Anthology depicts contemporary Zimbabwe
Editor: Jane Morris Publisher: amaBooks, 2005 ISBN: 0-7974-2896-8 Reviewed by Southern Times Writer Bulawayo is traditionally revered as Zimbabwe’s cultural hub owing to the vibrancy of the cultural industry in that city, particularly in music and performance arts. But in a development that has, in recent years, seen the extending of artistic and cultural frontiers, the city has also began churning out some of the finest literature in Zimbabwe today. A small community of writers is slowly emerging in the city. The publication of ‘Short Writings from Bulawayo II’ this year ‘ a follow-up to ‘Short Writings from Bulawayo’ (2003) ‘ testifies to that emergent trend. And it is heartening to note that following what one literary fundi termed ‘the drought’ of the 1990s ‘ during which publishing ‘fiction’ was unfortunately considered as unaffordable luxury by publishing concerns ‘ some are still passionate about literature and are ensuring the country’s traditional literary genius is not buried. Just like its predecessor, this collection of short stories and poetry gives multiple perspectives ‘ cutting across race, gender and age ‘ on a variety of issues, mainly centred in Zimbabwe’s second largest city. There is a delightful combination of the tried and tested pens of the likes of John Eppel, Catherine Buckle and Pathisa Nyathi with those slowly finding their feet on the literary path, notably Tinashe Mushakavanhu, Deon Marcus, Christopher Mlalazi and Farai Mpofu. The last four are products of Crossing Borders, an ambitious e-mail based tutorial scheme run by the British Council and the UK’s Lancaster University in nine African countries. Of the 22 writers featured in the collection under review, 20 had had their works appearing in this collection’s predecessor. Though set in Bulawayo, most of the works here are national in outlook and transcend the boundaries of one city. To a greater extent, the collection is a mirror of contemporary Zimbabwe. Mzana Mthimukhulu’s ‘Everything is Gonna Be Alright’ and Mushakavanhu’s ‘Amainini Wendy’ explore the impact of HIV and AIDS on ordinary families in Zimbabwe. Another story by Mushakavanhu, ‘City Insomnia’, delineates in detail, Harare’s transport blues spawned by crippling fuel shortages and the somewhat ‘inhuman’ speed at which everything seems to happen: “The place is overcrowded. People, people, people everywhere, all rushing about (to get to work), obsessed with time” (pp53). Addelis Sibutha’s ‘Between Two Men’ also bemoans the economic woes bedevilling Zimbabwe, pushing others ‘ like the girl in Godfrey Sibanda’s ‘One for the Road’ ‘ into prostitution as a means of survival. Mpofu’s ‘I’ll Fly Away’ and Mlalazi’s ‘It’s His Who Wakes the Hare’ and ‘My Meat!’ capture in fine detail life in the ‘ghettos’ of Bulawayo and the often humorous antics people play on each other at their drinking holes. Mthimkhulu and Mlalazi have had their short stories, ‘First Love’ and ‘Who am I?’ respectively, published in the first edition of the Crossing Borders Online Magazine ‘ together with Ayodele Arigbabu and Fredrick Mulapa of Nigeria and Zambia respectively ‘ after they, together with 28 other interested CB participants had vied for the four slots available. Catherine Buckle unleashes her passion to give the ‘other side’ regarding the burning land question in Zimbabwe. Her short story, ‘Full Circle’, explores what often transpired when a white commercial farm is ‘violently’ taken over, “the incessant shouting and whistling, the clattering and thumps of sticks and stones being thrown on the roof, the banging of rocks against burglar bars” (pp42). She castigates the corruption prevalent in the land reform exercise when those in high offices evict ordinary peasants from the land where they would have been resettled. The story reads more like a follow-up to her novel, ‘African Tears’ (Covos Day, 2000) which looks at the takeover of her family’s Stow Farm in Marondera, and how her farm workers stood by her. As noted by Wonder Guchu in a review published in a local weekly following the book’s publication, the book “tries to draw a balance between the desire to hold on to the land and to leave, the wish to claim to be Zimbabwean and to denounce foreign citizenship; and the sense of being patriotic and unpatriotic ‘ an act difficult to perform when there’s a likelihood of death or injury.” Noteworthy about Buckle’s writings is her preoccupation with contemporary issues, shown also through her other novel, ‘Litany Bird’ (College Press, 1999), which is a bold confrontation with what it means to live with HIV ‘ both to the infected and their loved ones. Mpofu’s ‘Whirlwind’ looks at the moral decadence prevalent in society, Judy Maposa’s ‘Bathing with Tadpoles’ celebrates the beauty of nature that comes out in the rainy season and Sibanda’s ‘The Coming’ attempts to understand the senselessness of politics. The book pulsates with equally beautiful and engaging poetry by Eppel (My Dustbin), Tawanda Chipato (Past State House and Hope), Nyathi (Illuminating Flames), Marcus (Our ‘Notre Dame’), John S. Read (The Messenger’s Finger) and Anne Simone Hutton (The Baboon).