Monday, March 13, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

+previewed by Memory Chirere, Harare.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Tariro Ndoro reviews Chatora's HARARE VOICES & BEYOND


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

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

Tariro Ndoro


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


Author Biography

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

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








Sunday, January 1, 2023

KwaChirere reviews Starfish Blossoms by Vazhure


Title: Starfish Blossoms

Author: Samantha Rumbidzai Vazhure

Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing, 2022

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s an old woman from Chvi

who cooked stones and drank the soup.

She did not swallow the stones.

Did she not know that those

who swallow stones do not die?


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

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

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

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

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

In my dreams of mother, rare as true love

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

before I was born – a vivacious stunning queen…

Afro glowing like a golden halo…


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

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


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


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


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

-   Reviewed by Memory Chirere