Postcolonial African Literature: The Experience of Zimbabwe (6)


Irene Staunton: Publishing Director, Baobab Books

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 once 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 exists.

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

Zimbabwe OV Literature [Politics]