Charting the way in Zim writing

WRITING is not an easy craft and of the writers that have graced this land, a number of those who have departed still occupy important positions as having given direction to Zimbabwean literature.

Stanlake Samkange, Dambudzo Marechera, Alexander Kanengoni, Chenjerai Hove and lately Charles Mungoshi have helped shape trends in Zimbabwean literature, especially that written in English.

The liberation struggle in this country provided the very source of the protest literature that dominated Zimbabwean writing in the late 1970s.

The poetry, in particular, was mainly concerned with showing revulsion of the settler colonial regime as well as urging on people to fight the white administration. 

Chenjerai Hove, for instance, in his poetry anthology titled Up In Arms — as the title suggests — concentrates on the fight against colonial rule and the oppressive nature of the racist Rhodesia regime.

The drought, barrenness and hunger suggested in the title Those Years of Drought and Hunger runs through the bulk of Zimbabwean literature of this period.

Marechera’s House of Hunger is suggestive when you look at the title. 

While critics have generally wanted to divide Zimbabwean into generations, the same concerns permeate their writings.

Samkange and his group — an older group of writers — wrote biographies and romance literature.

Mungoshi, who died a fortnight ago after battling a neurological condition for a decade and was buried at Marondamashanu, Manyene in Chivhu, sanitising a bad situation was not a part of him as he candidly showed the desolation of the “native purchase area that had become his home”.

He never had time to paint a rosy picture of what he felt was bad.

The desolation that characterises Waiting for the Rain and Coming of the Dry Season reflects the situation in colonial Rhodesia.

Perhaps the arts sector would have hoped for better recognition for the renowned writer, who put Zimbabwean writing on the global map as shown by the awards he won.

Former Industry and Commerce minister Mike Bimha — who is former legislator for Chikomba West said they had set up a committee to work towards honouring Mungoshi during his  lifetime.

“Unfortunately, hazvina kuita saizvozvo. Takatangirwa. Vakabva varwara zvikarema kuti titi mudzimai nevana vacho tinge tiinavo pataironga izvi. (It could not happen like that as he fell ill and it became difficult for the wife and children to be with us regularly when we met as they had to attend to their sick father). Asi kana tapedza kuchema tichasangana topfuudza basa ratakanga takaronga (after mourning we will gather and see that we honour him as had been planned).”

Deputy Arts minister Yeukai Simbanegavi said of Mungoshi:

“VaMungoshi ranga riri gamba remagamba (he was a hero of heroes). Some of his books were translated into other languages. No one can say he did not come across any of Mungoshi’s books in school. Donzvo ravo raiva rekudzidzisa vana veZimbabwe (His aim was to teach Zimbabweans. His books had lessons that we should live together as Zimbabweans. Such people are heroes. Legends are legends, you cannot take that away from them.”

Poet and Zimbabwe Writers Association chairperson Musaemura Zimunya — who teaches at the Midlands State University — said he met Charles Mungoshi at the then University of Rhodesia in the 1970s.

Zimunya said the arts sector had lost greatly in the death of Mungoshi. “Dai aive ari mwana wamambo taiti gomo rawa. (Had he been son of a chief, we could have said a mountain has fallen).”

He added that he later went to England to further his studies.

“I later went to study in England but on my return, got employed by the University of Zimbabwe where I was asked to come up with a syllabus for Zimbabwean literature. Among the books that were studied were from (Stanlake) Samkange, Mungoshi and  Marechera.” 

Writer and University of Zimbabwe academic Memory Chirere said the death of Mungoshi had robbed the nation of a pathfinder in Zimbabwean writing.

“He did the pathfinder role with distinction. It calls on us to excel or fail. He was a pioneer in the writing of realistic Zimbabwean literature. Again, he is the one to point at the direction of the land issue. The desolation and loneliness.”

Another UZ academic Tanaka Chidora weighed in saying the metaphors which are the foundation of Waiting for the Rain are still there in Zimbabwean literature.

“The only reading of Zimbabwean which is valid starts with Mungoshi. It is not possible without premising it on Mungoshi.”  

One of the few artists who wrote across languages, cultures and also the major genres namely poetry, prose and drama, Mungoshi was one of the finest writers Zimbabwe has ever produced.

One of his greatest strengths, the short story remained testimony of his adept hand with the prose genre as shown through Coming of the Dry Season (1972), The Setting Sun and Rolling World (1987), Stories from a Childhood (1989), One Day Long Ago: More Stories from a Shona Childhood (1991),Walking Still (short stories; 1997).

In 2003, Mungoshi was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Letters (DLitt) by the University of Zimbabwe in recognition of his outstanding contribution to Zimbabwean writing and its development over the years. 

The award-winning Mungoshi has the following titles to his name; Coming of the Dry Season (1972), Ndiko Kupindana Kwamazuva (1975), Waiting for the Rain (1975), Makunun’unu Maodzamoyo (“Brooding Breeds Despair”; 1977), Inongova Njake Njake (1980), Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura? (1983),The Setting Sun and Rolling World (1987), Stories from a Childhood (1989), One Day Long Ago: More Stories from a Shona Childhood (1991), Walking Still (short stories; 1997), The Milkman Doesn’t Only Deliver Milk (1998) and Branching Streams Flow in the Dark (2013).

Mungoshi was no doubt Zimbabwe’s most decorated writer, having received a string of awards, including the International PEN Awards in 1975 and 1981, Noma Honourable Awards For Publishing in Africa (1980, 1984, 1990 and 1992), Commonwealth Writer Prize for Best Book in Africa for The Setting Sun and The Rolling World (1988), Honorary Fellow in Writing Award in the Creative Activities of the International Writing Programme by The University of Iowa (1991), United States Information Agency Award for participating in the International Visitor Programme (1991), New York Time Notable Book of the Year (1989), the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa (1997), Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Book in Africa (1998). The Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1998 led to a meeting with Queen Elizabeth (II) at Buckingham Palace.

Mungoshi and his crop of writers indeed contributed greatly towards a correct portrayal of the Zimbabwean situation through writing.

His books therefore gave direction to a new trend in Zimbabwean literature in English. Readings on land deprivation, the Diaspora and other issues start with the departed writer.

Sketches of Lucifer Mandengu, Old Japi, Garabha and others in Waiting for the Rain remain typical. 

Post a comment

Readers are kindly requested to refrain from using abusive, vulgar, racist, tribalistic, sexist, discriminatory and hurtful language when posting their comments on the Daily News website.
Those who transgress this civilised etiquette will be barred from contributing to our online discussions.
- Editor

Your email address will not be shared.