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, cialis 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
Edited by Irene Staunton, 23 contributors
Publisher: Weaver Press, Harare, Zimbabwe
Distributed in UK by The African Books Collective and USA by Michigan State University
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
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
Richard Bartlett is the co-editor of the African Review of Books.
Review: Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - German Zimbabwe Society
Date: Fri, 16 July 2004
Writing Still – Momentaufnahmen aus Zimbabwe
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
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, 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, 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
Zimbabwe Netzwerk Rundbrief
Nr. 46, Germany, 2004
Reviewer: Annelie Klother
Writing Still – Snapshots from Zimbabwe
Last year Irene Staunton from Weaver Press, Harare, asked several Zimbabwean authors to write a short story about Zimbabwe at the turn of the century.The resulting collection of stories shows us a multifaceted picture of Zimbabwe.
'Fiction … is a way of telling the truth, and is sometimes the only way of telling a complex truth' notes Irene Staunton, the editor of Writing Still in her introduction. While reading these stories you learn a lot more about life in Zimbabwe than from newspaper articles and reports that focus on facts – how people handle their everyday life, how they get on with each other, how they feel and what they dream about.
The differences between the authors (the oldest born in 1937, the youngest in 1973) and the complexity of their biographies are perhaps the reason for the diverse images they present us. Most of them have spent their life in different social environments, have had several professions and lived not only in Zimbabwe but also South Africa, England, Canada, the USA or even the Middle East. Some of them have an international reputation, like Yvonne Vera or Charles Mungoshi, for others this is their first publication, with impressive results.
Surviving in Zimbabwe
The stories involve people of all social classes. In 'The Kiss' (Chihota) for example, a highly successful but cold-hearted businessman loses his wife to a diamond dealer employed by him.
Brian Chikwava delineates the life of people who are struggling to scrape a living at the margin of society: Sue, who shares a bed with her mother, a street vendor, has no sympathy for the state propaganda she listens to on the radio. She’s more concerned where to get her next ration of sugar and cooking oil. Although talking about misery, Chikwava, like other authors, doesn’t lack humour: policemen try to get at least a snack from a musician who cannot pay his fine.
Here, as in many of the stories, political events and personal developments are intertwined: Charles Mungoshi describes a conflict between father and son that has a political dimension. He reminds us of the mysterious car accidents of the past years in which many people of the opposition died.
The burden of the past
In 'The Winning Side' (Saidi) political events destroy two generations simultaneously: a street kid who has become an orphan because of the political repression visits his wealthy uncle. This man has sworn to belong to the winning side after the death of his parents in the war of liberation. In this story we see the world from the perspective of children, likewise in writing about life on a white farm before independence (Fuller) and the massacres in Matabeleland (G. Ndlovu), for example. A little girl describes a sadistic commander in the war of liberation ('That Special Place').
The authors paint a panorama of the most recent history of Zimbabwe which is influencing the present. Topics like gender and homosexuality aren’t overlooked either: Kilalea presents the difficulties of a homosexual relationship between a black and a white man in colonial Zimbabwe. And you can see incidents that could also take place in Europe: the humiliation of a housemaid by her potential employer (Chingono), the misogyny in a middle class quarter (Mupfudza) and the difficult life of a disabled person (Musengezi).
Hope for reconciliation
Even so, the discriminated disabled man in the story of Musengezi is loved and promoted. So you can see 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
The African Review of Books
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, 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 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.
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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
Reviewer: Annie Gagiano
With this 2003 Weaver Press collection, Irene Staunton, 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
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, 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'.
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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
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, 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, with freedom of speech being heavily curtailed and many journalists banned either from writing or from the country itself, 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.'
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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
The Sunday Mail,
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, Irene Staunton of Weaver Press has collected and edited an anthology of Zimbabwean short stories, 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.
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