Postcolonial African Literature: The Experience of Zimbabwe (4)

Violence in the Cities

Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

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 bandits who die in prison' and with sanctions there are few other jobs to be had.

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]