Mahoso: the great poet few know

When you happen to come across him in an auditorium, he tends to quickly fold up after the greetings and the niceties, squint his eyes and appear to listen to the voice inside the voice of whoever is speaking at the podium. He seems able to hear even the sound of a pin dropping in any noisy crowd. But when he wants to respond, he shoots up and speaks his mind. Sometimes he seems to fight and tussle with something only him can see, going to and from until you see the picture he is drawing and pleading with you to see. He has dedicated his life to pursuing the project of demystifying myths, especially western myths. His poetry is like that! The man is his poetry and the poetry reminds you of the man himself in many ways. His one and only collection of poems published by Nehanda Publishers in 1989 is entitled ‘Footprints about the Bantustan’. On its plain white cover are four naked footprints of what must be a gigantic walker. But when you look closely at the footprints on what appears to be a sandy background, you realize that each footprint roughly assumes the map of Africa. The naked footprints must refer to the usually simple and soulful African personality. The African man’s footprints on the sand must also be about being rooted in Africa, a subject that Mahoso can dwell on at length. He also will talk about the all embracing African concept of the circle. Mahoso’s poetry, like most of his other writings, is decidedly about the unequal relationship between what he often terms ‘the North and the South.’ Sometimes Mahoso calls it ‘the North America and Europe against the rest of us.’ However Mahoso’s passion about this subject is very touching. Reading the poems in the collection, one’s knowledge of the man’s voice is very useful for the poems are meant to be read aloud. They are repetitive, cascading and cajoling. In ‘To The Guardian angel of Consciousness,’ the persona unravels the whole historic white project of the pacification of Africa and the Third world through lies and the glitter of cheap gadgets. Like that moment in ‘Hard Times,’ the persona sets out to find ‘the facts’ about the relations between the North and the South, to prune out the chaff and get to the bare realities: “‘I wanted facts, unslanted, but penetrated like beads with sinews of analysis: the ability of the mind to thread issues out of the paralysis of denominations, the ability to choose what is seminal from what is marginal.” That could be Mahoso’s chosen forte: to set out to undress imperialism and its machinations. Written in 1979 and revised on July 30 1987, the poem taunts western characters against using haze biblical excuses for the West’s exploitation of ‘the other’. The persona scoffs those who threaten the so-called non-believer with the Christians’ devil and hell. The persona also insists on the point that only critical thinking and open rebellion, instead of giving the other cheek, gave birth to Zimbabwe in 1980. In that poem, the persona who has been to a colonial school rises above the colonial propaganda and sees reality for what it is. What comes out is that the colonial school and its syllabus are not education but a whole project of alienation. The project was not to make the pupil understand where he is but to move him from where he is. That is the only method to make him a perfectly unquestioning servant. The title poem called ‘Footprints about the Bantustan’ is a single monstrous eight paged poem. It swallows and embraces various traditions that you find in each of the other Zimbabwean poets of Mahoso’s generation, ranging from the early nationalistic Chenjerai Hove to Musaemura Zimunya’s sweet-sad romance, through to the combative verses of Stanely Nyamubaya and Thomas Bvuma. To the persona, all colonized space is a Bantustan, as in Apartheid South Africa. In that case the poem insists that the colonized must dutifully rediscover his fighting spirit so that he can create and name a new reality and identity for himself. All because in the international Bantustan there are: “‘ enough drought and dust here. I cannot count the footprints of The tick, now all glossy From sucking the sick dog.” Fortunately, the victim in the Bantustan is not lying down on ‘our page of history.’ The Bantustan cannot be a decent destination because it is made for ‘us’ by ‘them’. However as the poem suggests, there is need for us to use this tiny space that we are trapped in to write our rebellious signature and retrace our footprints out of the Bantustan, back to our positive history. Using our mission- school- taught handwriting, we must, instead, write our very own signature. The persona in the poem does it in front of the other awestricken villagers: “I go out to scribble my name Over your footmarks in the dirt: Tafataona: Before we die yet, we shall have seen’ Before we die yet, we shall have Realized’ Why would you name a child so?” That poem reads much like Aime Cesaire’s ‘Notebook of A Return to My Native Land’ where history becomes a filthy emotion that becomes a beautiful emotion that becomes life that carries the once upon victim to an eternal hygiene! Indeed the challenge that people of the South face is how to turn from victimhood to becoming agents of their own lives and destinies. That transformation is however not easy because the colonized necessarily carries a whole foreign baggage that denies him the ability to ever imagine life away from the master. Sometimes to break away seems more futile than to remain in the house waiting for a dog’s meal. The third poem called ‘Zimbabwe’ is quite a bold poem. With it Mahoso critiques what happened in Zimbabwe at independence: reconciliation without compensation. Written in July 1980, the poem shows Mahoso’s bitterness with the new nation’s presumptuous theory of reconciliation. The Mahoso clarity is in wondering loudly why we choose to reconcile with people who have not even given up our ‘goods’ that they looted from us in the past: “Will the nerve reconcile itself to the najed knife? By what softness of heart can turn swords into ploughshares when we never had swords?” But Mahoso is not through with you yet. His persona asks another question: “On whose terms, dear commander, shall the lamb feed together with the fox? Can the worm bask in amity with the hoe which only yesterday cut its spine into halves?” Indeed, as events would show, two decades down the road the policy of reconciliation in Zimbabwe was proven to have been ‘a strange hope.’ Its basis had been sunk very far away from the real ‘goods’ that define life. As soon as the victims started to reclaim the ‘real economy,’ Zimbabwe went ablaze! But Mahoso the poet is not just as tough as teak. He also has some very titillating love poems. He describes man’s love for woman in a mouth watering way and could challenge even Musa Zimunya in that regard. In ‘Professor’s Cards’ Mahoso goes: “Vivian Mavhaire, since you graduated I ache like a crater relieved of its volcano.” Mahoso’s love poems praise the African woman as the original woman. The real woman worth a real man’s craving. That reminds one of Sengor and David Diop. The love messages here end up being political too. For instance Mahoso feels that only in the South, a free South can one love fully: African woman of the South you know how to provoke passions sharper than the flame lily of Zimbabwe. Your nipples are packed With nodules of firm sweetness, Like the black raspberry Of the Sabi River ripening In its wildness.” Beyond his poetry, Mahoso gives speeches and writes newspaper articles about how Africa, Zimbabwe and the whole of the South could create ways of weaning themselves ideologically from the North. Mahoso was born in 1949 in the Eastern Chimanimani District of Zimbabwe. He holds a Doctorate in History.

June 2006
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