How a Simple Reading Leads Back to Mungoshi

When I began writing this piece, I had intended to focus on Dambudzo Marechera. When I finished writing it, I was shocked to find out that there are few things we can say about, few readings we can attempt of, Zimbabwean literature without coming back to the Charles Mungoshi philosophy.

The following is therefore a piece about Dambudzo Marechera, through the eyes of Charles Mungoshi.

If you write more often than most and put more care into the effort than most do, you will get compared to Dambudzo once or twice. And I can assure you, you wouldn’t exactly know how you feel about that, especially the way my mother says it.

You’d shudder she kept her omnipresence from my boyhood, sat with us last November in Kwekwe, Tanaka Chidora and me, listening to someone, David Mungoshi or Ignatius Mabasa, paint the sordid canvass of the rebel icon cowered in the office Dr Tanaka Chidora now occupies, screaming “I don’t want to see that b****!”

We all agreed it’s a peculiar way to address one’s mother. And yes, that’s what writers do even when they get together: tell ghost stories all through the night. The name is legend; never has so much been endowed in one: dreadlocked myth, prodigy and madhouse prowling the streets in defiance; possessed with beauty, transmutation and the lust for apotheosis, hauling his weaponised click-clank keys over the entrails of a revolution, lubricating their ink with the vile spit of disillusionment and contrarianship for membrane-rupture in bare sodomy and generic psychic rape; casting semen of thought across eons into the bowels and yawning vulva of callow minds cupping the seed of rebellion and sprouting cult.

What shall we decipher from the hieroglyphs that have driven men to the cusp of frightful illuminations known by Zarathustra when he descended the mount and God was dead? Many have withered to lunacy from such contemplation.

Do you know the abyss? When the people touch, it’s only to hurt each other, even with lovemaking. Ungodly violence sprawls: a husband rapes his wife in the open street and leaves her thing bruised in the eyes of children.

The assault is determined, the only sign of life a twitching finger. The narrator watches a man climb through the window and onto his mother in the dank of night and his brother, poor Peter, who tries to stop the bleeding anarchy is felled like Jericho with a backhand. There is the okapi to the belly of Nestar’s kid, the splatters of language donning guerrilla-scars of coarseness and the stark villainy of the anti-narrative.

How can the “healthy” fare in the mind of a confessed intellectual anarchist? It tastes like the Thelemic spirit of one Aleister Crowley (who constantly had to peel off the SATANIST label while earning the neat moniker of Wickedest Man in The World); he taught “Do what thou wilt”.

And that is intellectual anarchy in a neat bundle, one it shall escape on the principle of its gaseous state. But while it’s here, does it not sound like, “I like to write the kind of thing which destroys things people take for granted”?

The autopsy reports insanity from the turned nose of ivory tower, gossamer secretion of thirty-eight years of black privilege and first-name basis with former baas. So blissfully ignorant, with no modicum of the meaning of escape from the pickaxe of minority rule and its violence on a boy, too young to grasp the horror, retreating into the fortress of words; begging it to relent while it dragged him to a mortuary slab and his kaffir-father, bullet-perforated then thriftily darned for the exhibition like a ragged doll.

This dissident of decorum, iconoclastic icon, this grotesque Frankenstein of morbids peering through the skirts of time, did he mutate to survive the air, the soil, their hands crowding his throat and feet against his chest? He is not the clean Charles Mungoshi (I mean stylistically not in measure of hygiene); he is the genius caught in turbulence, clinging onto sanity in a book like Aladdin’s magic carpet, praying to it to elope him out of the house of hunger.

But they were good friends; we have heard the ghost stories and Flora Veit-Wild recalls their first meeting in Mungoshi’s ZPH office; the good old boys of St. Augustine, literary behemoths, sipping gin as if determined to be the stereotype.

And one wonders, how much that friendship seeped into work. I am thinking of the young scholar who despised the village so much he couldn’t come say goodbye before taking up his scholarship abroad without letting it out. Yes, the one who couldn’t look at his mother’s stroke-crooked mouth; whose thoughts can be connived into, “I don’t want to see that b****”.

Maybe that scholar was leaving the house of hunger for Oxford where he would be expelled, not without putting up a fight in the form of, as legend says, attempted library arson. Maybe that scholar is formed of the spleen of the one who almost succeeded at killing men twice; that is what it means to burn a book.

Oh yes, I can see the scene: the tottering drunk climbing atop the rubbish-heap where he once discovered a baby carcass (a stark image on education and context) while scavenging for encyclopaedias as a boy; furrowing his face and bellowing Waiting For The Rain’s iron monologue, owning it with his name, not in Manyene, but Vengere Township, Rusape.

“I am Dambudzo Marechera. I was born here against my will. I should have been born elsewhere — of some parents. I have never liked it here, and I never shall and if I ever leave this place, I am not coming back here. It’s the failure’s junk heap . . .”

I might be telling tales out of school, but still, I like the thought. If it’s not true, what mused the creator after 1981 when the moulding was through and his words formed corporeal, looking to his friend as he passed the gin, and seeing in the detail of his exile, alley-cat-lithe, the devil of his literary workmanship: Lucifer Mandengu?

Source : The Herald

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