Rescuing nationalism from post-colonial disillusionment

By Lovemore Ranga Mataire

IN many African countries, disenchantment with post-colonial politics finds literary expression in satire.    

In Zimbabwe, one area where satire has found expression is in drama. Among the few published satiric pieces is Mindblast’s (1984) “The Toilet” by the late Dambudzo Marechera, The Honourable MP by Gonzo Musengezi (1984) and Workshop Negative (1992) by Cont Mhlanga – all epitomising the apparent and immediate disillusionment with nationalism, which was the rallying ideological tool against colonialism.

The three plays all typify Zimbabwe’s post-independence protest literature that highlight the shortcomings of nationalism through the examination of new black leaders and emerging black elites in an independent nation.

In a satirical configuration, the three plays bring to the fore the new breed of African leaders and the dilemma confronting independent Africa in general and in Zimbabwe in particular.

The issues raised in the three plays largely conform to the ideas of Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Amilcar Cabral and Ngugi wa Thiongo. In raveling the three texts and their depiction of the post-liberation outcome, it is essential also to analyze the different definitions attached to nationalism.

The struggles that would be touted as African nationalism were essentially anti-colonial struggles emanating from anti-colonial feelings, criticism or, and actions against imperial rule from the very beginning of colonialism.

It must be noted that prior to the Great Depression and World War 2, anti-colonial sentiments focused on the need to reform the system, to open it to participation by Africans. African nationalism later gathered momentum and took a revolutionary stance through the efforts of Africans in the Diaspora incluing Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore and even African-American scholar WIlliam Du Bois through their Pan-African congress in the 1920s.

It is this new found verve of nationalism fueled by Pan-African sentiments that inspired most anti-colonial movements particularly those in Southern Africa.

In essence, the three plays cast serious aspersions on the nationalist rhetoric during the struggle and which in the aftermaths of that struggle is characterized by a leadership seemingly in a hurry to take over power without deconstructing the superstructure that sustained the exploitation of black people before independence.

In The Honorable MP, Musengezi exposes the moral, social and political decadence epitomized by Honorable Cde Shakespeare Pfende, who uses public funds to finance a flamboyant lifestyle exemplified by a number of mansions, cars and other property at a time when his constituency is experiencing severe drought.  One character in the play questions the essence of electing the MP saying:

Our problem number one is that we have no MP. We sent him to the city, what did he bring us? Nothing. He went to build himself a big European house like that in Bharama’s  (whiteman) farm . . . And bought himself many cars. Now we realise we sent a fly into a pot of milk. It got drowned in the feast.

The moral and social decay is exemplified by the MP’s insatiable desire for amassing wealth and property. Even at personal level, the rot that broadly afflicts the nation has also gotten into the MP as he constantly abuses his wife and has a mistress.

The same exasperation outplaying in The Honourable MP is also expressed in Mindblast’s “The Toilet” in which Marechera satirises Minister Cde Honourable Nzuzu. Prominent Zimbabwean author Memory Chirere says of “The Toilet,”:  “the play satirises the new African elite and their local and international white racist and corrupt associates for not showing responsibility in their exercise of power and business.”

Indeed, “The Toilet” is an attack on the corruption that has taken root in Zimbabwe, prominent of which was the Willowgate scandal which took the scalp of very prominent politicians involved in some underhand business deals.

The detachment from the people’s daily struggles and corruption are central themes explored in Mhlanga’s Workshop Negative, which is a play about a tool making workshop in post-independent Zimbabwe, where a revolutionary war has changed things dramatically.

The workshop is owned by a former liberation fighter who has turned into an exploiter even worse than those that were before him. In a recent radio interview, Mhlanga accuses revolutionary leaders of getting corrupt and he decided that theatre offered the best medium that could express these societal ills.

The drama is thus an analysis of post-independent Zimbabwe where black people are fighting each other replacing socialism with capitalism. Although the three books vividly articulate the foreboding post-colonial set-up their weakness is in their failure to offer solutions on how the lost comrades can be rescued.

However, Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney offers a solution when he says working people have capacity to persistently secure their own emancipation by not pinning their hopes on the post-colonial leadership which betrayed the masses. It was a conclusion that was to prove instructive in his Guyanese intervention.

Fanon shares the same sentiments when he argues that nationalism often fails to achieve liberation across class boundaries because its aspirations are primarily those of the colonised bourgeoisie, a privileged group that seeks to defeat the prevailing colonial rule only to usurp its place of dominance and surveillance over the working class.

In Wretched of the Earth, Fanon blames the failings of nationalism on the “intellectual laziness of the middle class”. The native bourgeoisie rises to power only insofar as it seeks to replicate the bourgeoisie of the “mother country” that sustains colonial rule.

In Fanon’s words, it is not enough for the revolutionary elites to lead the people as a passive herd towards the correction of consciousness and activity. Rather, it is from the people as well as the leaders that the transformation must take place. The people’s participation in the armed struggle and the liberation of their homeland is the leverage that must assist the people to realise that the mere replacement of the colonial bourgeoisie with a native bourgeoisie is not sufficient for dignity.

It cannot be in doubt that the plays particularly The Honorable MP borrows a lot from Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s I Will Mary When I Want in that it is didactic and appeals to the masses to rely on their strengths and build a better future. On the other hand, Mindlablast’s “The Toilet” has the intermingling of black and white business people and politicians sarcastically dominated by the ‘the toilet drawing from the Armah motif of the ‘stench’ as a symbol of social erosion.

June 2017
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