The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Following last week’s article, a Marechera theoretician and fellow academic, Dr Tinashe Mushakavanhu inboxed “There are parts you misread Marechera but all the same essay written in your signature style’’.
I knew I was up for some intellectual counselling after receiving this feedback from Dr Mushakavanhu — a post-doctoral fellow at Witwatersrand University. I had no option but to bribe him to silence, ‘‘Let’s do a call this evening Mukoma’’, I replied. Then I decided to forget to honour my promise.
However, the whole plan was doomed when he pursued me to submission. Last week we had a lengthy phone conversation. He took me through a greater part of the “unseen” of Marechera the writer. I got to realise that in as much as we think that we know it all about Marechera through his self-reflective imaginaries, there is a lot which is yet to be explored and unravelled about his life.
With his archive still not repatriated and his intellectual personality constructed by those who saw a vagabond and a loafer in Marechera then we have a big task ahead of us. We have more to interrogate to meaningfully read the mind of this doyen of letters who walked and lived the reality of a pre-and-post independence Zimbabwe. After my conversation with Tinashe, I realised how much we fail to celebrate our own.
Marechera finds himself mainly renowned outside the borders of Zimbabwe and yet he is an embodiment of a phenomenal intellectual heritage which is more relevant to the condition of the colonised. His outstanding academic foot-print is that of a burgeoning plethora of disobediences of the colonial mind as a subject of systematic oppression and excess of violence(s). Above all, he is brave to call out the routes to many other sources of subversion and poses as a Ghetto Moral Instructor:
There were no conscious farewells to adolescence for the emptiness was deep-seated in the gut. We knew that before us lay another vast emptiness whose appetite for things living was at best wolfish.
Life stretched out like a series of hunger-scoured hovels stretching endlessly towards the horizon. One’s mind became the grimy rooms, the dusty cobwebs in which the minute skeletons of one’s childhood were forever in the spidery grip that stretched out to include not only the very stones upon which one walked but also the stars which glittered vaguely upon the stench of our lives (Marechera 2009:30-31).
From general disobediences to epistemic revolt in Marechera’s writing emerges what I term the “Weapon of Subversive Theory”. As a point of departure, he self-defines the role of the writer and disregards the generic of the expected about the writer:
I don’t know that the writer can offer the emerging nation anything. But I think there must always be a healthy tension between a writer and his nation. Writing can always turn into cheap propaganda. As long as he is serious, the writer must be free to criticise or write about anything in society which he feels is going against the grain of the nation’s aspirations.
When Smith was ruling us here, we had to oppose him all the time as writers — so, even more, should we now that we have a majority government. We should be even more vigilant about our own mistakes (Marechera 1985).
In his view, the writer and politics are either friend or foe, but whatever the shared relationship there must be collegiality between the institution of politics and the writer. In his view, the tension between power and the pen must be “healthy”.
Before time, it was as if Marechera knew that his legacy would be abused to mobilise post-colonial radical thinkers into writing to service anti-establishment favours. Having been a moral conscience of the “lost generation”, his exploits have been touted to ferment anti-establishment rationality, particularly in the post-land reform era.
Marechera narrowly depicted as a convenient symbol of rebellious youth standing to challenge the “system”. What was ignored from the Marechera weapon of subversion was the proximity of his rationale to the “nation’s aspirations”. While today’s Zimbabwean writer finds comfort in being published by regime-change aligned entities and Western publishing stables, Marechera calls for adamant dismissal of any thought pattern which sanitises the colonial establishment.
The competition to be admired by colonialists among our writers becomes the reason why the land reform programme has been a widely demonised policy – the same way the government is excessively demonised by some of our Zimbabwean academics serving in Western universities and non-governmental organisation researchers. This is because they owe their academic souls to the colonial master. In the process, their writing has to fit into the demands and expectations of the colonial.
Marechera’s patriotic conviction remains pronounced as he calls for the post-colonial state through its writers to be attentive of its own mistakes. In taking this position, Marechera brings the Frantz Fanon thesis into his academic moral conscience. Therefore, when juxtaposed Marechera (1978, 1980, 1984) and Frantz Fanon (1963) are conscious of the burden of the unfinished business of decolonisation.
As a result, their work challenges the colonially commandeered order of how independent states must be governed. While Fanon is explicitly an anticolonial political-economy theorist, Marechera’s social reconstruction proposition corroborates Fanon’s view on the need to rethink the hangovers of colonialism to the African mind. In exploring the “self”, his political DNA is produced and later his self-writing becomes politically determined:
It was at this time my sixth form like other sixths rushed out into the streets to protest about the discriminatory wage-structure and I got arrested like everybody else for a few hours: which meant fingerprints and photographs and a few slaps on the cheek “to have more sense”, though the principal restrained his bile and only gave us a long sermon on how necessary it was to get qualified before one deigned to put up the barricades.
At this time I was extremely thirsty for self-knowledge and curiously enough believed I could find that in “political consciousnesses. All the black youth was thirsty. There was not an oasis of thought which we did not lick dry; apart from those which had been banned, whose drinking led to arrests and suchlike flea-scratchings (Marechera 2009: 30).
Put together, Marechera and Fanon evoke the theoretical pragmatism of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s phenomenon of Writers in Politics (1981). In this engagement, Elder Ngugi locates the writer at the centre of politics — because all writing is political in as much as every aspect of life is political. Consequently, the African writer is a political subject whose involuntary inquiry of society is premised on the standing questions of oppression, domination, exploitation, dehumanisation, isms and schisms.
Building on this position, it is unavoidable for all literature by the colonised to ignore these lived realities. In confronting the politicised terrain of writing and the academia in general African knowledge(s) still fights inferiorisation in the face of popularised epistemologies and philosophies of the empire.
Therefore, the politics of knowing becomes representative of conserving imperialism to a point that all writing which challenges the status-quo is treated as subversive. It is this subversive clout which has seen writers opposed to colonial parameters of expression suffering marginal recognition. At the same time, the patriotic conviction to write in the post-colonial experience is sometimes criminalised. This substantiates the dilemma of writing in subversion to either the colonial and post-colonial state of being:
As soon as one talks about a writer’s role in society before you know where you are, you are already into censorship. Most writers in Africa, I suppose in most Third World countries, are usually seen to be in conflict with governments. So much so that governments in Africa tend to automatically suspect a writer of not being loyal. The idea that a writer should always be positive, that’s always being crammed down one’s throat. A writer is part of society; a writer notices what is going on around him, sees the poverty every day. How can you whitewash poverty? (Marechera 1985).
Marechera’s consciousness about censorship is reflective of his subversive inward guilt. He knew his role in society attracted penalties of rejection and arrested liberties of expression. His arrogant resistance to conceding to the moral index of what constitutes being a writer expresses why his open-mind was not so tolerated.
Open as his mind was, he had to come to terms with the moral shackles of a society which was not ready to welcome his seeming radical thinking. His first-hand experience with censorship after the banning of his book Black Sunlight (1980) in 1982 proves that Dambudzo had to take the cost for his subversive/disruptive/unorthodox rationality. There was no place for his raw thinking, raw imaginations and raw ideologies expressed through the raw language of his pen.
Dambudzo Marechera was too raw for our self-righteous society. His raw articulation of sexual thoughts and fantasies were too raw for our society. Unfortunately at the deafness of our rawness to embrace Marechera, we found ourselves grappling with the HIV-Aids pandemic.
Our society was too raw to understand this man. Our society is still too raw to embrace Dambudzo Marechera as the most novel gift to our motherland. We are far and yet so near to reading Marechera as a theorist of the colonial being.
Richard Runyararo Mahomva is a Political-Scientist with an avid interest in political theory, liberation memory and architecture of governance in Africa. He is also a creative literature aficionado. Feedback: [email protected]