Thursday, December 13, 2012

Zimbabwean Literature in African languages: Chiwome and Mguni

Title: Zimbabean Literature in African Languages: Crossing Language Boundaries, Booklove Publishers, Gweru, 2012,332 pages,isbn:9780707447325
Authors: Emmanuel M. Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni
Reviewer: Memory Chirere
Nowadays an academic book is not supposed to be esoteric. A good academic book should read like a good friend; some familiar insights with very fresh perspectives. You do not want to keep looking for your dictionary. You also do not want to take painkillers before reading an academic book in an area of your choice. Emmanuel Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni’s book, Zimbabwean Literature in African Languages is thankfully readable. It is the most important new book on Zimbabwean literature that I have read this year, 2012.

This is an attempt to bring literatures in Ndebele and Shona languages to the centre of Zimbabwe’s critical practice for serious scrutiny. The text breaks away from separatist approaches in the study of Zimbabwean literature in African languages.

Criticism of Zimbabwean Literature has its various pitfalls. There are some fundamental questions that the community of Zimbabwean literary critics need to grapple with. For example, what use is it to study Charles Mungoshi’s Ndiko Kupindana Kwemazuva in a Department of African Languages and Literature and his Waiting for The Rain, separately in a Department of English?
Another question: why is it Mutswairo’s Feso is studied separately from Ndabaningi Sithole’s AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi when both are pathfinder Zimbabwean novels about the same very early disgruntlement of Africans with colonialism? Is it just because one is in Shona and the other, Ndebele? 

Yet another question; is it not a misnomer that those who are considered specialists on Zimbabwean literature are just familiar with only one form of writing from Ndebele, Shona and English? How many of us can stand up to claim to be comfortable with all our three broad literatures? Would it not be exciting to read a Sigogo novel translated from Ndebele to Shona to English or a Chiundura Moyo novel translated from Shona to Ndebele to English?

It is in this regard that the book by Chiwome and Mguni is groundbreaking and may remain inimitable for years to come. Although versions of sections on Shona literature in this book had already appeared in previous books by Chiwome like; A Critical History of Shona Poetry, A Social History of The Shona Novel and others, the sections on Ndebele literature are appearing in book form for the first time. That too, is groundbreaking.
Newcomers to Ndebele literature will read here that while Mutswairo’s Feso of 1956 was the first novel to be published in the Shona language, Ndabaningi Sithole’s AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi was the first novel to be published in Ndebele the same year. Where the original first chapter of Feso (which focused on the translocation of Africans from fertile lands to barren soils in semi-arid regions) was dropped by the publisher, the original title of Ndabaningi Sithole’s novel “Umvukela WamaNdebele” was perceived as subversive (because of its African nationalist connotations) and dropped in favour of  “AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi.”

Chiwome and Mguni discover that in that novel, Ndabaningi Sithole takes the perspective of the Ndebele people as his creative stance, identifying the disgruntlement of the Ndebele and the subsequent 1896 uprising. They argue that Feso and AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi are one of the few works of the early period whose sensibility is Afrocentric.
Chiwome and Mguni indicate that while Feso and AmaNdebele KaMzilikazi were vehicles of African nationalism, this trend was not consistently sustained by the successor generations of writers in both Ndebele and Shona.

Chiwome and Mguni identify the case of G. Malaba’s ULunguza (1968) which they find celebrating the rise of western civilisation. Lunguza, the wester educated main character in that novel rejects the African way of looking at life. In addition, ULunguza ends with a poem that says Africa should take ideas from the east, west, south and north. It appears that Africa has nothing to offer to the world. Its people are passive objects to be transformed, rather than active players in social processes.
Chiwome and Mguni also find Chidzero’s Nzvengamutsvairo published in 1957 in the same vain. They indicate that in its ultimate meaning, Nzvengamutsvairo advocates a baseless need for harmony between Africans and whites as the basis of social progress and to that extent, the novel becomes a powerful tool in unconsciously articulating either colonial or Christian ideas.

In Patrick Chakaipa’s Dzasukwa Mwana Asina Hembe, Chiwome and Mguni find an example of missionary inspired writings that attempt to universalise values that support colonial administration because this novel is constructed to be understood solely in terms of the success and failure of individuals and not on the laws that prohibit labourers from resigning from employment.

Chiwome and Gambahaya contend that during the period in question, colonialism encouraged authors through the Rhodesia Literature Bureau to produce books that encouraged Africans to cherish their homes and remain in the reserves. These stories show characters that go to town to foolishly lose their social values. This finally gives the target African readers a view that reserves are, in fact, their natural homes. This, the writers note, was a consolidation of Bantustanism through literature.
Chapter six is another fascinating offering. It evaluates novels on the 1970’s war of liberation of Zimbabwe. There is Ndabezinhle Sigogo’s Ngenziwa Ngumumo Welizwe, K. Ndebele’s Kwakunzima, B. Ndlovu’s Umzila Kawulandelwa, Vitalis Nyawaranda’s Mutunhu Une Mago and Paida Mwoyo, C. Matsikiti’s Makara Asionani and many others.

Chiwome and Mguni’s conclusion is that the Shona war novel reveals developments that are parallel to those in Ndebele. Although these are important novels in the development of Zimbabwean literature in general, most of them tend to end where battles are won or with the celebration of the return to normal life. Their plots give the impression that the struggle ends with the end of the war. This approach disengages the minds of the readers from reflection on contemporary dimension of the struggle. As the freedom fighters in this novel are demobilised and gathered in assembly points, so are the minds of the readers. These novels end as if the war itself is the attainment of freedom, Chiwome and Mguni reason.

The other chapter to look forward to is the one on the disturbances that occurred in Matabeleland and the Midlands between 1982 and 1987. Chiwome and Mguni spell out that literary creativity on this subject needs to be understood in terms of the efforts to provide insights into a deeper understanding of history. Novels in this area are assessed in light of their capacity to unravel the history. Chiwome and Mguni say that they are mindful of the fact that artists, unlike historians who rely on hard facts, can read into the silences.

There is a lot of fiction on this area whose slants fall on either of the two sides of the conflict. Many breath taking novels were written. Some of them; Okukhulunywa Ngabantu; Sasisemeveni, Mhandu Dzerusununguko and  Uyangisinda Lumhlaba. Chiwome and Mguni feel that in matters that involve suspicion, insurgency and counterinsurgency reality is shrouded in secrecy and speculation. They find the  novels about the conflict in Matabeleland to be too episodic to create a convincing link between cause and effect. What remains clear is the effect of the conflict.
Maybe the most visible weakness of this history making book is chapter 14, the conclusion itself. It is rather unstable and eclectic for a book of this magnitude. One felt that instead of concluding, there was a rather surprise inclusion of new perspectives that may need another book length to settle. In addition, for a book published in 2012, there is a glaring absence of literature from the very active decade that we have gone through in Zimbabwe.

One is however very impressed that such an important book is published by a new publisher; Booklove Publishers in Gweru, Zimbabwe. The binding, design and editing are just world class! But then; you don’t publish a book of this magnitude and leave out the authors’ biographies entirely! Zifikile Mguni is currently Associate Professor in the University of Zimbabwe’s Department of African Languages and Literature where she lectured in literature alongside Professor Emmanuel Chiwome until his death in early 2003.


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