Chidavaenzi: The cultivation of hope

HARARE – Phillip Chidavaenzi’s The Ties that Bind (New Heritage Press) is a sequel to 2007 National Arts Merit Award-winning novel The Haunted Trail (Longman Zimbabwe, 2006).

The array of themes that Chidavaenzi explores in this exciting, contemporary novel make it a must-read for all book lovers.

The world is still grappling with the problem of HIV/Aids. A lot of funds have been spent in scientific research aimed at tackling the global phenomenon.

However, through his central characters Chiedza and Lincoln, Chidavaenzi manages to bring in an entirely untested approach to the management of the pandemic, especially for the affected and infected.

As a true Christian, Chidavaenzi calls on his faith in divine healing and encourages people to believe in the power of the Almighty in mitigating the scourge.

However, he does not wish people to dump their medication but to continue with it while divine intervention will help them overcome the illness, which some have given in to.

The likes of Synodia, Melisa, Yolanda and Shelter have failed in their battle against one of the world’s most dreaded illnesses. Their deaths also speak of broken dreams.

All the other themes revolve around the issue of HIV and Aids. There is mention of unbridled greed, graft.

Politics, bank closures, power cuts, strikes in the health sector, religion and spirituality, crime, hope, love and sexuality, life and death, perseverance, debauchery, among a host of other themes all make The Ties That Bind worth reading.

It is a refreshing creation and so contemporary given the characters’ use of some of the most recent social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook.

Corruption is an ill the country has been struggling to contain but has grown to unprecedented levels.

The levels force one to look back at the world of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born in which Ghanaian Ayi Kwei Armah claims the cancer has been institutionalised and has become so widespread that it is abnormal for someone to be clean.

“I’m still not convinced though Zimbabwe has become so rotten. Everyone now seems to believe the only free cheese can be found at the mousetrap.”  (p10) Chidavaenzi underlines here that people have become so daring in committing crime.

Besides, graft has worsened the situation. “Of course, we can talk about sanctions but corruption, lack of unity of purpose and selfishness has made the effects more devastating.” (P10)

The selfishness is seen even in the most sane characters. Lincoln deliberately infects a prostitute, assuming the “innocent” woman of the night contracts the deadly virus with that encounter with the lawyer.

“Lincoln lay back in bed. His perverted cravings satisfied, he was surprised he did not even feel a trace of remorse. Deep inside him welled up a morbid wave of satisfaction. This was his conquest.” (p121)

One very positive aspect of Chidavaenzi’s The Ties That Bind is its sincerity and capability to generate hope. Lincoln and Chiedza are very truthful to each other about their state of health.

Somehow, Chidavaenzi seems to be saying that people who are not in denial about their conditions are destined to conquer. This is exactly what we see in Lincoln and Chiedza.

They both have pasts they would not want to remember. Chiedza was infected by corrupt banker Michael Denga while Lincoln’s one-night stand with Yolanda Masosa almost signaled his fall off the edge of the precipice.

However, the transformation the two go through regenerates hope in them, until they get married.

Through Chiedza, Chidavaenzi also takes a swipe at non-governmental organisations working in areas of HIV/Aids for abusing people living with the virus while they use them as bait to lure donors.

Chidavaenzi has unusually powerful female characters. Chiedza, Jackie, Vimbiso probably stand out prominently as the most powerful of the women characters in the narrative, a very rare phenomenon in African fiction.

In her own way, Shelter exhibits unparalleled strength to fight Aids although she finally succumbs.

Jackie at some point acknowledges that Shelter is “wasting away, yes, frightening perhaps. But she is till human. She is still our sister. She deserves to be treated kindly, with dignity and respect”. (p21)

What we see here is boundless compassion for the suffering on others and we see the same in Vimbiso who has been tasked with taking care of Shelter.

There is also need to mention that in the novel, it appears female mortality exceeds that of male characters. Whether this is deliberate on the part of Chidavaenzi or accidental may not be immediately clear to the reader.

In terms of style, Chidavaenzi makes effective use of flashbacks and these tend to illuminate his characters’ past mistakes. This also helps arm them to deal with future eventualities.

Phillip Kundeni Chidavaenzi is a journalist, anointed teacher of the Word and author with a passion for teaching and ministering healing to the sick. A born-again Christian, Phillip was born on January 16, 1980 in Chitungwiza and is married to Simba Lyn.

Chidavaenzi’s debut novel, The Haunted Trail, won the Nama award in 2007.

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