Benjamin’s hopes, frustrations
WHY is Peter on crutches? What happened to him? We are not given the details of this in the early stages of the play.
Meanwhile, we read on to get all the information we need to know. Remember this story takes place at independence when there is an element of mistrust among races. Zimbabweans waged a long drawn out struggle because of racism among a plethora of other grievances.
It is not surprising that immediately after gaining independence the remnants of racism were still evident.
I made reference to Peter asking his brother Benjamin if he noted the flustered look on the Indian girl’s face in the supermarket when she looked at the latter’s boots and asked if he could pay for all the goods they had gathered. How cheeky was that? That is a clear sign of racism where the girl underrated Benjamin because he was black and appeared ragged therefore had no money to afford what she thought was beyond his pocket.
As an ex-combatant, Benjamin did not take kindly to that as demonstrated by his vicious response to the white manager’s attempt to apologise on behalf of the Indian girl. Peter reminds his brother that he yelled, “If you don’t like Zimbabwe, go to South Africa!” Why go to South Africa, one may ask? South Africa had not become independent by then. Those whites who could not stomach the idea of being ruled by blacks left Zimbabwe in droves for South Africa and other countries.
Nkazana points out that such behaviour reveals that some races did not learn anything from the war. In other words Nkazana believes that such utterances should have gone with the war. People should have learnt to co-exist regardless of races. But some habits die hard.
It took time for some people to accept the unfolding events where races were to live together harmoniously with no racial divisions and barriers.
Benjamin coming from the heat of the war seems frustrated of the slow pace of development. He says: “Look at these streets.
Nothing has changed. Nothing.” We can assume that the change he is yearning for is the change of street names since most of them bore the names of colonial masters. It took time for the new government to change street names and reflect the new thinking. I can safely say up to now streets in some towns and cities still have colonial names. But, it is suffice to say they are being changed.
It was too early for Benjamin to expect complete change in the infancy of independence. Such thoughts and feelings were common among the majority of people whereby they expected things to change overnight.
There is gradual change at least as Peter asks Benjamin if he saw the television aerials on the roofs and the new black mayor’s house? Times were changing as blacks were also affording televisions — something unheard of before.
Some black people had moved house from the high density suburbs to the more affluent low density areas. Benjamin is keen to know who else moved from the township to the suburbs. Peter mentions the Mubis and Tauyas. Benjamin emphatically, cynically asks: “Is that all? Is that ALL?” This is too little and takes it with scepticism. This is unconvincing for an independent Zimbabwe. Benjamin expected holistic changes, not just piecemeal kind of changes.
Benjamin is pessimistic about the unfolding Zimbabwe. All this comes out when Peter tells him that their mother paid an electrician to fix a stove but it would not even warm up.
Benjamin cautions them that they should not always throw money to the crocodiles, as Zimbabwean crocs come in all colours — white, black, chocolate, yellow. Even green. He adds that there are more sharks breeding in the murky waters of this bloody country.
Benjamin sounds prophetic here about the evil cancer of corruption. He likens these corrupt people to crocodiles and there are multitudes of them. You have a so called electrician paid to fix a stove but would not even warm up. This is corruption.
Benjamin is bitter about his country he refers to as “this bloody country.” According to Benjamin all is gloomy and there is no brightness in the foreseeable future.
“And there are more sharks breeding in the murky waters of this bloody country, you wait and see.” What has gone wrong to frustrate Benjamin in the early days of independence after a protracted struggle? It appears as if he has already encountered some forms of corruption.
We have already seen ex-combatants being despised in the early parts of this play. His mother appears to read from the same script as those who were against their children going to war leaving school.
She praises Benjamin for a job well done after fixing the stove saying: “Your father always said you were cut out to be an engineer or a mechanic and you would certainly have become one had you not . . .” Benjamin interrupts her accusingly “Had I not what?” Shamiso, his mother notes that he is angry, brushes him aside telling him not to mind whatever she wanted to say.
Benjamin is sensitive when it comes to the subject of going or not going to war. He becomes emotionally charged at the mention of that subject.
We end today’s discussion when troubled Shamiso, Benjamin’s mother still insists on custom or tradition when it comes to Benjamin’s marriage to Nkazana.
She has questions directed to Benjamin about this woman he brought with him. We get that Nkazana is Ndebele. Shamiso asks if she speaks any Shona. She wants to be sure of Benjamin’s intentions pertaining to Nkazana and wants to know whether he was really responsible for her pregnancy. Above all, did her people know that she was there?
All these questions reveal the conscience of a concerned traditional mother. It cannot be business as usual while keeping somebody’s child without their knowledge and not following tradition and custom. We pick up this discussion from here next time.
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