Kumafulatsi: Amidst the ugly, dirty

HARARE - Kumafulatsi; By Wonder Guchu, Arts Initiates, 2015. 134 Pages

Filth, debauchery, drunkenness, prostitution, child abuse, eroded moral fabric, false prophets, blackmail, homosexuality, poverty, petty thefts among others are all part and parcel of Wonder Guchu’s exciting play, Kumafulatsi.

It may not be fair to get into a detailed critique of Kumafulatsi, a 2015 Artsinitiates publication that explores life in one of Harare’s oldest, albeit poorest residential areas.

The history of the hostels in Matapi, Mbare and surrounding areas — essentially one-roomed apartments meant for single men — were constructed by the colonial regime way back in the 1940s to accommodate male workers when industrial expansion in the then Salisbury failed to get proportional workforce.

The migrant labour from Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, on which early industrial concerns relied on could not satisfy the needs of the expanding industry.

Zimbabwean workers continued to work seasonally, returning to their rural homes for the agricultural season. They would work for a few days at a time and then return to their families in the rural areas.

The hallmark of the hostels has remained the communal toilets and bathrooms. Use of the communal kitchens that were located outside each block of flats has almost stopped since most of these hostels today accommodate full families.

The metamorphosis through which Matapi and related accommodation in Mbare has undergone both physically and in terms of the social life speaks of a place that has been left to rot, away from the rest of the country where the law intermittently mitigates from time to time.

Kumafulatsi is an unusual play, so realistic that it slices open even the ugliest scenes that take place in the utter darkness of the night. Staging it on a conventional stage may only be suitable strictly for an adult audience.

Its poignancy is refreshingly different as the author does not want to sugar-coat the ugly in our society.

For him, the ugly is there in our midst and the worse we should do is to sweep it under the carpet. Only if the authorities knew what the overcrowding in these places has done on the Zimbabwean moral fabric.

In the society of Kumafulatsi, no one seems to care and no one bothers at all but they can see through the walls all that is taking place inside. It is a part of them and has grown endemic.

The homosexuality we see in Jose, opportunism of Comrade Shefu — a party activist — female rapists who force themselves on Jelasi after intoxicating him, threats of political thuggery represented by Chipangano among other ills combine to feast on the gullibility of the disadvantaged and marginalised residents of Kumafulatsi.

On the other hand these render the play unparalleled real-for-life scenes.

Scene 3 begins with a tussle between Rachel and Morris over payment for sexual services.

Rachel: Aikaka. Haushamure usina kundigira shagi rangu!

Giri giri shagi! (You cannot leave without paying me)

Morris: Achirwisa kuti atize

Wakati haudhunye here iwe? (Are you not insane?)

The drama, the language reminds the reader and audience that the play opens with a scene at the communal toilet. Rachel and Jelasi are squabbling over its use.

For Rachel, selling her body for a living is normal. The love quadrant involving Grace, Mike, Fari and Admire — on the same bed — is striking.

Rachel has commodified sex as shown in her conversation with Shamiso. She even brags about fleecing tobacco farmers at the auction floors, something authorities have grappled with for years now.

Kumafulatsi is not a play one would want to be told about. It is a must-read for those who want to experience first-hand what goes on in the other world.

Guchu says of his rendition of Kumafulatsi — a text replete with befitting street lingo that can only be understood and lived by those at the hostels — which is very close to the city centre:

“I was driving through some old flats in Mbare a few years ago. I was struck by the population staying in the flats. There were a lot of children running around.

“I saw mothers sitting about — knitting, selling stuff and plaiting each other. The rooftops were littered with satellite dishes. All around, there was rubbish overflowing yet the people seemed not to bother. This image played in my mind for months. I worried for the children staying in those flats.

“I thought about all the possible problems that can befall the children. I thought about the women and the men and all the characters that find safety in the flats. I then started putting together the story.

“I was not sure of the form but I had the characters talking to me every day. I tried a short story but since I write short-short stories, I could not fit in everything and everybody.

“Then one morning after losing sleep for hours, I just started putting together the play. My mind saw everything and heard every word the characters said.

“The next problem was how to send the play out. Facebook came into my mind. I started posting the scenes every morning some five years ago.

“Over these years, I sat on the book because of what is happening to the industry. There is piracy and the economy is down. But I said to myself, until when? And I published the book.”

This is Guchu’s first published play, although two of his plays — Alone But Together and Checkmate — ran at the old Theatre in the Park in 2006 and 2007. Alone But Together was nominated for a Nama award.

Guchu’s two short story anthologies — Sketches of High Density Life and My Children, My Home were published in 2004 and 2007 respectively. Sketches of High Density Life won an award while My Children, My Home was nominated for a Nama award.

An accomplished journalist, Guchu is currently working on a number of projects, including a poetry anthology — Threshold of Time — which should be out by next month.

Guchu was born in 1969 near Mvurwi, Mashonaland West Province and trained as a teacher at Gweru Teachers’ College, between 1988 and 1990 after which he taught in Zimuto Masvingo as well as Harare. Later, he taught at Highfield High 2 in Harare.

By this time he had been writing stories and poems for nine years, some of which were published in The Sunday Mail, Tsotso and Moto magazines. He also reviewed books for The Masvingo Star, The Independent, Parade, The Herald, The Sunday Standard and the Daily News, and was the music critic for the now defunct Masvingo Tribune.

His writing also features in Writing Still. New Stories from Zimbabwe (Weaver Press, 2003). Guchu is married with two children.

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