Beaven Tapureta Bookshelf
South Africa-based author Minnie-Lee Tagwirei has dared to vent her eye-witness experiences, ups and downs and varied reflections of two African cities in her new autobiographical book “Down South: My Experiences, My Opinions, My Life” (2018).
For now, we are apt to describe the book as a tale of two cities, not that there is anything the author borrows from that Charles Dickens popular novel “A Tale of Two Cities” which is set during the French Revolution, but the words in the title literally or explicitly tells what Tagwirei has offered in her fresh non-fiction book.
She writes from the viewpoint of a female observer of her surroundings, taking the reader on trips to South Africa and back to Zimbabwe, comparing almost every aspect of the two societies, religion, politics, economics, race relations, gender issues, and others.
She lets you forget that you are reading when she transports you in an action-packed narrative, dips you in comparative analysis, and then offers a recommendation.
This non-fiction book “Down South”, introduces the reader to South Africa and its problems, and to Zimbabwe and what its situation had become during the past years. Overall, it is a personal look into the 21st century struggles and achievements of the African people. It inspires hope, despite the struggles.
She moved to Johannesburg a few years ago with the hope of starting a new independent life, ‘‘far from the maddening crowd’’ as they say.
Yet the life she expected to be heaven across the border turned out to be hell of a sort with only few, temporary comfort zones. In her critical, autobiographical book, Tagwirei seriously attempts to re-create to life the different people she met, conversations she had with them that gave her new insights into life down South and the emotions invoked by certain injustices she witnessed along the way.
Once a Miss Zim contestant, she takes you backstage where you could witness the poor modelling girls being taken advantage of by the wealthy men, and then you bump into models in a bathroom in South Africa taking drugs. In the African space, you see the notion of African beauty being badly westernised as portrayed by Tina who suggests the author bleaches her dark skin so that she looks beautiful.
Educated as she is, Tagwirei first worked at a Johannesburg restaurant where again you could see the race question popping up. Jaco, the restaurant Afrikaner manager and some others, judge people on the basis of skin colour. Swiftly, the author reflects about the same issue at home, and somehow, the story is different.
The crime leitmotif is never left out in stories about our neighbouring country. There is a scene in Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya’s story “The Fifty Rand Note” (the title story of her last year’s collection), in which daylight bank robbery happens, gunshots are heard and you could feel pity for the woman running into a shop to take cover without knowing the fluid dripping from her back, which she thinks is water splashed at her during the chaos, is actually her dead child’s blood.
In “Down South” the crime rate is echoed, at some point the robbers even break into the author’s room, fortunately she screams them away.
If you have lived in Harare, you would agree with Tagwirei that you hardly hear gunshots. The multi-cultural South Africa portrayed in these stories is admirable, but beneath it lies many unanswered questions — cultural, economic, etc.
Then in some chapters in “Down South” you feel the author has opened up too much about issues personal but then, as with the style of her writing, there are lessons to learn.
For instance, the heartbreaks, deaths in the family and betrayals in friendships, all these experiences nurture a defensive woman in her and inspire many questions she wants the reader to critically think about.