The Temple of Rights – the art of protest and expose

By Gracious Madondo

“The Temple of Rights” leaves no stone unturned. The short stories unravel and cover all-from poverty and desperation, the nightmares of war crimes, confusion and burdens of a homeless family, shattered childhoods to the conflict between traditional beliefs and modern education and most importantly the schemes of corrupt law enforcers.

“The Temple of Rights” is a collection of short stories written by Zimbabwean writer and author Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri published by Zimbabwe Publishing House in 2016. The anthology takes its title from a short story within the collection aptly titled “The Temple of Rights.”

That story “The Temple of Rights” forms the backbone of the anthology. The story unravels some of the major thoughts that run through most of the stories. It kind of solidifies these ideas pointing to the corrupt nature of an economically and politically crippled nation and paints political leaders as culprits who stand aside while corruption eats away the already rotten and crumbling nation.

In the title story “The Temple of Rights”, the young girl Tecla is denied justice by the police after being raped by businessmen Mr Tongwe. She subsequently drowns in sorrow-feeling cheated and abandoned.

She looks up and sees the President’s portrait and Mhiripiri narrates; “The big picture of His Excellency, the State President watched coldly over everything…one could say his stiff pose was a sign of indifference, yet it could be read as a detachment of one who soars high above the base, one who was now so remote that he could not be associated with the ordinary and commonplace”

The cover of the anthology echoes perfectly the issues discussed within the pages of the book. The cover is adorned with the image of random objects of a clenching fits symbolizing defiance, boldness, handcuffs representing crime and the police as well as a red Porsche car, a hoe and a spanner.

Born in Harare Zimbabwe in 1968 Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri is a fiction writer and poet. He is holder of a doctoral degree in Media and Cultural Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a senior lecturer in the Media Studies at Midlands State University.

As a fiction and poetry writer, Mhiripiri’s work featured in several anthologies such as “No More Plastic Balls” (2000) and “A Roof to Repair”. Ten stories feature in each of the two anthologies. His stories can also be found in short story anthologies such as “The State of Our Nation and Ghetto Dairy and Other Poems.”

“The Temple of Rights” is an excellent read because it encompasses Mhiripiri’s short stories both old and new stories published in various anthologies.

This 2016 short story collection is pregnant with meaning and relevance as each story depicts salient themes that all in all create a brilliant piece of art.

As Mhiripiri himself attests, he knows no boundaries when it comes to exposing the ills of society and in capturing the survival of mankind in general: “I still prefer to write about the marginalised underdog. I feel that it takes deeper analytic skills to discern subversion in the apparently innocuous stories about township poverty, an infant rebellion against his bigoted and sexual precociousness, impotence and confessions, superstitions and its place in as African post-modern context like ours, rape and pathology of power, and so forth”

“Temple for Rights’’ was used figuratively referring to the police station.

A “temple” in its religious sense is a sacred and central place or a building for worship dedicated to a specific god and “Rights’’ refers to that which is morally correct, just or honourable.

In the short story “The Temple of Rights” Mhiripiri unravels the irony of the situation by depicting a police station as “the temple of rights” where all corruption shenanigans are carried out and finalised by the law enforcers.

Mhiripiri elaborates more on how the innocent suffer at the hands of the criminals as the police fail to act as the victims suffer from their obstruction of justice. At the police station many criminals are brought in by the police and like Elista whose reported case of rape is brushed aside in exchange of a fat envelope offered by the criminal, her rapist Mr Tongwe as Mhiripiri narrates, “I am Mr Tongwe,’’ the man said slapping two fat envelopes he was holding in his right hand against his left palm… I’d rather I speak in private with one of you’’

It is in the irony of the title that Mhiripiri play at in exposing the corrupt nature of individual police officers who ignores the rule of law promoting injustice and the suffering of the innocent.

Mhiripiri is not blind to the past era as in the short story ”The Advice” he captures the horrors of war through the character General Takavada who recounts and confesses war time crime were he brutally rapped a woman together with two other soldiers under Ian Smith’s army.

One of the most intriguing short story in the anthology is “No More Plastic Balls”. A story about a young boy named Franklin who spends all his days within the confinements of his home watching other young kids having fun and playing games on the streets.

Frankie has got all the toys any child may want and he constantly receives plastic balls from his unnamed friendly neighbour through the fence which he later gets tired of.

Frankie’s story is the story of childhood rebellion. It is the story of breaking free from tyrannical rule, a story of protest and freedom, psychological and physical growth and death.

The author effectively uses the image of a child in most of his stories to push forward the theme of innocence, purity, development and growth in the midst of a corrupt, violent and alienated society.

Its literary device much employed by many African writers such Charles Mungoshi, Memory Chirere, Ferdinard Oyono and Mongo Beti.

Mhiripiri carries over the theme of death in the story “What Angers Water Spirits’’ that depicts the extinction of tradition and traditional beliefs.

The main characters in the story are Old Magodo and the young educated Joe. It is a story of the contest between reason versus faith with the Old man Magodo representing faith and Joe representing reason.

Mhiripiri’s stories celebrate diversity- capturing the bright side of life and the lives of the common man from all walks of life and from all races within the country and abroad as depicted in the story titled ‘’Pungwe’’, a story celebrating friendship across race and celebrating Chimurenga mbira music from Thomas Mapfumo.

Mhiripiri’s writing is one that is close to home. His writing tells of stories of the African back yard that almost everyone can relate to, understand and find the deeper meaning to his stories.

Mhiripiri‘s style writing is that of disclosure. Like many other writers his fiction exposes the ills of society as a way of reforming it making his anthology lively, relevant and undying.

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