Review of The Trek & Other Stories - Phillip Chidavaenzi

Zimbabwean Land Saga, Discrimination, Oppression and Plenty More

Review of The Trek & Other Stories by Lawrence Hoba
First published in the Critical Literature Review
Sunday 10 January 2010

Reviewed by Phillip Chidavaenzi

Critical Literature Review is happy to present its first review of 2010. Phillip Chidavaenzi begins this year by covering Zimbabwean author Lawrence Hoba's short story anthology "The Trek & Other Stories" which is published by Weaver Press. Here is hoping that this whets your appetite for the plethora of reviews that Critical Literature Review intends to bring your way in 2010. Enjoy!

It is heartening that young writers are being accorded the space to tell their stories while showcasing their writing skills in the cut-throat world of literature.

One such writer, Lawrence Hoba, had just had his collection of short stories – The Trek & Other Stories’. Hoba is no stranger to the contemporary Zimbabwe literary cannon, with some of his stories having appeared in newspapers such as the now defunct “Mirror” and various short story anthologies both in print and online.

However, it is the recent publication of his slim volume of short stories that is poised to consolidate his voice as a writer in his own right. Perhaps the collection’s major strength is that it sits right on the pulse of a nation battling to correct historical wrongs in land ownership patterns in a way that has drawn contradictory perceptions, while trying to be understood as a justice seeker rather than a sadistic punisher.

A number of the stories here give multiple perspectives on this contentious issue, although they tend to easily lend themselves to the anti–land reform debate. In a highly polarized nation where there is no middle ground, Hoba has chosen a viewpoint that poses many questions and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the pressing need for land reforms and the manner of implementation. When all the propaganda and romanticism about reclaiming rich, productive ancestral lands have died down, there is always need for a candid, honest review of the programme. And The Trek & Other Stories does just that – it could well be one of the missing links in the body of literature in Zimbabwe that looks at the aftermath of the land reform programme.

Over the past years, there have been countless land reform audits that however have remained locked up in some government offices, and their contents have remained shrouded in a veil of secrecy. Most of the stories in this collection – such as The Trek, ‘Maria’s Independence’ and ‘Having My Way’ – all explore the land resettlement saga in Zimbabwe, which has over the past 10 years dominated local and international media.

A close reading of the land resettlement discourse in Zimbabwe reveals the glaring absence of women, whose voices have been significantly annihilated. This is one anomaly that the first story, ‘The First Trek – The Pioneers’, somewhat addresses. In this story, the young narrator says, “mhamha’s hoe is worn from use, baba’s is still new and clean” (pp.2) Ironically, at the gate of the farm there is a sign post that reads, ‘Mr. B. J Magugu, Black Commercial Farmer.’

In addition,  the story ‘Maria’s Independence’ gives us an insight into the diversity of characters washed onto the farms by the political waves. I think this is a very important story in as far as it rightly locates women within the issue of land reform. The land reclamations were not only about men, but some women have stood the test and managed to turn themselves into successful farmers regardless of societal perception of the woman as the weaker vessel, particularly within political discourse.

In ‘The Second Trek – Going Home’ Hoba’s focus is on the black farm worker who is caught in between the feuding white commercial farmer and the belligerent black peasant farmer fighting to occupy the commercial farm. The story further highlights that the commercial farm –previously occupied by the peasant farmers – is not necessarily a humanized space that is easily habitable. There are no social utilities such as schools and hospitals. Furthermore, those farm workers that originated from countries such as Malawi remain trapped within the farm under new ownership because they can’t go back home. This is the dilemma that many farmers who originated from other countries face.

Two stories, ‘A Dream & A Guitar’ and ‘Tonde’s Return’ explore the ravages of the HIV and AIDS pandemic which has wreaked havoc in many families and communities, especially in Africa.

Hoba has to be commended for coming up with a competent collection of stories that are a true reflection of contemporary Zimbabwe.