Friday, 9 May 2014

Lovemore's strange war against Zimbabwean literature

Dambudzo Marechera once said that when politicians talk of culture, one better pack one's bags and run away because it invariably means censorship. He said this years ago, when everyone was still drunk on the Independence euphoria and the idea that our liberators could become far more brutal oppressors than even Ian Smith and his horde could have ever dared was simply unthinkable. Fast forward to a few years after these words by the late doyen of Zimbabwean literature were penned, and the reality of the situation soon sank in; write only nice things about the regime. The regime was not to keen on literature anyway, and writing was not seen as a serious profession, even though Mr Mugabe is reputed to be a bibliophile. All the same, every time the regime or any of its machinery took an interest in literature, it has always been to censor.
When they are not banning books outright- a very difficult thing to do in this day of imports and downloads- the powers that be roll out a tame "journalist" to write vitriol against a text deemed offensive. Whether it's Edgar Tekere's version of the history of the nationalist struggle that led to the Independence of Zimbabwe, or Petina Gappah's Elegy for Easterly, you bet they will do a straw man with a book. Books scare the crap out the of the regime.
Not so long ago, it was Richmore Tera trying to tear a chunk out of Gappah. In the finest traditions of our state-owned hack, he had not even bothered to read her book, and showered it with praise. Then, he came back to it, denouncing Gappah as the modern Judas Iscariot. (Oh, the regime is not afraid to compare Mugabe to Jesus Christ) It is possible that Tera still hadn't read it, but had only been told what to write. And, in the finest tradition of all those writers, musicians and other artistes who prostitute themselves to the regime, Tera appears to have since faded in to obscurity. Who got their 30 pieces of silver now, eh?
The new pen-pusher with the regime's shaft deep up his whatsit is Mr Lovemore Ranga Mataire. This ambitious President-Mugabe-hugger once described himself as a "simpleton", so we can't say that he is entirely dishonest about himself. After going in to obscurity amidst allegations of helping himself to the earnings of The People's Voice, the official ZANU-PF newspaper he had become editor of, he has emerged to attack Zimbabwean writers, especially writers based abroad. His pet hate is Zimbabwean literature's lady of the moment, NoViolet Bulawayo.
Is Zim literature at the crossroads? the Simpleton asks in a piece in The Herald. Interesting question to pose, considering that Mr Mataire doesn't appear to know what Zimbabwean literature is. In his subsequent piece, he asks: What really constitutes African literature? I'll go back to that in a moment. In Is Zimbabwean literature at the crossroads? Mataire launches in to a pointless but spirited jeremiad about how bad things have become since the days when when Zimbabwean literature, whose age he determines to be the same as the origins of mankind, "was not a product of desperate impulsive desire for a communication tool but were developed over time and in turn every symbol is meaningful and relevant to particular circumstances."
And what is the harbinger of this doom, this " sliding backwards into some kind of post-modernist narrative that has subconsciously allowed itself to be defined by the discourse of European prejudicial stereotypical images of Africa in the tradition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which depicts Africa and its people in the most denigrating and despicable terms of being mere “cardboard characters” devoid of any intellect."? Why, "so-called contemporary authors like No Violet Bulawayo"!
Most assuredly, Mr Mataire is entitled to his own opinion about any work of literature, even works that he has never read. And no matter how many awards she had got, I am sure even NoViolet Bulawayo herself accepts that her work is not to everyone's taste. But to paint a picture of Zimbabwean literature on the basis of just one work, no matter how much in the international limelight it is at the moment, does not lend to the notion that we are dealing with a critical thinker here.
Think of the spectrum of some of the work that has emerged from the Zimbabwean literary fraternity of late: Sarudzayi Mubvakure's Amelia's Inheritance (historical fiction), Ivor Hartmann's Earth Rise (science-fiction), Tendai Huchu's Hair Dresser of Harare (LGBT issues,) Spiwe N Mahachi-Harper's Footprints in the Mists of Time (migration and belonging), Janine Dube's Dark Horizon (romance), Tracey Kadungure's Tanaka Chronicles (erotica), Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's Shadows (short stories) and so on and so on. We also have poets such as Linda Gabriel. These are just some of the Zimbabwean writers based abroad who have made their mark, I could not name even a tenth of the list that is part of my personal network of writers. Chris Mlalazi is based in Germany, and is seeing his work translated in to German. I had a short-story published in the evening edition of a major newspaper in Jamaica a few years ago. Zimbabwean writers are on the go, man! So, it is understandable that I am shocked that Mr Mataire picks one novel and uses it to paint a picture of Zimbabwean literature that is grossly inaccurate. He fails to see the wood because of one tree.
Then he asks what really constitutes African literature! How would he even begin to understand the answer to the question when he is focused on one text? You have to read several different works before you can find what is common about them.
Advice for Mr Mataire; read Zimbabwean literature. Maybe you are a total cheapskate, but that is still no excuse, because there are so many stories, novellas and novels available free online. Ivor Hartmann had an ezine called StoryTime. It is still online, but is no longer accepting new submissions. Emmanuel Sigauke publishes Munyori. Although it features work by non-Zimbabweans, Munyori has also started to feature fiction in ChiShona. So, there is plenty of quality free material for you to read and criticise. Then tell the world again that there is some sort of crisis in the world of Zimbabwean literature!
Another piece of advice; no matter how much you try and coat it in African nationalist demagoguery, you are serving no one except a regime that fears independent thought. You are simply voicing their fears rather than your own critical analysis. They tell you which writers to worry about, and you do just that. You are doing nothing for Zimbabwean literature at all. In this war you are waging against us Zimbabwean writers and our work, you are not even a warrior but a mongrel hound that leaps in to action when its owner issues that hiss of command: "Sa!". I hear The Herald pays well, but can you still look in the mirror after taking that money, knowing fully well that you had to set aside all critical thinking?
But then again, you did state once that you are a simpleton.

2 comments:

  1. Mataire has an entire chunk of real estate in the Herald. He uses it to eviscerate writers.

    ReplyDelete
  2. He is simultaneously using it to eviscerate his own credibility.

    ReplyDelete