Postcolonial African Literature: The Experience of Zimbabwe (2)

Breaking the Silence: Chenjerai Hove's Bones and His Shadows

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

The first great book to break this Post-Independence silence was Chenjerai Hove's Bones. Hove, looks at the newly independent world of Zimbabwe through the memories of all those who knew a woman, Marita, a farm-worker, whose only son left to join the liberation war and who did not return and whom she sought to find. Hove implicitly reveals that for the poor, the oppressed, nothing very much changed in the immediate aftermath of independence. Marita survives at the bottom of a harsh pyramidal social scale under the tyranny of male oppression: her husband, then the "boss-boy," and the cook; all of whom are in turn subject to the autocracy and prejudices of the white farmer. Marita's grief, her wisdom, her quiet resilience all of which amount to a profound courage, the courage of those 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 at 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 to 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.

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]