Garikai Mutasa's The Contact

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

Like Edmund Chipamaunga's A Fighter for Freedom, Garikai Mutasa's The Contact (Gweru, Mambo Press, 1985) focuses on the experiences of the liberation war. Fascinating to observe in this short novel, which is barely one hundred and twenty-five pages long, is the gulf of incomprehension separating Black people and their freedom fighters from the White generals and their settler community. Heading the White army stationed at Shabani is Turnball, a White army veteran who has fought against guerrillas in the Centenary area, lost a son, and is now sceptical about the chances of winning the war. He has the ability to see how the Americans, in spite of their superior technology, failed to win the Vietnam War. And he can see a similar fate awaiting the Rhodesians. He keeps on asking, "What the hell are we fighting for then?"-- a question that is also echoed by the war-weary wife of Mercati, a fire-breathing racist bigot who would like to teach the "munts" a lesson once and for all. His confidence, like that of his White compatriots in Kadma, lies in the superior technology possessed by Whites and the contempt with which he holds the African.

Unlike the Whites in this novel who are motivated by their desire to advance professionally and thus make more money, the Black guerrillas fighting in the Shiku area feel spiritually attached to their ancestral land. They can also relate to the people and feel strengthened in their cause as they succeed in conscientizing the people. Inspiring them is the idea that history is on their side and the future is theirs. They are also motivated by the vision of bringing about a non-racial society in which all the injustices enshrined in the colonial society are done away with.

The battlefield becomes the significant meeting-point of the two races. In one instance we are told about the response made by the two sides after a fierce battle involving hand-to-hand fighting;

"No need to kill him. He is a good fighter. Guns against guns and fists against fists. And with fists an opponent is defeated when he collapses," said Tichatora. They ran to the gathering point.

Half an hour later the Rhodesian came to. He was baffled and surprised. Why hadn't they killed him. They had started the ambush. They had taken his guns and left him alive. The man he had fought with had been a fighter. The first on to wield him a knockout blow since he was a twelve-year-old. How good it woulrt:to spar with someone of his own calibre like that. He stopped, he was beginning to think of his opponent in almost likeable terms ... he was after all a terrorist . . . (31-32)

Tichatora is a guerrilla fighter who fights according to a prescribed military code. He is a professional man who relishes a good and fair fight, not a blood-thirsty and senseless savage determined to kill Whites merely because they are White. On the other side is a Rhodesian soldier who is begrudgingly compelled to respect the Black man for his military prowess. The false conciousness which taught him to see Blacks as incurably bad shots and incorrigible cowards begins to recede. In other words, the battlefield becomes an arena where the White man's prejudices are severely put to the test. The White characters are often compelled to re-assess their own perception of Blacks. In this sense, the war becomes an educational process which is potentially capable of getting rid of the false consciousness which characterizes the White man's mentality. As for the Blacks themselves, the struggle offers them an opportunity to win back their sense of manhood and self-respect. Often the violence of the struggle is regarded as a necessary redemptive phenomenon which restores the humanity of Black people.

Both Mutasa and Chipamaunga write novels which seek to redeem Blacks as people capable of shaping their own history and identity. Both writers are responding to the White myths which often portrayed Blacks as children who need a senior White brother to protect them from the consequences of their own deficiencies. Consequently, Mutasa, like Chipamaunga, does not hesitate to award all the significant military victories to the freedom fighters. The only notable difference in their treatment of war experiences is that Mutasa does not romanticize Black fighters to the same degree evinced in A Fighter for Freedom. Marx, Mao, Hondoinopisa and Gadzirai are recognizable figures who have painfully acquired their fighting skills through experience and dedication. Also, Mutasa is aware of the fact that the mechanical role of guns needs to be complemented by an intensive programme of politicization - hence the involvemeni of the local population in the struggle.

A limitation, however, which undermines The Contact as a novel is the fact that the fighters themselves do not display a serious and profound ideological commitment. Their political programme aimed at conscientizing the masses does not go beyond the articulation of the injustice perpetrated by the White authorities. It is true that the fighters win the moral argument, but there is no attempt to offer a convincing socialist vision appropriate for an independent Zimbabwe. It is not accidental that Marx is named after Karl Marx because he sported a beard similar to that of the famous thinker and revolutionary. The Zimbabwean Marx can neither read nor write and, therefore, he has not benefited directly from reading Karl Marx's works. Similarly, the Zimbabwean Mao, although exposed to Mao Zedong's works, prefers to read James Bond novels. At the end of tiie novel, Gadzirai, who acts as the leader of the fighters, has no qualms at all when he becomes a personnel officer for a large multinational company that is exploiting the resources of the country. In brief, the ideological issue is given superficial treatment in Mutasa's novel.

  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): 143-44.
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