Friday, December 29, 2023

KwaChirere previews Andrew Chatora's debut short stories


Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories

Author: Andrew Chatora

Publisher: Kharis Publishing

ISBN-13: 978-1-63746-234-8

Date of publication: 2024

I am privileged to reveal that this February 2024, Andrew Chatora, the UK based Zimbabwean novelist, is set to release his debut short story collection called Inside Harare Alcatraz and other short stories.

The author of Diaspora Dreams has temporarily quit the novel to give us this charmed confluence of the novella, the short story, the vignette, and the poetic essay.  

A collection of shorter forms usually allows the artist to tell his story in tit bits and with more varied urgency than what a novel allows.

This book of eleven pieces, is made up of briefly fleeting and powerful scenes. In his best moments, Chatora shows us the kaleidoscopic experiences of what it means growing up in Zimbabwe’s Dangamvura, Mutare, which breathes like Leopold Senghor’s Harlem.

One should not miss the exciting series of short pieces under the title Estelle, the Shebeen Queen and other Dangamvura vignettes because Estelle rules here. She arranges and re-arranges everyone in Dangamvura, without having to leave her seat! She can toss over the so-called man’s world the way a gambler tosses a coin.

Upside down. Inside out.

Much early in the story, we are told that; “Estelle was a woman in her late fifties with a brood of daughters, mostly single mothers, who crowded her infamous four-roomed house – kwaMagumete as it was affectionately called...”

It is early days into Zimbabwe’s independence and most mavericks necessarily have to belong to the ended war, the party, the suburb, the market, the shebeen and to… Estelle!

Dangamvura Township is a catalogue of characters. There is, for example, the police officer, Wabenzi who deliberately encourages gruesome tales about himself to float around, trying to cultivate a legendary folklore status in order to cow the community into submission. A cult hero in a city in a nation that is emerging from a gruesome war of liberation.

Then there is a respectable church man, Baba Makuwaza, who is dragged from Estelle’s shebeen half-naked, with his torn boxers on display, as Estelle hurles invectives to both hapless Makuwaza and his wife.

Do not miss the other story, Tales of Survival, which is set in Harare’s Epworth. Each woman’s narrative in that series carries the day with pathos, contradictions and humour. That way, the vignettes bring to life the plight of low-class Harare women and how they gradually find ways of grabbing at least little victories from their miseries.

They are struggling to struggle! And they struggle on.

Of Sekuru Kongiri and Us is a touching story. For me, it could be the best story in this whole collection. It is potentially a prize-winning short story! It takes the reader through various emotions.

The most delicate part of the story goes: “It’s important that I make it clear he was not always Sekuru Kongiri. First, he was Uncle Alfred…the once generous man increasingly became so tight-fisted and miserly with money, only to his side of the family of course, that Dr. Watson nicknamed him, “as tight fisted as concrete…” and so Sekuru Kongiri he became up to this day.”

The story has a unique pace and amazing African cultural depth too. This tragic-comic story will not fail those interested in the vicissitudes of African culture.

The other story to look out for is Smoke and Mirrors. It is set in the UK. At Wendover Heights care home where Zimbabwean man, Onai, works, looking after vulnerable adults, he meets Iffy, a Nigerian woman, and as workmates from Africa, they bond easily.

But, one day, Iffy brings an exciting business plan to Onai: “I know about your wife and family, I’m not an idiot. It’s not a real marriage I’m talking of here, Onai. You have dual Zimbabwean-British citizenship, don’t you? Right. So that’s perfect for us; we would pay you whatever amount you want to falsely get married to someone from any of the African countries we deal with. It will be a sham marriage. The idea is to get them into the country, allow them to settle into their own life; they get a job, acclimatize to their mundane lives here, after which you file for divorce. Or sometimes, it may be someone already in the country, and they don’t have legal status. Dead easy, Onai; all parties win. She gets her papers; you get your money. It’s a win-win for everyone. Easy peasy.’’

In the end, one of them gets into agony for all this! This story stinks! You may need a towel as you read it.

Fari’s Last Smile is a story that reads like something from the pages of Thomas Hardy’s The Distracted Preacher and other Tales. A man keeps on falling, but rising each time that he falls… in order to fall again. But each time that he falls, he does it in a more novel way than before. He is even conned by people back home in Zimbabwe. They tell him that they are using the money he is sending them to build a house. The story teaches through tears.

In the title story itself, which is an intriguing mixture of fact and fiction, there are the heart-rending experiences of political prisoners, ironically in independent and contemporary Zimbabwe. You stagger as you watch how those with power in Africa scuttle the chess board, forcing us to doubt African beauty, African pride and African wisdom. But the so-called terrible man actually confesses in that story. He is the story. He is the only hope we have. You want to kiss that story in the end. A terrible beauty is born.

But Andrew Chatora is relentless. He crosses the English Channel and marches into the African diaspora community of England and gives us a snap survey of racism which sits at the very core of contemporary England’s psyche. In one of the stories, which is actually an essay short story, child narrator, Anesu, bemoans the exigency of systemic and institutionalised racism. He is a first-generation Zimbabwean-British immigrant who confronts a system his parents submissively put up with.

Sometimes you want to puke because the land which purports to be the quintessence of Democracy is itself rotten at the very core and is full of "white savages!"

In the story A Snap Decision a girl, Pamhidzai, has to contend with the question: “Why did you stab your mother’s lover?” What follows is a mixture of the past and present and Andrew Chatora is back to his quintessential theme of the struggles between men and women in marriage especially at the instigation of a foreign environment.

Then there is a story in which you are sitting with your daughter in England and the fool innocently asks you, from nowhere: “Why don’t you use Shona names, since you are from Zimbabwe, and you are always banging on about preserving one's cultural heritage and identity?”

Then in explaining to her who you are, you take one winding road that unravels Britain’s long but pitiful relationship with the migrant. For this story, dear reader, you will have to put on your spectacles!

I say that because here is a subliminal, meandering but enlightening treatise on race, class, gender and identity politics in the diaspora. You are caught up in the rough and tumble of Britain’s diverse cityscapes, names, ethnicity and place of abode. One has to deploy them tactfully in the politics of survival.

There is a somewhat sombre tone in First Wave, a story where a Zimbabwean nurse; Shumirai, working in the British national health service; takes a poignant tour de force of how she and her fellow colleagues fought and conquered a global pandemic which wreaked havoc on lives in its early days.


In equal measure, in a moving tribute, Shumirai mourns and lauds the passing of her work colleagues, patients and family as she grapples with the government’s mishandling of the crisis.

Andrew Chatora charts new territory by offering dual perspectives from different black narrators’ lived experiences in both the former colony; Zimbabwe and its colonial master Britain; in a new normal shift, i.e. post-independence reverse migration cycle of citizens to the former colony.

Author Biography:

Andrew Chatora is a noted exponent of the African diaspora novel. Candid, relentlessly engaging and vulnerable, his novels are a polarising affair among social critics and literary aficionados. Chatora’s forthcoming novel, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a long-run treatment of race relations in Britain, featuring the English classroom as a microcosm of wider society post-Brexit. His debut novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was the well-received nominee of the National Arts Merit Awards in Zimbabwe, while his subsequent works, Where the Heart IsHarare Voices and Beyond and Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Stories, has cemented his contribution as a voice of the excluded. Harare Voices and Beyond has recently been nominated for The Anthem Awards (2023).

+ Previewed by Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe


















Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Fidelis Bushu offers first review of Shamhu yeZera Renyu

(pic: Fidelis Bushu and Memory Chirere as young men in Bindura, 1995.)

A book Review by Fidelis Bushu
Title of Book: Shamhu yeZera Renyu
Author:  Memory Chirere
Publisher: Carnelian Heart Publishing, UK, 2023
issbn: 178-1-914287-11-4


Memory Chirere’s latest book of Shona poems, Shamhu YeZera Renyu, gives me a range of personal memories of him as man and poet whom I first met in his formative years.
I am happy that Memory Chirere has continued to grow in stature as a writer and poet ever since. Now I often see him ranked among the writers of our country, Zimbabwe. I usually smile at that as I try to deal with my memories. I am excited that many can now see what I already saw back then. I must state that this may not be a conventional book review. It is just a testimony instigated by Chirere’s latest book.
Memory Chirere was my work mate for a good number of years. Later, we both learnt that he is my uncle and I, his nephew, because we the Bushus are related to the Nzou Samanyanga people of Dotito.
I first met Memory Chirere who was coming in as the new teacher of Literature in English in a school where I had already been teaching English for a couple of years. He was being transferred from a school in Madziwa so that he could help resuscitate the teaching of English at A level at Chipindura. I first saw him when he was offloading his belongings from a truck onto the green grasses of Chipindura High School in Bindura. We were to share a house in the school. After we had carried his suitcases and the many-many books inside, he came out of the house to sit with me on the doorsteps to watch my luxuriant little patch of maize crop. Then he had a lean and hungry look. You could say he appeared underfed but athletic. He has always been a warm and hesitant personality with a penchant for quiet introspection. Of course, he also had that philosophic gaze into space common with teachers of Literature.
In 1995, Tipeiwo Dariro, which carries his first batch of poems, had just been published and it had already become a school text at Ordinary level in Zim. I recall many students coming over to the staffroom to see the poet and immediately walk away in disbelief. Meeting the writer of a book that you are studying may actually be quite jolting. Chirere gave our students at Chipindura High an opportunity to see that books could also be written by people they knew.

Chirere blended well in the school environment, regardless. He did not hold very strong views about anything. However, once he understood a matter, he tended to put it across in a much simpler way than many of us could, gradually, inflicting no pain on anyone! He has always been ‘avuncular’ and we laughed a lot together with him about that word. Chirere loves to break down difficult concepts into everyday language. This has continued to be his trademark as seen through some of his poems and short stories. In his first poem in Shamhu Yezera Renyu, he writes:

“Ndave kutya
nekuti handisati ndanyora
bhuku revanhu.
kana ndazoripedza 
vanhu vanofanira kuona kuti
ndivo vakarinyora.
vanhu vanonyora bhuku ravo
nemipinyi nemapadza nemajeko nemitswi
nemisodzi nedzihwa nedikita...”
Chirere has always been attracted to the subject of childhood in his writings. An early poem to this anthology is rightfully entitled ‘Ndaimhanya’ (I would run). It talks about how we are in constant haste during childhood and that we all have an extraterrestrial fuel which pushes us throughout life:

“Ndaiti ndikatumwa upfu kumhiri uko
Kana ndave kubva kumhiri ikoko neupfu
Ndaipa vakuru upfu ndoenda kundotamba
Ikoko ndaiwana vamwe vachimhanya
Ini ndomhanyawo navo.
Taimhanya tose dakara zuva rasvika pakunyura
ndozomhanyira kumba.
ini ndaimhanya.”

In his short stories in his, Tudikidiki, a boy makes it a habit to watch the goings on in the neighbourhood and street. I recall that Chirere fell in love particularly with Kashangura Road in Bindura’s Chipadze Township. He adopted that road, and it recurs in his two short story books, Tudikidiki and Somewhere in this Country.

Kashangura is the first road that you enter when you come to Chipadze from Chipindura High (from the western side.) We often ambled along Kashangura with Chirere and the other teachers; Mr Walter Hondo, Mr Robert Masunga and Mr Tavengwa Tore, talking about nothing in particular. One day Chirere simply said, “This is my Miguel Street.” I understood him because I had read how all those short stories of VS Naipaul went round and round Miguel Street. Although each story in Miguel Street is individualized, the setting is the imaginary Miguel Street in Port of Spain.

Chirere liked to watch the men of Kashangura drinking from the tiny verandas, with their eyes always towards the road. He marvelled at the women plaiting one another’s hair with the calmness of artists. He liked to see the children playing games right on the narrow tarmac, their plastic balls rolling between our feet as we walked by. Up to this day Chirere tells me about his going back to Bindura, again and again, to taste the atmosphere of Kashangura. I feel it in his last poem:

sezvatinoita howa.
Ndichizunza mavhu.
Ndichikudzura usingacheme.
Masvosve akatarisa.
Ndigokuradzika mutswanda

Chirere tells me that Chipadze brings to him echoes of Aime Cesaire’s long poem, Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, a book that Chirere reveres to this day. That long poem tells the story of one young man's excited return to his home in Martinique, after being away in France. The speaker of the poem is on a journey to confront history, the negatives and the positives, but he is not sure how to begin. I find the same vibe in Chirere’s longer poems, especially in ‘Detembo risina musoro’ (the worthless poem). In that piece a man gazes at his many shoes (old and new) on the shoe rack at night and is overwhelmed by the many futile journeys he has made on this earth, in search of meaning:

“Shangu dzangu zhinji dzakaita rundaza madekwana ano
muimba yokurara dzinondipa kufunga nzendo dzangu dzose
dzandakafamba. Kuita seshangu dzevanhu vandisingazive idzo
dziri dzangu! Ndinozvisunya ndichidana zita rangu repanyika.
Ndinoona sendisingadzoke kwandinodanwa nguva dzose. Mazvinzwa.
Saka iwe pikisa tikakavadzane ndizive handisi ndega. Uneni here?
Ndiri ndofa nhasi, ungatoreurura kuti wanga uneni here nhasi uno
muupenyu huno? Ungatonderawo bvuri rangu mauro kumadziro emba ndichidya nekuzavaza? Ungatonderawo kukapaza kwemawoko angu?
Dzimwe nguva ndinotarisa vana vangu ndoti ndevangu pakudii?
Ndevenyika! Kana naivo vana vandinoticha vanobvepi gore negore?
 Ndevenyika! Zvinonzi ndingatiche chii kuvanhu vane njere kare kudai?
 Ndiwoka madzimudzangara anonzi hupenyu hwangu. Mavhiri emota
akaturikidzaniswa seri kwezimba risingagare vanhu. Asi pane kanzira
ketsoka kanobva kugedhi kachiuya kumusuwo wezimba risina pendi…”

The speaker in that poem could be losing his mind gradually. The more the speaker flies into his own mind, the more he becomes enamored into existence. The poem alternates between hope and despair. You also find the same effects in ‘Kungoenda’ which leaves you wondering if the narrator has travelled abroad or has actually committed suicide. Just as you find in his earlier award-winning anthology, Bhuku Risina Basa Nokuti Rakanyorwa Masikati, Chirere blurs the edges and just when you think you have got him, you lose him!

In real life Chirere gazes at an object and appears to fall asleep in the beauty of his thoughts and when he wakes up you see it in his eyes that he had travelled. In his writings, his characters try to deal with the origins of their plight, their own insecurities, their own self-hate, and this quest allows their voices to inspire others to transcend their passive and horizontal identities.

I am not surprised that Robert Masunga, one of Chirere’s long time associates, says on the blurb that this book is based on journeying, physical and metaphorical. In one poem, a man is on the bus and on seeing the bloodshot eyes of the driver; he starts to wonder if this one too is not his long-lost son he may have accidentally sired during his many adventures across the world.

Or the other poem about a man journeying on a bus from Harare to Mt Darwin and meeting people who appear to be shamans. You sit next to a woman and all the way; she is busy on her phone, and she does not see you during the whole trip from Harare to Glandale. When she alights at Glandale, in order to proceed to Chiweshe, you gawk at her until she goes beyond the bend, still speaking into her phone!

She disappears from your sight with your soul. In her place sits a new passenger, who is carrying roosters in a basket and, as he alights at Kasimbwi, you follow him to say, you have left your roosters and people in the bus do not realise that you are now under the influence of something akin to Cyprian Ekwensi’s sokugo, or the wondering charm, that afflicts Mai Sunsaye in Burning Grass. The sokugo causes men to wander off, deserting their families and leaving behind their previous lives. Men suffering from Sokugo are also unable to settle in a place for a few days.

In Chirere’s poem in question, the narrator has to be exorcized by somebody at the next bus stop at Mushowani through wild and barbaric caning:

“Vamwe baba vazoti tinodzika tose ndikubatsire paMushowani
Murume mutema ane sutu nhema tai nhema bhutsu nhema…
Tadzika paMushowani.
Abvisa bhande ndokuti:
Mushonga wacho ndokukiya zvekuti dhu kuti huku idzi dzisiyane newe.
Zvanga zvisingasekese…
Akumura bhande paye ndokundikwapaidza
achiti, mhanya, mhanya, mhanya usiye huku…
Ndatanga kumhanya ndichitevera mugwagwa weDharuweni
Ndokunzwa kuti jongwe nesheshe zvasiyana neni.
Ndamhanya kwenguva nekuti panga pasingamirike.
Izvozvi ndiri kunyora detembo rino pamusika paDharuweni…”

The Korekore country and its mysteries come alive in some of these poems. Chirere himself is an ardent follower of mbira music and African thought. He would play song after song of mbira on his radio, and the dancing feet of him and his friends would punctuate the night. We let him be.

It was through him that I came across many who were to become important in the literature of Zimbabwe when they came to visit or to take him to writers' workshop beyond Bindura. These are the likes of Ignatius Mabasa, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, Emmanuel Sigauke, Shingai Ndoro, Alson Mufiri, Dudziro Nhengu, Munashe Furusa, Irene Staunton and others.

I wonder what other readers will say about poem, "Maraya naMareta," (Mary and and Martha). Is it about friendship or romantic love or the combination of the two? Was Chirere thinking about the struggle between appearance and reality? I have read the poem Vana vandakaticha (the children who were in my class) with a lot of interest, having taught the same children with Chirere. That poem begins:

“Aita mawara okuisa ruoko muhomwe mangu
Achibva aburitsa dhora ndisina kumupa…”

I am suggesting, in line with what Ignatius Mabasa says in his beautiful introduction to this book, that we have to acknowledge that through this book, Memory Chirere has joined the elite poets of   Zimbabwe through the sheer depth of his artistic and thematic engagement. To Memory Chirere, I say with a muzukuru’s license: Nayo nayo, shamhu yenyu, a'sekuru!
+Get a copy of Shamhu yeZera Renyu in Harare for $17usd. Contact Book Fantastic on: 263779210403. They meet anyone in town (Cbd) and offer delivery services anywhere in Harare and the country (for an extra fee)

Order it through Amazon:

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Musa Zimunya, Marechera and others in the turmoil of 1973

                                                      Musaemura Zimunya

Through a recent article that appeared in the Joburg Review of Books, eminent Zimbabwean poet, Musaemura Zimunya relives the Pots and pans demo at the varsity of Rhodesia in 1973. Here is the link to his very informative narrative: ‘Marechera was the epitome of this simmering revolt’— Musaemura Zimunya remembers the Pots and Pans Protest of 1973 – The Johannesburg Review of Books

Friday, August 25, 2023

KwaChirere interviews writer, Fatima Kara

                                               Fatima Kara

Fatima Kara’s debut novel, The Train House on Lobengula Street, published this 2023 by Envelope Books, is a rare story about Indians coming to settle in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The story is about the Kassims; a traditional Indian Muslim family taking the economic opportunities that Southern Rhodesia offers to migrants from the east in the challenging 1950’s and 60’s. Virtually a villager from Hunyana village in India, Kulsum, the main character, is caught up in a struggle against both Indian Muslim traditions and the racist terrain of Southern Rhodesia. In The Train House on Lobengula Street, Fatima Kara delves into her childhood experiences in the Indian community in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe) in the 1950s and 1960s.

Below is my interview with Fatima Kara done this August 2023:


Memory Chirere (MC): Fatima, congrats on your debut novel. I see that there is not yet much information on you on the internet. Tell me about yourself.

Fatima Kara (FK): As a third generation Zimbabwean, I was born and educated in Bulawayo. I received a BA and Graduate Certificate of Education from the University of Zimbabwe. Stories about people have always captured my interest. I find working cross culturally particularly engaging. The creative process of inventing characters inspires me. I use lots of description to help place my readers in the story and spending time in different locations in Zimbabwe helps me to capture place.

MC: When you are not writing, what do you do?

FK: I propagate trees that give us food: pawpaw, mulberry, avocado, and fig with the purpose of offering these saplings to community leaders to plant orchards at schools and community centres around Zimbabwe.


MC: What is your idea of a good novel?

FK: I like characters to be believable as I enjoy following their emotional journeys and essential to this is realistic dialogue. Fluidity of prose and the richness of language are essential to high quality creative writing.  For me the significance of the subject matter is key. My novel is based in historical facts. I find creative writing that approaches difficult human issues without flinching, very engaging. In my novel writing about Kulsum’s deep desire to give her children a life better than hers was compelling. There were times when her emotional journey got heavy and was painful, but I persevered.     


MC: How much of Zimbabwean writing have you experienced?

FK: My favourite Zimbabwean writers are Charles Mungoshi and Petina Gappah. Some excellent writing came out of the struggle for independence. Charles Mungoshi immediately comes to mind. He portrays with ironic detachment the devastation of local Shona communities, materially and spiritually, by the settler regime.  On the other hand, Petina Gappah’s stories are compelling, and the satire is brilliant.   


MC: What do you say about your situation as a Zimbabwean writer of Indian origins?

FK: I was born and bred in Zimbabwe. Although I am not African, I consider myself fully Zimbabwean. Growing up and being educated in Zimbabwe is a formative part of my life and fundamental to who I am. As you know, the space I describe in my novel is the city of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city located in the largely Sindebele-speaking province of Matabeleland. This is where I was born and therefore my stories are based in the culture that is not the majority.


MC: At what point did you get into writing? What was your journey like up until the publication of this novel in 2023?

FK: During my childhood in Bulawayo’s vibrant Indian community, I saw a lot of things that troubled me – like young women travelling to faraway places to enter arranged marriages and Indian men practicing civil disobedience against the white police. I couldn’t know for sure what happened to them all, but I wanted to write a version of their stories. I was always curious about the life experiences of older members of the community and I listened to their stories and wrote them down. A few years ago the story was ready to emerge from my mind and onto paper.


MC: In The Train House, you go episode by episode, from 1940 to 1969, pursuing the life of Kulsum particularly. You put very specific contents into specific years. What was the influence behind this time bound structure that you use?

FK: The story is grounded in historical facts and the places it describes are realistic but it’s a work of fiction. I wove broad social history together with details of the Indian community. The novel is important to me because I wanted to  tell the story of the contribution of the Indian Bulawayo community to the struggle for independence, a story which most Zimbabweans don’t know.


MC: There is the very sensitive issue of arranged marriages at the heart of this novel.  How do you relate with this practice as an individual?

FK:  In the early part of the twentieth century, arranged marriages were the cultural norm and the bride and groom rarely met before the wedding with caste playing an important role. Over time, the system of arranged marriages has evolved and at present they are more negotiated. Today the families are still involved in introducing suitable partners but nowadays the men and women have a choice.


MC: You write solidly, packing every episode with both the tiny details and fundamental experiences of your characters. I find your style meticulous and elaborate, demanding that the reader put aside everything and sit down with your book for a while. Was this deliberate and what has been the influences behind that kind of writing?

FK:  Thank you. Yes, it was deliberate. I want to bring my reader into the minutiae of the lived reality of my characters, especially the women, and that means describing how they spend their days, how they relate to each other and their families and to the external realities and forces they come up against. These are immigrants to Southern Africa, bringing with them and trying to preserve their own cultures, to negotiate and find their place in a new and often very different culture. As with many other novelists, I feel the need to speak truth to power, through my characters and their experiences. The writing of this story was organic and based largely on my own experiences, as the struggle for independence goes on in tandem with the family saga, where Nurse, Amar the barber and Kulsum’s husband Razak, help to provide safe houses for activist leaders. Kulsum, the story’s protagonist, fights for her daughters to get an English education that will free them from a caste system that ensures their continued dependency on men.


MC: In this novel, your women are generally very conscious of the menfolk and of traditional norms around them. What do you think about the role of women in societies closely conscious of tradition and religion?

FK: How could they be other than conscious of what their men and their society’s norms expect of them? This is their reality and it’s one of the reasons I want the reader to see it from the women’s lived experience. Kulsum and Razaak fall in love and respect each other, but their relationship is put under huge strain by the societal demand that their daughters be married within the caste. The women characters in my novel know that Indian women must play the part given to them. But they are astute enough to see that in the baffling new world they have entered in Southern Africa things are different. With Nurse’s guidance and encouragement Kulsum, Lakshmi and Manjula make the decision not to be victims. We follow Kulsum’s emotional journey as wife, mother, businesswoman, magical gardener and nurturer as cook. At the same time all three women keep a balance between tradition and modernity.


MC: To me, Kulsum herself appears to dither between accepting her fate as a woman in an Indian Muslim family and finding her own way. What do you say?

FK: Kulsum does not dither. She is determined to give her children the best that life can offer in the colony and like a chess player she moves her pieces with brilliance and shrewdness. She successfully gets her daughters to have an English education, she takes her family out of poverty by starting her own vegetable business and then she builds her own house where she can bring up her children. Kulsum learns and is guided by Nurse and Lakshmi, gurus of wisdom and life. She becomes a leader who crosses cultural boundaries. She in turn guides and helps the young widow Manjula, the tearoom owner, thus advancing women’s dignity.


MC: For you, what is the purpose of Kulsum’s daughter, Zora? Is there much distance travelled between mother and daughter?

FK: Zora is central to the story. Kulsum fights for her and her sisters to have an English education. Zora does brilliantly at school and helps her father in the business. When she has an arranged marriage and is sent to Uganda, Kulsum is devastated, and she plots to go and see for herself how her daughters are doing. The bond of understanding and love between the mother and daughter is strong.


MC: Your men; Abaa, Razaak and Osman appear to be steeped in the family norms and into making a living as Indian traders abroad. They appear cleanly cut into this role. What do you think is the crisis that the Indian men away from India have had to face over the years?

FK: It was economic survival. The government dictated what part of the economy they were sanctioned to enter. Farming and industry were the domain of the whites. Indians were only allowed to be merchants in designated areas, not in the city centre. The Indian business community cultivated bonds with the Blacks and the Blacks in turn made a conscious decision to support another disadvantaged group classified as Non-White, rather than choose a white business. Solidarity came from supporting each other and the Blacks built these alliances because they were largely treated with respect and dignity by Indian merchants. There is a scene in the novel in Latif Trading where one of Zora’s customers, a senior black seamstress talks about how Zora taught her how to count money and helped her to work out measurements for the articles of clothing she sewed, and these skills empowered her to start her own sewing business.     


MC: In this novel, we do not seem to move out of the Indian family to engage with the non-Indian Bulawayo community. The closest that we come to Africans is through the houseboy, Jabulani. And even then, he is not so much part of the story. Was that a conscious decision and what led to this?

FK:The Train House on Lobengula Street revolves around segregation, racial discrimination and people fighting for their human rights. In Rhodesia Blacks, Indians and Coloureds were all classified as non-whites. The Bulawayo Indian community stood up as a community to fight injustice. They cultivated links with the activists and did not just take being denied the privileges of citizenship lying down. The protest tradition in Southern Rhodesia preceded the rise of the nationalist movement. There were people fighting for the rights for recognition as humans and for human dignity and that manifested itself in campaigns of civil disobedience like when they drove their cars to the whites-only driving cinema and blocked the entrance until admission was granted to people of all races. They fought and won the right to enter public libraries and swimming pools. They supported the activists; provided safe houses in Bulawayo, visited political prisoners in detention centres and provided money, groceries and school uniforms for the families of detainees in the high-density suburbs. They also took a great risk in printing and distributing an underground magazine to politicise Indian youth.


MC: You are based in the US at the moment. How do you negotiate the various spaces you occupy, Indian woman from Zimbabwe who sometimes works in the US?

FK: The “spaces” you refer to are geographical. I write from the space inside my head and my soul, and this requires focus, deep concentration, solitude and time. Quite like Kulsum, I constantly collect and cultivate herbs and seeds to share with others, fostering friendships that extend across many parts of Zimbabwe. I am in the fortunate position of being able to live in diverse cultures and so I engage, learn and appreciate whichever culture I have the privilege of being present in.


MC: Besides this novel, what else should we expect from you?

FK: As peoples in the diaspora are intimately familiar with, our stories are intricate and layered and don’t always fit neatly onto chronological frameworks that are easily plotted. There are many more adventures that my characters experience and I look forward to sharing these with my readers. I am working on the sequel to The Train House on Lobengula Street.       


MC: Thank you.




Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Daves Guzha returns with AIKAKA!


Yesterday, Wednesday, 9 August 2023, in the evening, I went to the Theatre in The Park in the Harare Gardens to watch veteran dramatist’s, Daves Guzha’s one man play called Aikaka! The play is showing every evening between 7 and 8, until the 12th of August.

In that one man play, the major thread is based on the former President of Zimbabwe, RG Mugabe, rising from the dead and starting to wander about Harare, musing at what life has become in his short absence. 

I must admit that Guzha brings the RG deportment and mannerism, without doubt. That characteristic line of hair just under the nose and RG’s typical sudden shifts between emphatic anger and joy, the up and downs of his shoulders….his emphasized pronunciation of certain letters in a word as in s-o-v-e-r-e-i-g-n-ty and Z-i-mbabwe!

It is a satire on all of us and, interestingly, on RG himself. None of us are spared as RG lingers the longest at the Mbuya Nehanda statue erected at the intersection of Samora Machel Avenue and Julias Nyerere Way in the Harare's central business district. “I am sorry, ambuya, but I could have done a better thing for you…” RG says in his long speech, stepping all over the place as he looks at the 3-meter high statue. He turns to the Reserve Bank and says very critical issues about the major characters in that building. He serves his best when he turns to the imposing Zanu PF Head Quarters.

Sometimes RG chides his successors, and he clearly and notably overrates himself and the audience is ironically allowed to see through some of his weaknesses as a man and leader. There is the clever use of a delicate, believable but unreliable narrator! It is criticism that allows you to critique the critic!

Guzha expertly turns to change his wardrobe and appears as several other personae. The climax, I think, is when the svikiro turns to the three major characters in the coming 2023 presidential elections of Zimbabwe who are hanging on a puppeteer’s rack, turning and twisting. Guzha  taunts the presidential candidates with fundamental questions. It is like some kind of under-worldly inquisition. The puppets were done and controlled by Booker Sipiyiye. I could only marvel at the timing of the play! If it had come a month earlier or a month later, the effect could surely have been less.

Although this is a solo act, there is exciting contributions from renowned poet Tinashe Muchuri and playwrights, Stanley Makuwe and Patience Phiri. Aikaka is a typical Shona interjection and it expresses the speaker’s utter surprise at the sudden turn of events or the sighting of the least expected things in life. Aikaka points at incongruence for example, when you see a man flying or when you see the hare chasing a dog!

If you are in Harare this week, this is a play worth watching! Veteran actor and director, Daves Guzha, has been off stage for over fifteen years. His most well known one man play was called The Two Leaders I know. Subsequently it was turned into a movie.

+This review by Memory Chirere




Sunday, July 30, 2023

KwaChirere reviews Fatima Kara’s debut novel


Title: The Train House on Lobengula Street,

Author: Fatima Kara

Publisher: Envelope Books: London, 2023

Isbn: 9 781915 023094


(A Book Review by Memory Chirere)

Fatima Kara’s novel, The Train House on Lobengula Street is a rare story about Indians coming to settle in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It is a carefully crafted story about sojourning and transitioning.  You are stunned that such a mature piece of work is only a debut attempt.

This is also a family novel because the sojourner is still within a part of her family. She cannot necessarily renew herself totally or remain stagnant because there is always family to consider. If you run, they stop you. If you linger, they push you on.

Meanwhile the sojourner’s traditions and beliefs are put to an acid test at the same time by three entities: family, time and the new space. This is a novel about continuity and change. Water and fire are in the same mouth.

On the surface, this is the easy-going story about the Kassims; a traditional Indian Muslim family taking the economic opportunities that Southern Rhodesia offers to migrants from the east in the challenging 1950’s and 60’s. The author does well to weave a solid narrative that constantly persuades the reader to slow down and linger. Sometimes you stop to cross reference details. This is something you find in other compact novels such as Doris Lessing’s The Grass is Singing and Spiwe Mahachi’s Footprints in the Mists of Time; two novels also about the trials and tribulations of newcomers to Rhodesia.

This novel gradually opens up like a wild and magical onion. The more you read the more you are paid. It is a story in which the least expected is always waiting by the corner.

This is a detective novel of sorts too; working out from 1969 backwards to 1940, up until 1969 once more, in order to establish why and how Razaak grows to become unsympathetic to his wife. You find Razaak sending his daughters far away to Uganda to arranged marriages. He is so determined to scatter his family while hiding behind tradition.

The case of an emaciated Zora, running away from a failed marriage in Uganda, back to Bulawayo with her sympathetic mother, to be asked by her father to go back to Uganda, is quite startling. Zora’s sisters are also unhappy, and they feel like slaves sold down the river. This is a very sensitive story about a long-standing custom that has sustained generations. The author shows without preaching. 

The story spins in time, meticulously finding out how tradition and culture turn a once sweet man like Razaak into a scoundrel and a hater of his wife who is a woman who gives Razaak eight children without complaining. Razaak gradually becomes cold towards a woman whose life is spent being routinely pregnant; calling on the nurse and the elders to help with her deliveries.

What will a newly arrived and newly married young Gujarati woman in colonial Bulawayo of the 1960’s want from her people and the colonial government? That is complicated. Kulsum comes to Bulawayo just after marrying Razaak in India and they settle in the broad Kassim family, led by a laid-back patriarch called Abaa. 

Virtually a villager from Hunyana village in India, Kulsum is caught up in a struggle against both Indian Muslim traditions and the racist terrain of Southern Rhodesia. She is in a double bind. Once outside the bustle of the train station in Bulawayo on her first day, Kulsum is fascinated to see that there are no rickshawallahs here, no loud vegetable sellers, no children playing, no beggars, no goats and no cows too!

While she is still working out her new geographical location, Kulsum senses that Razaak is more inclined to forget her! As soon as Razaak sees his long-lost father, his wife becomes second fiddle. When father and son hug and exclaim at the station, it is left to the black servant, Jabulani, to smile at poor Kulsum and ask her to join the celebrating party in the car. The marriage and attachment between Razaak and Kulsum end as soon as Razaak meets his father! Even when they get home, Kulsum becomes an invisible woman, and her opportunistic mother-in-law quickly takes over, more or less like an irate prison warder.

When Kulsum meets her mother-in-law, Jee Ma, she does not even ask after Kulsum’s sisters nor offer condolences on the death of Kulsum’s mother. Jee Ma becomes Kulsum’s competitor with an upper hand. That Abaa says Kulsum cooks better than Jee Ma makes it worse! Soon Kulsum gives birth to a boy when Jee Ma has no son to boast about! You are given opportunity to see how some women treat fellow women in the race to please men.

Then one day Abaa fumbles with her daughter in law wanting intimacy. This horrifies Kulsum who cannot report. She wonders if it is because she struggles to secure her scarf, the laj. Jee Maa overworks Kulsum like a donkey even when she is going through many of her pregnancies. The malicious backbiting continues until Kulsum and Razaak move out of Abaa’s place in the middle of the night to find refuge amongst other Indians in the vicinity.

Meanwhile the nationalist movement is growing in Rhodesia and the Indians realize that they are only tolerated as a white man’s buffer against the black people. Fortunately, there are the politically conscious people such as Amar. There is the radical coloured woman, the nurse, who is dragging the Indian community to take their resistance. There is Lakshmi, the Hindu neighbor, who realizes that people had better quickly grow and transcend tradition.

Kulsum has to deal with her own in-built contradictions. She constantly feels that although her in laws ill-treat her, she has a right to their love. She fights hard to embrace those who reject her until the option is to move on. This is consistent with the question she is asked by Nurse: “So, tell me, which place did you like living in best; in Hunyana, your ancestral village, or Madagascar, where you sold fish, or here, where your husband sells spices?”

And Kulsum's newly minted answer is: “This place.”

Razaak appears radical at first, taking on his family when he is wronged and even asking to leave in protest with his wife children in the middle of the night. But as soon as his wife proves to be more enterprising and conscientious than him, Razaak starts to want to fall back on tradition. He hates the house that his wife builds for the family on Lobengula Street because, as many say, it looks like a train house! But the truth is that they now have a house of sorts.

At one point Razaak cries out: “I am the father and I decide (for my daughters). We will court trouble if we do not follow tradition.” He feels defeated by his wife and falls back on the extended family which has all along looked down upon him. In chapter 17, which is the climax for me, Razaak spills the beans pitifully: “I don’t have the courage. Abaa was right about sticking to tradition. You, Nurse, my wife-you are all moving too fast for me.”

While this is a rare story about the lives of Indians in Zimbabwe, sadly the Africans are totally behind the scenes, only coming in as houseboys. Jabulani, for instance is rather unexplored. He is seen but is not heard.

Asked by Asjad Nazir of the EasternEye on what inspired her to write this novel, Fatima Kara says, During my childhood in Bulawayo’s vibrant Indian community, I saw a lot of things that troubled me — like young women travelling to faraway places to enter arranged marriages and Indian men practicing civil disobedience against the white police. I couldn’t know for sure what happened to them all, but I wanted to write a version of their stories.

On Amazon it is indicated that Fatima Kara is a Zimbabwean writer living in the USA and that the author has an MFA from Spalding University in Kentucky. When not writing, she propagates fruit and nut trees, and plants them in schools and rural communities around Zimbabwe.

The Train House on Lobengula Street was shortlisted for the UK’s Laxfield Literary Launch Prize in 2020. The book can be ordered through: The Train House on Lobengula Street: 9781915023094: Kara, Fatima: Books