BOOK REVIEW: Exploring freedom, justice, tolerance

Temple of Rights, Short Stories By Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri, Harare, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 2016.

ISBN: 978-0-7974-71788
(Paperback)
175 pages.

HARARE - The Zimbabwean story has never been told as near-exhaustively — touching on the nation’s colonial experiences, through the liberation struggle into independence from white settler rule to the post-colonial challenges, dilemmas and disillusionment — by any indigenous writer better than what Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri has done in his latest offering of short stories.

Although the bulk of the stories or their versions have appeared elsewhere before, their publication in this collection gives them a refreshingly new relevance as they are closely knit by the thread of violence and the struggle for freedom — both individual and collective.

The poignancy with which Mhiripiri renders stories in Temple of Rights is so telling of somebody whose personal experiences have been his major source book.

The plots, characters, theme and style remain so intimately and uniquely attached to Mhiripiri.

I found the dedication so touching as it also mentioned a colleague I worked with before as a teacher at Churchill Boys’ High School — Patrick “Patu” Machakata — who was such a marvel to work with.

I specifically remember him for his admiration of the poetry of John Keats dragged me into liking of “Ode to a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Ode on Indolence” and “Ode to Melancholy” among several others no student seemed to enjoy.

May his dear soul rest in eternal peace.

And now back to Mhiripiri. The opening story, Elista, comes out as an exploration of unwanted feelings and overtures of love.

Despite the fact that the narrator admires the lady who lives next door, she openly ignores him and eventually elopes to Badboy Joel — a known hoodlum in the community.

The narrator is not only rejected but gets a thorough beating after peeping on Elista and Badboy Joel who are being intimate in a broken-down vehicle — their hotel room for quite some time until Elista falls pregnant.

The pursuit of freedom is the thread that knits together the avalanche of short stories in the collection.

Elista is fighting for individual freedom to choose a partner she pleases.

Franklin, in the very painful story No More Plastic Balls is struggling to set himself free from the confines of his parents’ prescriptions — administered through Sisi Tsitsi.

The end is not only tragic but emotional too as Franklin dies in an accident while running symbolically in pursuit of freedom.

“When she finally got up and set her dress right Frankie was a 100 metres away, speeding blindly . . . Frankie reached the street-corner, a dangerous junction.

“A white Peugeot 504 abruptly turned from nowhere. There was a horrid, ugly thud of tender flesh hitting against hard metal and the desperate screech of braking tyres.” (p26)

“Gun-truths” has Sihle who gets killed as she contests the curfew, a restriction that evidently curtails people’s freedoms of movement.

Sihle is not armed and obviously harmless but she is shot dead all the same.

Evidently, fear and violence — both physical and emotional — run through the majority of the stories in the collection.         

In Our Soldier Friend, Jude and Lovemore finally discover that they have been victims of physical abuse from the women in their lives.

While Lovemore has since broken free, Jude is still going through persecution despite his spirited attempts to hide it from his masculine colleagues by suggesting that his soldier friend when drunk gets violent.

Mention of the name Nazis in When Night was Arrested is one of the may historical anecdotes that Mhiripiri exploits in his rendition of the stories.

There are several others like the Mozambique National Resistance (MNR), the warlords in Somalia and rebel tactics in the Democratic Republic of Congo among many others.

The xenophobia in South Africa — which is also mentioned — and Daddy’s death in Muttering Changes are some of the most extreme cases that we see in the collection.

Daddy’s environment is heavily intolerant while he is determined to have his freedom.

“I am free to belong where I want or to say what I want.” (p117)

Readers also come across the contestation between change and conservatism.

“Danny only heard that they were coming. Their leader was in the night before and he ordered that all dissidents must not be tolerated but be taught a lesson.” (p118)

One of the worst in terms of emotional draw and betrayal is the title story, Temple of Rights in which rape, abuse and wealth are placed against the other. Tecla has been raped by Togwe but justice does not see the light of day because he is rich and can but freedom or more precisely, non-prosecution.

The stench and dirt at the police station is symbolic of the prevailing injustice and betrayal as the police officers openly turn the victim an accused person and Auntie Julie claims she will talk to rapist Togwe because she has been handed an envelope with money.

All this is presided by the State President who “ . . watched  coldly over everything from the peeling dirty grey wall where it hung seemingly half alive, staring inscrutably. One could say his stiff pose was a sign of indifference, yet it could possibly be read as the detachment of one who soars high above the base, one who was now so remote that he could not be associated with the ordinary and commonplace . . .” (p134)

Temple of Rights is a must-read collection of stories that tell the Zimbabwean story in a unique way and must be a part of every scholar’s bookshelf.

Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri was born in Harare and grew up in the capital and in Chitungwiza.

He attended Nyandoro Primary School in Highfield, St Ignatius in Chishawasha and Murewa High School before enrolling with the University of Zimbabwe for a degree in English and History.

He proceeded to do a Post Graduate Diploma and MA in Media and Communication Studies before doing his doctoral and post-doctoral studies in Media and Cultural Studies with the University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Mhiripiri is not new to fiction writing as he has several short stories in No More Plastic Balls: New Voices in the Zimbabwean Short Story (eds. Robert Muponde and Clement Chihota) and Creatures Great and Small (ed. Jairos Kangira).

His other short stories are in A Roof to Repair and Dreams, Miracles and Jazz: New Adventures in African Writing (eds. Henon Habila and Kadija Sesay).

Currently, Mhiripiri is an Associate Professor in Media and Society Studies at the Midlands State University.

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