Postcolonial African Literature: The Experience of Zimbabwe (1)

The Seventeen-Year Civil War and Its Immediate Literary Aftermath

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

Art is the telling of truth and is the only available method for the telling of certain truths.

Zimbabwe achieved its independence in 1980 after seventeen years of a civil war, a war in which -- and estimates vary from 30, 000 to 70, 000 -- men, women and children left the country to live in often appalling conditions in Mozambique and Zambia, hoping to return as guerrillas to fight against a white regime of 250,000 people with all the advantages of a conventional army and airforce and one which mustered all its men into the war. Both sides believed they had right on their side, both used propaganda to espouse their cause, and both sides had to engender a hatred of the opposing side because you cannot kill another human being unless he or she is perceived as your "enemy." There was no one in Zimbabwe whose lives were not disrupted and changed by the war, no one who did not suffer its psychological consequences and no one who did not lose either friends or family.

The war and all the terrible suffering that it engendered was unnecessary. Selfishness, bigotry, insularity, arrogance, greed and intransigence on the part of white leaders, men who had the power and did not relinquish control, men who were elected by a tiny minority of the population and who used fear as a means of social control, misused their authority and caused a situation in which the only recourse left to the black population was through the barrel of a gun. However, Zanla and Zipra, the two guerrilla armies suffered a great deal of internal conflict, dissension was not tolerated, there was guerrilla on guerrilla violence as well as hunger, rape, rough punishment including beating and executions of both people within the army and of the civilian population.

In 1980 Zimbabwe achieved the hard-won freedom its people had for which its people so long fought. Robert Mugabe became the Prime Minister and astonishingly offered a hand of reconciliation and friendship. Nonetheless many whites, deeply embittered and unable to either accept defeat or adjust to the new situation, left the country. Peace, democracy, a new constitution, a black government, a socialist ideology free education and health for all were among many of the principles that offered hope to the citizens of the new Zimbabwe. No one wanted to discuss the atrocities committed by both sides. Another consequence of war, a civil war in particular, is fear.

For the first five or six years after independence Zimbabwean authors who write in English published little of any real literary worth. Why? I don't know -- all I can offer are a few suggestions.

One, it was a time of great hope, great promise, great expectation and there are not many great books which have been forged out of joy: jubilation can lead to purple-patched excess.

Two, the struggle for independence was seen as an heroic struggle against great odds. Books such as The Struggle for Zimbabwe: the Chimurenga War by David Martin and Phyllis Johnson, Guns and Rain, Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe, by David Lan and Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War by Terence Ranger tended to portray it in this light.

Three, it was a period of adjustment, of quiet grief, of mourning, of pain. As Alexander Kanengoni says in his forthcoming novel, Echoing Silences,

But soon, [Munashe's] indifference was overshadowed by parents who thronged the assembly point looking for their children. They arrived throughout the day: in the morning, afternoon and evening ... They came by bus, by car and on foot. And it was not long before [he] noticed that beneath their outward happiness, behind their inebriated singing as the buses and lorries rolled into the assembly point, beneath their wild embraces as fighters met their people, they all looked the same: anxious, uncertain, afraid. It showed in the way their eyes searched through the guerrilla ranks. It showed in their voices as they talked to the guerrillas about what a burden the war was now that it was over and they would soon be free. They did not ask directly about the whereabouts of their own sons and daughters ... Instead they asked whether the guerrillas at Dzapasi were the only ones left after the long war. Even as they asked the question, one could detect the panic in their eyes. To them, it was clear that victory and independence would be meaningless if their own children did not return home ... (forthcoming)

Yvonne Vera, in several short stories in her collection, Why Don't you Carve Other Animals, portrays the intensely personal and peculiar disillusionment with the actuality of independence; the disparity between the huge hope and expectation in the minds of individuals and the reality of the celebrations:

The man kept one arm around the woman while with the other he held a bottle of cold beer. He had the television on, and insisted that he would watch the Independence celebrations first ... First there was traditional dancing in the middle of the stadium. The woman withdrew into the safe place within her mind and watched the pictures go by on the screen. The new Prime Minister made a long speech ...The woman saw the Prince sitting quietly in his spotless white clothing. The said his mother could not come. ... the man watching the screen went to the kitchen for another beer. He was going to celebrate Independence properly: with cold beer and a woman. Now it was ten minutes to midnight. She must take her clothes off. ... The man pushed the woman on to the floor. He was going into the new era in style and triumph. She opened her legs. It was midnight and the new flag went up ... When he was through he sent her home. When he awoke he preferred [to have] the whole house to himself. ('Independence Day')

Four, peace was too precious, hope for a black government too great, reconciliation too precarious, war and the memory of war too painful for anyone to want to immediately probe the complexities of war, the pain and the grief.

Five, in the early years after independence there was, as one writer told me, an expectation that Zimbabwean authors would write books that proclaimed the socialist message; didactic novels. Naturally for many this expectation proved more of an inhibition than an inducement to write.

Six, the historical tensions, rivalry and bitterness between Zanu and Zapu, Zanla and Zipra, the Shona and the Ndebele, led to the experience of Gukurahundi in Matabeleland when it is conservatively estimated that the Fifth Brigade (a unit of men especially trained by the Koreans) killed three thousand people in Matabeleland between 1981 and 1985: many thousands more were beaten, tortured and their villages burnt down. The government was silent on the issue. People knew its power. They knew it expected absolute, uncritical, unswerving loyalty. It was a victorious government born of the fruits of of an heroic struggle.

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics] little nameless acts in a harsh unyielding world, is not only revealed in her actions, her refusal to submit, to give up, her determination to maintain her own principles of justice and morality, one that is humane, compassionate, dignified and offers us an alternative to war selfishness, bigotry and arrogance; but in language which is a once poetic, proverbial, indirect and simple; the history of the land, a land smeared by blood, is told us in a counterpoint of different voices, characters shaped by differing experiences, but all people who knew Marita and were influenced by her.

Hove went on in his second novel, Shadows, to look at the way in which the war had devastated the land and the lives of people who did not go the war but who remained behind. There he contrasts the barrenness and bleakness of lives lived under a pitiless regime of forced removals, of soldiers fighting guerrillas, of sell-outs, of fear of sell-outs, of the tyranny of rhetoric, of propaganda, of new rules, of silence that is betrayal, of the confusion of the elders bewildered by different voices, of the arrogance and pitilessness of youth, of youth trained to kill in a war that is fought to free but in the process must repress and destroy, of black on black violence, of the power of the gun, the gun in the hands of the youth who did not always behave well, the future leaders of the land.

The young men went round, even during the day, asking for people to cook for them as it was before the white man was defeated. They began to sleep in houses, expelling the owners of the houses. They too did not want to suffer the bite of the many mosquitoes which sang hymns at night, searching for the blood of farmers. Sometimes they took the women to dark places, making them pregnant. (97)

Then the old men and women were sad with the new rulers. They could not understand how it was that people who had fought the same enemy could become greedy when the enemy ran away. (97)

Shadows, published in 1991, raised many issues, issues which are only beginning to become part of public discourse today but which everyone knew of: rape, senior officers in the camps forcing themselves upon the young female combatants; black and white soldiers inflicting themselves on their victims; guerrillas within the country forcing themselves upon the chimbwidos; children born to nameless father's (guerrillas were only known by their chimurenga names); the distress caused within those families as no one knew the child's totem, and thus could not communicate with its ancestors.

Sell-outs, those who were said to have betrayed the guerrillas who were, as in Harvest of Thorns by Shimmer Chinodya publicly beaten to death:

The crowd scrambled back, away from the victim, the way a group of people would scramble away from a snake ... Mabuhnu Muchapera struck her first ... Pasi nema SellOut gripped the root in his hands and approached her from the other side ... the woman's legs were sprawled towards him. Her calves were fat and shiny in the firelight ... she let out a low moaning sound deep in her throat ... A voice spoke from the crowd. A man's voice ... he was crouching and clapping with his hands with a hollow sound. He was speaking with a shaky voice. His grizzled hair shone in the firelight. The fire glowed in the wells of his cheeks. He was talking to Baas Die. He said, "Have mercy on her vanangu, have mercy on her." Other voices joined in from the crowd ... "Have mercy on her ..." ... "Give her another chance, vanangu [Headman] Sachikonye said. 'There are no second chances," Baas Die said. "There are no second chances in this war. ... You should be clapping hands and ululating." ... Pasi NemaSellout clutched his stick. His hands were damp. He did not look at Baas Die. He did not look at Mabunu Muchapera. He did not look at the crowd. He did not look at the fire. He looked at the woman sprawling on the ground. Her hair was wild. Her earrings and shoes were still on. There was a dark stain on the grass near her head. He looked away from her legs and her head and fixed his eyes on her waist. He clutched his stick in his damp hands. (206)

And what do people do with their memories when there is a public silence; when the war is perceived only as an heroic victory? In his volume of short stories, Effortless Tears, Alexander Kanengoni, himself a guerrilla from 1974, deals powerfully with the ambiguities, the betrayals, and of violence in a war which has left memories too full of horror for an individual to handle without psychological damage. Paul Gavi, in "Things we'd Rather not Talk About," who has been forced by the guerrillas to kill his father to prove that he too is not a "sell-out;" Cephas Maruta in "Septic Wounds" who holds his brother, an ex-combatant in contempt for not being able to put the war behind him; VaHungwe in "The Men in the Middle" who is sure that the men are demanding beer in his shop are Selous Scouts who are going to kill a "sell-out" (this time to the guerrillas) in the village, and is helpless before their demands, weak in his own knowledge, from which he is only able to flee.

Joining the Struggle: Shimmer Chinodya's Harvest of Thorns and Charles Samupindi's Pawns

Shimmer Chinodya in Harvest of Thorns and Charles Samupindi in Pawns look at the reason why people, even children, went to join the struggle. Beyond the commitment and determination to bring down the colonial regime, there were other sometimes more immediate (the violence of the Rhodesian regime; or unemployment); more romantic (a consequence of the broadcasts from Radio Freedom), more ambiguous (peer group pressure) reasons why young people and children made their way to the camps. There life was not all that it had been made out to be or all that had been expected: Samupindi, graphically describes internal political fighting, the beatings, the hunger, the disease, the tedium, the lice, the cold, the fear that infected new recruits:

The cadres are already singing Rangarira as the punishment for bizhu (cheating in order to get a second helping of food) is administered. Joseph is given a ten-litre dish full of sadza and powdered milk to devour. Above him the cane hovers. Joseph lowers his head into the food, tears running down his cheeks. The chanting continues. ...

He feeds.
The chanting strains the air.
Each time he lifts his head the cane descends.
He growls.
He feeds.
The chant.
The cane.
He feeds.
The tears.
The chant.
The cane.
He feeds.
The cane.
The mourning cry.

The dish is half empty when he gives in. He defecates. Bellows. Like a bull. Shit. It crawls through the rents in his strain-fatigued Flora longs. I mourn. The chanting stops. The crowd looks away as armies of flies appear ... I force myself through the crowd. I want to be away ... away from everything. I volunteered to help destroy the Smith regime. That's all. Simple and logical. To fight the enemy at home ... Chant. Cane. Shiite. Is it to much to ask ... to be a people's soldier? (87)

Then there was the war of battles, guns, shelling, bombing, torching, torture, violence and death. The war which had brutalised men:

Through the flames, beyond the door, he thought he could make out a fuzzy figure. It was rocking with laughter while it held the screaming body of Tongai by the leg ... The soldier suddenly threw the baby into the flames where it fell with a dusty thud ... For a moment it wriggled like a monster worm ... and then lay motionless as flames engulfed it. (143)

Samupindi's writing may sometimes be unstable and disjointed, but it is also eloquent and compelling because he is writing with fresh eyes about something known to him. Pawns, like White Man Black War and Kandaya, are as much faction as fiction: the voices are intense and powerful.

Often the focus is not the larger battles, but the intense memories of smaller human incidents of evasion, brutality, cowardice, revenge, anger, incidents whic have scarred themselves on the minds of the individuals who were there, or who saw and felt the war in their behaviour and actions and that of others. Kanengoni does, however, speak of the battle of Chimoio, an incident when the Rhodesian forces bombed to erase a camp that contained refugees, as well as guerrillas, women and children:

Although Munashe could not see her, he felt her presence above the intense smell of gunpowder as they drew closer to the camp. And then they were overwhelmed by the stink of decomposing bodies and Munashe could think of nothing but death. Corpses lay everywhere ... The whole bodies of little boys and girls, young men and women, old men and old women lay scattered amongst those with crushed skulls, shattered faces and missing limbs. Flies, swarms of heavy, green flies hovered over the bodies moving from corpse to corpse like helicopters during an attack: the worms had not yet appeared, they would come later. Then, there were the many injured, hundreds of them, groaning in pain. Some had been shot and left for dead and others had their legs and arms crushed by the rumbling steel-belted wheels of armoured vehicles. A small girl with a gaping wound in her small chest sat calmly in a donga: "Do you think I will live?' she asked. Munashe, unable to reply, turned abruptly away ... ... Life and death had become interchangeable. He thought of all the death that he had caused or witnessed in the war which added to his sense of helplessness, and of confusion.

Violence in the Cities

But if the war was in the rural areas, if violence was overt in the battles and lay hidden in the camps, it also lurked in the city of the 1960s and 1970s. In Without a Name by Yvonne Vera, Mazvita is raped by a soldier near her smoking village, and escapes to the city which she sees as a place of "rare freedom" where no one cared who she was, where she could be anybody: Rose, Margaret, Angelina, Constance, Juliet ... a place where "women wore trousers. revolution." But that Freedom -- or the idea of freedom -- that anonymity is bought at the price of loneliness, of alienation, and, as we discover, brutal despair has its own driving volition. Similarly, in Harvest of Thorns, Benjamin Tichafa, a young boy, full of the excitements and dreams and mischief and sense of discovery is beaten down literally and metaphorically by the bullying of peers -- "Sellout" they hissed -- the judgments of elders, the arbitrary rules that govern the crowded high density suburbs where everyone is a stranger, everyone under suspicion, and where the charismatic church is one of the few unifying forces drawing its members together in a frenzy of confession and prayer for the forgiveness of sins; the sins that must have brought down the wrath of God in the suffering of the black race. So Benjamin runs away. He joins the struggle. He survives those years but he returns to unemployment and to a home and family in Harari that is in many ways just as he left it all those years before as this brief extract reveals when the young guerrilla talks to his mother:

"There are millions in this country who are having it good because we went out. You just don't happen to be one of them." "I can't understand your bitterness, why are you so hardened? You keep trying to blame me [your mother] for your failure. Look at your friends who have finished school and started working. You'll never catch up with them!' "Do you know what this war was all about." "This whole family is damned by the blood on your hands."

The disappointment and loneliness in the immediate aftermath of Independence, revealed in Marita's search for her son; and in the need that families had to communicate but could not reach their children, hardened and alienated by a war and their actions in a war:

On the second morning after she arrived, Chido sat with Mother under the shade of the veranda, wathching people's heads go by over the high hedge. "How was it there where you were?" Mother asked apprehensively. Chido was angry that she should ask such a question, that she should expect an answer from her. "It was all right," she said shrugging her shoulders impatiently ... ... "I worried so much about you' ... but Chido felt that Mother was shifting another burden onto her, and did not want to listen. ... The daughter was aggrieved. She did not want to remember. Talking made her remember ... "Why do you hide from me?' Mother pleaded, "I am your mother." ("It is Over")

Silence and ignorance; women who had been raped repeatedly had to bury their memories in silence if they hoped to get married; the process of acknowledgment, healing and cleansing in some families either did not come at all or came too late (as with Munashe in Echoing Silences); the divisions within families who may have had relatives on both sides of the struggle has not yet been fully dealt with although there are many revealing incidents in, for example Harvest of Thorns: the so-called "sell-out's" son who was a policeman; the farmworker whose son is in the army:

People have been advising him to tell his son to resign, but at $58 a month he earns the highest salary in the family, and "It is a job that somebody has to do -- like cleaning public toilets and burying the corpses of the bandiets who die in prison' and with sanctions there are few other jobs to be had.

And what of the white forces?

In Bones, Manyepo, the white farmer is a lurking presence, a harsh, alien individual addressed in the silent thoughts, the inner monologue of the people who work for him:

How do you come to think that we are children Manyepo? Men should be treated like men, Manyepo. Who told you that a man can be beaten just like that. To slap a man in the face in front of his own wife and children, Manyepo, do you know that is like killing him. (24)

Slowly a picture is built up, not just of Manyepo, but of a powerful white presence with alien, even barbarous mores, and a cruel assertive contempt. Hove pits two unequal forces against each other: the powerful white farmer who says: "I rule here." There is nothing the government in the city can do to me; and Marita, who unlike Murume or Chisaga are, in her words, "castrated" men who have lost their pride to the white baas, Marita retains her integrity, her strength, her dignity. She works for Manyepo, she works until her hands are cracked, but she does not compromise: her wisdom, her knowledge of traditional mores, her sense of what is right, are unfailing and have a profound influence on all those she meets who do not have her courage, her strength of purpose. It is those in the middle who flounder between these opposing forces: the poor but morally upright woman whom they simultaenousely admire and resent; and the physically and economically powerful farmer whose certitude is born of arrogance and bigotry. However it is Chisaga who points out Manyepo's weaknesses; Murume who has a sneaking admiration for his strength; aspects of his character which prevent the white farmer from being simply a caricature. It is, however, Marita who says that the fight is not with the white man but with the evil of his ways.

The relationship drawn by Chinodya in Harvest of Thorns between the farmworker, Msindo, and the farm-owner, Baas Mellecker is a complex one which has developed over many years: Msindo has heard years of banter from his boss and has never allowed himself the foolishness of feeling at ease with it. He knows self-effacement is the way to getting what he wants ... He has grown so used to the farm on which he has been working for forty years, that it is "his" farm, almost. Msindo knows the rules of the game. He knows how to play them. He retains a sense of himself in the process and he can even almost feel pity for a man, the farmer, whose wife has divorced him. It is a relationship of unequal but almost mutual dependence and familiarity which makes his role in Baas Mellecker's death at the hands of the guerrillas more poignant. It is not a simple question of black against white or white against black; it is not the simple revenge of the exploited by the exploiter:

I sat there not knowing what to do, wondering if I should go into the house and pour water over him ... but I knew he was already dead ... so I just sat there thinking I should have told them he's away in town ... or I should have let them kill me in his place ... and I heard the workers going down to the fields without me ... and at eight o'clock I went in expecting to find him on his feet ... I said to myself this is just a dream ... Baas Mellecker can't be dead, it's pay-day today and who will pay the workers, and what will happen to the workers and what will happen to the new tractor, to the farm, but he was there lying with his throat cut and his eyes open ... and when I saw him my hands shook so much I could not hold the telephone but I had to, I had to make the call, I can't remember who I spoke to or what I said (165)

As in Shadows, the youth, the guerrillas, the certainty that they are right: that their war is a just war: "I should tell [the police] that the guerrillas had done it and that they would do it to every farmer who treated his workers like animals" (165). But, as with Johana's father, or Msindo, it is not so simple. Without understanding through discussion with the guerrillas, the slogans, the rhetoric, were often threatening and meaningless.

To quote Beverley Abrahams referring to Shadows as a novel which reflects the changes wrought by colonialism which introduced chaos into the lives of rural people as everything they knew as permanent was undermined:

Although conflict is not new to them, the magnitude and direction of the conflict is. When people can no longer call a land their own, when they are displaced from the place of their ancestors, and when they lose control of their destiny, they lose a part of their soul. Once the fragile link between people, their land and their ancestry is broken, they become a shadow roaming a land they no longer understand, beset by cultural conflicts and torn between material wealth and loyalty to tradition.

This intricate link between land, the ancestors, the svikiros and the guerrillas is explored in Guerrilla Snuff by Mafuranunzi Gumbo in a 'lightly fictionalised account of the war in Masvingo' written in an attempt to provide a social history which he did not feel would be widely read in his non-fiction.

If Gumbo wanted to explore the religion of liberation and in the process ... in Karima, Tim McCloughlin (a member of the Catholic Commission or Justice and Peace throughout the war) tries to explain what the war meant to whites who felt differently and who were subjected to the endless social pressure, the reductionist arguments -- if you don't support Smith, you support Wilson; if you support Wilson you're a commie; if you're a commie you're a traitor -- the bitter jibes of Smith supporters, the arrogance, the contempt.

Bruce Moore King, author of White Man Black War, and Angus Shaw author of Kandaya, take a rather different position. Moore King, was a Grey Scout in the Rhodesian army, a group known for the ferocity of their attacks. He writes bitterly of what he calls the white tribe, the elders, his elders who betrayed him by filling him with propaganda from a young age and sending him straight from school to fight and kill for his country, their country. Returning to Zimbabwe in 1987, he realizes that what he believed and committed himself to killing for, a defense of the white regime, white culture, is indefensible: White Man Black War is a book born out of anger, the anger of a man who vividly remembers acts of atrocity and inhumanity and has somehow to live with those memories:

A curfew breaker had been shot. A young boy. There were no choppers available. I took a detail out to pick up the body ... two trucks. The soldier rubs both hands across his face. Hard. The body was a mess. Guts everywhere. The MAG had caught him. We put the body into a length of mutton cloth ... I remember one of his legs was almost off. ... He'd been forced into a roll of cloth so that his feet were pointing toe to toe. ... He was wearing new shoes ... Bata Super Pro's. New ones. We joked about it. ...

There was only one village in the area. We took him there to be identified. The villagers were waiting for us. They knew, you see, had heard shooting in the night, knew the boy was missing. His mother identified him. The wailing started. ...

Then, then I told them to get the body off the truck. I was in a hurry. That night was our patrol's turn for a Christmas celebration. Booze and good food. So I was in a hurry and they were old, and grief-stricken, and too slow. So with the help of the driver, I threw the body off the truck. At his mother's feet. Then we drove off.

The soldier leans forward ... Do you see the reality, the actual reality behind all the words and phrases about "responsible majority rule" and the "preservation of standards" ... in order to "maintain civilized standards" and stop the evils of Communism' adn all the rest of the undiluted crap we were fed, I had to lose my humanity. Totally. ...

The soldier stumbles away. (63)

Angus Shaw, who also went into the army as a young man, was taught to hate in order to kill; taught never to argue. He ruthlessly exposes the violence of the white war from the moment the men entered training:

Our manic advance moved forward a pounce for every thrust. We got to sandbags and straw-stuffed sacks roped to the gum trees. "That's a kaffir," yelled Fury. "That's the kaffir that just killed your mother, raped your virgin sister. Your sister is crying. Hear her screams. See her, blood all down her legs."

We certainly heard our own demented screams. "And that's the kaffir that did it. Kill him, tear him to pieces. Say after me: Kill, kill, kill ..." "Your mother, your sister. Kill the kaffir." "Kill the Kaffir," as we slashed the bag to pieces.

Suddenly it was all over, all quiet. The rage subsided and we looked at each other questioningly, drained and ashamed.

"Excellent, sergeant," said Captain Bruce. "We might make soldiers out of them yet." (48)

And as Shaw's platoon tried to find a guerrilla, Kandaya, who constantly outwits them, he develops increasing respect for the man on the other side. But Shaw's violent use of language iis just as important as the story; he exposes the bitter, dismissive, crude distortions of a soldier's lingo; the horrifically violent and crude racial and gender stereotypes both defensively and offensively: "Not people, surely Alec. Don't you mean munts?" "Or kaffirs or houts, or Afs, or non-reflectives or buggs, pronounced books but with a "g," said Milo. (36) Shaw uses words like bullets. His book is a confrontation with the war, a war that "fucked up" the society in which he was living; a past which for him anyway demands to be confronted.

Moore King would say, mothers, fathers, wives, girlfriends, detached themselves. You send your men out to kill the enemy to preserve civilized standards, but on R and R you would expect them to cuddle the baby, take you out to dinner. Brutality and sentiment, rhetoric and hypocrisy go hand in hand in perhaps all patriarchal, undemocratic regimes, even when there is not a war. But how do you deal with this duality, this social schizophrenia: you cut yourself off and when the war is over, you bury your experiences deep inside yourself because friends, relatives, the civilized world does not want to know what their fathers and sons, brothers and husbands did. Black Zimbabweans had a cleansing ceremony which allowed for acceptance of what had happened of whatever their sons had committed by the whole family and by the ancestors, but, as is the case of Munashe in Echoing Silences, this ceremony comes too late.


In the last ten years nearly every book we have published has been about the war, either directly or as in Yvonne Vera's last two novels as a backdrop. Where would Zimbabwe be without its authors, writers courageous enough to portray the many ugly bitter but complex facets of our civil war; a war which caused divisions within families, communities, political parties, a war in which many thousands were killed, farms and villages burnt down, fields scorched, rape, violence, men and women taught to hate and kill? Would history have been co-opted and glorified? As Robert Lowell one said: In the arts we are free to say what we want and somehow we want to proclaim the confusion, incoherence and sadness of the world. Politicians and administrators must of course deny that this exist.

For as Kanengoni says in Echoing Silences: It's shocking to see the reluctance that we have to tell even the smallest truth. Ours shall soon become a nation of liars. We lie to our wives. We lie to our husbands. We lie at work. We lie in parliament. We lie in cabinet. We lie to each other. And what is worst is that we have begun to believe our lies. What I fear most is that we will not leave anything to our children except lies and silence.

The books that have been written, and there are many others which I have not cited, reveal the pain and complexity of our history from a humane rather than a political point of view. All good writing is ruthlessly honest. This makes huge demands of integrity upon writers who must therefore become the conscience of our community. Indeed our writers have become our truth commission. With them there is hope for a more compassionate understanding society; through them the trauma of these terrible years will slowly be released. The writers who have written out of our war have set standards of honesty which in Without a Name (which tells of infanticide) and Under the Tongue (which tells of incest) show no signs of diminishing.

It is perhaps telling that after a seventeen years of silence, we have just published a new collection of short stories by Charles Mungoshi, Walking Still.

Charles Mungoshi in Waiting for the Rain and the Dry White Season written before 1980 wrote with a spareness, a compassion and an honesty that has stood us in good stead.

Although the war is mentioned in several stories, this book looks at the problems and difficulties faced by many Zimbabweans today, as they come to terms with their new society, many of which have not yet been addressed in fiction. But when our writers lend us their eyes and ears, there is hope for the future.

September, 1997


Chinodya, Shimmer. Harvest of Thorns. Harare: Baobab Books, 1989.

Gumbo, Mafuranhunzi. Guerrilla Snuff. Harare: Baobab Books, 1995.

Hove, Chenjerai. Bones. Harare: Baobab Books, 1988.

_____. Shadows. Harare: Baobab Books, 1991.

Kanengoni, Alexander. Effortless Tears. Harare: Baobab Books, 1993.

_____. Echoing Silences 1997.

Lan, David. Guns and Rain, Guerrillas and Spirit Mediums in Zimbabwe. James Currey, London, 1985.

Martin, David and Johnson, Phyllis. The Struggle for Zimbabwe: the Chimurenga War. Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1981.

Moore-King, Bruce. White Man, Black War. Baobab Books, Harare,1988.

Mungoshi, Charles. Walking Still. Baobab Books, Harare,1997.

Ranger, Terence. Peasant Consciousness and Guerrilla War. James Currey, London, 1985.

Samupindi, Charles. Pawns. Harare: Baobab Books, 1992.

Shaw, Angus, Kandaya. Harare: Baobab Books, 1993.

Vera, Yvonne. Why Don't you Carve Other Animals. Tsar Publications, Canada, 1992.

_____. Without a Name. Harare: Baobab Books, 1994.

_____. Under the Tongue. Harare: Baobab Books, 1997

Baobab Books,
Box 567, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: 263.4.755035/9
Fax: 781913
Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books,
e-mail: [email protected]

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]