Gender and Class Issues in the Postcolonial Zimbabwean Novel: Introduction

Maurice Taonezvi Vambe, BA 1990 BA 1991 MA D.Phil 1995-, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe

The truths of a nation are in the first place its realities. (F. Fanon, 1963, p 181).

Postcolonial Politics and Shiftinhg Identities in Africa

A useful starting point for this essay is Frantz Fanon's understanding of the troubled existence of identity in a colonial society. In his often under-discussed chapter titled, "On National Culture," (Fanon; 1963, pp 166-199) Fanon analyses the psychology of colonialism and shows how under it nothing is left to chance. Colonialism does not only control the material resources of a country it subjugates but that it turns to the past of the oppressed people, distorts, disfigures and tries to destroy it. Fanon is, here alluding to that process of the devaluation of the African past in which it was, and still is, represented by apologetic scholars of colonialism as one long night of barbarism, static and therefore needful of European technology, forms of political governance and cultural organisations to pull it out of its supposed inertia. This notion of "African reality" is an artificially constructed "truth". Contained in it is the image by colonialism portraying the identity of Africans as marginally its OTHER - an inferior race the colonizer had come to redeem and protect from self-destruction.

If, for Fanon, the colonial period was less stable and incoherent because it was itself defined by the binary divisions of colonizer and colonized, black and white -- signifiers whose coded meanings have continued to thrive into the period after direct colonial rule, the "post- colonial" stage in the history of Africa is an "after" period of deepening contradictory complexities.The socio-economic and political conditions under which the African writers compose their new stories are changed ones. Political power is now in the hands of a class of few blacks most whom participate actively in the exploitation of their own people. The political situation of increased gender and class inequalities after independence not only underpin this decisive rift developing between the leaders and the poor masses in Africa today.It also compels us to pluralise our way of narrating the nation. This is a theoretical challenge which will inevitably collide with models of national identity insisting on a single destiny for Africans themselves.

Our own usage of the controversial term "post-colonial" to analyse the processes by which people or social 'subjects" occupy new positionalities in the period after direct colonial rule should therefore not be taken to mean that there has been a total break with the structures of colonialism. These structures (economic, political and cultural) are in the new context of today being contested by emergent power blocks albeit in a changed environment of more brutal forces of globalization. The latter has seriously weakened and undermined though not completely destroyed national economies, borders, politics and cultures (S.Hall, 1996, p 2). In other words, that local African political and cultural space upon which global forces play themselves out in terms of domination and its resistance is one in which new bases of power proclaiming new truths of the nation are created. In these local spaces defined by common national borders, identities multiply, are transformed and circulate in a political environment

made up not of one coherent "public space, " nor is it determined by any single organising principle.It is rather a plurality of spheres and arenas, each having its own separate logic yet nonetheless liable to be entangled with other logics when operating in certain specific contexts:..Faced with this...the postcolonial 'subject" mobilizes not a single "’dentity, " but several fluid identities which, by their very nature, must be constantly "revised" in order to achieve maximum instrumentality and efficacy as and when required (A. Mbembe, 1992, p 5).

Postcolonial Zimbabwean literature is a part of the dynamic mainstream of African literature. It shares with the continental literature a concern to illuminate the direction for social change.This essay examines the ways in which Nervous Conditions (1988) and Victory (1992) characterise the new "truths" of the nation after independence in Zimbabwe. The essay will argue that the two novels refuse to minimise the impact of settler politics in Southern Rhodesia in shaping the processes of post-colonial identity re-alignments.As such the two novels" settings span from the days of colonialism right into the post-colonial era. This maintains the link between the two periods without falsely placing a break where none may exist (Werber, 1996, p 5). The depiction of the fracturing of the nationalist front in the two novels reveal how new centres of power vie for political space as they interrogate the notion of fixed "truths" of the nation.

Writers and Politics in Postcolonial Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe gained independence from Britain in 1980 after a protracted war of liberation that dragged for fourteen years and claimed more than thirty five thousand lives (D.Martin & P Johnson, 1981, p 188). This struggle is celebrated by the country's literature both in indigenous languages (Shona and Ndebele ) as well as in English, the official language. Popular titles in English include And Now the Poets Speak (1981), A Fighter for Freedom (1983), and Bones (1987) by Chenjerai Hove, probably the leading poet of the country. In the late eighties Zimbabwean fiction in English which celebrated the united efforts of the African people against colonialism seemed to have run its full course. New titles critical of the black nationalist government began to emerge. Freedom T.V Nyamubaya's book of poetry titled, On the Road Again (1985) was followed by Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (1988) and then George Mujajati's Victory (1992).

Gender and Class Issues in the Postcolonial Zimbabwean Novel

  • Postcolonial Politics and Shifting Identities in Africa
  • Disempowering Women in Postcolonial Zimbabwe
  • Subverting Traditional Images of Womanhood
  • Authorising Women, Women Authoring
  • Constrasting Views in Narrating the Nation in Victory (1992)
  • Class Struggle and the Vision of Social Reconstruction
  • Summary and Conclusions
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