The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Exhuming the present from the past
History is a discipline of emotion. It’s a science of recollection.
We live to make history and history invents the future. Naturally, the present creates the tale to be told tomorrow — it could be in song, dance or through letters. All the same, memories of generations ahead are weaved by our daily present.
Today we make decisions informed by the accounts of yesterday. History is thus an indispensable lens of reading why we are here, how, when and with what did we get here.
Therefore, history is time, place, people and power. Garlake and Proctor (1992) give a meticulous trace of Zimbabwe’s past from the pre-colonial age and aptly capture this sacrosanctity of our past as a process and a journey of “People Making History”. Therefore, the contemporary is birthed by the past. Likewise, the present perpetually withers to be a story to be told later. That is history.
In all that, the past and the present must dialogue and negotiate the path into the future. In the Zimbabwean context, the interaction of epochs (the past and the present) gives a crystal articulation of the forces which bind humanity in space and in time as expressed. This can be explained through the spiritual function of music from a Shona perspective:
The philosophical underpinnings of the Shona spirit possession ideology is that as they conduct a bira ceremony, they strive to bring the past experience into the present. This realm is achieved by making sure the context in which the ceremony is performed resembles that of their ancestors.
Even the dress, food, beer, utensils, traditional objects and music are brought closer to what they used to be in the past. Ultimately the past is experienced in the present and the present experiences the past.
These juxtapositions create space for the spirits to interact with the living, and it is the function of mbira to create such a spiritual realm (Matiure 2016:31).
Therefore all repositories of thought — literature and music included, must relate with the past and perpetually locate its foundations in mapping a people’s shared values and destiny.
The liberation legacy awakened
Ambassador Cain Ginyilitshe Mathema’s work offers a profound vocalisation of the philosophical traction of history in shaping the present.
With an extensive collage of literature on Zimbabwe’s political-economy, transitional politics since 1980 and some significant literature on nation-building, it raises a lot of curiosity to still find the man even writing more when he is supposed to be pre-occupied with state-craft.
At the same time, it is also remarkable that as a political insider and a veteran of the liberation struggle, the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs (who is also a distinguished diplomat) is always finding time to help Zimbabwe to make her history.
His role in exhuming the history that was decimated by the colonial matrix of knowledge generation is very critical. His reinvigorated energy also coincides with the new political culture of openness which characterises the ethos of Zimbabwe’s new dispensation.
At this juncture, his energy must be directed to speaking out and educating the reader more. In the process, his contribution must continue to carry its perennial propensity to nation-building.
This is critical at a time Zimbabwe is in dire need for reconstruction in a bid to facilitate an accelerated paradigm for preserving enduring national values.
One critical DNA trace of his writing is in his emphasis of the unity we share as the descendants of the many ancestors of this our beautiful country.
His poetry and academic texts since early independence have depicted the oneness of our economic heritage.
The phenomenal signature of his authorship is that Zimbabwe is for all those who live in it and that we are all heirs of the armed liberation struggle’s benevolent values to national belonging.
Mathema’s literary approach to preserving national memory is critical as foregoes the neo-colonial instrumentalisation of the academia to ignore the past and treat it as irrelevant — especially the liberation legacy.
To this end, the popularity of his work or the lack thereof owes much to the abnormal normalcy of the regime-change plot to dissuade us from recalling and reclaiming our past. At the exaltation of that folly, we have lost a great deal in understanding the neo-colonial capture of the African post-colonial state in general. Therefore, Mathema’s work is key in reviving the dormant and yet astute presages of resisting the neo-colonial oligopoly.
I Join the Zapu . . .
In this article, I discuss his latest offering, I Join The Zapu Armed Struggle. This tiny easy-read centres of the life of a young African native in colonial Rhodesia, Thula Gumede. Through exploring the omnipresent technique, the setting of the text is constantly shifting. It all kick-starts at Cyrene High School, then in Sipepa somewhere in Tsholotsho, Gwayi Methodist School, The Seventh Day Adventist Primary and the Zambezi River.
Having traversed the tutelage of colonial education and religion young Thula has so many questions borne out of his hate for the White colonial system. He is not finding consolation in its much acclaimed civilising mission.
He laments the role of education as an instrument for Africans’ exploitation. While he gladly finds comfort in letters and encountering other world-views through books, he condemns the role of education in carving the mind for colonial capital exploitation.
He knows that his grooming will subject him to defend white capital and not the interests of his people. This is why at the end young Thula finds himself taking the oath to be a member of the revolutionary Zapu.
The thematic resonance
This critical interrogation of the colonial education system is also found in the anti-colonial trilogy of the feminist writer, Tsitsi Dangarembgwa’s Nervous Conditions, She No longer Weeps and The Book of Not. Thula Gumede, the key persona in Mathema’s story is not different from Dangarembgwa’s highly epistemic disobedient main character, Tambu. Both figures used in Mathema’s story and Dangarembgwa’s Nervous Conditions confront the antagonistic colonial culture experience with a view to turn the imperial logic up-side down.
The two are subjected to social schizophrenia as they grapple to internalise what is taught in the classroom and with what they observe and deem to be right.
With these characters at the fore, there is no doubt that the colonial tragedy made the youth in Rhodesia to rebel, to rethink the essence of thinking outside the disciplinarian dictums of the classroom and the church.
The colonial condition catalysed an anti-colonial consciousness. This is why young Thula finds home in the Zapu armed resistance.
The use of a male persona in Mathema’s story and female voices in Dangarembgwa’s work is telling of the inter-gender and cross-cultural impact of imperialism in shattering the hopes of the young people in the colonial era.
The two writers use different settings within Zimbabwe but the psyche of a defeated and dehumanised race is all accounted for in their different books.
In essence, this means that the victimhood of these young ones was a systematic and a painfully inherited condition. The colonial degradation of their ontological status informed their resistance, their dedication to fight and to conquer. And indeed conquering they did.
This is why the story of Thula is all in reminiscence. It is after Uhuru and his is a reflection.
The voice in other voices
Thula Gumede’s account serves as a critical contemporary and introspecting reflection of the long meandering journey that Zimbabwe had to take for her freedom to be found. The story of Thula Gumede embodies the many voices of our past residing in the untapped memories of the many individuals who lived and saw the grotesque character of colonial tyranny.
While this is a fictional account of the experiences of a young-rebel, it is hard to distinguish the narrative from some similar real-life and direct accounts shared in nationalism memoirs.
One such a memoir is that of Joshua Nkomo (1984) who chronicles his involvement in the struggle during the days of his youth. With the late heroes Mhanda 2001; Tekere 2007 — a thread of youthful resistance to colonialism is noted.
As a result, one may assume that, the fictitious rendition by Ambassador Mathema draws inspiration from experiences lived by many youth of his time and others who preceded the path for him. Reading this account further brings to the fore the autobiographic foot prints of Cde Cephas Msipa, the late nationalist. His memoir is situated at Dadaya — a mission school, just as Cyrene is the centre stage of Mathema’s narrative.
This exposes that colonialism was sustained by similar institutions. However, the brainwash system of these institutions could not arrest the power of the logic whose time had come. This is why in real life, the conditions at Dadaya influenced Cephas Msipa to be a revolutionary.
This was the case with many young people at the Lutheran Church’s Manama school.
As a result, Mathema’s book serves a universal voice of the many cadres who took part in the struggle and could not tell their stories. As an insider, he is speaking on their behalf and giving the reader a glimpse of the circumstances which motivated the youth of yesterday to fight colonialism.
The approach used by Mathema to tell this broad story of the many stories of our liberation struggle is synonymous with the numerous broadcast initiatives that have been deployed to share the accounts of the liberation war days from the perspective of the war-veterans.
One such platform is ZBC’s Chimurenga Files and the Sunday News’ Lest We Forget column. Mathema’s contribution is unique as it synchronises those realities, compresses them and unpacks them in the uttermost creative posture through the pages of a novel.
The book inspires the youth of today to emulate the courage and patriotism of the youth of yesterday in defending their birth-right.
This book places memory at the centre of shaping the political discourse of the present. It is a treasure trove and a must-read for any nationalist.
– Richard Runyararo Mahomva is an independent researcher and a literature aficionado interested in the architecture of governance in Africa and political theory.