Zimbabwean Cultural Malaise of the 1960s and '70s

Rino Zhuwarara, Ph.D., Chair, Department of English, University of Zimbabwe

The role of establishing an equally serious but more accomplished tradition of fiction writing has to be accorded to Charles Mungoshi, Dambudzo Marechera, and Stanley Nyamfukudza. These young writers belong to a generation that is more conscious of the demands of the novel as a genre as well as of the peculiar nature of the experience which they ask it to accommodate.

In general, Mungoshi's novel, Waiting for the Rain (London, Heinemann, 1975), and his collections of short stories entitled Coming of the Dry Season (Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press, 1972) and Some Kinds of Wounds (Gwero, Mambo Press, 1980), focus on a variety of characters belonging to an African family whose bonds of kinship are slowly unravelling. The new economic forces introduced into the country as well as Western culture that is strengthened to conform with settler ideology have taken their toll on African tradition, especially when the material base of that tradition, the land, has been taken away for settler use. The Old Man and Garabha in Waiting for the Rain are a more or less marooned species trying desperately to cling on to a spiritual heritage in an environment that is fiercely hostile to its preservation. Even the majestic and rather imposing Matandangoma, the traditional spirit medium, is, so we feel, harping on a seemingly impotent belief system whose material base has been viciously corroded. Her diagnosis of the spiritual malaise which sits at the heart of the Tongoona family is not likely to resolve what is essentially a larger, national problem. Even those characters who admirably cling on to their cultural identity do not possess the kind of awareness which could enable them to comprehend fully the material forces impinging upon their world view. In other words, Mungoshi's characters are ill-equipped, in terms of consciousness, to readjust to and fight for their place in the new hostile world introduced by the West.

If Mungoshi's vision is somewhat pessimistic, Marechera's is one of total disillusionment. His The House of Hunger (London, Heinemann, 1978; Harare, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1982) and Black Sunlight (London, Heinemann, 1980) are works which relentlessly catalogue the horrors which beset the African community well after the onset of colonialism. African society has become so debased and diseased that it is almost unrecognizable. Everything and everybody have been "eaten to the core by the White man's coming." It is a bleak and awesome vision in which nothing survives. While Mungoshi excels in the manner in which he meticulously and sensitively renders the inner crisis of a culturally beleaguered people, Marechera's strength lies in his idiosyncratic use of language and in his unrivalled depiction of characters whose impulses and psyche have been perverted in a fundamentally irredeemable way. In his works new levels of feeling and perceptions are reached. However, the question that readers are bound to ask is: Is the African condemned to futility, to ihis existential nightmare which terrorizes even those who dare to hope that the African continent has a future?

In a sense, Stanley Nyamfukudza's The Non-believer's Journey (London, Heinemann; Salisbury, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1980) continues to express an aspect of the disillusionment found in the works of Marechera. Sam, the protagonist, is a university graduate teacher sceptical of the beliefs and aspirations of his people. Being a sceptic he remains aloof, a spectator, an outsider watching and criticizing but not contributing to the struggle for freedom as his less-learned companions do. He, like many a protagonist in Zimbabwean fiction, does not possess the kind of historical vision, or the commitment, which could enable him to participate meaningfully in the creation of history. He is suspicious of the White racist and equally so of the African politician and the struggle. In a way Sam is a more persuasive and more confused version of Mungoshi's Lucifer. Both are characters who, in the long run, risk being rudely cast aside by history as redundant.

In broad terms, therefore, all three authors write the kind of fiction which, while rooted in the protest tradition of modem African literature, is preoccupied with the cultural malaise which gripped Black Zimbabweans during the 1960s and 1970s. One can also argue that Mungoshi's vision of cultural anomy, legitimate and profoundly meaningful as it is, unduly plays down the vitality and versatility of a people who we know from history struggle relentlessly to readjust and cope with the peculiar demands of the twentieth century. By the same token, Marechera's disillusionment is overwhelmingly insisted upon as if man is under the grip of an unappeasable force. Man is dooified to live a life of futility, and, as such, his hopes for a better future are dashed the moment he is born. In Nyamfukudza's The Non-believer's Journey one senses an overall grasp of the social, political and economic forces which are operating in the country as history unfolds. The colonial ideology with its attendant values and attitudes is locked in deadly combat against an African culture of resistance. The dialectical relationship between a dying Rhodesia and an emerging Zimbabwe is outlined in Nyamfukudza's novel. However, the writer's grasp of the issues which are shaping history is qualified by the all too real fear of the betrayal which could occur during the struggle for independence as well as after its attainment. It is fair to conclude that both Marechera and Nyamfukudza write their works with the sombre recognition that the masses in post-independence Africa have often been betrayed by their leaders.

  1. An Introduction to Zimbabwean Fiction in English
  2. Novels of Cultural Conflict and Protest
  3. Zimbabwean Cultural Malaise of the 1960s and '70s
  4. Geoffrey Ndhlala's The Southern Circle
  5. Samuel Chimsoro's Nothing Is Impossible
  6. Edmund Chipamaunga's A Fighter for Freedom
  7. Garikai Mutasa's The Contact
  8. Spencer Tizora's Crossroads

This essay first apeared in Zambezia: The Journal of the University of Zimbabwe (1987) 14 (1987): 133-34.
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