

The teacher stood there with the piece of chalk. He wanted to put it down on the blackboard rail but he put it into his pocket and looked out into the school grounds and brought out the piece of chalk from his pocket and threw it out threw the window rather playfully.

“I said, come!” the headmaster said.

The teacher looked round the schoolroom and clicked his tongue in what sounded to the pupils like disgust. The two men got out and went up the path between the school rooms.

“Tell me everything, Bernard Chirara, because the boy told me everything,” the elder said.

The teacher remained quiet. He folded his hands behind him and continued to say nothing. That is when the elder had the first honest look at the new teacher in the three weeks that they had known each other: Red eyes. A brown shirt with a threadbare collar. A thick broad black tie, the old type. An oversize yellow floppy pair of belly-bottom trousers. Big brown/black boots whose front tips pointed menacingly into the winter sky.

“Tell me everything, Bernard? Although you are replacing Bakasa who went for shopping into South Africa and never retuned, are you not getting your fair share of a bar of soap, cooking oil, beans and mealie meal from each of the pupils’ parents every weekend?”

While they were still at it, there was commotion back in Grade 6A and the elder hurried back in that direction, leaving his teacher standing in the desolate schoolgrounds.

“Sir” Idah began when the headmaster walked in, “after we searched every desk, there was only one place left. We tried the teacher’s desk and the lunch box was in there with one of the sandwiches already eaten! Ha- ha-a-a! We must have been out at P. E. when the teacher must have done it because he came back earlier after ordering me to conduct the exercises. Ha-ha-a-a-a!”

The elder raised his hands to his head because all around him was laughter. They climbed onto their desks and wriggled and hollered until tears of joy stood in their eyes, except George. They fell to the floor and hiccupped and shook with mirth, except George who gaped at the remaining sandwich.

“My God,” was only the headmaster could say when the children were through. When he peeped out, his teacher was gone! He went up to his office and there was no sign of Teacher Bernard Chirara! He went down to the gate and the freshest markings of boots on the ground must have been the culprit’s. He knew from experience that instead of two new teachers he now needed three. And the problem was that he needed to do that every God’s week for three years in a row now.

He came back to 6A with his arms on his back. The way one walks after burying a beloved one, his grandfather would say. “Everybody, back to your place!” he ordered and the boys and girls went back to their places.

He looked at them long and hard and said, prayerfully, “It is not easy for me, children. It is not easy for you. Children, this is what sanctions can do. No fun.”

“My father says it is not the sanctions to blame at all!” Idah blurted out. The elder only glared at her.

It-t-t-t is the sanctions, y-y-you fool.” a new boy, the only one in complete uniform said. He stood up and started to reason, only he was a stammerer, “ It-t-t. It is be-beb-e cause…”

“Whatever you want to call it,” the elder cut in and the new boy sat down with a bump. “We are going through hard times” the elder blazed on, “If Mr. Chirara does not come back, and then boy, we are done for! He was only trying to help and all he received was two trillion Zimbabwean dollars per month and when he changes that, he has only five US dollars. Is that fair, children? Is that fair?” He opened his arms and somewhere deep in himself a screw unwounded and he shed a brilliant silver tear that ran down his left cheek and he shuffled out of the room.

Going to his office in a rage, he did not know what he wanted from this place and this life and what to want first, if the chance of a choice was given.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mr. Alfred Gadzirai Chisango

Mr. Alfred Gadzirai Chisango
(by Memory Chirere)

We were frantically looking for stray coins
between the rail lines when we saw him.
First we saw the felt hat with a hole
rising from the pebbles and the wood and iron work.
We drew closer and he raised a hand and pointed at his mouth.
‘Water and food, perhaps,’ we thought.
Later he munched bread and drank a coke
and thanked the gathering villagers.
He looked back across the boarder
and appeared to see what we didn’t see.
Then he sat up and opened a brief case.
There were no clothes or money in there
but papers and old newspapers
Then he brought out many – many certificates
and beckoned at us to come see.
Caetano went very close to him
and peered at the certificates and old newspapers:
‘He is from Zimbabwe
and the certificates say he is a teacher, a good educated man.’
Caetano paced up and down and reasoned:
‘Take him to the school and he can teach us a few things.’
That is how Mr. Alfred Gadzirai Chisango
got to teach us Algebra, History and Creative Writingand would spice it with: ‘the sanctions back home are no fun, guys.’