Collection celebrates diversity in the Zim short story

Here, just like in other multi-authored anthologies, there is a movement towards opening up spaces so that there are dialoguing voices.

The themes here are as diverse as the authors themselves, coming as they do from different backgrounds and professions.

It could as well be the media practitioner’s anthology, considering the number of contributors drawn from media-related fields.

Zvisinei Sandi used to pen the column, ‘Through Hararean Mazes’, in ‘The Southern Times’.

The column was mainly a candid exploration of urban relationships between men and women, and it is against this backdrop that her contribution to this collection has to be understood.

Zvisinei Sandi’s acute awareness of the ironies, absurdities and, sometimes, humorous awkwardness of urban men pursuing women finds expression in the opening story, ‘Angel of Light’.

Currently, Memory Chirere – a University of Zimbabwe (UZ) lecturer and regular literary contributor to various Zimbabwean newspapers – is a literary correspondent for ‘The Southern Times’.

One can always trust Chirere to have an ace or two up his sleeve. His story, ‘Tell Me about Cutting Down the Tree’, is unique -right from the title to the style, and lends itself to various interpretations.

Recently, Chirere published his debut, single-authored anthology, ‘Somewhere in this Country’, with UNISA, which was launched during this year’s edition of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF).

The literary devices employed here are in keeping with what I’ve come to know of Chirere’s writings.

This story is polysemic in nature, lending itself as it does to various interpretations and appears to shatter conformist literary traditions. Somewhere in the story, he seems to interfere: “I do not know why I’m doing this because this is supposed to be a story and there must be a plot, characters and themes . . . I do many other things in my own way in order to get noticed” (pp.77).

Another contributor to the anthology, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, is the Acting Editor of The Sunday Mirror, one of Zimbabwe’s weeklies. He grapples with matters spiritual – a domain he seems to have made his own – in his two entries into this anthology. In ‘Faith’, the ‘mad-like’ character of the same name represents the daring blending of religious teachings and scientific knowledge in such a convincing way it would force you to dig deeper into yourself and interrogate your own beliefs.

In the other story – Cockroaches – Rastafarianism and Christianity are set on a collision course, with the dread-locked Ranga locking horns with his Christian mother and sister while interrogating the teachings of ‘white’ Christianity. He could as well be the emblem of the ‘free spirit’ the author subscribes to.

Kamurai Mudzingwa, a sub editor with Zimbabwe’s widely circulating The Herald, also appears in the collection with his piece, ‘Old Manyaro’.

It is probably his second time to feature in a collection of this nature, after having been published in ‘We Are the Herb’.

From as far back as 1997 – almost a decade ago – I had become aware of Mudzingwa’s writing prowess, having read two of his short stories, ‘President for a Day’ and ‘The Accident’, which went on to be published in the now defunct Horizon magazine.

‘Old Manyaro’ is a story that challenges our pre-conceived notions about other people, as close encounters often reveal they are not anywhere near what we would have thought of them.

I’ve always known Jairos Kangira, the editor of this collection, as a literary critic. It was quite refreshing to realise he also has two contributions, ‘Intruder in Room 13’ and ‘Licked Blood’, in this collection.

In the first story, he highlights the use of witchcraft by some unscrupulous and influential businesspeople to boost their businesses through ritual murders.

In the second story Kangira, who is now a lecturer in Namibia, revisits the liberation struggle, which he de-romanticises, but does not end there as has been typical of war literature over the years. He extends his frontiers to explore, using the war as a thread, issues of contemporary opposition politics.

Nevanji Madanhire, a long-time media practitioner and editor of the now defunct newspaper, The Tribune, is also part of the collection, with his story, ‘The Cats at the Farmhouse’, which blends mystery and reality.

Then there are a few not drawn from the media fraternity, who also bring diversity to the collection.

The prevalence of gossip, and its consequences, in neighbourhoods is explored in Nhamo Mhiripiri’s titled story, ‘Creatures Great and Small’, where an old woman in the neighbourhood is – albeit without validity – suspected of practicing witchcraft. It all seems to augur well with the prevailing ‘reality’ in this story where Stella, after bumping into a lizard in her home, goes through a series of emotions that culminate in her miscarriage.

David Mungoshi’s love for the countryside, and what it represents, is often unmistakable in his stories. ‘The Old Man and the Bath’ is no exception. The old man in this story is a vestige of the past and an epitome of age-old traditions and repository of the community’s history.

In an increasingly ‘modernising’ countryside full of people now sceptical of their traditions, the old man is probably the only one who still “remembered how to do all the important things, things like praying for the rain and burying a dead person according to customs of the land” (pp.14)

This is a humorous tale about the Old Man’s aversion for bath, which becomes symbolic of washing away the traditional value systems he epitomises.

Thabisani Ndlovu uses four young boys – Jafethi, Lameck, Mbonisi and the narrator – in Heads and Tails to unravel the nature of God, witchcraft, the Bible, hell and damnation after they had killed a lizard.

In her other entry, ‘Kristina’, she explores issues currently ablaze in the media, about teachers who sexually abuse, or conduct inappropriate relationships with, their female students.

Other stories to look out for in this anthology are Elsworth Benhura’s ‘My Brother’s Wife’, Bridget Chinouriri’s ‘The Purity of My Womanhood’, Ethel Kabwato’s ‘Time to Let Go’ and Nhamo Mhiripiri’s ‘What Angers Water Spirits’.

December 2006
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