Review of White Gods, Black Demons - The Standard

Stories capture life home and abroad
White Gods, Black Demons: David Mandishona
Published: Weaver Press
Reviewed: Charles Mungoshi
In The Standard 14.02.10

These ten short stories, at times pithy and acerbic, ironic and humorous cut right across the troubled human landscape of Zimbabwe today. They reveal Zimbabwean life, at home and in the diaspora, through the unblinking eye of a formidable new talent on the literary scene. The scintillating polish to the stories could easily persuade the uninformed reader to believe that he is in the presence of a more-than-one-title published past master of the genre.

The stories depict the ordinary – or as is now extraordinary – everyday life of a people caught in the deep miasma of a political nightmare and reeling under an economy nose-diving to rock bottom. White Gods, Black Demons was the subject of a discussion at the Book Café in Harare on Thursday, 21st January.

The stories, almost all of them read well and deceptively smoothly with the pungent urgency of a fresh news item in a daily newspaper, but you can sense the strength of their staying power in the silent under tour of the deeply lived human experience both spelt out or implied in between the lines.

A kind of almost tangible melancholic aura hovers over most of them like the distantly just audible hum of a dirge. they should offer satisfying reading for the thoughtful reader and those interested in what is happening in literature in Zimbabwe.

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - Charles Mungoshi

White Gods Black Demons by Daniel Mandishona
Published by Weaver Press, 2009

Reviewed by Charles Mungoshi

These ten short stories at times pithy and acerbic, ironic and humorous, cut right across the troubled human landscape of Zimbabwe today. They look at Zimbabwean life, at home and in the diaspora, through the unblinking eye of a formidable new talent on the literary scene. The scintillating polish to the stories could easily fool the uniformed reader to believe that Mandishona is in the presence of a past-master of the genre.

The stories depict the ordinary (or, as of now, extraordinary) everyday life of a people caught in the deep miasma of a political nightmare and reeling under an economy nose-diving pell-mell hellwards amid the ridiculously diabolic kaleidoscopic changing prices of consumer goods on the market and the escalating cost of living in a land where inflation has broken world records. Whoever you are, an ordinary working housewife who has gone AWOL from work to join an already incredibly long queue for the rumour a sugar delivery at one of the city supermarkets – only to be told, hours later, that only dog food has been delivered; or, you maybe a government minister, a high-ranking official in the ruling party whose daughter has expressly asked you, her mother and siblings to be with her at her wedding in the UK, and when you are raring to go, air tickets and passports in hand, you realize that not  a member of your family can step on English soil, you are on the blacklist of ‘bad guys’ – you are surprised and wonder at the ignorance of your wife and children when they ask, in all innocence, ‘But why, whatever wrong did we do them? They don’t even know us!’; or you could be the young parent assisting his primary school son over the sudden appearance of zeros in dealing with money in his maths homework and the child asks: ‘Dad, what does one dollar look like? Is it paper or coin like the USA or the Rand? Can you truly buy anything with it?’ Your son is naturally puzzled when in Zimbabwe a billionaire can’t afford the price of an ice-cream cone.

Whoever you are, one way or the other, life will get at you. It can even stretch out the long hand of the past and throttle you – like your uncle who committed suicide leaving your father to inherit his pre-independence debts; debts which only increase and also drive your father to suicide – after independence, imagine! Or you could be the war vet with the special license from the party to take over a white farm and with pride you drive your family to the farm with your family and they roar with laughter as you gleefully tell them, how you shook the rattled Mr Bradford and kicked him off his farm! But imagine your surprise and humiliation as you approach the contested farm, to find another black Zimbabwean family has already occupied the main building and the outhouses. When you tell them the farm belongs to you they say no, it is their land. And when you show them your claim and tell them your story, these new ‘invaders’ ask, ‘When did you fight Bradford off the land?’ And the ‘invaders’ shake their heads and say, ‘Sorry, we fought the white man off this our father’s piece of land in 1896!’ Or you may have decided to stick it out (while others flee to seek asylum in the enemy’s camp!) like the man who works for the bank, daily doling out the useless paper they call Zimdollars to a furious but paralytic populace congested on the sewage-swamped streets, waiting, hoping that maybe in the next elections the Right man will win. You even drive your friend, Venus, who has come all the way from her exile in the USA, to cast this one last vote for her two-time losing father. And when her father finally and completely loses, Venus offers you an invitation to go and live in the USA and you say no. You face the future like the married couple who can’t have a child – fighting each other for control of the remote. He loves to watch sport programmes on TV. She is into Jerry Springer and Oprah. There is a reprieve when they discover that they both like the sermons of Pastor Johannes Dollar and a brief peace between them ensues – brief, because not long after they have discovered him, Pastor Dollar is dragged into the law courts, accused of sexually abusing some female members of his congregation. The sermons turn into a real life soap opera as event follows event until the Pastor is given a nine-year jail sentence for rape.

Mandishona’s stories read deceptively smoothly with the pungent urgency of a fresh news item in the daily paper, but you can sense the staying power of these stories in the silent undertow of the deeply-lived human experience both spelt out or implied in-between the lines. A kind of almost tangible melancholic aura of ghostly sepia, seems to hover over them like the just-slightly-audible distant hum of a dirge. They should offer satisfying and interesting reading for the thoughtful reader and those interested in what is happening in literature in Zimbabwe.

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - Pambazuka News

Sunday 3 October, 2004 – AFRICA ONLINE – THE SUNDAY MIRROR

Zephania Phiri: from simple Zvishavane peasant to number one national hunger fighter

Ezekiel C. Makunike

Zvishavane District in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe is not only the home of the Dadaya Mission or Shabani-Mashaba Mines; it is also the home of Zephaniah Phiri Maseko and the Zvishavane Water Project.

While other countries, especially those in the West may take water for granted, in arid areas like Zvishavane District, water is a supremely precious natural resource. While populations increase, water does not, and yet every living creature; animals, plants and people need it in order to survive. Besides, there is no substitute for water! The solution to the equation is that maximum efforts must be made to conserve that vital and limited natural commodity! The expression, “necessity is the mother of invention” has been proved true through the dauntless efforts of a seemingly ordinary peasant family; the family of Zephanaiah Phiri Maseko. We must emphasise the word, “seemingly”, for indeed Phiri has proved himself to be a remarkable visionary, a resourceful thinker, and a giant hero of a man! It could well be said, “He has done what Napoleon could not do!” He has, throughout his lifespan, demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and indomitable fortitude against otherwise insurmount-able odds and adversaries. He has transformed a hitherto dry area into a perennial wetland through his innovative and rather unorthodox labour-intensive water harvesting techniques. His now famous “Phiri Pits” have captured the rain water whose seepages have literally met the water level in the ground below; thus resulting in raising the water table that ensures constant moisture to his trees and crops.. “This has created a unique perennial wetland, ready to nourish the soil for bountiful harvests throughout the year. He had not read these techniques from a book or from formal schooling for indeed his formal education is minimal compared to the successes he has achieved so far. His successes came by sheer dint of his inborn education, fertile imagination and natural commonsense. In a book, “The Water Harvester”, written by Mary Witoshynshky and published by “Weaver Press”, the reviewer, a Mr. W. Chakanyuka, in his article published by “The Masvingo Star” newspaper (November 17-23, 2000) he had this tosay, ‘‘Phiri relates the challenges that inspired him to combine traditional agricultural wisdom with the scientific land management schemes mandated by the government. In doing so, at times under duress, he achieved strikingly better harvest returns. His lifelong dedication to better soil nutrition and water conservation generated an innovative land husbandry regime well regarded by agro ecologists”. The reviewer goes further and says these experts are not alone in grasping the significance of Phiri’s methods as a basis for “coaxing barren ground to yield abundant harvest of grain, vegetables, fruit and water. He has further established well accomplished fish ponds in the district”.

The book reviewer summarises Phiri’s successes when he says, “Zvishavane lies in arid yet starkly beautiful terrain where small-scale farmers labour in an often fruitless struggle with fragile soils and erratic rainfall. “Yet it was here that Zephaniah Phiri Maseko cultivated his unique character and vision to transform a resource starved subsistence plot into a bountiful farmstead”. This has attracted the attention and interest of ecologists, environmentalists and agro researchers from within Africa and abroad. Located at nearly twenty kilometers beyond the Zvishavane Town on the Shrungwi road and turning to the left, Phiri has proved to be a small-scale peasant farmer with a difference! His rural communal property is a mere eight acres of land. Propelled by the Biblical message of the Book of Genesis Chapter 2, he has literally created a model image of the Garden of Eden at a terrain where such a novelty was previously least expected or dreamed of. The Biblical Adam and Eve were given the Garden of Edenas a gift. There were rivers to water the Garden. Phiri and his family laboured hard to create it. There were no rivers anywhere close to irrigate his garden and yet he needed to survive! There was no better place for him and his family to move to.. He was stuck there. He was to “stay put!” He thus had to learn to swim or sink, as the saying goes! A group of 22 people from the Manicaland Province and some from Mozambique and sponsored by Environment Africa, a conservation development organisation, visited the home of Phiri on September 8, 2004. Members of the group specifically came from the following districts: Nyanga, Mutasa, Mutare, Marange, Chimanimani in Zimbabwe; and Manica in Mozambique. The writer, resident in Harare was also part of the group. The visitors saw, to their amazement healthy crops such as bananas which were already pregnant with overweight clumps of fruit, sugar cane, beans, wheat, green maize at the ripening stage, vegetables and fruit trees of all kinds.

But indeed Phiri’s road to success was not paved with gold. During the colonial days as way back as the 1950s he was arrested for interfering with the colonial soil husbandry policies of the time. The area agricultural demonstrators sent reports to the Land Development Officer(LDO) who in turn ordered Mr. Phiri’s arrest for the simple reason that he was doing things his own way and not the “official” way! He was planting barn grass and kikuyu grass to preserve his water in his catchment area. At the courts Phiri gave his statement on what he was doing. The authenticity of his arguments led the Magistrate to decide to visit Phiri’s home fields to see it for himself. He was impressed by what he saw and ordered Phiri discharged and let him go free. Mr. Phiri proved himself a genius who knew far more appropriate technology thanthe then agricultural demonstrators of the time! But Phiri’s problems with the colonial government did not end there! In August 1976, at the height of Zimbabwe’s liberation war he was arrested by the police for being in possession of arms of war left at his home by the freedom fighters. The colonial government called these freedom fighters “terrorists”. He was taken to Shabane Police Station handcuffed and manacled. He was tortured and two of his shoulder bones were broken. His hip joint was disjointed. To this day he walks with a limp. He was further taken to Gweru Prison where he languished for four and half years, handcuffed and manacled with leg irons.

In 1980, at Zimbabwe’s independence he vigorously continued his water conservation and management techniques. Since then, numerous articles and studies have been written about his water and soil conservation techniques which in turn have made him world famous. Hisvisit to the United Kingdom helped him secure funds to found one of Zimbabwe’s first Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) , the now famous Zvishavane Water Project, an umbrella organization with over thirty members with him as the Chairman. Now at the age of 77, a contended Phiri kept his audience spellbound for close to an hour when he narrated his arduous journey fighting material deprivation and imminent poverty as he says in his own words. “In the 1950s I was facedwith a dilemma. With a wife and six children but with no job prospects having been fired from the then Rhodesia Railways job in Bulawayo and declared ‘not fit to be employed anywhere in the country’”, started experimenting with harvesting the little water that fell during the brief annual rainy seasons. His home is situated at the foot of a huge rock formation. He decided to harness the rainy water that flows from it and captured it in pits he dug so that the water thus captured can seep through the soil below and nourish his crops and fruit trees.

Further below he dug what he calls infiltration pits along the contour ridges, thus preventing the rain water from flowing away from his fields.

Having perfected the retention of this water he dug fish ponds. “There is a lot of fish in those ponds” he proudly says and he invites children from neighbouring schools to come and fish as part of their orientation to the value of water conservation.

News of his successes went far and wide. As stated before, a British organization invited him to London where he spoke about his water harvesting techniques. The trip opened the doors of financial help and fame. He did not like the financial help to go to his personal purse. Instead he desired that the money went to the establishment of what would benefit more people than just himself. The Zvishavane Water Project was the answer.

People have come from all over the world to see and learn from Phiri’s successes. Phiri himself has been invited to lecture and participate in water harvesting workshops and seminars to about nine countries in Africa and overseas.

If Africa could produce more of the likes of Phiri, indeed Africa would truly need not starve! With hardly anything added from outside, Phiri has used nature to enrich itself. As earlier pointed out, his water harvesting techniques have raised the water table to a level where it is easily reached by the roots of his crops throughout the year. His income is considerably higher. He practices the organic method of farming, that is to say, the non application of chemical fertilizer. This has sustained his soil fertility. Admittedly, the younger generation of today and tomorrow may not be able to sweat while doing the drudgery work of digging and shoveling in making the “Phiri Pits”, but there ought to be modern small-scale machinery that can be used to achieve the same goal. Phiri is not only an asset for the Zvishavane District or Zimbabwe itself, but indeed the whole Sadc countries and Africa at large. The Environment Africa-sponsored group that visited his home and Project was agreed that Phiri deserves an honorary doctorate degree in agriculture by the country’s universities or for that matter, a Hunger-free Africa Prize Award! For indeed fighting poverty and eradicating hunger is one sure way of bringing about peace..

Mr. Phiri was born in Zimbabwe of a Malawian father and a Zimbabwean mother in 1927. His father was a school teacher at the Dadaya Mission. (Ezekiel C.Makunike is former Director of Information, Government of Zimbabwe and now founder and Director of “Tese Tigute”: a Rural and Community Improvement Project).

Pambazuka News 472: Daniel Mandishona's Book Review
Thu, 4 Mar 2010 22:28


A review of 'White Gods, Black Demons'
Bella Matambanadzo

The ‘magic’ of Daniel Mandishona's ‘White Gods, Black Demons’ is that  ‘it feels startlingly familiar’, writes Bella Matambanadzo. Another book to add to the ‘treasure trove’ of literature in Mandishona’s anthology of short stories is ‘the product of prodigious observation and research’, writes  Matambanadzo. ‘What a reader will cherish is that there is a kind of fidelity about the stories that leaves you knowing it to be true', while healthy 'doses of candour give breadth and wisdom, to what is a  collection of comic tragedy told with tenderness'.

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - Mukai

Review published in Mukai// Vukani Jesuit Journal for Zimbabwe 52, April 2010


White Gods Black Demons, by Daniel Mandishona,

Weaver Press, Harare, 2009, 110 pp.

The author, a graphic designer and architect, draws his images of the people of Zimbabwe of recent years with a sharp pencil. These people really do exist, Venus who despises Zimbabwe’s current rulers, but has run away to the United States and the good life there, and her old friend and admirer who tells us her and his story, who “wants progress, but not change”, sees the absurdity of it all, but repeats obediently the current propaganda lies, and who has decided to stay – “I like it here”. There is much wit and irony, but no vision, no real alternative, no hope.

There are no heroes in these tales, except possibly the WOZA heroines who appear briefly, “The women scream, shout, wail, and then wilt under the onslaught. The violence is over as quickly as it began. Torn banners and shoes lie scattered on the tarmac, a forlorn reminder of the power of brute force….”

Zimbabweans in foreign exile figure large in these stories, perhaps because the author himself lived in London for fifteen years, as a student. But they too are no heroes, come back with no answer to their homeland’s misery, may not even have gained personally much for themselves. “In the thirty years that was your secret life in the land of the BBC, the Queen, cricket and snow you had achieved nothing.  You had wasted thirty years of your life and come back….with only the clothes on your back and a baggage of bittersweet memories”.

One emigrant, come back to his home country after years of chasing money in crime-ridden South Africa, eventually decided that he had to take sides in the violent conflict and promptly got himself assassinated by ruthless party agents. Eldridge Gunguwo, at last married to a woman he really loved with two adorable little daughters, seemed destined for a quiet life as a family man. What made him become “an active member of the opposition, an unforgivable sin in the turbulent and brutal politcis” of the country? The clinical report on the autopsy, quoted at length, does not tell us. Was he a hero or just a fool?

The writer does not expect anything from the Church either. “According to Eldridge, there were three professions that required a fair measure of ruthlessness, dishonesty and cunning in a man: law, politics and the priesthood”.

This is illustrated in the final story. A married couple, addicted to TV, but unable to agree on which programme to watch, introduce us to Pastor Johannes Dollar whose devotees they have become.  His luxurious wedding to a young girl attended by most prominent people in the country is a TV sensation. His preaching voice which keeps the dollar rolling has made it possible. But the dream collapses with a big bang when he is convicted of abuse and rape. “Society has to be protected against monsters like you,” says the magistrate.

If you look for ways out of our Zimbabwean mess, neither white gods nor black demons have an answer.

Review of White Gods, Black Demons - The Zimbabwe Independent

White Gods, Black Demons by Daniel Mandishona
pp.110; 135 x 208 mm
Reviewed by Isabella Matambanadzo
The Zimbabwe Independent
Thursday, 29 October 2009

Daniel Mandishona's White Gods, Black Demons is an anthology of ten short stories published under the Weaver Press stable. Its magic is that it feels startlingly familiar, whatever your politics may be. Each portrait in the 110-page collection is the product of prodigious observation and research that resembles a return to the 16th century Every (wo)man theatrical genre. 'Smoke and Ashes' is set during an election that is held in March and then again in June, in a fictitious country. It is told through the eyes of a man and woman on opposing sides of the political divide whose reunion takes us through their mirrored lives: same ghetto growing up, same university, and same degree. It is an irony of disharmony, at once arcane and obvious.

'Cities of Dust' chronicles the horrors and double standards of a smash-up operation that sees the townships razed to the ground, while the neighbourhoods of the rich go untouched. Greased palms provide political protection in a commentary about the power of race and class in a society built on failed nationalism. 'Kaffir Corn' is a story that ostensibly concerns itself with the abortive hopes of a 'new farmer', who having chased away the 'inflexible Mr Allan Bradford, comes face to face with 'war vets' who claim to be the descendents of the original owners of Pangolin Farm, their ancestral land.

'A Wasted Land' a story of two failed patriarchs, told by a young boy who within the space of a year survives the tragedy of their double back-to-back deaths. Preceded by Cicero's quote, 'Laws are silent in war,' both father figures survive the country's war of liberation, only to die as the fruits of Independence are in blossom. This story was originally published in Contemporary African Short Stories, a Heinemann anthology edited by Chinua Achebe.

'A Time of Locusts' is an intimate tale about young love, innocence, loss, anger and grief. With lyrical simplicity the story stands out in the collection for its internal comprehension of the complexity of human existence and choice. It is also a striking example of how taboo and shame are resolved in a family that suffers a series of disturbingly dark tragedies that can only be put right by an honour killing. It is ultimately a story about the attitude of solution, so evident in Zimbabwe over the last few years.

As a young adult, a dissatisfied man returns home to his father's deathbed to face the demons that have tormented him in 'A Secret Sin'. This story captures the emptiness of the Diaspora experience, and the isolation of being at home. It is a nugget of feeling: dealing with identity and belonging in stirring prose. It also digs deep in the brain of a young man in search of his true place, and never quite finding it.

'Blunt Force Trauma' is a story that unfolds around a death of a seemingly ordinary man living an ordinary life. As his body lies in the morgue of a crumbling public hospital – a ghost of its former glorious self – awaiting an autopsy, the details of his not-so-ordinary life come to light in bits and pieces that suggest an assassination. The interplay between an assault in police custody and an apparent armed robbery where nothing is stolen is in no way febrile. A pedantic, narratorial logic provided by the mechanical notes of a post-mortem report betray a society dealing with a culture of careless bludgeoning for whom no one is brought to account, ironically by the same cops.

This is a collection so politically acute and sensitive that a reader cannot avoid recalling the clear influence of both Chinua Achebe and Dambudzo Marechera in the author's seamless craft. The stories have a trans-generational appeal.

The present can only be understood by turning backwards, to an uneasy past, and imagining the possibilities of a future for the cast of characters that have been frustrated in their dreams. They have flaws, indeed, and live by hope. But it is the tenderness with which the author deals with each character, relating to his diverse tapestry of protagonists as if they were part of his own, that makes the work a fluent portrait of troubled people in a troubled place.

A complex network of slippery narrators provide all the coda: from a flag planted on a kopje in honour of a distant monarch in 1890 to Independence in 1980. T he signifiers that this is the country where – in the main – all the intrigue unfolds, are all there. A cursory reference to Victoria Falls, to Lake Kariba, to Posa, to a militant women's rights' groups in battle with riot police chanting the revolutionary chorus, 'Zimbabwe ndeyeropa, baba'. And yet readers will be left wondering why an author so capable of dealing deftly with detail has left Zimbabwe unnamed?

It is a believability that is at once cruel and comic. Healthy doses of candor give breadth and wisdom to what is a collection of comic tragedy told with tenderness.