Like the works of Edmund Chipamaunga and Garikai Mutasa, Spencer Tizora's Crossroads (Gweru, Mambo Press, 1985) explores the experiences connected with the Zimbabwean struggle for independence. But, unlike A Fighter for Freedom and The Contact which place heavy emphasis on the actual physical combat which takes place between the Rhodesian army and the freedom fighters, Crossroads is mainly concerned about the impact of the larger historical conflict on the lives of ordinary individuals. The fate of these individuals is explored against the back,-,round of mounting guerrilla pressure on White Rhodesia during the latter part of the 1970s. Caught up in the crisis are several individuals who have planned their lives without taking into account the fact that the struggle for freedom will affect them in a fundamental way.
For instance, here is how Priscilla, who is married to David Moyo and who finds herself compelled to supply drugs to guerrillas, perceives her role:
True, she had started off as a kind of non-believer, an agnostic who had not quite been saved from the sin of non-commitment. Not exactly a fence-seater [sic], for there was no fence to sit on. No one had the time to erect it. (93)
The tide of events is so strong that Priscilla does not have the opportunity to choose sides. Similarly, David, after much soul-searching, is compelled to forgo his role as a teacher and join the struggle, thus sacrificing his marriage in the process.
What ensues is a tale of woe as Priscilla gets imprisoned, humiliated and tortured by the Rhodesian security personnel. After imprisonment, Priscilla cannot bear loneliness; she falls in love with a student teacher, Nwabu Zhou, who impregnates her but is not keen to marry her. She gives birth to a son, but as the harrowing pressures of existence increase she loses her grip on reality and becomes insane. She has to be separated from her son. After hospital treatment she lives as a tramp, desperate to find her son who has been adopted by a White woman named Betty. Yet the irony is that at the end of the war David is keen to re-establish contact with Priscilla. The central question raised in the novel is, Can the national policy of reconciliation be extended further to affect the manner in which individuals come to terms with very private and painful experiences? Priscilla is a casualty of history who needs an enormous amount of sympathy and understanding. Can David overlook all that has happened in his absence and relate to a deformed Priscilla and her illegitimate son? His dilemma is more problematical than that of Gikonyo in A Grain of Wheat.
Similarly, the theme of reconciliation between Blacks and Whites is tentatively explored in the novel. Betty is a White woman who has experienced loneliness and lived insecurely during the war. She is glad the war is over and is anxious to reach out to Blacks:
"My husband taught me about the world. That's why I go out the way I do these days. He taught me about the outside world, about other people's needs and I brought up quite a few African boys and girls."They grew up in my home . . . as if they were my own children; and, mind you, they were my servants, but I treated them like my children."
The difficulties that have to be surmounted before Blacks and Whites understand each other are great. To the African audience Betty is a superficial character, clutching on to liberal credentials. Her mode of perception as well as her speech idiom reveal a patronizing attitude characteristic of liberals. Yet, as the story in the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that the woman has actually looked after Priscilla's son notwithstanding the opposition from her husband.
The novel also explores the national problems which confront the new African government immediately after the attainment of Independence. As ZIMCORD money starts pouring into the country, Nwabu Zhou, who is now part of the government security machinery, wonders how the profit motives of foreign companies can be reconciled with the original aspirations of the Black majority. On a personal level, he also wonders whether the role he is now playing, as he drives his smart-looking Bluebird car, can be reconciled to his original visions of serving, with dedication, his own people in Mwauya Reserve.
As a whole, Crossroads is a sensitively written novel which poses serious questions throughout, and it does not pretend to offer answers at all. its limitation, perhaps, is that it tries to do too many things at once, and none of the fundamental issues raised in it are followed up in the end. Also the life-history of Priscilla and Nwabu Zhou sometimes degenerates into sheer melodrama which distracts the reader's attention away from the serious issues being raised. It is a novel whose vision is delicately poised between hope for a better future and fear of betrayal.
In Spencer Tizora's Crossroads, therefore, it is clear that the novels published since the attainment of Independence can be divided into two distinct groups on the basis of theme. The first group involves works by Chinodya, Ndhlala and Chimsoro. These works are basically looking back to the colonial era and amplifying some of the issues which were more ably dealt with by writers such as Mungoshi, Marechera and Nyamfukudza. What is significant is that new voices have emerged to broaden the scope of the literary tradition that is in the making. The new voices may not be as accomplished as the established writers, but they either modify or confirm what the more accomplished writers have said, and this is important. As for the second group, it is mainly a group of novels dealing with the liberation war. As was said earlier, both Chiramaunga and Mutasa are writing works which are deeply influenced by their response to the White man's perception of Blacks. African cultural nationalism becomes a potent force offering spiritual strength to Africans locked in a deadly combat against the Rhodesian forces. The version they offer of that struggle is a highly partisan one and this review has tried to explain why this is so. As for Tizora's Crossroads, it is a novel that is Janus-faced: looking back to what happened to individuals as their lives got mangled by the horrors of war as well as looking forward to another form of struggle about the cultural and economic problems which face the new nation.
Last Modified: 21 March, 2002