Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thaph’ uluju!

Title: Thaph’ uluju: Iqoqo lezindatshana, Ilifa lakho
Author: short stories in Ndebele by written by various authors
Editor: by Barbara C. Nkala, 2010
Publisher: Radiant Publishing Company, Harare, 2010
Pages: 275

(A preview by Jerry Zondo)

How I got my stories included in the new Ndebele short story anthology, Thaph’ uluju: Iqoqo lezindatshana, is both a sad and good story.

I attended the Zimbabwe Book Publishers Association Prize giving on a day in 2007 at the Crowne Plaza in Harare and there were winning entries for English and Shona but there was nothing for Ndebele. On asking why, we were all told that there had been no entries for Ndebele in all of 2007. So no literary texts had been published in Zimbabwew in all 2007! That was not enough because another warning came: If Ndebele writers continued to sit on their laurels, they would be nothing again in 2008, 2009 and 2010!

As Ndebele writers, we all felt sombre and started reflecting a lot. We talked at the foyer and resolved that we would do something about it. I had never written a short story before. I had by then published one poem only in Giya Mthwakazi 1990. All my other poems were in school texts books between form 1 and form 4 and in the web site Poetry. A friend would ask me to write a précis on Ndebele Literature and on a couple of prominent authors in Ndebele for his blog and I would agree. I even got an offer to do a chapter for a book on Zimbabwean literature in Ndebele. But writing a short story? A story for someone else to read and review!

The publishing houses in Zimbabwe do not seem to want poetry in Ndebele, and that is where I do well! Thulani Moyo said he would write a novel manuscript and send it to one publisher. I said I would compile short stories for the other publisher and children’s stories for yet another publisher. Eventually it did not work out well with all these publishers. One of them said they had no Ndebele editor in 2007-2008.

Eventually, Virginia Phiri convinced Barbara Makhalisa to use her Radiant Publishing company for a Ndebele publication. Makhalisa took up the challenge and invited short stories in Ndebele. She would only accept stories from the 2008 to 2010 experiences… the economic melt down, the queue culture, the empty shelves, getting petrol through coupons form the UK and many more.

That is how my six short stories came to be part of the Thaph’ uluju manuscript!

I wanted my stories to be different. They probably are, and may provide that element that Ndebele writing has always missed. Short stories in Ndebele have come from Isaac Mpofu in his anthology UMaweni. From Ndebele students of the 2005 stream at UZ on Hiv/Aids. They present the scourge from the sociology and psychology of the student. From Zimbabwe Women Writers organization with 2005’s Vus’ Inkophe edited by Makhalisa. The Zimbabwean Women writers express their views on diverse issues but with an additional voice of advocacy for women’s rights and the democratization of economic, political and social spaces for women in Zimbabwe.

Thaph’ uluju consists of 27 stories in 275 pages, the largest copy in Ndebele to date! The stories are from five men and thirteen women authors, new and established. They look at a wide range of Ndebele experiences (and some sound so actual) connected with the years 2007 to 2010. There will be the story that will of course look at events before that period, like “Ngubani Iqhawe?” (Who is a hero?) which is based on the Zimbabwean liberation war.

Various authors now place incidents and events within specific time period. Actual dates are mentioned, a departure from Ndebele writing where publishing houses have been in the past hiding the year of the story (for example by deleting dates on letters written to protagonists or antagonists - leaving the letters timeless for an unknown reason!). The stories now fit and sit in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 bringing a new realism and concretisation of themes in Ndebele.

The story writers are now moving to specific areas of concern that have led to the Diaspora experiences, “Lakanye langenza iphawundi” (The pound has put me in a fix) with the consequent dislocation of family life and the liaisons between maids and husbands when wives have gone to the United Kingdom and the United States of America – “Siphepheli;” the harsh realities of working in foreign lands in fear of arrest and deportation, are painted in lurid and distinct forms that hit the reader with the hard and stubborn impact that draws the reader to the sorry aspect of economic hardships on the Zimbabwean scene.

The slave like toil of the woman against the demands of those “at home” for a satellite dish, is an ironic and filthy relationship that spells out the fate of ‘economic refugees’ in foreign lands. The filth is local too as the city of Bulawayo in “Amarabisi Mpthu!” (Utter rubbish!) with its piles of uncollected rubbish, smelling and polluting the ‘scenery’ is depicted by Makhalisa as the very epitome of utter rubbish. Human actions and decisions have turned into rubbish as males choose rubbish partners in the city with their lawful and wedded wives languishing somewhere in a forbidding country home.

Makhalisa specifically shows a transformation in her narration and a departure from her earlier forms of story telling. The anthology offers this time, a set of mature readings which are providing Ndebele readers with a new aspect to Ndebele thinking and writing.

While the anthology has leaned a lot on the 2007 to 2010 period, a few stories draw inspiration from the war in Matebeleland in the early 1980’s. The Ndebeles express their concern at the kind of world and the kind of people that should occupy it - in “Xolela inja yakho baba” (Please forgive your dog father) schools should work and teachers should commit themselves to their noble calling, (readers will feel a slight discomfort in Mpofu’s short story; Mdluli wants to change the attitude of lazy and incompetent teachers, but he does not seem to see the root cause of their behaviour in the whole of Tsholotsho! The story might underline some now accepted stereotypes on Zimbabwean teachers!) in “Uyisalukazi yini wena baba?” (Are you an old woman dear sir?) Bulawayo City Council should get its water back on track for ratepayers to enjoy that civic privilege.

The anthology Thaph’ uluju provides opportunity for the maintenance of mature and committed writing. When readers and critics of Ndebele complained yesteryear because of the absence of mature reading materials, they can not do so now. The challenge set by Thaph’ uluju is for a new responsible writing that can only mature into the compelling works of literature that spell out a new world with its new order of commitments. Radiant Publishing has introduced a whole new world of short story writing and the short story will never be the same again in Ndebele!

A critic of Ndebele writing will want the anthology Thaph’ uluju to be the pall bearer for new Ndebele writing that will catapult Ndebele to the next level; it is fulfilling that a project of this nature has been successful. The 2011 Book Publishers Association competition will have and entry after all!

I am only glad that I have contributed in my small way towards the development of that enterprise.But, we Ndebele writers are largely responsible for what may or may not happen to Ndebele literature, wherever we are and in whatever circumstances!
** Jerry Zondo lectures in Ndebele Language and Literature at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare.

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