Review of Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe - Business Tribune

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

Business Tribune
25 September 2003
Reviewer: Kamurai Mudzingwa

This is an anthology of 24 short stories by as many Zimbabwean writers. The anthology captures the whole range and texture of Zimbabwean writing as it encompasses writers from diverse backgrounds – black, white, female and male.

The anthology includes some of the finest and well-known Zimbabwean authors like Charles Mungoshi, Shimmer Chinodya, Alexander Kanengoni, Freedom Nyamubaya, Yvonne Vera, Stanley Nyamufukudza, Memory Chirere and Nevanji Madanhire, among others.

The stories depict a variety of themes and sensibilities pertaining to the Zimbabwean situation from the colonial era hitherto. The diversity of writers in the anthology takes the reader through journeys of the Zimbabwean socio-cultural, political and economic perspectives in one collection.

The diverse themes include racism, tribalism, political intolerance, war, political betrayal and social issues like the treatment of housemaids, women and change.

Racism is a theme that is covered from different viewpoints in the anthology. For example, Alexandra Fuller's story, 'Fancy Dress' depicts racism as something that is not biological but social. Through the use of an apparently innocent child narrator, she shows how parents socialise children to look down upon other races – black or white. They attempt to teach her to conceptualise Afrikaners as 'Bloody Afrikaners' or 'White mun[d]s', with blacks occupying the lowest rung of the human ladder.

On the other hand, personal relationships between blacks and white are to be nipped in the bud, as symbolised by Sally de Wet (an Afrikaner herself), who roundly rebukes her maid for striking a relationship with the child-narrator after the latter had been shunned by her playmates.

While Fuller sees racism as something that the whites nurture in their children, Rory Kilalea depicts the difficulty of striking an easy, permanent and natural relationships between blacks and whites in a racist environment. Through the symbolic homosexual relationship between two young university students who are naturally drawn together after some wine … the author shows how the two young men feel guilty about their intimacy because of racial constraints entrenched in their psyche. Blacks and whites in a racist environment cannot and are not allowed by society to have intimate relationships at any level. There is neither freedom of sexuality nor the freedom to cross racial boundaries.

The sensitive land issue is epitomised in the anthology by writers like Memory Chirere and Alexander Kanengoni. In Chirere's story, 'Maize', the attachment to land is depicted in a symbolically romantic manner. The metaphorically strange courtship between the man and woman in the story, paralleled with the caring of the maize and its coming to fruition, depicts that land is something that needs to be courted and cared for, as it were, if it is to yield good harvest. The more one cares for it, the more the love between the owner and the land flourishes, and it needs deep and natural understanding, not mercenary motives.

For Kanengoni, land is sustenance and the ability of the black man to work on it fruitfully after years of deprivation refutes the colonial mentality that blacks cannot work on the land. The colonialist sentiments are echoed by Mr Fleming in the story 'The Ugly Reflection in the Mirror' who, upon seeing the flourishing beans in the protagonist's field comments: 'And by the way, the crop is clean, too … this is quite a surprise'. The speeding-away of Fleming's car from the field marks the end of the white man's dominance on the land.

Nevanji Madanhire and William Saidi typify the post-colonial betrayal in Zimbawe in the stories 'Grim Reaper's Car' and 'The Winning Side', respectively. In Madanhire's story, the apparent questions raised in the innocent child narrator's mind expose the betrayal in postcolonial Zimbabwe. The child narrator is puzzled why his father, who is a hero of the liberation struggle like the president, lives in abject poverty symbolised by rats that infest their poor home in Tafara (ironically used), their inability to have three square meals a day, contrasted [with] the president (the grim reaper) who drives a posh car and wears expensive suits.

Freedom Nyamubaya, on the other hand, exposes betrayal during the liberation struggle and crushes the myth that all was romantic during the struggle as she portrays the barbaric torture of liberation fighters by their counterparts and the whimsical raping of women in the story, 'That Special Place'.

In William Saidi's story, betrayal is in another form. Those who betrayed the struggle (including their parents) have jumped onto the gravy train and have quickly changed sides to be on the 'winning side'. They are not comfortable with people who hint at their history by their mere presence, as shown by Uncle Francis who quickly gets rid of the child narrator – his nephew – when he goes to his home for help after the murder of his parents.

Shimmer Chinodya, on the other hand, traces the socio-economic and political deterioration of Zimbabwe in his story, 'Queues'. The unending queues become the symbol of shortages and the epitome of the downturn of the economy.

The anthology also comprises stories that look at women's issues. For example, Julius Chingono and Yvonne Vera's stories, 'Maria's Interview' and 'Sorting it Out', respectively, focus on women's issues. In Chingono's story, women are responsible for oppressing each other. Maria, the housemaid, is paid by her former employer with perfume after two months of non-payment while her prospective employer, who is interviewing her, is suspicious of her because she believes a simple housemaid should not own things like expensive perfume. In Yvonne Vera's story, the old generation of women who cling to old beliefs such as 'A woman must forgive the infidelity of her husband in order to save her children' is being replaced by the new generation that want to have anachronistic beliefs changed, as epitomised by Zanele who refuses to take care of her new babies.

The tribal and racial problems in Zimbabwe are summed up in Charles Mungoshi's story, 'The Sins of the Fathers', in which the ex-Minister of Defence is the epitome of those who do not forgive races and tribes because of the past; they are summed up in the statement by the protagonist's mother, 'they will always remember the pain of the scars rather than the relief of the healing'.

The sample of authors and themes selected in this review are just a [slice] of the cake of this wonderful anthology by Zimbabwean writers. Anyone who wants to explore the deliciousness of this cake ought to read this collection and there is one guarantee – no regrets for doing so!

© The author/publisher