Contrasting Views of Narating the Nation in Mujajati's "Victory"

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

If, in Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembgwa is concerned with the minute details of tensions between peasant women and their husbands, the educated African women and their men in colonial Zimbabwe of the 1960's, it is George Mujajati's novel, Victory (1992), which actually takes the reader through the liberation struggle, right into the period after independence in the country. Victory problematizes the postcolonial period in Zimbabwe as a continuation of colonialism under the guise of national independence.

The stylistic marker of Victory's shift of tone from a progress-oriented, linear national romance is signalled by Mujajati's break of linear time in his narration and his adoption of a multiple-point of view for his characters. At independence, new voices competing in narrating the nation emerge. The voice representing the officially approved version of history which still insists on a unisonant view of decolonization is, in the novel, captured through a folktale about how elephant was defeated by ant:

Then, storytellers called upon on all the children that had survived and told them to sit down and listen to this story of the ant that conquered an elephant."Once upon a time...the ant having suffered long under the ruthless hoove of the elephant, challenged the elephant to the battlefield.While the elephant was still laughing, its wide and gigantic nose wide open, the ant entered into the elephant's giant nose and started to eat the elephant from within. The elephant sneezed an elephantine giant sneeze, but it could not dislodge the well-anchored ant. Irritated beyond endurance, the elephant ran amok, smashing its nose onto rocks and trees but still it could not dislodge the well-positioned ant. The giant elephant finally crumbled to its knees due to hunger and exhaustion.Thus the giant elephant died and the ant emerged from the nose into the splendour and glory of Victory (p 82).

The participation of imaginative narrative in nation building which the above"national allegory" points to, suggests that the written word is important in the process of self-legitimation of the new nationalist government. During the struggle for independence, the national interest was very clear. African writers committed to the struggle believed that their works of art would harmonize the national ideals with the deepest aspirations of the people for land. Writers were unanimous about the role of art in the new dispensation. Chinua Achebe, just like Wole Soyinka believed that writers, as sensitive points of their communities, were teachers whose duty was to be that of a "visionary, a warning voice and a builder of the future" (Per Wastberg, p. 18 in K.H.Petersen, 1986). Even Ngugi wa Thiongo who was writing plays and novels critical of racism in the colonial system was praised and his books were put on secondary school syllabus in Kenya. But this "honeymoon" between the writers and the new leaders was to last briefly.

In the neocolonial period, the present sense of a collective destiny for Africans which the tale quoted above emphasizes is rudely undercut by the poverty of a large section of Africans amidst the consolidated riches of a few whites and blacks. In Victory, as Zuze Jairos lies in bed at a hospital in Harare, convalescing from a bout of Tuberculosis, he reflects that it is 1984 in Zimbabwe and "nothing much has changed at Little England Farm, because the white owners, "are still stealing our sweat and blood under the cover of broad daylight and poverty has become the very soul of our freedom (p 93). What Zuze is bemoaning here, is the glaring fact that when independence is granted in 1980, the path of continuity with colonialism on the crucial issue of land is chosen: the squatter peasant's dream of owning her/his plot of land is bypassed in favour of the retention of foreign -owned farms under the black directorship and the purchase of farms, a tactic that is most benefiting to wealthier black families. When Zuze is finally released from the hospital, he has not a home to go to. As a result he, together with other displaced blacks - Fanon's "the wretched of the earth" - begins to comb the streets of Harare in search of food. Meanwhile, white fortune-seekers like Marlowe (recalling Joseph Conrad's character in Heart of Darkness), gets new licence to prospect for more gold. The lushness of green in European farms, the bodily health of the children of well-to-do black families and the general superfluity of the city people contrasts sharply with Zuze's flourish of want. It is as if, at this point in the narrative, "Victory" ironically refers to the triumph of colonial injustice over the aspirations of the people that are pushed aside in the new dispensation. Witness how Zuze wonders whether he will ever have a home of his own;

Yes, free to go anywhere you want, free to drift like the wind.Go, then like the wind, scattering yourself into the depth of oblivion...Blowing on and on like the homeless wind, into the depth of valleys, aloft the great heights of high mountains. Is the ocean not the home for the moist particles of water? Is the anthill not the home for the dry mote of the sand?...Is the air below the sky not the home of the fyling birds? (p 102).

Zuze is the unaccommodated man. Which is why he is an exile in the land of his birth. His desperate search for "home" represents the quest for spiritual anchorage in the postcolonial period. Both home and family are no longer providing systems of meaningful existence to the individual. This reveals the yawning gap between individual dreams of fulfilment and official rhetoric on national unity and collective destiny.

Gender and Class Issues in the Postcolonial Zimbabwean Novel

  • Postcolonial Politics and Shifting Identities in Africa
  • Writers and Politics in Postcolonial Zimbabwe
  • 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
    Postcolonial Web Africa OV Zimbabwe OV Gender Matters