The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
MERCY Dhliwayo counts Dambudzo Marechera and Ghanaian Ayi Kwei Armah among her influences and this is evident in her writing.
In her short story collection, Bringing Us Back, Dhliwayo is her own woman, but some passages of writing have one recalling the work of those African literary giants.
“Music never stops playing here. Certainly not because of one woman’s tragedy. It continues booming from behind closed doors in diverse genres — from kwaito and house to American pop, gangster rap, Naija sounds, Zim dancehall and every other kind of music representing the different nationalities homed here in Nkululeko, one of South Africa’s many little Africas. Life does not stop here either. It goes on, brewing its own tragedies . . .” she writes in Nkululeko.
Published by Vhakololo Press, the short story collection comprising 10 tales is meant to “explore the quest for freedom and escape, love and nationality. Locating itself in between arbitrary worlds and borders that separate foreign from local; men from women; physical from the metaphysical; the collection zooms into the desolation, violence, hunger, anger, desperation (and the naivety and even the strength, defiance and resilience) that breeds in the spaces that are either left behind, or that exist beyond borders and the spaces trapped in-between,” a synopsis of the book reads.
Dhliwayo’s forcefully written stories speak of a phenomenon that is familiar enough to Zimbabweans — migration. If one had any doubt about the scale of migration in the country, they only have to look at the remittances that the country receives annually.
It is that kind of migration that has led to strained relationships and in some cases, torn families. In Exodus, a story Dhliwayo told the Johannesburg Review of Books was influenced by her own experiences, she details the tortuous journey undergone by those crossing the border illegally.
Loss, be it the loss of human empathy or culture, is at the centre of the short story collection. In Exodus, Dhliwayo touches on how some seem to even lose the essence of language as they purge themselves of some Ndebele words once they cross the Limpopo.
“I love how Southern African languages are interconnected. You may be Shona or Tsonga, Ndebele or Zulu, but there are always common words that exist in these different languages, which reminds you that we are one after all. But despite that, we are still distinct people with our own cultures. And one concern that I have had for a long time now relates to the potential death of our languages as Zimbabweans, isiNdebele in particular.
“Already we have lost a lot to the dominance of English, such that some of our children speak English at home and cannot even converse in their own languages. And now with migration, often illegal migration, in a bid to conceal their foreignness, a number of Zimbabweans present themselves as Zulus. In the process, Ndebele words and accents have been replaced with everything Zulu to the extent that when our people return home, they maintain the Zuluness in their speech as if they have forgotten the proper Zimbabwean Ndebele. And this for me is another threat to the continued existence of the Ndebele language that I have tried to hint at in one or two stories,” she said.