The Sunday News
Ngqwele Dube and Nkosilathi Sibanda, Sunday Life Correspondents
FORMER Sunday News columnist, Jerry Wohlers has tapped into his 20 years stay in Zimbabwe for inspiration to produce fiction work that has amounted to four works.
The now Australia-based Wohlers, who used to pen the column, ‘‘A Glimpse of Zimbabwe’’ during the nineties when he was based in Victoria Falls, is now a full time writer. With four published works, Wohlers decided it was time to take fiction writing on a full time basis.
Wohlers’ body of literal work includes a collection of short stories, ‘‘Zimbabwean Tales’’, ‘‘Field of Bones’’, ‘‘People of the Skies’’ and ‘‘The Frankston Train’’.
Wohlers’ writing is heavily fixated on ordinary people and he says this is because of his experiences of life in Zimbabwe just after independence and the influence of his socialist beliefs, adding “ my main interest has always been with ordinary people and not the great and powerful”.
He explores the problems that people go through in everyday with ‘People of the Skies’ being a tale of the battle of survival for Ndlovu, a menial worker in a funeral parlour, during the harsh hyper inflationary period as he comes up with a scheme that sees he jumping fuel queues on the pretext he has a body to go and bury and then diverts that fuel to the black market.
Field of Bones essentially awakens the African indigenous knowledge system in the wake of climate change while tackling child marriages and poverty.
Set during the planting season of November and December, the novel unravels the tenacity of the human spirit and survival. Wohlers brings to fray the social vice of child marriages as he depicts that in some situations parents faced with poverty use pregnancies as way to unload the burden of bringing up their children.
The story revolves around the Moyo family and their everyday encounters with society as they traverse relationships with neighbours, family, workmates and the governing system.
Zimbabwean Tales is a collection of eight short stories in which Wohlers bring to the fore various societal issues and ills, exploring racism, superstition, impotence, relationships between fathers and daughters, political divisions, na’ngas, how a parent had to force his son to deny paternity to allow him a chance to pursue his education but leaving the impregnated girl, and later, the child at the mercy of poverty. He also writes about local culture and its bearing on various relationships between characters.
Wohlers reveals the main themes in his works border on the heroism of ordinary people, the abuse of power, corruption, the pernicious effects of the colonial legacy – most critically colonial international boundaries – and the daily struggle to survive in a moribund economy.
Wohlers, noticeably, incorporates isiNdebele in his writing making literal translations and he believes this technique enables him to come out as more authentic.
“In an endeavour to make the books more authentic, I have used literal translations – especially for greetings – Zimenglish and isiNdebele words and phrases. People of Skies and The Field of Bones have glossaries to explain isiNdebele words.
“The purpose is to approximate rhythms and cadences of local speech in English and at least hint at the type of rhythms one finds in isiNdebele. For example, I might have translated siyaphila as ‘we are with life’ because greeting in the traditional sense means more than the perfunctory ‘I am fine’ in the western society,” he reveals.
Born in the United Kingdom in 1959, Wohlers family migrated to Melbourne in 1965 where he was educated and in 1981 he travelled to Africa on holiday and through, what he describes as “a series of hitch-hiking accidents” ended up becoming a teacher at Ndangababi Upper Top School in Cross Dete in 1982.
He moved to Tsholotsho in 1983 where he taught at Tsholotsho Secondary School and Mbuhulu Secondary School (Dlamini) and then moved to teach in Victoria Falls in 1986 where he was based until he moved back to Australia in 2002.
His flirtation with writing began in the mid-eighties, when he contributed feature articles about
rural life in Tsholotsho to the Chronicle and then became a regular contributor of
features about Victoria Falls to Sunday News in the nineties including penning the bi-weekly column.
“After twenty years in rural and regional Matabeleland North, I had experienced many events from a vantage point that I think sheds light on why they happened. Fiction seemed the most suitable form, because I wanted to capture the human dimensions of these events; instead of writing an academic or non-fiction account, which focuses on ‘macro’ events while passing over how these events affect ordinary people,” he says about his decision to become a full time author.
Wohlers is now based in Melbourne and is married Sibongile and they have one child Primrose (22).