Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - Annelie Klother - Zimbabwe Netzwerk Rundbrief

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Writing still – Snapshots from Zimbabwe

Last year Irene Staunton from Weaver Press Harare asked several Zimbabwean authors to write a short story about Zimbabwe at the turn of the century.

The resulting collection of stories shows us a multifaceted picture of Zimbabwe.

“Fiction … is a way of telling the truth, and is sometimes the only way of telling a complex truth” notes Irene Staunton, the editor of “Writing Still” in her introduction. While reading these stories you learn a lot more about life in Zimbabwe than from newspaper articles and reports that focus on facts – how people handle their everyday life, how they get on with each other, how they feel and what they dream about.

The differences between the authors (the oldest born in 1937, the youngest in 1973) and the complexity of their biographies are perhaps the reason for the diverse images they present us. Most of them have spent their life in different social environments, have had several professions and lived not only in Zimbabwe but also South Africa, England, Canada, the USA or even the Middle East. Some of them have an international reputation, like Yvonne Vera or Charles Mungoshi, for others this is their first publication, with impressive results.

Surviving in Zimbabwe

The stories involve people of all social classes. In “The Kiss” (Chihota) for example, a highly successful but cold-hearted businessman loses his wife to a diamond dealer employed by him.

Brian Chikwava delineates the life of people who are struggling to scrape a living at the margin of society: Sue, who shares a bed with her mother, a street vendor, has no sympathy for the state propaganda she listens to on the radio. She’s more concerned where to get her next ration of sugar and cooking oil. Although talking about misery, Chikwava, like other authors, doesn’t lack humour: policemen try to get at least a snack from a musician who cannot pay his fine.

Here, as in many of the stories, political events and personal developments are intertwined: Charles Mungoshi describes a conflict between father and son that has a political dimension. He reminds us of the mysterious car accidents of the past years in which many people of the opposition died.

The burden of the past

In “The Winning Side” (Saidi) political events destroy two generations simultaneously: a street kid who has become an orphan because of the political repression visits his wealthy uncle. This man has sworn to belong to the winning side after the death of his parents in the war of liberation. In this story we see the world from the perspective of children, likewise in writing about life on a white farm before independence (Fuller) and the massacres in Matabeleland (G. Ndlovu) for example. A little girl describes a sadistic commander in the war of liberation (“That special place”).

The authors paint a panorama of the most recent history of Zimbabwe which is influencing the present. Topics like gender and homosexuality aren’t overlooked either: Kilalea presents the difficulties of a homosexual relationship between a black and a white man in colonial Zimbabwe.

And you can see incidents that could also take place in Europe: the humiliation of a housemaid by her potential employer (Chingono), the misogyny in a middle class quarter (Mupfudza) and the difficult life of a disabled person (Musengezi).

Hope for reconciliation

Even so, the discriminated disabled man in the story of Musengezi is loved and promoted. So you can see asilver lining on the horizon and the hope of reconciliation in many stories in spite of all the brutality. In the story of Kanengoni (reprinted in our newsletter) people of different origins and political affiliations exchange their opinions and try to get together, like the policeman and the liberation fighter in the story of Huggins or the white Zimbabwean and the black smuggler on the bus to Zambia in Wilson’s story who are united by a song of Oliver Mutukudzi.

A multilayered, beautiful book, which can be bought in Germany without any difficulty.

Writing Still. Hrsg. von Irene Staunton. Harare: Weaver Press 2003.

ISBN 1 77922 0 18 9 ( ca. 32 Euro) Übers Internet: www.

Annelie Klother

(Thanks to Klaus Graichen and Barnabe for helping me to translate my review into English)

In: ‘Zimbabwe Netzwerk Rundbrief’, Nr. 46 / Oktober 2004, Germany

Review of Women Writing Zimbabwe - Mukai

Women Writing - Zimbabwe, Edited by Irene Staunton, Weaver Press, 2008, 131 pp.

By Oskar Wermter SJ

Published in Mukai-Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe No 48, May 2009, pp 27.)
© Mukai/Vukani

Naturally many of the stories focus on women. And how they deal with the men in their lives. Unfortunately, most relationships seem rather unhappy. In  “Dream over. Dream again”  (Wadzanai Mhute)  Muni experiences her separation from the father of her child, Natsai,  as an act of liberation. No more beatings for her. “As she stepped into the train, she breathed in deeply. … Free again. She would not even miss Natsai.” Going ‘south’ to escape from Zimbabwe – and its men.
Only the relationship between Obi, the anglicized Nigerian from the UK, and his white Zimbabwean girlfriend seems to work, despite a cultural and spiritual mix-up when the girl (“pale, freckled”) seeks her black nanny through the good services of a n’anga. Annie Holmes has depicted real people of some orginality in her story “Delivery”.  Whereas “Mr Wonder” (Sarah Ladipo Manyika) and his unhappy wife who, grieved by her husband’s unfaithfulness finds comfort in his money, seem mere stereotypes.  Hannah, in “The carer” (Chiedza Musengezi), seems to stand for countless bored, frustrated  suburban wives, battling it out with vamwene, her rural mother-in-law, labouring day-in, day-out through a loveless, empty routine, like a dung beetle she observes in her garden. “She felt for the little creature whose burden seemed at that moment, not dissimilar from her own”.  Hannah, as a person, remains lifeless, but her story seems to signal the frustration of middle-class women who have “made it” socially and economically, while being haunted by a big void in their lives.
The deep trauma of the “war of liberation” haunts  Eustina and  finally destroys her family, in “Tichafataona sleeps” (Blessing Musariri), one of the more memorable stories in this volume. We need more writers bringing out the dark side of the glorified violence of the war and of the subsequent peace which is mostly buried in the hearts of Zimbabwe’s silenced, gagged people.
Rumbi Katedza  in “Snowflakes in Winter” shares with us the experience of  the Zimbabwean diaspora. That too should be a rich field for Zimbabwe’s creative writers.  In perhaps the most original story of the book, “Everything is nice, Zimbulele” (Gugu Ndlovu), a Zimbabwean in South African exile loses his identity and is buried in foreign soil under a false name, a symbol of Zimbabwe’s alienation from herself, brought about, ironically, by her ‘liberartor’ clinging stubbornly to his ‘sovereignty’.  Such a story is remarkable, not because it is written by a woman, but because that woman happens to be an accomplished writer.

Review of Women Writing Zimbabwe - Emmanuel Sigauke

Moments in Literature

Women Writing Zimbabwe: A Review by Emmanuel Sigauke

The new short story anthology by Weaver Press, Women Writing Zimbabwe, delivers the high quality readers have come to associate with the publisher’s products. It contains fifteen stories by fifteen strong female voices of Zimbabwean literature. When I recieved the book last week, I was in the middle of Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the Selected Poems of Derek Walcott, but I have since set the two Nobels aside for an adventure into the rich terrain of the newest Weaver stories.

So far, I have read Zvisinei Sandi’s “In Memory of the Nose Brigade”, Petina Gappah’s “In the Heart of the Golden Triangle”, Valerie Tagwira’s “Mainini Grace’s Promise”, Pat Brickhill’s “Senzeni’s Nativity”, Sarah Manyika’s “Mr Wonder”, and Rumbi Katedza’s “Snowflakes in Winter”. Sandi’s story would bring back memories to anyone who remembers the USA/UBA days at the University of Zimbabwe in its satirization of the life of the Nose Brigades versus the SRB (Strong/Severe Rural Background) girls on campus. I wasn’t involved in much campus social life as a student at the UZ, but I remember the conficting values of those students who considered themselves worldly with those who oozed a certain too-rural aura, two camps that tended not to mix, except around exam time, when study groups were formed to balance out potential (some SRB’s tended to be useful resources at such times), but this is just the surface of what the story really deals with: in its simplicity, it exposes the false sense of security, hence the deep-set insecurities of girls who considered themselves more important than the rural grade. Sandi does a good job of exposing some of the superficialities of the Nose Brigades in their efforts to act different and superior – the SRB’s get the last laugh.

Gappah, wow, what a narrator, she can create, sharp like a razor and still managing to make you laugh while your heart bleeds. She experiments with the second person narrative point of view, giving the narrator an intrusive quality, much like a violation of your readerly space, because the story she tells could easily sound like your story, then you become aware of the gender differences between you and the narrator and you understand the protagonist as a person who could easily be your sister, niece, aunt. In a humorous way, Gappah exposes the deterioration of family relationships in the context wealth, where the wife knows of the husband’s extra-marital affairs, but her main concern is that he better carry condoms around in order not to bring the dreaded diseases home. The “small house” (that is, the mistress), no, that does not bother her that much, and even if it did, she met this man as his mistress, so then she focuses on enjoying the wealth.

This theme of wealth and the deterioration of morality is also the focus of Manyika’s story, whose narrator is satirical in her indictment of the moral decay. “Mr Wonder” starts in Avondale, Harare, and takes us to San Francisco (familiar terrain: Golden Gate Park, twenty-hour fitness) and back to Harare. Through some emotional and marital blackmail, the wife is able to make the husband purchase her an  American vacation. Of course, that works for him since he will have all the time to meet new women back home, while the wife in the USA flirts with young, handsome males. Meanwhile, the family driver who is made to accompany her discovers that he can use his religion to raise money as an African guru. When he is about to settle in a San Francisco of dollars, the family returns to Zimbabwe, and his dreams are derailed. The story returns to Zimbabwe too soon, and too playfully, but the reader is required to fill in the gaps. I would have wanted to see more of San Francisco, perhaps the woman actually getting in an affair that works, creating a “small house” of her own. Still, the linguistic acrobatics of the story and the richness of the implied possibilities make this story worth investing fifteen minutes in reading it.

Pat Brickhill’s story seemed at first frustratingly slow and nearly pointless, until I realized that these distinct qualities are the source of its strength. It is not deceptively simple; it is different, focused on giving ordinary details about ordinary characters doing ordinary things. It pulls you in with its opening: “Parched roadside, grass, crackling leaves.” Then we are taken to a village, where, it seems, the narrator is intent on showing everything she sees on the terrain and the lifestyle of the villagers, until hers becomes cute story about caring and loving, the desire to raise and care for a child. Oh, when you see that it celebrates life for life’s sake, you want to read on, and before you know it, the story is beginning to interest you, even though you remember that you wanted to stop reading it on page two. By the time you finish, you want to defend your rationale for having spent nearly thirty minutes reading it, but now you are holding a new baby with the characters. Who would dare say that’s a bad thing? Life portrayed; life celebrated.

I first read Tagwira’s story when it first came out on African Writing Online, and I remember its shocking ending. It is the kind of story you read and you become really upset. I can see it causing some to cry. The Mainini’s sin in this story is her state of victimization, and to Sarai, the niece, Mainini cannot be a victim of HIV/AIDS, a kind of how-dare-you turn of events. Her promise was to continue taking care of the orphaned Sarai and her siblings. Tagwira is a true advocate of the impoverished and AIDS-stricken, a voice of the disadvantaged.

Rumbi Katedza’s “Snowflakes in Winter” is the story of Zimbabwe’s Diaspora, exposing the lives of Zimbabweans away from home. After the story takes the reader through the challenges of life away from home, the assault on cultural values that can easily happen, the restlessness and the confusion, it ends by emphasizing the importance of family. Like most of the other stories, it has an element of humor that’s almost unbelievable given the circumstances the characters are in.

That’s what makes Zimbabwean literature breathtaking, that while it may send you to tears, some of those tears might just the creeping in of joy, when one feels the tug of hope even where hope seems impossible. This is a book of diverse stories that demonstrate to the reader that the fictional characters coming out troubled Zimbabwe have much to teach the world about endurance, impossible joy, and hope.

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Review of Women Writing Zimbabwe - The Zimbabwean

Women Writing Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2008: (pp: 144) 210 x 132 mm
ISBN: 9781779220738

The Zimbabwean
Reviewer: Lawrence Hoba

It’s all women, passion and skill in Weaver Press’s latest anthology

There are stories in this new collection that one will read over and over again, some will make one cry or laugh, and others will leave one haunted and wondering how the author could have conceived such a story and remain sane. Yet what distinguishes the stories is their humanity, a characteristic which, though I hesitate to say it, is one that distinguishes women from their male counterparts.

The fifteen individual stories in Women Writing Zimbabwe are linked by the common attachment that each has with their country Zimbabwe, which has seen many changes and upheavals from colonialism to independence, to the current crisis and the apparent death of democracy.

Some of the writers have been included in previous Weaver Press anthologies: Chiedza Musengezi, Pat Brickhill, Annie Holmes, Gugu Ndlovu and Vivienne Ndlovu, but all the writers have other careers. Their biographies speak of a group of determined women: lawyers, teachers, professors or doctors … whose writing has won them additional distinction.

Gugu Ndlovu’s 'Everything is Nice, Zimbulele' successfully dramatises the ordeals of many Zimbabwean border-jumpers escaping from the economic and political crises, which have characterised ZANU(PF)’s latter-day rule. Vivienne Ndlovu does well to draw our attention to people in the rural areas who simply cannot afford any form of medical assistance: she was 'Bare bones. Hardly more than a girl, seeking assistance from health services that are no longer functioning and health workers who have lost all hope that they might be able to change anything'.

But in this disintegration of Zimbabwean society as a result of HIV/ AIDS, and economic and political exile, it is inevitable that women are left with the greatest role to play in families. In 'The Carer' and 'The Big Trip' Musengezi and Bryony Rheam show the emotional and physical trials that women sometimes endure at the hands of their in-laws and families.

Despite its many more recent casualties, post-independent Zimbabwe has brought with it a new kind of life for some of its people. Some have suddenly found riches, living the lives they previously admired. But, as is often the case, many of these nouveau riche act in a way that’s not only funny but ridiculous: Zvisinei Sandi, Petina Gappah and Sarah Ladipo Manyika take turns to intelligently mock this new class in, respectively: 'In Memory of the Nose Brigade', 'In The Heart of The Golden Triangle' and 'Mr Wonder'.

But one must not forget that our now declining country was born after the demise of Rhodesia. To many young writers, it now seems such a long time ago that there are some who feel there is nothing more left to say about the liberation struggle in which they did not take part. But Blessing Musariri thinks otherwise and her story, 'Tichafataona Sleeps' vividly reminds us of the spirits that still haunt some of the people who took part in that war. As with Alexander Kanengoni’s 'Things We Would Rather Not Talk About' (Effortless Tears (1993)), Musariri raises ghosts which draw in in all those who meet Tichafataona, including the reader.

And if you survive Musariri’s haunting story, there is no harm in finding new hope in 'Chemusana' by Sabina Mutangadura. In this story, one family’s happiness is not pinned on the return of the mother who has abandoned them in order to earn money for her family in England, but on a housemaid, Estelle, a.k.a Esteli. In fact the family almost breaks up when she decides to follow her boyfriend to South Africa. But her return brings new hope, which we pray is not as fragile as that on which our current political hopes are pinned.

Lastly, and just in case you are like me and decide to leave the last to the last, please find it in your heart to forgive Sarai for acting the way she did in Valerie Tagwira’s 'Mainini Grace’s Promise'. I know with all the frustrations of a failing economy, a defunct health delivery system and rampaging HIV/AIDS, we can all crack under the strain. What Tagwira achieves in her deeply felt story is to raise our level of awareness and compassion.

Having read these stories, I really felt that I had got a full and rounded glimpse of Zimbabwe today. Whether the setting is in Britain, South Africa, or Zimbabwe itself, each of the stories subtly tells our story. Maybe the depth of portrayal lies in the detail, or perhaps it is embedded in the conviction is conveyed by the authors. Is one moved because these are stories by women, or because you can feel their wish for honesty, the truth about the living for the ordinary Zimbabwean.

Women Writing Zimbabwe is Weaver Press’s first short story anthology by women writers only, though it comes after three other highly successful anthologies by the same publisher. These are Writing Still (2003), Writing Now (2005) and Laughing Now (2005).

PS – Expect award-winners in this one as well.

© The author/publisher

Review of Women Writing Zimbabwe - The Zimbabwean - Josephine Muganiwa

Women Writing Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2008: (pp: 144) 210 x 132 mm
ISBN: 9781779220738

The Zimbabwean
1 March 2009

Reviewer: Josephine Muganiwa

Women Writing reflects diverse suffering of Zimbabweans at home and abroad

This book has 15 well-crafted short stories by women from various backgrounds. They capture the Zimbabwean experiences in a refreshing way. National challenges are reflected in comic fashion which enables the reader to celebrate life – rather than a sense of pathos. Broadly speaking, the stories can be divided into two categories: experiences at home and experiences in the Diaspora.

Women Writing Zimbabwe is an excellent collection, a must-read for everyone. It cannot be accused of not being fully Zimbabwean as John Eppel has complained that when most people talk of Zimbabwean authors, they mean black authors. All Zimbabweans are represented. In this way the collection does not hide the challenges and ironies of Zimbabwean experiences but opens them up for debate.

Nine of the stories focus on the experiences of Zimbabweans at home and how they cope with the challenges they face. Pat Brickhill’s 'Senzeni’s Nativity' focuses on teenage pregnancy. Esi moves from tragic feelings over wasted school fees to a celebration of new life. In the last paragraph everyone joins in the celebration despite the fact that the father never turns up and denies paternity. Senzeni herself gains a sense of identity and agency for the first time.

Di Charsley’s 'Death Wish' reflects the colonial history of dispossession of blacks by whites. This is juxtaposed with the current lack of food and loss of children to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The ironies of interracial relationships are fully highlighted in Annie Holmes’s Delivery.

In 'In the Heart of the Golden Triangle', Petina Gappah explores the meaning of success. Is it staying in a posh suburb, acquiring branded material wealth and associating with influential people in the community? Is it happiness? The persona hides behind materialism so as not to face the pain of being an abandoned wife.

Blessing Musariri’s 'Tichafataona Sleeps' reflects on the painful history of the liberation struggle and its haunting aftermaths way after independence. In this it is similar to Alexander Kanengoni’s Echoing Silences and Charles Samupindi’s Pawns.

While old age is to be respected, there are many challenges faced by those who take care of the elderly. Chiedza Musengezi’s 'The Carer' fully explores this experience.

Vivienne Ndlovu’s 'Bare Bones' raises uncomfortable moral questions. It explores the concept of euthanasia in the context of a dilapidated health delivery system. A very touching story.

'Mainini Grace’s Promise' by Valerie Tagwira portrays the challenges faced by the girl child in taking care of an ailing mother in the context of a failing economy.

Stories on the diaspora experience largely reflect a quest for identity and freedom. Freedom is mainly from economic impoverishment caused by the collapsed Zimbabwean economy.

In the style of Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead, Menzis Gugu Ndlovu changes his name to Paul Khulu in Gugu Ndlovu’s 'Everything is Nice, Zimbulele'. His adopted identity enables him to escape the weight of failure as he fails to fulfill his parents’ expectations.

This is a valuable addition to contemporary Zimbabwean literature – reflecting the diversity of experiences, mostly painful, through which Zimbabweans are enduring in the first decade of the 21st Century.

© The author/publisher