The Sunday News
Richard Runyararo Mahomva
Dambudzo Marechera remains a timeless symbol of a society lost in colonial entanglements and still struggling to find itself out of the benchmarks set by the colonial system. Thirty three years after his demise, Dambudzo Marechera remains a monumental theorist whose work can interpret the current socio-economic and political order within the broader scope of Africa’s grapple with neo-colonialism.
Marechera’s work remains a pivotal pedagogical point of reference as the Global South is currently grappling with the politics of epistemic alternatives and conservative benchmarks of what defines a scholar. Marechera’s work is critical in questioning the superficial notion of ‘free-thinking’ and exploring the fluidity of identities. This exposition comes out clearly in the writing of Dambudzo Marechera who defied the traditionalised idea of being an African writer as depicted in the works of other combats of the pen like Chunua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah to mention, but a few.
In an observation by Marechera’s ex-lover and Germany Professor, Flora Veit Wild (1987: 113):
“Dambudzo Marechera is an outsider. He cannot be included in any of the categories into which modern African literature is currently divided: his writings have nothing in common with the various forms of anti-colonial or anti-neocolonial protest literature, nor can they be interpreted as being an expression of the identity-crisis suffered by an African exiled in Europe. “
Marechera’s brutal contact with Europe created a perennial sense of self-isolation –notwithstanding his consistent contact with violence which increased his yearning to exit the ‘House of Hunger’. His Oxford experience instead made him come face to face with more racism.
Therefore, the escape from the Rhodesian regime to England had no significant effect in creating a rational escape for him from racism. As a result, Marechera –the person serves as a template of the colonial world’s outright failure to humanise those it has relegated to a subhuman status. Marechera was a product of their education system with an unquestionable level of genius but he came out of the University of Rhodesia and Oxford as the same polemic subaltern he was since his childhood. Clearly, even at the summit of imperialist tutelage he was still a victim of racism. Even after grooming him in their standards of education, Marechera and his ideas suffered colonial stigmatisation.
Marechera and other African theoreticians epitomise the colonial world’s failure to create epistemological and ontological wholeness of the formerly colonised. Marechera’s intellectual uniqueness could be better retraced to denialism of the self and rejection of his humble African socialisation which he began to deconstruct after his contact with Europe. Flora Veit Wild (1987: 113) further notes:
“Marechera refuses to identify himself with any particular race, culture or nation; he is an extreme individualist, an anarchistic thinker. He rejects social and state regimentation — be it in colonial Rhodesia, in England, or in independent Zimbabwe; the freedom of the individual is of the utmost importance. In this he is uncompromising, and this is how he tries to live.”
The above characterisation of Marechera clearly demonstrates that the man had went beyond what W. E.B DuBois referred to as “double-consciousness” -a state of an individual‘s identity fragmentation into numerous fragments. Double-consciousness makes it difficult or impossible for the individual to have one integrated identity. This internal conflict experienced by subordinated individuals like Marechera and all the colonised manifests as a psychological deficit of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of coloniality while battling with reconciling with African socialisation.
In other words double-consciousness is a spiritual striving and in local terms double-consciousness is equivalent to mamhepo/imimoya. It is a search for the dismembered soul of the oppressed, the dehumanised, vanquished and all the bottom clustered members of the coloniality human hierarchies. The effect of internal strivings and personality multiplicities is evident in the above description of Marechera. He is said to have been an “individualist” which may loosely refer to one who places the self before the rest and cares not about others. This attribute places Marechera in the periphery of the “I am because we are” African social order. This description denies him the fundamental attribute of being African, since we are a people whose role is to replicate values of our society and not the self.
This is proverbially echoed in Ndebele philosophy: “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” . This Ndebele adage simply explains that individual’s character is shaped by maxims of their society and likewise, Shona wisdom proclaims the same “Munhu, munhu pavanhu”.
On the other hand, the concept of “individualism” is synonymous with Eurocentric perspectives of capitalism which dismembered Africa.
Moreover, Marechera’s description as an “anarchistic thinker” dismantles the Ubuntu/Vunhu values which are expected of every African and most importantly African pen heroes in grappling with colonialism as a primordial anarchical order. The consciousness of “being” within categories of nationalism and pan-Africanism are said to have been absent in Marechera’s epistemic wholeness “— be it in colonial Rhodesia, in England, or in independent Zimbabwe” Flora Veit Wild (1987: 113).
Therefore, comprehending his contribution to literature through lenses of decoloniality becomes a problem though he remains a hero in his own right. However, there is need for Marechera to be read from a decolonial perspective to locate whether his legacy belongs to Africans or the White society. This is because Dambudzo Marechera is celebrated in institutions which under-valued Black ideas and knowledge(s). His education at Oxford University clearly substantiates that fact not to mention that he was the only African writer to win the Guardian Fiction Prize. The same applies with other writers who have resorted to denial of the African struggles to find belonging in spaces where Africans are unwanted.
A new Wretched of the Earth
Marechera represents a lost-generation of Africa’s intelligentsia. He is a representation of the mythical ‘born-free’ whose education has failed to make them decolonial beings. Their education has further exiled them from their African socialisation which they perceive as highly denigrating. Unlike, the first version of the “Wretched of the Earth” pronounced in Fanon’s decolonial meditations, Marechera’s life through the pen replicates the worst. His work speaks clearly to a physically “born-free” generation which has a colonially devalued intellect.
This generation’s devalued acknowledgement of “being” is a result of grappling with internalised coloniality while at the same time trying to reconcile with one’s aspirations to be truly free. These are the “liberated African” with little -if not any recall of armed struggles of their respective mother countries and it’s not their fault that they arrived late in the world to be the children of the oppressed. Some of them were born during the transitional periods across the entire continent when their nations were preparing themselves for independence. While others like me were born many years after their respective countries’ struggles for freedom.
These half and full “born-frees” are the new wretched who happen to be beneficiaries of bankrupt Western knowledge which has failed to humanise them to be “real” African intellectuals. They are caught up in the entrapments of coloniality and are well-defined in terms of aspiring to be global citizens than they are Africans. They have nothing to lose, but the Africa identity which they don’t care about. For them being African is carrying the yoke of the “oppressive” post-colonial state which they vilify left, right and centre. As a result, from time to time whenever opportunities are availed they swap national patriotism for writers’ residences in Western universities.
These great minds lost in the trap of double-consciousness find themselves in Western institutions which denigrate African political values and the post-colonial state. In return the West gives them high accolades which give them credentials to lambast African states for poor governance. These become the voice of polarisation which deodorises Western governance styles and denigrates African leaders for failing the masses.
This is the reason why most of our writers in the continent have failed to stand firm in defending African economic development oriented policies. For instance, the launch of the land reform programme in Zimbabwe made way for demonised misrepresentation of Zimbabwe’s political environment. As a result, much of the literature that has been produced since the outbreak of land repossession from colonial ownership has portrayed the country’s political systems as barbaric and undemocratic simple because those we have entrusted with the mandate to tell our story are not one of us though they look like us. They are mercenaries produced out of the school of double consciousness.
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]