The beat of a miserable heart

A couple of weeks ago, a colleague of mine posted the poem “Letter to a Son” by Charles Mungoshi on his Facebook page.
Needless to say, it’s a brilliant piece of work from a master of his art.
But again, needless to say some people did not see it that way. And that’s the thing with poetry, you either like it or you don’t. That is why some people become writers and others become engineers.
There is a line in that poem in which the mother, in describing an ailment afflicting her husband, says to her son, “Your father’s back is back again.” Those who don’t understand the Shona language will not appreciate the literal translation into English here, but it is – like most works of genius – a simple but lovely statement.
It will not take much, going from the above, that I love Mungoshi. I have been a firm admirer since I first read “Waiting for the Rain”.
“Waiting for the Rain” could be the most important English language work of fiction to come out of Zimbabwe, and not least because of a character called The Old Man.
The Old Man is a maker of drums, and in his musings throughout the book, his profession transcends mere work: it represents a philosophy whose central theme, as he puts it himself, is that Africa remains underdeveloped because we are “making so much noise with the enemy's drum that we can't even hear the beating of our own gullible little miserable hearts”.
That line is found in a conversation with his grandson in which he expresses his scepticism that Africans will ever truly be free because “do not play our own drums”.
Pardon me for quoting at length:
“Today we ask: Where are we? Who are we? What wrong did we do? How many stories do we hear of the white man humiliating our people? Again and again and again. We hear it, but do we see it?
“We might be blind. We hear it, but do we listen? We might be deaf. And why? Playing the enemy's drum, that's why. Making so much noise with the enemy's drum that we can't even hear the beating of our own gullible little miserable hearts…
“These are the questions (the freedom fighters) should ask themselves … This is what they don't know, and because they don't know it they are going to lose the battle before it's even started. They fight for what they don't know.
“We fought for what we knew. We cut off their (colonisers) genitals and threw them into Munyati River because they shouldn't have been called men with that woman's greed of theirs. We said: build there, the land is the Earth's, there is enough for everyone. But their greed reduced them to something less than men. We couldn't understand this desire of theirs to call everything mine mine mine…”
Before I proceed, let me place it on record that I am not a male chauvinist. And I would like to believe neither is Mungoshi. There is a historical and social context to the statement “that women’s greed of theirs”. So before the feminists lynch me or Mungoshi, let that be clearly understood.
Mungoshi’s preoccupation here is not the supposed greed of women, but rather how imperialism settled in Africa and how we have responded to it as a people who claim they want freedom.
From the viewpoint of the Western capitals that sent their people to Africa to pillage resources, everything was looked at as “mine mine mine”.
That’s why they took all the best land, that’s why they took all the mines, that’s why they reserved the best education for themselves, that’s why they made us build fantastic houses for them in the best possible areas.
And that’s why today any African who dares challenge the status quo is sanctioned, deposed or murdered. Mine mine mine!
Because we have fought the war while dancing to the enemy’s drums, “our own gullible little miserable hearts” thought that we were independent. Content with a flag and a national anthem, we left the mines and the farms in the hands of the enemy and we continued dancing to the beat of their drum. Is it any wonder then that today we have things like Marikana happening?
Not everyone, though, is dancing to the beat of an enemy drum. We hear that more and more African countries are talking about resource nationalism.
Sadly though, we know that many African leaders will become weak-kneed when the crunch comes; they will seek to negotiate themselves into prolonged poverty and underdevelopment because they fear sanctions, usurpation and assassination.
Others still will negotiate their countries into extended misery because they want to be “good boys and girls”, they want the West and its capital to continue patronising and fawning over them, they want to be – in the words of Mungoshi – “white men’s dogs” who will betray their people so as to feather their own little nests.
Perhaps like Mungoshi’s The Old Man, we should cut off the testicles of these men-who-don’t deserve-to-be-called men, and thus forever silence the beating of their own gullible little miserable hearts.

June 2013
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