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