By Elliot Ziwira
As you read this instalment from the shelves of the Bookstore today gentle reader, spare a moment for the brave sons and daughters of the Motherland, who put their lives, limbs and blood on the relentless blade of the colonialists’ machinery of brutality and plunder.
It is such selfless sacrifice that we celebrate today on Heroes Day as we commemorate the coming of age of an African, nay Zimbabwean dream, fashioned on blood, sweat and psychological traumas characteristic of war.
What makes the day even more significant today is that it has ushered in a new dispensation in the wake of a military intervention that halted former president Robert Mugabe’s catastrophe-bound individualistic train, which mockingly wailed and whistled past the graveyard of yesteryear heroes; believing them to be dead, buried and forgotten.
But on November 15, 2017, Zimbabwe reverberated with the songs that liberated us as a nation from colonial shackles, as the people’s army, true to its liberation war promise, sought to restore the legacy of the struggle that had united a people keen on mapping its own destiny.
The liberties that we enjoy today among them the liberty to exercise our constitutional rights to cast ballots in favour of our preferred political representatives as we did in the harmonised elections of July 30, wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the sacrifice of the sons and daughters of this great nation, who selflessly laid their heads on the block.
Even Mugabe enjoyed the freedom to cast his ballot, along with his wife and daughter in favour of the MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa; not surreptitiously even. Such is the nature of democracy; such is the price of sacrifice.
The right to be or not be part of a political outfit or ideology as enshrined in our Constitution did not come on a silver platter, neither was it a reward of mere utterances of preparedness “to die for this country”. Thousands of people; liberation fighters and their supportive masses alike, paid the ultimate price by dying and not just promising to die as some dullards do today in front of beaming camera lights, yet when death, real death, glares at them they flee even though no one is pursuing them.
It is against this backdrop that the reading of Tafataona Mahoso, Thomas Sukutai Bvuma and Freedom T. Nyamubaya’s poetry becomes aptly revealing and evocative.
In the title poem “Footprints About the Bantustan”, Mahoso like Bvuma in “The Real Poetry”, and Nyamubaya in “Poetry” (“On the Road Again”) and “Real Story” in “Dusk of Dawn”, is contemptuous of the trivialisation of the African’s story to mere nomenclature and stereotypical formalism. Knowledge of both the subject matter and the audience’s standpoint is the competent poet’s forte; and it is this that shapes the aspirations of the downtrodden, the marginalised and vulnerable, and it is this ability of discernment that Mahoso, like Bvuma and Nyamubaya has in abundance.
The title poem “Footprints About the Bantustans” retraces the travails of the Bantustan, who is displaced, dislocated and relegated to the periphery of existence in the Motherland. Using historical snippets, Mahoso takes his audience on a whirlwind voyage of intrigue into the world of yore where the footprints of toil remain visible after the events of “the Great Apportionment of Nineteen Thirteen and Nineteen Thirty.” The metaphors of “dust”, “hunger” and “rage” converge in a “drizzle” called “Zimbabwe, Nineteen Sixty Nine at Muroti” where “nothing grows but dreams and memory”.
The poverty, suffering, yeaning and hopelessness that pervade the poem “Footprints About the Bantustan” through adept use of symbolical elements and metaphors, in their glaringly heart-rending manner, leave the reader looking in askance at the idea of reconciliation without reciprocity. Displaced and elbowed out of the fertile lands of his ancestors, the Bantustan finds solace in the metaphysical, through nomenclature and spirituality.
Mahoso seems to be echoing Nyamubaya’s probing in “Poetry” and calling out to Bvuma and Dambudzo Marechera in the poems “The Real Poetry” and “In Jail the Only Telephone is the Washbasin Hole: Blow and We Will Hear”, respectively. Nyamubaya wonders: “One person said,/you are not a poet, but forget that,/poetry is an art and -/Art is meaningful rhythm . . ./Now what is rhythm/If I may ask?/Some say its marching syllables/Others say its marching sounds,/But tell me how you marry the two?”
Bvuma answers: “The real poetry/Was carved across centuries/Of chains and whips/It was written in the red streams/Resisting the violence of ‘Effective Occupation’. . . Its beat was bones in Bissau/Its metaphors massacres in Mozambique/Its alliteration agony in Angola/Its form and zenith/Fighting in Zimbabwe, (“The Real Poetry” in “Every Stone That Turns”).
It is, indeed, “the pain and pleasure/Of a people in struggle”, hence, to reduce that to contrived formalism, as Formalists like Fish, Robert Frost (1930) and Jacobson (1916) advocate, is rather atrocious because the history of suffering cannot be articulated through “classroom lectures”, or “from the rhyme & reason of England/Nor the Israeli chant that stutters bullets against Palestinians” (Marechera).
The people’s poet, therefore, should write “about societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out” (Cesaire, 1994:21); because he/she functions as the custodian of the mores and values that inspire societal aspirations. He/she should inspire his/her people to take up arms against oppression; physical, psychological, emotional and mental.
Mahoso’s gaze, however, refuses to be dazzled with the coming of political independence to Zimbabwe, for he is all too aware of the subtle nature of colonisation. Like Nyamubaya and Bvuma, he is dismayed by neo-colonialism and peacetime violence.
Bvuma and Nyamubaya share a camaraderie that goes back to the trenches of the liberation struggle, which makes a reading of their poetry a reliving of the dying, the disillusionment and brutality of the phenomenon of war; as well as its dehumanising and loser-take-all nature. Unlike Mahoso, they go beyond philosophising to capture the gory violence of the liberation struggle as a lived experience. The macabre and gloomy atmosphere in Bvuma’s “Every Stone that Turns” (1999), especially in the poems “Private Affair”, “Mafaiti”, “Survivors”, “Petals of the Unknown” and “Peacetime Corpses”, is reflected in Nyamubaya’s “The Dog and the Hunter”, “Tribal Wars”, “Combatant”, “Journey and Half” “A Mysterious Marriage” and “Archives”.
Bvuma’s “Private Affair” mirrors Nyamubaya’s “Journey and Half” (“Dusk of Dawn”) in that they both question the reasons for war in the first place if it creates only victims and no victors. Nyamubaya asks: “Have you ever been asked to strip/In front of a thousand shouting eyes/Forced to lie on your back/With your feet astride/Allowing your v****a to be inspected/By somebody whom you have never seen before?”
Picking the profound hollowness in it all, the war-torn personae in Bvuma’s “Private Affair” echo: “We squatted there at dusk/a metre apart among the bushes/emptying our bowels of the precious/food savoured the previous night/. . . “sh**ting used to be a private affair”/We laughed and choked over steaming sh*t/and assure ourselves that sh**ting would/Someday become a private pleasure again.
Sadly after the war, there is “no sod of soil” for them as the “Survivors” in Bvuma’s poetry ask if indeed, they are heroes for outsmarting enemy shells, or the real heroes are those left behind on the battlefield. Nyamubaya candidly responds in “Heroes”: “Heroes are dead or not yet born/Until then you can keep the medals”, because there is nothing to show for their bravery, except demented souls, whose bodies will be buried at the metaphorical tomb of the unknown soldier at the National Heroes Acre; for they have “Surrendered” their “balls at demobilisation” (Bvuma in “We Surrendered our Balls”), so they will only be that lunatic “Combatant”, (Nyamubaya), who “owns no mansion in Borrowdale/not even a three-roomed tiny/in Budiriro/… drive no Mercedes/not even a smoking Morris”; and will only be remembered through gleaning the “Archives” as “ex-combatants” (Nyamubaya).
As “Peacetime Corpses” are strewn along the corridors of power, the poets wonder where the bride “Freedom” has gone deserting her groom, “Independence” at their wedding when he needed her the most. Indeed, it is only “A Mysterious Wedding” that celebrates a marriage in which only the groom is present, and only the bride’s “shadow” is espied by “an old woman” “passing, walking through the crowd, Freedom to the Gate,” (Nyamubaya).
In response to the stifled call of hope Mahoso, Bvuma and Nyamubaya use their articulate poetic voices to trudge on “The Road Again” in their quest to retrace the “Footprints About the Bantustan” under “Every Stone that Turns”, in the “Dusk of Dawn” permeating the African’s jungle of suffering, and burning dreams, as the erstwhile coloniser reincarnate in the new demigods, who take “civilisation” a notch higher; to give new meaning to the African’s existence.