Review of War Veterans in Zimbabwe's Revolution: Changing Neo-Colonialism & Settler & International Capital

A summary of comments and responses by Zvakanyorwa Wilbert Sadomba

(Dept of Sociology, information pills University of Zimbabwe) made at the launch of his book War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Revolution: Challenging neo-colonialism & settler & international capital

on 30 March, 2011. See photos from the event


In the early evening of 30 March 2011, my second book, War Veterans in Zimbabwe’s Revolution: Challenging neo-colonialism & settler & international capital, co-published by James Currey and Weaver Press, was finally launched.  I heartily thank all those who made it a successful occasion.  To begin with, Weaver Press, the host, had to postpone the launch because the first discussant turned down the offer.  My conversation with this proposed discussant (Cde N) went like this:

N. Huh, Comrade I must be honest with you, I don’t think I would like to be publicly associated with this book. There is too much truth in it ... one begins to imagine how the powers that be will react to it ... and looking at the current situation you think whether you really want to be identified with it  and how you will be viewed, politically. I sincerely apologise but I think you expected this.

ZS. You don’t need to apologise whatsoever Cde N. I understand.  But as a general comment what do you think of the book; is it good reading?

R. Very! In fact even a person like me who was there [war of liberation] begins to understand that war better; it is enlightening.  This is why I think it won’t be received well in some quarters.

I must say this was not news to me.  For long I had pondered on the possible consequences of what I was doing and I decided to face it.  I still realise the dangerous ground I am treading on but being a liberation war freedom fighter that I think I have on my own part, the responsibility of sharing my own side of the story about that war for the benefit of some of the very people I was fighting for.  My only public writing was disguised under the pen-name Mafira Kureva, (see The real truth about us, the war veterans http://www.thezimbabwetimes.com/?p=3775).  After noticing that my articles were stolen and abused I took the bold step to publish this book.

Alexander Kanengoni, who kindly accepted our official invitation to launch the book, queried my distinction of nationalists and guerrilla fighters in the liberation movement arguing that the two were not antagonistic each other. This argument was reiterated by someone from the floor.  In the book I illustrate that the conflict between nationalists and guerrillas were perennial and never ended even after independence.  The little-said-about ZIPA is illustrative.  Fighters disowned nationalists and the best of them (nationalists) were confined at Quilimane i.e. Robert Mugabe and Edgar Tekere and they were not allowed to come to the guerrilla camps – the effect of Mugagao Declaration.

I juxtaposed a nationalist pursuing studies in London – eating pie when hungry, going round during spare time begging bowl for donations – and myself in Matanho Village (Chimanimani), having crossed Tandara Mountain, exhausted and bruised between the legs from a long march and an anguished peasant woman offering two eggs so that I could be given when I fell hungry.  I had gone to war when I was 15 years old.  The organic bond that developed between the masses and freedom fighter combatants could not be gained by reading newspapers, listening to radio or by being told what it was like fighting in the battlefield.  The commitment of nationalist elites within ZANU PF or without to the masses can never be the same with that of War Veterans because of the different exposure and experience.  This is the main theme of my book and it illustrates that the ascendance to power of nationalists negated the very ethos and objectives of the liberation war and this is the source of Zimbabwe’s social and political problems today.

Kanengoni also felt that the book followed the usual academic thread of condemning land occupations.  This is a total misreading, I put it to him.  If anything, the book was a celebration of the 2000s War Veterans-led Revolution hence its title.  However I hastened to say the revolution was attacked by the ZANU PF elites, the state, MDC (including white settlers) and international capital.  War Veterans led a successful national democratic revolution reversing minority settler and imperialist economic dominance.   Through the Fast Track strategy elites used the state to try and hijack that revolution but only managed to stop its further progression to egalitarian resource distribution through Operations: Murambatsvina, Chikorokoza Chapera, Mavhotera Papi and Hakudzokwi.  I elaborate this in the book showing that the Zimbabwean issue is much more complex and demands deep knowledge of historical formation and development of the actors and their antagonistic interests.

Professor Sam Moyo posed a number of questions but before I answer him, which I had no time to do, I appreciate the Professor’s humble admission Zimbabwe witnessed a full blooded revolution led by War Veterans.  This and it brings to rest the half decade debate between us.  I give more data on this in the book.

Professor Moyo queried why I say the War Veteran-led revolution was hijacked by the ZANU PF elite.  ZANU PF elites and President Mugabe were not protagonists of the land movement from the 1980s to 2000 as I argue in the book.  Only when rural and urban land occupations, industrial fragmentation and reconfiguration, decentralisation of trade and commerce had taken an irreversible momentum in 2000, did ZANU PF elites associate with the revolution.  So how does one explain the fact that after 2000 Mugabe became the de facto spokesman for the same revolution?  How can one explain the state formation of land committees to displace War Veterans organisations and masquerading as the champions of that redistributive land process?  I know not of another term for my limitations of the English language but I know the resultant effect.  War Veterans who spearheaded and the masses who participated in this revolution were sidelined and when they resisted they were violently surprise-attacked by military style operations.  ZANU PF elites and the state started to dispossess many War Veterans of farms they had occupied.  I present evidence in the book on this and more.

Moyo also argued that by classifying some ZANU PF members as elites, I was using an ambiguous term with contested meaning if not meaningless altogether.  I wish to clarify this.  In my writing I was not trying to split academic hairs as I had the urgent business of informing Zimbabweans, from my own view, providing missing pieces of the puzzle and illuminating on the dark patches of our history.  In doing so I could not avoid the very clear distinctions between ZANU PF members in the ruling ‘class’ (anamafikezolo) who clearly have no interest of the povo at heart, who in daylight condemn settlers but live like or better than them, who use political power and the state to usurp national wealth, brutalise masses, to advance personal and corrupt interests.  These are not ordinary ZANU PF members – the rank and file – but the powerful perched up there.  The MDC is also infested with such people particularly settler white farmers, former Rhodesian Security Force members and Rhodesian Front type politicians.  The interests of these people are tangential to those of liberation fighters with the objective of emancipating the masses from the yoke of settler capitalist and imperialist exploitation. Whatever term is coined on these people I do not mind as long as the distinction is clear.

Lastly I thank Alexander Kanengoni and Professor for pointing out that my book is valuable reading and a must for those who need to understand deeper the Zimbabwean situation.  Kanengoni was mesmerized by the detail and Moyo was interested in the argument.

Review: Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - The African Books Collective

Review from The African Review of Books
Silence is not an option
Title: Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe
Date: 2003
Edited by Irene Staunton, this site 23 contributors
Publisher: Weaver Press, patient Harare, Zimbabwe
Distributed in UK by The African Books Collective and USA by Michigan State University
Press
ISBN: 1779220189

To buy this book online through Amazon, click the cover.

Review by Richard Bartlett

Robert Mugabe is doing his best to silence all voices of dissent in Zimbabwe. His latest
assault on the freedom of speech is the closure of the country’s only independent daily
newspaper, the Daily News. This closure, together with all the other abuses of human rights
and suppression of voices who do not agree with him, is another sad episode in this country’s
recent history, yet the ultimate futility of these actions is highlighted in the other ways
Zimbabweans find to make their voices heard.
The title of this new anthology of 23 stories from Zimbabwe says it all: Writing Still. For a
country with such an acute record of censorship and oppression it is surprising, pleasantly so,
to see such a collection of myriad voices placing their lives, and that of their country, so
blatantly under scrutiny, and being given the space to do it.
But this collection is art, not journalism, and it is a contribution by 23 writers, different
voices, many of whom are still living in Zimbabwe. Thus this collection is not one narrative,
it is not the story of a country driven into the ground by one man; it is about the country’s
history, its people, its urban squalor, its class dynamics, its land, and its leader too, even if he
never makes a direct appearance. He doesn’t have to – that is the nature of art. And that is the
strength of this anthology.
There is no way one book can replace the loss of the many voices Mr Mugabe has attempted
to silence, but for a world hungry to see behind the silences of a dictatorship, to see not so
much what is happening, but more why it is happening, the historical background and the
contradictory nature of misguided revolution, and how it is happening in everyday life, then
this book takes us there.
The stories are arranged alphabetically, by author, so the journey one embarks on when
picking up this book is not linear, it allows no preconceptions of journey through Rhodesia to
Zimbabwe via revolution. Instead it is 23 snippets of life, beginning, and infused with, the
ordinariness, the mundanity of life that was made possible only because the revolution over
the racist Rhodesian state was victorious. Yet it is also the quotidian condensed such that the
absurdities of life pour out of the pages.
The collection begins with ‘Universal Remedy’, which tells of two women, one rich and one
poor, one urban and one rural, one black and one white, who come to share a life, and a
vegetable garden. The collection ends, coincidentally with a similar situation: white
Zimbabwean finding common ground with black as they adjust to the absurdities of life in Mr
Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, finding ways of resisting and speaking out. But where it begins with a
white departure, the collection ends with a white arrival, with an affirmation of shared
experience, shared idiosyncrasies and shared resistance.
Between the departure and the arrival there are many others. The airport arrivals hall where a
passionate kiss is the medium for diamond smuggling from the Congo, the husband who
arrives home and has to grapple with the trauma of revealing his affair because of fear of HIV/AIDS, the forgotten father whose arrival leads to a daughter’s departure, and the big
black car which carries the grim reaper in the garb of a president who comes for a sick girl.
One story which deals with the excesses of the Zimbabwean state is Charles Mungoshi's ‘The
Sins of the Fathers’. The scene is a funeral for the victims of a road accident, two girls and
their maternal grandfather. The tension is between the father of the two girls and his father, a
former minister of state security. The son has disgraced his father by marrying into another
ethnic group. The father has used his power to wreak revenge. Now a family mourns its
multiple losses, and its inability to confront its country’s heritage.
The collection brings together so many different ‘I’s which treat us to an experience of a
country which is not just misery and deprivation. Yes these are omnipresent, but so are
survival, resistance, comedy and even hope.
Seventh Street Alchemy’ tells of a prostitute who has slipped through the cracks of
bureaucracy and now needs to get a birth certificate so her daughter can get a passport. But
she can only do this if she can provide her parents’ birth certificates. She has an opportunity
to break out of this Catch 22, but only when she breaks the law and they realise they can’t
charge her because she doesn’t officially exist.
One of the more disturbing stories, especially with the benefit of hindsight, is ‘That Special
Place’ by Freedom Nyambaya. It tells of a young woman who leaves her final year of high
school to cross the border of Rhodesia into Mozambique to join the liberation struggle. She is
not welcomed as she expected; her education, especially in a woman, makes her a threat to the
camp commander, which means in the process of becoming a guerrilla she also becomes a
victim of torture. That special place is not one of pride but of escape.
This story is disturbing because it sheds light, intimate light, on how the revolution was
hijacked, how personal desires and aspirations were allowed to turn revolution into little more
than a changing of the guard, how small minds destroyed grand ideas.
At a different level the same idea, or revolution made little more than excuse, is given voice
in ‘Maria’s Interview’ by Julius Chingono. Maria has just been made redundant from her
position as a domestic worker and with reference letter clutched in hand she goes for an
interview at one of those large houses hidden behind fences and large gardens of Harare’s
northern suburbs. Her new prospective employer, Mrs Gahadzikwa, forces her to unpack her
entire life on the lounge floor. The colour bar has gone, but the roles of maid and madam
remain unchanged.
There are two issues which it would be improper to ignore when it comes to discussing
Zimbabwe: gay rights and land. Both are dealt with in a number of the stories. ‘The Ugly
Reflection in the Mirror’, by Alexander Kanengoni and first published in The Daily News,
pits white landowner against one of the newly landed ‘war veterans’. It is a meeting of equals,
but the price is high.
Two stories dealing with gay rights tell of love lost, or never grasped. ‘When Samora Died’,
by Annie Holmes, is more than a mere ‘gay rights’ story though. It is about the entrenched
prejudices of white Zimbabweans, not just against blacks and communists, but ‘homos’ too.
‘Mea Culpa’ by Rory Kilalea, tells of a gay university student beginning to understand, and
deny, his sexuality in a world of racism. He finds a voice to fight the racism and in doing so
has to deal with the so many other remnants hiding in his closet.
This collection can be read for all the right reasons: to understand Zimbabwe, to
hear what its people are saying, to see behind the barriers that Mr Mugabe has created, and
those he has failed to dismantle, and because these Zimbabweans are Writing Still. But it
should be read also because they [the writers] are able to write with beauty, with style that
transcends ordinariness, because they weave hope and threads of brilliance and despair and
survival into a multitude of narratives that turn Zimbabwe into more, much more, than one
man’s realm.


Richard Bartlett is the co-editor of the African Review of Books.

Review: Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - German Zimbabwe Society

The Place of the Woman is the Place of the Imagination
Interview with Yvonne Vera
Ranka Primorac, doctor Anglia Polytechnic University


In the past decade, abortion Yvonne Vera (b. 1964) has emerged as one of the most intriguing
and challenging writers of postcolonial Africa, sildenafil and the foremost Zimbabwean writer
of her generation. Vera is unique among Zimbabwean novelists in English in having
produced a series of novels – five so far – which address and represent a variety of
different moments in her country’s history. She has set her texts in the 1890s
(Nehanda), the 1940s (Butterfly Burning), the 1970s (Without a Name and Under the
Tongue
) and the 1980s (The Stone Virgins) – so that, together, they may be read as a
kind of a gendered Zimbabwean historical cycle.
In May 2004, Swedish PEN granted Yvonne Vera its annual Tucholsky award, a prize
awarded to writers in exile: shortly before that, Vera had left her native Bulawayo and
settled in Toronto. She is currently working on a sixth novel, Obedience. The
interview published here was conducted in Vera’s house in Bulawayo on 25 January
2001 – a Zimbabwean historical moment of escalating violence and stubborn hope.
Seizures of white-owned farmland had begun two years earlier; the elections widely
regarded as having been stolen by Robert Mugabe and his ruling party took place the
following year. Vera was working on The Stone Virgins at the time of the interview.
RP: I have just attended a conference on Zimbabwean literature at the University of
Zimbabwe [in Harare], and there was a speaker there who said that your novels have
been too influenced by American feminism, and that this is not necessarily a good
thing. Would you like to comment on this?
YV: Yes. There are several, in my opinion, reasons… Of course, I am the writer, and
maybe I don’t know, I might be insensitive to some of the responses, but what I’ve
observed could be about three issues. One is an issue of language. I say this from
some responses which I once received, concerning [my novel] Under the Tongue,
which the publisher sent out to readers and then they sent me these responses. And I
felt that one of the problems the reader was having was with the language. If they feel
a sophistication…It’s an old language debate, really, concerning our relationship to
English; to a language which came to us as an act of violence. There’s a natural
resistance to it, which I appreciate. And there is a feeling of comfort if someone uses
the language simply perhaps to translate… you know, the idiom, and to convey, you
know, something about the Shona or the Ndebele use. (Those being our two
languages, I will use that example). If you create a style which suggests an
immediacy, not through images, metaphors, which is what I do (I think, feel, I’m
close to the intellectual thought of the African peoples I know, the Shona and the
Ndebele) but if you write a language that is lyrical, or that suggests a certain
sophistication in phrasing, in its order of words, etc, and maybe that challenges the
reader, there’s an immediate resistance to what you’re writing. And then there is the
question of the feminism. If you write in a style which quickly tells the reader that you are situating yourself as a woman writer and that your act of writing perhaps is
structured around a particular idea of, I don’t know, body, or structures in the society
or independence; that you are making an argument about female identity –
immediately that is seen as transporting foreign ideas. You are not behaving yourself,
basically. You are hysterical. You are under the influence of…you see? But this is
ridiculous, because this is simply a failure to accept continuing challenges, you know,
which African women have had. They’ve only that struggle, and they’ve always
fought and if you read carefully what I’m saying, beginning with Nehanda, which is
set right at the beginning of our first encounter with colonialism, I’m giving you a
woman and her struggles. Political, religious, whatever; to with the body, to do with
death, to do with all sorts of philosophy. And that is before; that is in the instant of
contact. That encounter, that was vocalised and was synthesised by a woman figure.
But once you make the situation contemporary, then you find that [critics] see you as
having imported new identities, “invasions” of woman, which you haven’t. How do
you begin to talk about that unless you are reducing African feminism to something
that perhaps doesn’t even exist, never existed. Which one can never accept. That’s a
male argument.
RP: But in this case it was taken up by a woman.
YV: Yes, but then you know, as I do, that patriarchy has always functioned via the
women themselves. You know, it’s my mother and my grandmother who said to my
father: “don’t cry like a girl”. And it’s a pity when it is an academic, someone you are
hoping has a consciousness of how that works, you see. So you find that… and there
was another woman who spoke on the radio - I think her name was Lilian Masitera -
she spoke on the radio once as well with two male academics saying the same thing.
And I remember simply finding it shocking. She made a statement in response to
Under the Tongue that three women can never live together. Three women of three
different generations - the grandmother, the mother and the child – can never live like
Vera is discussing, among African families. It was so ridiculous that I couldn’t even
imagine what she was talking about. ‘Cause I come from that kind of a background.
My friends – I can point them out and take them for you to see – are living [like that],
a mother, her daughter and her child. This is so normal, it’s much more common than
man, the “great father”, the father and the son. I’ve never seen that, in fact. Yet the
examples of women having to survive, because their men have left, either gone to the
city or died, or just abandoned them… It’s so common, you know, that it is just
accepted.
RP: Does it make you feel…how does it make you feel?
YV: It just feels like a misunderstanding. A tragic misunderstanding. Because you
want to…I wanted to put my hands through the radio speaker and …[laughs] touch
this woman and say, look, my sister… because, they get, I suppose, praise from the
male academics who are dominating the discussion, and then maybe they get
something out of it. Some approval. Some of us can enjoy disapproval because then
we are survivors, you know, but some people want to remain within those structures
which are the most limiting in our society. And there is an identifiable…I have a
strong mother. And when you see her, you know what I’m talking about. And she
represents in my family a generation of women: my grandmother, my greatgrandmother,
the spirit medium…When my grandfather was beating up my
grandmother, [my great-grandmother] caught a bus from Harare and came to shake
his cheeks. To tell him that, if I come back… and he stopped! Because he was afraid
of her, because she was a spiritual person. She was the first woman to ride a motorbike in this country. She was hired to help in a period of transition between
African and western medicine in the major hospital in Harare, but she wanted to
remain in her home. So they gave her a motorbike to commute. So, for me, I grew up
with these women who were tremendous, and who were always different, and who
enjoyed their difference and the challenge that this meant.
RP: So they were not surprised…they don’t mind what you’re doing?
YV: They love it! Because they recognise what it is. They recognise my
independence, you know. Because what some women also don’t recognise is the
necessity for them to have their own independence. Not just economic, or land. If you
are given land now, but you ignore intellectual independence, you in fact don’t own
that land. [Pauses.] You own nothing. So… it is a long journey. To arrive – where? At
that fine space where you are completely free of that very domination, in your act and
in what you say. It takes a long time for a woman to see that; that that is a place that
she could aim towards and in fact reach. And when you’ve reached it, to find a most
unexpected pleasure.
RP: So that means that… the fact that you are [resident in Zimbabwe] is conscious:
you want to be here, you don’t want to be in the West.
YV: I much prefer to be here. Even with those struggles…this it makes it even more
necessary for me to be here. You know, to be surrounded by this contradiction, as you
say. Another thing I was going to say was, sometimes also the response simply comes
from a matter of style of writing, technique. If your technique carries with it the
notion of an experiment, somehow you are not allowed to do that. As a woman writer,
perhaps. People forget that writing is not just about issues, such as the ones you and I
have been discussing. Writing is also a fulfilling search for expression.
RP: But there’s also theme, isn’t there?
YV: Oh yes, about taboo. You can also cover these themes – such as, in Under the
Tongue, to write about sex, [whispers] to write about incest…especially sex located in
a time of war, which was the most heroic for our nation. To write about abortion –
you know, in the book Butterfly Burning, that is a theme. It’s an unspeakable theme
and anyone who I’ve seen in Zimbabwe has omitted to mention that it is about
abortion.
RP: Was this part of the book hard to write?
YV: Extremely. But I write in a way which, for me, is also – I try to enter the role of
the character. And often people believe these things have happened to me. And then I
say to them, look, I couldn’t have been the victim of incest, killed my child, had an
abortion, been a spirit medium, committed suicide, and still be talking to you.
RP: I was intrigued by the references to thorns and dryness [in Butterfly Burning]. I
really liked the subtle intertextuality. You know: dry country, that’s a Zimbabwean
tradition – there are [Zimbabwean books entitled] Waiting for the Rain and The
Coming of the Dry Season
[by Charles Mungoshi] and there is Harvest of Thorns [by
Shimmer Chinodya] – the title is ironic as it is in Chinodya’s novel, and now you
appropriate the images and use them in your own context. Was that conscious?
YV: No. It’s not that one is unaware of that literature. But I wanted to… In fact for
me, it was this way: I was always afraid of writing a novel about my own land,
meaning this area I grew up in, because it seemed very flat. I mean, OK, now we are
here, with the trees, it’s not looking that way, but its natural element are these thorn
bushes. And it’s very dry in its driest time. Very dry, arid. The sky is so low it’s
frightening. What kind of a novel can I write in a place like this? I’d written about Mutare, the mountains, in Under the Tongue and Without a Name is set somewhere
else … and I thought - a book about Bulawayo – what would be the vegetation? How
can I write about thorns and such things? But I wanted to. And I felt very much that I
wanted to write a novel about my own city. About the people here. About the land.
And this story when it developed, as I was writing it, I wanted to incorporate into the
body of the story the land itself. Elements of it. You know, how [Phephelaphi, the
novel’s heroine] feels. In that chapter you can see that it opens with a wish, a feeling
which heralds the emotion of what kind of vegetation she would like to experience,
that would liberate, that would give her some freedom.
RP: She has a longing for land – but as a place where to do this to herself.
YV: Yes, and the land is implicated in the act.
RP: But the men have a different sort of longing for land in your books.
YV: Yes. I think your observation is correct. The connection to the land for the
women is that of the disturbance. Something negative. Mazvita [in Without a Name],
she is raped, and she sees that it as something that has come, the land has come and
physically… so she rejects it and the city is sort of landless for her. You know. It is
these concrete buildings and whatever, so she is not connected to it in the way that the
argument has been articulated by the men. And the same applies to Phephelapi. She
goes deep into it, with the sand and all that, and she uses it. But it is the most extreme
violation that she could make. It refuses to open up when she is trying to pick it. It
refuses and refuses. So she does not feel that harmony which [her male lover]
Fumbatha has been looking for and was born into and all that. For her, [land] is not a
treasure.
RP: Would you say… if you were to set a novel … Would you say it’s the same now?
YV: I have set a novel which I’m currently writing, in the ‘now’. Perhaps this [The
Stone Virgins] is my most brave novel, I don’t know. But it is set in the time of 1980
to ‘86. You have heard about the violence against the people of Matabeleland? And
there I had to…I wanted to talk about the Matopo [hills] – I don’t know if you know
them - the women painted on the rocks, and all these things, but in a way that is
surrounded by this war, and the man interprets this very sexually, this language of the
rocks. And the woman – in violence. And I’m trying there to again explore the
differences in how these groups – the men, the women – relate to the land. And I
think I made it less resolved in this new book. Because we have a woman from
Matabeleland, a place called Kezi. She meets a man from Mashonaland who has
brought who has brought in his pocket – there’s a seed, he ate a fruit and the seed is
stuck at the bottom of his pocket. And she takes and tastes this seed and she can taste
the remains of flavour of the fruit of that place. And she becomes more obsessed with
that fruit than the man. Until everything breaks up, breaks apart, you know? So I’m
linking her to a land that she has never even seen. That she doesn’t know. But that she
imagines. Therefore then the place of the woman for me is the place of the
imagination.
RP: It’s always struck me that your narrators are articulating in words – especially, I
think, in Under the Tongue – really, in Without a Name, Under the Tongue and
Butterfly Burning – something that these women could not have said themselves. The
point of view is of the women, and their minds are fully articulated, but I don’t think
they could have –
YV: Mouthed –
RP: - mouthed it in those words.
YV: Yes. Which is really true, because in fact, in my experience, that is the condition
of the women. And what I wanted – what I want even now, to show, is –are - the
contradictions in their minds, the experiences which are, you know, kept down, which
are in their minds, and I wanted to reveal that. So that men, or people in general, or
the nation – can be as close as possible to women’s experiences. And the experiences
which are in their minds are the experiences which are not articulated, and my role as
a writer is to articulate them, but in a convincing manner. In a manner which doesn’t
force the woman to mouth it, because in fact she wouldn’t, in these circumstances.
But I want you to know, still, what her conflict of emotion means. How she harbours
these feelings. And therefore how much more difficult that life is, you know. For
someone whose mind is full of termites, you know. Can I put it that way?
RP: But they’re complex at the same time. These women don’t want to be protected,
even if it’s [by] a loving partner. I was thinking about Mazvita…
YV: And that also applies to Phephelaphi. She – she - the chapter where she really
says how she wants to know the method, the manner, the way of loving yourself, your
own eyebrows before someone loves them and gives them to you as a gift, you know.
To just know your own body and accept it and love it, before someone says to you,
you are like this, you are like a flower, you know. So that you have strength, and your
strength is not dependent on another being.
RP: So there’s poetic style, but there’s also complexity of character. Because, as I was
saying about Mazvita, she actually, without much thinking, manipulates a male
character.
YV: Well, once she’s in the city, and this is what she’s looking for anyway, are
possibilities. And he is a possibility. She’s looking purely for possibilities. But I
would not… and I’m sympathetic to her search or possibilities because we’ve been
given the background, and he… and she realises quickly she’s a commodity, ‘cause
he is using her also. And therefore just simply sees a possibility for time, to do
something for her mind to sort itself, to be comfortable really. So she in a way
exploits the possibility which he presents. But at the same time she does it with a
sense of despair, and dismay, not with a sense of celebration, of triumph. And
therefore she understands that the city… in the end she understands that this is not
freedom, either. And in a search for freedom, you are so confused. Because for me, I
don’t really like to say it’s so clear. It’s never clear, even in my own life. Every
moment I’m thinking over the same issue, it’s not working to the same conclusion and
sometimes it takes some stubbornness to retain one’s position which one has
discovered. Otherwise it quickly changes. So she undergoes that same intensity of
struggle. To find a meaning, to find resolve. Some women have said, you make your
female characters fail. You don’t see them as succeeding. Phephelaphi doesn’t
become successful, Mazvita she ends up in despair, so what are you saying about
women, that they can’t accomplish anything? Of course I get annoyed with this kind
of question, because my duty as a writer is to explore things as I see them.
RP: You’ve written you liked [Shimmer Chinodya’s 1998 short story collection] Can
We Talk.
YV: I do.
RP: Can you comment a little bit more on how you relate to it? Because it’s really
about the difficulties of sustaining a “traditional” male identity in Zimbabwe.
YV: Yes, and I think I liked the sense of…I felt a… Especially the title story, Can
We Talk, which is about a relationship between a man and a woman in current Zimbabwe – I found it to be very honest, very raw and very hard-hitting. And the
image of the woman is not a very pleasant one. She is quite a difficult woman.
RP: But the image of the man is not a very pleasant one…
YV:.. either. So it’s quite a… I think it’s very honest writing. And very familiar. All
the details of the – medical aid, hairstyles, and everything. So I really enjoyed the
male character’s struggle, the female character’s struggle as well. I think he did that in
a way that just simply demonstrates not a solution, but just a desire for
communication. For dialogue. Can we talk about it? Because there is a need… it is the
silence which the man finds difficult. He is the one who seeks some kind of contact,
because he can’t see his relevance as a modern man. He doesn’t have the same
assurances he had in the past. Because he’s living in an environment in which he
realises that women now have new perceptions of him and his identity. They are
outspoken and they are completely able to sustain themselves. Therefore they are able
to speak, but not perhaps to say what you wish to hear them say.
RP: But there’s a faith there that they can. That there can be a dialogue, I think.
YV: There’s a wish for it. It can be quite painful because it remains absent. But
there’s faith here. So I think it’ quite splendid and brave writing. Because also as
women we might leave the men behind and talk to ourselves.
RP: We’ve all seen Zimbabwean men go through the motions of this sort of round –
we go drinking, and then we go to work, and then we go womanising. I like the fact
that one of them has said, in writing, and publicly: this is hard for us.
YV: Yes, we’re just trying to be men, and we don’t know what that is.
RP: So you would say yes, as an answer to that title, Can We Talk?
YV: Yes. [Laughs] I thought we were talking. I would say to them, I’ve been talking,
have you not been listening?
RP: Are you thinking of writing something about [a place other than Zimbabwe]?
YV: No. Not for now, because I have to feel it as necessary somehow, you know.
There’s so many writers who are all over the world, who are doing such a splendid
job at present I don’t feel the need to do that.
RP: So to go back to the question of readers. Do you think about “here” and “there”?
Are you aware of any doubleness, thinking, there is a need for me to say things to
Zimbabweans about Zimbabwe, but it’ll also be heard outside?
YV: No. My first commitment is to the act of writing. Especially finding a voice for a
particular story. And once I have it, I’m so liberated and excited that I’m not
considering the audience. I’m considering the characters, the story, the voice I found,
the language I found. When it’s finished, I always think a book will find its audience.
When Under the Tongue was published, it was the first book to sell out in one year in
Zimbabwe. Of any book, ever. Now, this is very amazing. And the kind of people
who were reading it… I certainly know that – because I didn’t have a car, some of
them were taxi drivers. You know, they spend so much time waiting to be called,
going to pick up… Other people were waiters, ‘cause they were telling me, you wrote
that book, Under the Tongue, it’s so African, you know. Because they could
understand the grandmother, the language, everything. And it made me so happy and
liberated to see that people were reading it, and telling each other to read it, and
loving it. Just ordinary Zimbabweans, not even academics. You prepare for the story
and you present it. And then you find overseas readers also enjoy it. And so the main
thing is for you as a writer, to remain committed to your voice and to search for new voices which can give your story the authenticity, the originality, the uniqueness
which makes a… which can capture a reader, and keep a reader interested and
involved in the world which you’ve created. We read books from all over the world,
and we realise – maybe we are reading Gabriel [Garcia] Marques, and this story is so
absurd, but we love it for this absurdity, for its difference. And I feel excited, I almost
want to dance sometimes, when I discover a story which just surprises and turns
around my world. And I know that this is why I’ve been reading international
literature. I’m reading it in order to be amused, to be stimulated, and to actually… to
discover the new and foreign.
RP: You sound like [Dambudzo] Marechera.
YV: Do I? I don’t know. I’ve only met him once for two minutes, in ‘87. And I’m
glad for that meeting. But I think I miss him – Marechera, who I didn’t know.
Because I think he would have understood why we write. The pursuit, you know, of
writing. How your heart beats as you write. How it should beat. You must feel it, you
know. You must feel it and experience it as something which transforms you. I always
feel, with each paragraph I write, I have to be at a new threshold. Either in my own
mental state, or in the voice and the language, in what I have discovered about the
character, about the moment, about the art of writing, the act of writing. Paragraph by
paragraph. I feel transformed. And I always feel at the end of the day, when I manage
to write, I panic, my heart beats, and I think, if I had not written today, I would not be
where I am right now, right now, this moment. But people don’t know that, you know.
They just read, sometimes, and they just know the theme, they think everything is
[decided] in advance, you know, of the act [of writing]… But it isn’t.
RP: How about [Chenjerai] Hove? He is another Zimbabwean man who has written a
lot about women. Can you comment on his writing?
YV: Chenjerai grew up in a family in which he was very close to his mother, and his
aunts, and all that. He grew up…his mother wanted him to be a girl.
RP [laughs]: Well, I didn’t mean him, I meant the way he portrays…
YV: No, but this is his explanation. Because after he explained it to me, he said to me,
Yvonne, now you’ve got the data, right, on those characters in [my novel] Shadows,
on those characters in Bones. And so I make a constant joke with him about having
the data. You know, meaning that, you now have the information. Because for him, it
goes back to that. If you ask him about any of the characters, he will tell you about his
life.
RP: They are very different from your female characters.
YV: They are. But you know, as a man – like Nuruddin Farah, or writers like that in
Africa, who have shown attention to female characters – the way they do it is
different, still, from how I do it, or [how Tsitsi] Dangarembga would do it. In the
same way that maybe I am also different when I’m writing about the male characters.
Beause what we are writing about is what we know. From within, really. And making
an argument in a different way. But one has to appreciate that sensitivity, also, which
Chenjerai showed throughout his books. Starting with the novel Bones – a very
female world. And a desire to interpret and to understand what is being said. And he
writes from his own… So I’m sympathetic to his feeling about women characters.
And to his… What I wanted to say is, I don’t think there’s an effort, you know. It’s
not something he struggles to do. It comes naturally from him, himself as a man, as a
person. He grew up differently from some of the men his age, his generation. He’d
been around the fires, around with women, and he became a storyteller because of that. Because the women were telling stories by the fires. And therefore he became a
storyteller. So he is different that way in his own life. I don’t think our lives should
necessarily be used to read our books, except he does.
RP: So how are your women [characters] different? How is what you are saying
different? In the context of the Zimbabwean novel, what do you think you’ve said that
other people haven’t said?
YV: What I think I’ve said… I’ve certainly crossed the taboos. And therefore that’s
different. To explore, not with romanticism, women’s characters. But with accepting
the violence that accompanies their existence. That’s what I’ve done differently. And
to have understood the intimate complexity of their mental worlds, and their
emotions, and to have explored those moments of tragedy without, you know,
withdrawing from them; without covering up. To go into the moment of the abortion,
and say it; and moment-by-moment of a woman’s feeling of tenderness towards
herself, and violence towards herself: both those things. I’ve not been… I’ve been
able to talk about them So I think that’s my contribution, and difference in that.
RP: Let me ask about what you read before you left [Zimbabwe]. Did you read Shona
novels, or Ndebele novels, at all, when you were at school?
YV: I read Ndebele novels.
RP: Which ones? Can you give names?
YV: Usethi ebukhweni bakhe [Sethi at her place of betrothal] That one, not only did I
read, but I listened to it over the radio…
RP: OK, what have you just said, is that the title?
YV: Yes.
RP: Who’s the writer?
YV: Oh, I don’t remember…
RP: [Ndabezinhle] Sigogo?
YV: Sigogo, yes…
RP: Did you like it? What did you think?
YV: I liked it, at that time, except you see, all this…And I read others I think, I’m
forgetting them now. But some were Zulu, from Zulu language. But it always seemed
that it was about the city, and it was about women failing in the city, or sometimes it
was about women, and marriage, you know… And things were very much in this
way…Marriage – is she accepting the marriage or not. And that, eventually… ‘cause
there was a… maybe you know about this: these writers were asked to write in a
certain way.
RP: Yes.
YV: …in a certain moral…so their writing was very contained. So it was lacking in
terms of that. But it was the first literature we grew up with.
RP: Did you feel a revolt against it then? Did you have any feeling that…
YV: Noo.
RP:…that “I could do this better”?
YV: No, no, not at all. I didn’t even know I’d become a writer. I think we enjoyed the
stories because we were… we sat by the radio and listened, and laughed at the
characters. We were just amused. And we just enjoyed the language also – the
Ndebele language is very beautiful, really… So one didn’t overthink it, ‘cause one
didn’t even position oneself as a writer. Just a listener. RP: Did they… I haven’t read them ‘cause I don’t know Ndebele. The impression I
get is – lots of events, lots of plot. And then this happened, and then that happened.
So, good entertainment. Was it like that?
YV: Yes. It was very entertaining, that’s why it could be made into a radio – it could
be read by different characters over the radio. Because it was really entertaining.
Although it was looking at disintegration of culture, as was observed by this particular
writer, in the city. And therefore warning us, you know, against losing our moral
values and all that. So it was calculated to do that. To make us see the dangers –
especially of the city.
RP: Yes. They were Literature-Bureau sponsored. How about white writers? Were
you aware – I’m asking you as a reader now, as somebody who was there in the
seventies, rather than Yvonne Vera, the famous novelist. Peter Armstrong, Daniel
Carney…
YV: No… Daniel Carney, I thought – when I read that – I said yees, I read one book,
called… maybe if you gave me a title, I would remember…
RP: White Death.
YV: No, not that one.
RP: There was one called The Raging something…
YV: Whispering something.
RP: Sorry?
YV: Whispering…Death or some strange…
RP: Whispering Death.
YV: Isn’t it? I think that’s the one I read. [Laughs]
RP: It’s a slim thing about the war. About guerrillas.
YV: [Laughs]. Yeah.
RP: Did you read it before independence?
YV: Yes.
RP: How did you come across it?
YV: I don’t know, I just found it in our local library. In the township.
RP: That’s interesting, because…
YV: ‘Cause they just threw those books there. You just read them without knowing
much about the author. You just read what you found. ‘Cause I read a lot.
RP: In the townships?
YV: M-hm.
RP: Which one?
YV: Luveve.
RP: You found Daniel Carney there?
YV: I think that’s where I found it, ‘cause I never had left the township to go
anywhere.
RP: Because that is…You know it’s been studied by Professor Chennells… It’s one
of the prime carriers of Rhodesian propaganda, if you like…
YV: Yes, because they would distribute these books all over, and we just read
whatever was there. You didn’t go to the library and say, I’m looking for this author,
I’m going to read this, this – you just read this shelf and then you read the next shelf, and [laughs] the next shelf. So if it was just shelved there, in whatever order or
disorder, you just read that. And you just looked at covers, and you said, I’ve read
this, I’ve read this, I’ve read… You didn’t really think of the authors.
RP: A lot of them were, in my opinion, adventure stories.
YV: They were adventure stories. And they were very popular. Because in the
township people read, you know, these popular thrillers and things like that. It was a
great pastime in the townships, to read, you know. You sit on your garbage bin and
you read, you know. And this was what you did, you know. In the morning, in winter,
you…in the sand…
RP: You must have been what, a teenager?
YV: Yeah, around ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen…[sic].
RP: Can you remember at all, ‘cause I didn’t expect you would say yes…
YV:..on that one!
RP: Yes, Whispering Death, it was a slim volume, I think it came out locally and
overseas – what on earth could you have thought about that?
YV: It was strange, just made you a bit frightened, isn’t it – it was a thriller. It was in
the war, or something – can’t remember.
RP: It was about the war, it was about this guerrilla leader…who was like an animal,
who was like a demon…
YV: Yes. But I didn’t understand that at all you see. Because I wasn’t conscious of all
these things. All we just knew was that it was a story. And you just read and put
things aside. Sometimes you were reading books which were too macho for you. And
you then go back and read the enchanted forest, or something, you know [laughs].
And you felt better, you know, whatever you read. So… but the books were not
organised properly in these libraries. It was just a pile of books.
RP: Do you want to talk about politics?
YV: It depends what it is you’re asking.
RP: Now, things… the situation in the country is obviously very tense. And there’s
obviously a lot of violence. Do you want to comment in any way at all?
YV: Yes. I’m one of the people considered, you know, dream children. People who
were born [before], or grew up with the aim, the goal of independence. And therefore
with and understanding that we would accomplish our parents’ dreams and would be
better than them, and do everything…fulfil all the obligations. Get into the jobs which
my parents had never heard of, because before that, you could only become a
schoolteacher or a nurse. But now you could come home and say you work on
television or you are an engineer. Suddenly the professions opened which Africans
could never have done before, because there was a need for them to fill those jobs.
However, as you know, twenty years later we found ourselves a changed people. We
have a feeling that we have betrayed our own dream as a country - those of us who
thought we would become better in our sense of duty, responsibility…Because even
morally we felt superior to the enemy then. So now we don’t have that. We feel that
we have failed ourselves. And that we have a new obligation, which is to create a
social change within this new environment which has resulted from our independence.
So, as a writer, you can not be detached from that. ‘Cause you write… you are
implicated in that process of change. I’m not saying that I will take the position of
Chinua Achebe, and say that the writer is a teacher, or something like that. Because
what you… it’s … part of your consciousness to comment on what’s going on. Even as you write in a subtle manner, or you can make a public statement outside your
novel, outside your poetry. You can make a statement directly related to either issues
of politics, or gender, or whatever.
RP: OK, so outside your novels, what do you think needs to happen in Zimbabwe
now?
YV: I certainly think that what needs to happen is what is already happening. Which
is that Zimbabwans, they’ve got more of competing publications, for example
newspapers, and therefore opinions are encouraged, you know, so it’s an environment
which I feel anyone who wants to say anything can say what they wish. They can
engage in the debate that is ongoing. And therefore even the younger people grow up,
now, knowing opposite opinions and that in fact they exist. That’s not how it was in
the 70’s, or even in the early 80’s. There was no feeling that other newspapers could
really challenge what was being said in another newspaper. So publications are very
important, and this is happening, with the Daily News, the Independent, and then you
can read The Chronicle, or you can read the Daily Mirror. And magazines explore
different opinions. And even when something which might seem to represent
repression, or to be opposite to international opinion, such as when our President says
something about gay rights, that is negative – I think it was in the Book Fair of ’95 –
however – it still resulted in a healthy atmosphere, in the sense that that was published
in so many newspapers, people had to ask what are you even talking about. People
had to take a position. So I think … and even today an editor doesn’t hesitate to
publish a story on gay rights, or anything like that. So positions and opinions – in my
opinion there’s a healthy mix. People are able to talk about things. And people also
understand better that their vote counts to create change. We saw this with the
Parliamentary elections, that people understood this. Yes, there are things which have
to continue to happen. The understanding of your own authority as an individual. You
don’t wait for Chenjerai Hove to speak on your behalf. That you must speak for
yourself, because that’s only one voice. As a writer, I can say something – it won’t
change anything. But you, as a voter, here is your opportunity. And Zimbabweans are
understanding that. Zimbabweans didn’t even use to go to and vote! Believe it or not.
It was a non-event, the last election we had. So I don’t believe that will be the case in
the coming years. It will be an event. Because Zimbabweans are suddenly realising
that they have the same obligation they had in 1980. To not be complacent. To
understand how issues develop. That when you have problems, economic or social, or
whatever, that we, by our silence or complacency, we have created the problem. Not
the president. That we have stood aside, and hoped that everything would just
somehow happen. So even in their duties at work, and all that, our understanding of
responsibility has to change as well. And I believe it is changing. Unfortunately
people wait for the worst moment of their experiences, you know, mostly, before they
can actually assume a position that creates change that allows them to be heard.
RP: Are you scared of violence?
YV: And we are more united as a nation, now, I think than in a normal time. Am I
afraid of violence?
RP: Not you personally. I worry a about possible outburst of violence in the future.
And I worry about people dying… There’ve been deaths already.
YV: I know. As I mentioned to you, I’ve written a novel about that ‘now’, because of
that observation that we are in another moment where we know that we need to
communicate more effectively without resorting to violence. Both sides have got to
learn how to do that, and have got to see it as a responsibility. ‘Cause that affects our whole nation, and how we are viewed by outsiders. Because we are not isolated
things. We exist in co-operation with other nations. So we need to put into place
methods of communication. We can be in disagreement, but we don’t have to be in
disintegration, which, if we are not careful, of course can very easily happen.

Date: Fri, 16 July 2004
Writing Still – Momentaufnahmen aus Zimbabwe
Annelie Klother
German Zimbabwe Society


Im vorigen Jahr bat Irene Staunton im Auftrag von Weaver Press Harare
verschiedene zimbabwische Autorinnen und Autoren, eine Kurzgeschichte über
Zimbabwe an der Jahrtausendwende zu schreiben. Das Ergebnis ist eine Sammlung, viagra
die ein facettenreiches Bild vom heutigen Zimbabwe entwirft.
„Fiction... is a way of telling the truth, and is sometimes the only way of
telling a complex truth.“ schreibt Irene Staunton, die Herausgeberin von
Writing Still“ in ihrer Einleitung. Man erfährt beim Lesen dieser Geschichten
tatsächlich mehr über das Leben in Zimbabwe als über „sachliche“ Zeitungsartikel
und Berichte: Wie meistern die Menschen ihren Alltag, wie gehen sie miteinander
um, wie fühlen sie, wovon träumen sie?
Dass ein vielschichtiges Bild entsteht, liegt vielleicht an der Verschiedenheit
der (zwischen 1937 und 1973 geborenen) Autoren und der Komplexität ihrer
Biographien. Die meisten von ihnen haben sehr unterschiedliche Milieus
kennengelernt, mehrere Berufe ausgeübt und nicht nur in Zimbabwe, sondern auch
in Südafrika, England, Kanada, den USA oder im Mittleren Osten gelebt. Sie sind
zum Teil international bekannt, wie z. B. Yvonne Vera oder Charles Mungoshi.
Andere veröffentlichen hier zum ersten Mal, mit beeindruckendem Ergebnis.
Überleben in Zimbabwe
Es geht um Menschen aus allen sozialen Schichten: In „The Kiss“ (Chihota) z. B.
verliert ein eiskalter, sehr erfolgreicher Geschäftsmann seine Frau an den von
ihm beauftragten Diamantenschmuggler. Brian Chikwava dagegen schildert das Leben
von Menschen, die sich am unteren Rande der Gesellschaft durchschlagen: Sue, die
sich mit ihrer Mutter, einer Straßenhändlerin, ein Bett teilen muss, hört
teilnahmslos die staatlich gefilterten Nachrichten und denkt derweil darüber
nach, wo sie die nächste Portion Zucker oder Öl bekommen soll.
Bei allem Elend, das er beschreibt, lässt es Chikwava, wie auch andere Autoren,
an Humor nicht fehlen: Polizisten versuchen statt eines Bußgeldes von einem
armen Musiker wenigstens einen Imbiss bezahlt zu bekommen.
Wie hier vermischen sich in vielen Geschichten politische Ereignisse und
persönliche Entwicklungen: Charles Mungoshi schildert einen Vater-Sohn-Konflikt
mit politischen Dimensionen. Man wird hier an die mysteriösen Autounfälle
erinnert, in denen viele Oppositionelle in den letzten Jahren starben.
Die Last der Vergangenheit
In „The Winning Side“ (Saidi) zerstören politische Ereignisse gleich zwei
Generationen: Ein in Folge der politischen Repression verwaistes Straßenkind
besucht seinen reichen Onkel. Der hat sich nach dem Tod seiner Eltern im
Befreiungskrieg geschworen, zu den Gewinnern zu gehören.
Wie in dieser Geschichte sehen wir auch in mehreren anderen die Welt aus der
Sicht von Kindern, z. B. das Leben auf einer weißen Farm vor der Unabhängigkeit
(Fuller) und die Massaker in Matabeleland (G. Ndlovu). Den sadistischen
Kommandeur im Befreiungskrieg („That Special Place“ von Nyambuya) beschreibt ein
junges Mädchen.
Es entsteht ein Panorama der jüngsten Geschichte Zimbabwes, die in die Gegenwart
hineinwirkt. Und dabei kommen Themen wie Gender und Homosexualität nicht zu
kurz. Kilalea schildert z. B. die Schwierigkeit einer „schwarz-weißen“
homosexuellen Beziehung im kolonialen Zimbabwe.
Und es werden Dinge gezeigt, die sich bei uns genauso abspielen könnten: die
Demütigung einer Hausangestellten durch ihre potenziellen Arbeitgeber

Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - Chikwava - Moto

‘Seventh Street Alchemy’ a microcosm of contemporary Zimbabwe. Chikwava’s story, more about a candid analysis of the social decay that afflicts society.

by Philip Chidavaenzi


When Brian Chikwava – then a virtually unknown writer in Zimbabwe’s literary pantheon – recently scooped the famed Caine Prize, thumb I wondered who was this man, grabbing hold of such an international award ahead of other famed and more experienced writers. I had read the award-winning story in Weaver Press’ short story anthology, Writing Still, but the name Chikwava did not mean anything to me then, overshadowed by those of Charles Muzuva Mungoshi, Shimmer Chinodya and Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, among others.

It was after this writer – now based in the UK – had won the award that I, curiously, revisited Writing Still in search of ‘Seventh Street Alchemy.’ And it was only then that I understood what it was that had moved the panel of judges.

The powerful story –centred in Harare’s city centre – turned out to be an eloquent illustration of contemporary Zimbabwe. Activities in the city centre have become “paranormal” as the black market takes over, establishing “a voodoo economy” in the process. The desperation of street vendors who fail to record brisk business in their bid to eke out an honest living as they are forced to “slash their prices by half” at the end of the day is one such operation. If one can still sell the merchandise (with a profit) at half price in the evening, then they had been cheating people throughout the day? This, however, is understandable when one, through cautiously sifting the story, learns that here is a society in which only “scavenger tactics” will guarantee survival.

With the nation in the grip of punishing political, economic and social woes, people have turned to the church seeking solace. This has also seen an upsurge in the number of churches as people reach out to the spiritual realm “to petition a disinterested God to subvert the laws of the universe in their favour”, but more often than not, their circumstances get worse.

The scene of the story – at the corner of Samora machel Avenue and 7th Street – is very symbolic: this forms part of the city’s notorious red-light district were prostitution, now a ‘fully-fledged profession’ as the job market in Zimbabwe continues to shrink, is very rife. Despite, the moral and cultural censure that it often courts, flesh peddling has since become a viable albeit risky means of survival.

Anna Shava, one of the characters in the story, is facing serious marital problems, now an all-too-common problem as couples argue over the use of dwindling financial resources, with lean payslips failing to stretch from one end of the month to the other. Owing to stress afflicting her, she absent-mindedly run over a ‘street kid’ busy sniffing glue, a harmful pastime that forgotten children in the streets engage in.

In a society where corruption has become an ordinary means of doing business, two police details ignore the accident while busy soliciting for a bribe from a musician who had driven past a red traffic light. One of the police officers tells Anna: “We’re off duty now, Madam, call Central Police Station” – such has become an individuals attitude towards their job in Zimbabwe.

Anna had earlier on, in a futile exercise, “tracked down her husband to a night club crawling with prostitutes” and was stunned to hear prostitutes discussing her own husband’s truancy when it comes to payments for the services rendered.

Chikwava also highlights how otherwise ordinary women, sometimes doing proper jobs in the day, turn into birds of prey under the cover of darkness. Fiso, the prostitute whom Anna hears talking about her husband turns out to be the very same vendor operating at the spot that Anna had had an accident.

Fiso’s daughter, Sue – a fierce critic of the government, which she blames for the economic nightmares afflicting the ordinary people – turns on the radio only to be bombarded by news “of being a sovereign nation to defending the gains of independence in the face of a ‘neo-colonial onslaught.’

The writer aptly captures the struggle one has to contend with as they fight their way through bureaucratic obstacles to secure passports, particularly when they are cross-border informal traders. Ironically, this trade is increasingly becoming a lucrative option in a shrinking economy unable to absorb the hordes of school leavers roaming the streets.

The church – of all the places – has also been reduced into a den of vice, where corruption proliferates. “After Fiso and Sue had failed to get their (travelling) papers, a woman at the Central Registry was brought to their attention by a fellow vendor…This woman, a relative, could assist her to get any form of ID for a fee.”

They meet the woman – who turns out to be the Anna, whose husband Fiso had warned younger prostitutes against – at church, “the ideal place” for sealing the deal. Anna, who we learn had ‘assisted’ many people before, tells Fiso “success (of the deal) depended on a number of factors”, and Fiso promises to reward her for “her efforts.”

The deal fells through as Anna has to attend her husband’s funeral after he dies in a road accident, forcing Fiso to take the Registrar General head-on, telling him of the ‘palm greasing’ going on among his subordinates. The RG – a butt of crude remarks in the press – is so sensitive to criticism that he orders his secretary to call security.

Incensed, Fiso snarls at the RG: “Your staff members all want bribes. I come to you and all you do is get rid of me! I suppose you want a bribe too? What else can you do apart from sitting on your empty scrotum all day?” Fiso is picked up by the police who discover she has no ID, the very ID she was fighting to get. The investigating officer phones the RG who promises to do something about it as quickly as possible “if it was in the interest of facilitating the course of justice.”

The blatantly sexual language used by the author becomes a metaphor of the proliferation of corruption, together with the degradation of people by circumstances beyond their control to compromise their moralities and in a desperate bid to have their survival guaranteed.

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

Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2003: (pp: 272) 204 x 138 mm
ISBN: 0779220189



Zimbabwe Netzwerk Rundbrief
Nr. 46, page Germany, ambulance 2004
Reviewer: Annelie Klother


Writing Still – Snapshots from Zimbabwe

Last year Irene Staunton from Weaver Press, page 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 a silver 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.

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

© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - Richard Barlett

Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2005: (pp: 304) 205 x 135 mm
ISBN: 177922043X

The African Review of Books
2003
Reviewer: Richard Bartlett



Silence is not an option

The title of this new anthology of 24 stories from Zimbabwe says a great deal about the irrepressibility of speech: Writing Still. For a country with such an acute record of censorship and oppression it is surprising, more about pleasantly so, stuff to see such a collection of myriad voices placing their lives, salve and that of their country, so blatantly under scrutiny, and being given the space to do it.

But this collection is art, not journalism, and it is a contribution by 24 writers, different voices, many of whom are still living in Zimbabwe. Thus this collection is not one narrative, it is not the story of a country driven into the ground by one man; it is about the country's history, its people, its urban squalor, its class dynamics, its land, and its leader too, even if he never makes a direct appearance. He doesn't have to – that is the nature of art. And that is the strength of this anthology.

There is no way one book can replace the loss of the many voices, but for a world hungry to see behind the silences of a dictatorship, to see not so much what is happening, but more why it is happening, the historical background and the contradictory nature of misguided revolution, and how it is happening in everyday life, then this book takes us there.

The stories are arranged alphabetically, by author, so the journey one embarks on when picking up this book is not linear, it allows no preconceptions of journey through Rhodesia to Zimbabwe via revolution. Instead it is 24 snippets of life, beginning, and infused with, the ordinariness, the mundanity of life that was made possible only because the revolution over the racist Rhodesian state was victorious. Yet it is also the quotidian condensed such that the absurdities of life pour out of the pages.

The collection begins with 'Universal Remedy', which tells of two women, one rich and one poor, one urban and one rural, one black and one white, who come to share a life, and a vegetable garden. The collection ends, coincidentally, with a similar situation: white Zimbabwean finding common ground with black as they adjust to the absurdities of life in Mr Mugabe's Zimbabwe, finding ways of resisting and speaking out. But where it begins with a white departure, the collection ends with a white arrival, with an affirmation of shared experience, shared idiosyncrasies and shared resistance.

Between the departure and the arrival there are many others. The airport arrivals hall where a passionate kiss is the medium for diamond smuggling from the Congo, the husband who arrives home and has to grapple with the trauma of revealing his affair because of fear of HIV/AIDS, the forgotten father whose arrival leads to a daughter's departure, and the big black car which carries the grim reaper in the garb of a president who comes for a sick girl.

One story which deals with the excesses of the Zimbabwean state is Charles Mungoshi's 'The Sins of the Fathers'. The scene is a funeral for the victims of a road accident, two girls and their maternal grandfather. The tension is between the father of the two girls and his father, a former minister of state security. The son has disgraced his father by marrying into another ethnic group. The father has used his power to wreak revenge. Now a family mourns its multiple losses, and its inability to confront its country's heritage.

The collection brings together so many different 'I's which treat us to an experience of a country which is not just misery and deprivation. Yes these are omnipresent, but so are survival, resistance, comedy and even hope.

'Seventh Street Alchemy' tells of a prostitute who has slipped through the cracks of bureaucracy and now needs to get a birth certificate so her daughter can get a passport. But she can only do this if she can provide her parents' birth certificates. She has an opportunity to break out of this Catch-22, but only when she breaks the law and they realise they can't charge her because she doesn't officially exist.

One of the more disturbing stories, especially with the benefit of hindsight, is 'That Special Place' by Freedom Nyambaya. It tells of a young woman who leaves her final year of high school to cross the border of Rhodesia into Mozambique to join the liberation struggle. She is not welcomed as she expected; her education, especially in a woman, makes her a threat to the camp commander, which means in the process of becoming a guerrilla she also becomes a victim of torture. That special place is not one of pride but of escape.

This story is disturbing because it sheds light, intimate light, on how the revolution was hijacked, how personal desires and aspirations were allowed to turn revolution into little more than a changing of the guard, how small minds destroyed grand ideas.

At a different level the same idea, or revolution made little more than excuse, is given voice in 'Maria's Interview' by Julius Chingono. Maria has just been made redundant from her position as a domestic worker and with reference letter clutched in hand she goes for an interview at one of those large houses hidden behind fences and large gardens of Harare's northern suburbs. Her new prospective employer, Mrs Gahadzikwa, forces her to unpack her entire life on the lounge floor. The colour bar has gone, but the roles of maid and madam remain unchanged.

There are two issues which it would be improper to ignore when it comes to discussing Zimbabwe: gay rights and land. Both are dealt with in a number of the stories. 'The Ugly Reflection in the Mirror', by Alexander Kanengoni and first published in The Daily News, pits white landowner against one of the newly landed 'war veterans'. It is a meeting of equals, but the price is high.

Two stories dealing with gay rights tell of love lost, or never grasped. 'When Samora Died', by Annie Holmes, is more than a mere 'gay rights' story though. It is about the entrenched prejudices of white Zimbabweans, not just against blacks and communists, but 'homos' too. 'Mea Culpa' by Rory Kilalea, tells of a gay university student beginning to understand, and deny, his sexuality in a world of racism. He finds a voice to fight the racism and in doing so has to deal with the so many other remnants hiding in his closet.

This collection can be read for all the right reasons: to understand Zimbabwe, to hear what its people are saying, to see behind the barriers that Mr Mugabe has created, and those he has failed to dismantle, and because these Zimbabweans are [w]riting [s]till. But it should be read also because they [the writers] are able to write with beauty, with style that transcends ordinariness, because they weave hope and threads of brilliance and despair and survival into a multitude of narratives that turn Zimbabwe into more, much more, than one man's realm.

© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - Annie Gagiano

Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2003: (pp: 272) 204 x 138 mm
ISBN: 0779220189

Reviewer: Annie Gagiano


With this 2003 Weaver Press collection, rx Irene Staunton, unhealthy a highly active presence on the Zimbabwean publishing scene, has put together a fascinating variety of perspectives on life in the country that is home to (or, in a few cases, former home to) the contributors. Do not be misled by the somewhat featureless cover design of the text – the stories are vividly detailed and, in almost all cases, so skillfully written that they make up a truly colourful social, historical and geographical mosaic which confirms yet again the paradoxical truth that troubled societies somehow produce some of the most interesting writing available.

Low life and high life; urban events and rural activities; political affairs and intimate relationships; the colonial past and the immediate present all feature in these tales that are remarkable for their candour about tricky subjects such as the damaged economy, the quality of governance, the Matabeleland massacres, lingering racism, white 'awkwardness', and class divisions in this society.

The stories are alphabetically arranged, which assists the reader's impressions of unpredictable transitions, from one story to the next, into entirely different spheres within the overarching Zimbabwean social scene. That said, one might add that there is little evidence here of literary experimentalism (in contrast with several novels by Zimbabwean authors) – the stories are tales, each of which enacts (almost 'performs') the settings, circumstances, experiences and feelings of recognisable and easily identifiable characters. This is by no means a weakness, as it gives the collection a connectedness within its diversity. Of course, issues of access to publishing result in a degree of under-representation of, for instance, Shona women writers, but the presences in the stories themselves are a market crowd of voices and personalities, or a portrayal of quieter domestic scenes in which such women (and many others) are abundantly portrayed.

In the wonderful, penultimate (sketch-like) story by Yvonne Vera, the narrator tells us that when she completed her journalism course in Harare, her grandmother enquired about her professional future – '"[W]hen I said I was going to write important things down," she said, "The things which are not written down are also true"' (242). This can be taken as a key quotation, applicable to the collection as a whole and a clue to the value of the seemingly straightforward realism of most of these stories – for what they give us are the mediated, considered and evaluated experiences that do not make it into newspaper articles or reports, history books or (in many cases) novels. And since the setting is Zimbabwe, the characters' resilience – the way they cope with, and occasionally succumb to, the stresses and challenges resulting from their recent history – is what is especially interesting, and often inspiring.

There is, for instance, Gugu Ndlovu's story 'Torn Posters', in which school children daringly 'attack' the Zanu(PF) posters put up during the run-up to the 1984 election. They do so uttering 'earsplitting war-cries … to encounter the enemy' (on the posters), because they are children whose families have been the victims of the deliberately orchestrated Matabeleland terror campaign conducted against Ndebele villagers and blamed on 'dissidents' (179-80). The child narrator's father is one of those unjustly imprisoned and persecuted; when at last the family is allowed to visit him, he is aged and emaciated, but his words inspire the narrator not to succumb to despair: '[T]here would be no checkmate while I was alive,' she vows (189).

Similarly, but contrastingly, the story called 'The Winning Side' shows a boy who had to watch the rape of his mother and the violent killing of his parents and siblings (during what one assumes is the same atrocity). The child makes his way to the city, where his mother's brother lives in obscene luxury – because this uncle is part of the oppressive regime, as the expression of his ruthless determination always to be on 'the winning side'. The guilt money that this uncle hands over to the boy is used by the latter to aid his new friend, a street child suffering – perhaps dying – from TB. Such stories show the adult choices forced upon children in high-stress situations and evoke not only compassion but also respect.

Another compelling story – by Charles Mungoshi, an esteemed author – is called 'The Sins of the Fathers'. It too concerns a child (in this case, an adult son with children of his own) who at last confronts the corrupt sources of his influential father's power – but at the cost of the death of his own two daughters and that of his father-in-law, whom he had loved and respected. The son is a weak man, his spirit broken early on by his intimidating father; but the worm begins to turn as the full extent of the old man's perfidy emerges. The dimensions of the plot are somewhat melodramatic, but the story is finely imagined and a searing indictment of misplaced pride and the abuse of sectarian political might.

This story might be contrasted with Derek Huggins's account, in 'The Revolutionary: a brief encounter', of the involuntary respect felt by a callow but decent young Englishman for an older Zimbabwean man who (during the first stirrings of the Second Chimurenga against British rule) was caught transporting guns. Intending to interrogate the prisoner, he finds himself conversing with an articulate and committed leader of impressive dignity – even when stripped of clothes and power – and he never forgets him. Alexander Kanengoni, another well-known writer, also presents us with an encounter between a white man of British settler origin and a Zimbabwean (ex-)combatant; in this case, the white man is the elder, but the conversation is also about ownership, land and power, now in the post-colonial context. Without sentimentalising the old white man or airbrushing his lingering colonial mannerisms away, Kanengoni in this brief sketch shows an increased acknowledgement of both colonial injustice and of the need to work out a mutually accommodating structure of land use in Zimbabwe, among the former settlers and the new occupants.

Rory Kilalea's 'Mea Culpa' is an over-long and somewhat inept depiction of the pain of cross-race gay sexuality overwhelming its ecstasy and liberatory potential – even though the ineptitude of the telling may have been intended as a reflection of the awkward, scarcely post-adolescent narrator's personality.

Surprisingly, AIDS features in few of these tales, and often only fleetingly, though a husband's nearly forgotten infidelity returns as a nemesis threatening his family's health and their trust in him in the story 'Homecoming' by Vivienne Ndlovu.

Other uncomfortable topics are raised elsewhere – such as the torture and sexual abuse of enthusiastic young volunteers to the freedom struggle ('That Special Place'); urban squalor and starvation in the 'new' state of Zimbabwe ('The Grim Reaper's Car'); class exploitation and humiliation by wealthier citizens ('Maria's Interview'); crime and 'faceless' violence ('The Wooden Bridge'); compassionless hypocrisy and vicious – eventually violent – snobbery ('Mermaid out of the Rain'); familial love and loyalty versus nasty prejudice ('Mukoma Amos'); and sexism and self-pitying complacency ('Queues'). The latter story is by the admired writer Shimmer Chinodya and is one of the more experimental pieces; however, it is to my mind one of his less successful pieces.

An excellent story is the one called 'New Mourning' by Mary Ndlovu. In it, the narrator (a smart young woman who has, in her own eyes, successfully escaped the squalor of her mother's rural household) discovers the extent to which she had overlooked and underestimated her (now late) mother's quietly heroic courage and social commitment as well as her enterprising, interesting personality.

A story in which just such an enterprising woman is honoured and foregrounded is the opening sketch of the collection ('Universal Remedy'), told from the perspective of a white, divorced mother of young children and centring on the quiet strength of the black woman who comes to her aid. The latter is an example and an encouragement to the narrator when she is found already working in the garden early in the morning of the day following her own traumatic rejection from her home – "'I have slept," she said in a breathless voice. "Now I must dig'" (3). Another such 'digging' and planting woman is depicted in Memory Chirere's 'Maize' – but here the protagonist is joined in her work by an attractive male stranger. It is a teasing, ambiguous narrative that leaves one in doubt whether the stranger is a land-hungry predator or a trustworthy, potential spouse.

Then there is Yvonne Vera's 'Sorting it Out' (alluded to earlier), a story in which both the stresses and strengths of women's lives are vividly and movingly portrayed, across three generations.

A different kind of enterprising woman is the ageing prostitute Fiso of 'Seventh Street Alchemy' by Brian Chikwava – a satirical and sardonically humorous story of urban life. In it we read that 'In spite of poverty's glorious march into every [Zimbabwean] household, the will to be dignified by underpants and socks [however threadbare] remains intact' (17). In the same story, the narrator refers to the contemporary powers that be as 'a State whose methods of governance involve incessant roguery' (18)!

'The Kiss' by Clement Chihota is another amusing tale: a love story with a wickedly ironic twist. In it, a manically ambitious husband addicted to fishing in the troubled waters of the central African economies gains possession (by obviously nefarious means) of a valuable 'blood diamond', only to lose his beautiful and highly intelligent wife to a far more handsome man of evident integrity.
'When Samora Died', by Annie Holmes, portrays the pain of a brutally severed relationship – forever marked in the protagonist's mind by the coincident date of Samora Machel's death in an air crash. Responses to the news show up another kind of betrayal – moral and political in kind.

An accomplished story by Alexandra Fuller (known for her recently published memoir) is to some extent a parallel to the previous story in its depiction (within the context of Rhodesian settler society) of a little girl beginning a process of racial reorientation by recognising something of the cruel shallowness of her social group's value system.

The final story, Chris Wilson's 'The Twelve Chitenges', similarly demonstrates – with convincing vividness and cutting irony – the very tentative joining of racially distinct forces united in indignation against the irritations caused by bad rulership and a deteriorating economy.

All in all, this is a highly worthwhile and entertaining – as well as mind-broadening – collection of stories, by means of which the reader feels as if she or he has personally encountered some of the realities, ironies and variety of Zimbabwean life.

© The author/publisher

Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - The Scotsman

Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2003: (pp: 272) 204 x 138 mm
ISBN: 0779220189


The Scotsman
19 July 2004



Zimbabwean Author Wins Caine Prize

Zimbabwe's Brian Chikwava tonight won the Caine Prize for African Writing for his story 'Seventh Street Alchemy'.

Chikwava, drug 32, received the prize at a dinner at Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

The £8,000 Caine Prize is bestowed annually for a short story published in English by an African writer.

Chairman of the judges Alvaro Ribeiro described the winning story as 'a very strong narrative in which Brian Chikwava of Zimbabwe claims the English language as his own, and English with African characteristics'.

He said it was 'a triumph for the long tradition of Zimbabwe writing in the face of Zimbabwe's uncertain future'.

Born in Zimbabwe in 1972, Chikwava now lives in London, where he is working on a novella and an album of music drawing on township jazz, ska and blues influences.

Founded in 2000, the Caine Prize is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, head of Booker PLC and founder of the Booker Prize.

The other finalists were Uganda's Doreen Baingana for 'Hunger', Kenya's Parselelo Kantai for 'The Story of Comrade Lemma and the Black Jerusalem Boys Band', Uganda's Monica Arac de Nyeko for 'Strange Fruit' and Nigeria's Chika Unigwe for 'The Secret'.

© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - Mail and Guardian

Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2003: (pp: 272) 204 x 138 mm
ISBN: 0779220189


The Mail & Guardian
16-23 July 2004

Reviewer: Sarah Kiguwa


Pulse of a nation

A brave new collection of short stories squares up to the challenges of Africa's current political climate, generic particularly Zimbabwe's repressive curtailing of the freedom of speech. Sarah Kiguwa dips into Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe.

In Zimbabwe's current political situation, information pills with freedom of speech being heavily curtailed and many journalists banned either from writing or from the country itself, healing this collection of 24 stories represents defiance against an oppressive system that would rather they were silent. Hence the title.

Three of the stories are set during the colonial period, when the liberation struggle was being waged in earnest, while the majority of the stories here deal with issues pertinent to contemporary Zimbabwe – poverty, disease, homelessness, corruption, and so on.

Pat Brickhill's 'Universal Remedy', Stanley Mupfudza's 'Mermaid Out of the Rain', Memory Chirere's 'Maize' and 'New Mourning' by Mary Ndlovu, 'Uncle Francis' by Stanley Nyamfukudza, 'Home Coming' by Vivienne Ndlovu and 'Sorting it Out' by Yvonne Vera – all these highlight the plight of women in Zimbabwe. Women often carry the responsibility of being breadwinners in a country plagued by poverty, infidelity and HIV/AIDS.

Clement Chihota's 'The Kiss', Brian Chikwava's 'Seventh Street Alchemy', and Shimmer Chinodya's 'Queues' cleverly depict what people are going through and resorting to in their daily battle for survival in Zimbabwe: prostitution, bribery, lack of resources such as petrol, and the frustrations of dealing with bureaucracy in government offices. 'Queues' is a humorous love story that the author uses to show the relationship between the Zimbabwean government and its people from colonial to post-colonial times. The story of Seventh Street brings Harare to life with its vivid descriptions of the people and the streets.

William Saidi's 'The Winning Side', Nevanji Madanhire's 'Grim Reaper's Car', Charles Mungoshi's 'Sins of the Father', Julius Chingono's 'Maria's Interview' and Gugu Ndlovu's 'Torn Posters' depict the post-colonial trend of affluent black people in powerful positions acquiring the same prejudices as the former (white) oppressors, and perpetuating the injustices they fought against during the struggle.

But not everything is grim in these pieces, as reflected in stories such as Alexander Kanengoni's 'Ugly Reflection', Derek Huggins's 'The Revolutionary' and Chris Wilson's 'Twelve Chitenges'. These stories are about people talking to each other across the racial divide.

Interestingly, while the collection starts with a story of an individual who leaves the country to seek refuge elsewhere when the political situation worsens, it ends with the tale of another who is determined to stay, despite the odds. The collection draws on a vast array of authors and issues, with stories that have a sense of familiarity for many in contemporary Africa. As Writing Still editor Irene Staunton says, writers in Africa have a difficult but important task: 'Writers of integrity become the pulse of a nation, its eyes, its ears, and the barometers of its values.'

© The author/publisher

Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - The Sunday Mail

Writing Still: New Stories From Zimbabwe
edited by Irene Staunton
2003: (pp: 272) 204 x 138 mm
ISBN: 0779220189



The Sunday Mail, stuff
Leisure & Entertainment section
11 April 2004

Reviewer: Laura Chiweshe


Writing Still: A first of its kind – An anthology that concerns itself with the 'hot' issues in Zim

In the first of its kind, order Irene Staunton of Weaver Press has collected and edited an anthology of Zimbabwean short stories, try Writing Still.

The title is reminiscent of Dr Charles Mungoshi's own collection, Walking Still, of yesteyear.

The stories in Writing Still are fresh, captivating and written in a completely different way from the ones we have read elsewhere by the same authors.

This anthology is a kind of 'Who is Who' in Zimbabwean literature in English today; ranging from the gurus of Zimbabwean writing such as Charles Mungoshi, Yvonne Vera, Stanley Nyamfukudza and Shimmer Chinodya to the generation of writers who are slowly becoming prominent like Memory Chirere, Stanley Mupfudza and Wonder Guchu.


Here is a taste of contemporary Zimbabwean writing all in one cover, exactly the kind of book any collector should have.

The women's voices are loud and clear, in the form of Yvonne Vera's 'Sorting it Out' and Mary Ndlovu's 'New Mourning'. Chris Wilson and Derek Huggins and others represent the white Zimbabweans' voices.

Contributions to the anthology are, therefore, from all sectors of our society. These are Zimbabweans growing up in South Africa, Zimbabweans who have migrated to the United Kingdom, Zimbabweans growing up on farms, journalists, editors, ex-combatants, filmmakers, academics and many more, thereby representing many issues that affect Zimbabwe today.

Stories in Zimbabwean short story anthologies have rarely been told from this angle and perspective before.
Writing Still defies the widely held notion that there are sacred subjects in Zimbabwean literature. Here is an anthology that concerns itself with the 'hot' issues in Zimbabwe like the land issue.

Memory Chirere's 'Maize' and war veteran Alexander Kanengoni's 'The Ugly Reflection in the Mirror' are based on the land issue.

While Chirere demonstrates how the resettlements have given birth to new beginnings, hope and some anxieties, Kanengoni explores the relations of the 'new neighbours' borne by the land redistribution – the newly resettled black farmer and the white commercial farmer.

Also remarkable is the manner in which some authors in this book handle tribal relations, as in Mungoshi's 'The Sins of Fathers'. Through his typical understatements and internal characters, Mungoshi explores the destructive nature of shallow grudges to a nation that should, instead, be moving forward. Also not to miss is the controversial issue of homosexuality explored by Annie Holmes and Rory Kilalea.

Race relations are also explored in 'Fancy Dress' by Alexander Fuller and 'Universal Remedy' by Pat Brickhill.
Talking about experimental writing, Mupfudza's 'Mermaid out of the Rain' uses something like the Latin-American magic realism to show that there is always the spirit of place in what we think are ordinary daily happenings.

Renowned writer Shimmer Chinodya, of Harvest of Thorns fame, never tires of adding new stylistic dimensions to the Zimbabwean short story. His 'Queues' is in a class of its own. The emotional voice of the narrator and that of the key character weave cleverly to depict the economic problems currently facing Zimbabwe.

One cannot also miss the sweet sadness caused by family relations as they travel through storms in 'Uncle Francis' by Stanley Nyamfukudza and in 'Maria's Interview' by Julius Chingono.

One captivating and truthfully told story is 'That Special Place' by war veteran and poet Freedom Nyamubaya. Narrated in a true and emotional way of first-hand information, the story provides the other side of the liberation struggle that we would rather not talk about – the inside details of what really took place within the liberation war camps.

Maybe, never before has any local author had the courage to write a story based on the post independence unrest in Matebeleland as is done by Gugu Ndlovu in 'Torn Posters'. This is a story with capacity to heal and soothe the souls and the wounds.

The story of contemporary problems facing Zimbabwe today cannot be complete without unearthing the complexities of HIV and AIDS. This is a story written by Vivienne Ndlovu – 'Homecoming'.

The uniqueness of this anthology cannot, of course, be justifiably explored within the scope of this article. But one thing I can be sure not to forget is to say thumbs-up to Weaver Press for this remarkable and unique piece of art. And, of course, to our writers, who not only tell the truth of the matter but [also] 'the complex truth', as editor of the anthology, Irene Staunton, would say.

Regardless of the challenges we are going through as a nation, Zimbabwean authors are still writing.

© The author/publisher