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African countries, though independent from the colonial yoke, are still at the mercy of the erstwhile colonisers, who sponsor the publication of books that aance their own interests with promises of awards and international readership.

AT the Bookstore’s pen would like to start this week’s instalment by taking off his cap to Memory Chirere, Cynthia Marangwanda and Raisdon Baya, whose stars shone the brightest at the 14th edition of the 2014 National Arts Merit Awards (NAMA), held at the 7 Arts Theatre in Harare on February 14.

Cynthia Marangwanda’s “Shards”, published by KO Maseko Publishers, was the numero uno in the Outstanding First Creative Published Work. As a debutant, she demonstrated her clout in the rough terrain that is usually the preserve of experienced wayfarers.

“Around the Fire-Folktales from Zimbabwe” edited by Raisdon Baya stood its mettle in the Outstanding Children’s Book category. It is a real must-read book for the young and the young at heart as it reveals the interface between oracy and literacy in moulding the individual as he or she interacts with societal expectations and merge them with his or her own environs.

That Chirere’s “useless book” would effortlessly grab an accolade was no surprise, as At the Bookstore was apt in the anthology’s review. It really is a masterpiece, and deserving of any literary award in the offing, as it does not only enrich the bookstore, but is an expression of a true Zimbabwean, nay, African sensibility, articulated through language in its simplest form.

The fact that the book won as an outstanding fiction book vindicates Chenjerai Hove’s observation in Palaver Finish (2002:57) that: “I always tell people that if they want to know about the history of a country, do not go to the history books, go to the fiction. Fiction is not fiction. It is the substance and heartbeat of a people’s life, here, now and in the past.”

Indeed, fiction is an expression of a people’s yearnings, aspirations, cultural mores and values, and a quest for psychic catharsis.

If artistes are inspired by their experiences and spurred on by the concerns of their own societies then, fiction will remain a true record of the obtaining issues prevailing at any given eon past present or future. However, as has always been observed, if literary works are a culmination of the prevailing governing institutions’ gatekeeping instincts, then the sensibilities that should be informing them will be utterly at fault.

Emmanuel M. Chiwome and Zifikile Mguni’s book “Zimbabwean Literature in African Languages: Crossing Language Boundaries” (2012) explores the liberating nature of language in its expression of a people’s way of life and the preservation of ethos. It aocates the use of indigenous African languages as the first step to decolonising the continent’s citizenry’s mindsets. The norms and values passed from generation to generation through folklore can never be really ferried through alien languages. Colonisation brought its own problems on the African landscape which can scantly be addressed using the same oppressive apparatus, which is the reason why the Kenyan writer, Ngugi WaThiong’o, vowed to stick to his native Gikuyu to hoist his country’s flag above the colonial banner, as a way of liberating his people.

The book is divided into sections which highlight the different eons and languages under review. It really is an eye opener not only to literary critics and writers but to those whose purpose of reading is not mastery.

Chiwome and Mguni (2012) write in the preface to the book: “In the context of a former colony like Zimbabwe, literature can be viewed as a site of struggle. In this literary site of struggle, writers can either represent powers that oppress the masses or write from below in order to bring the people living on the margins closer to the centre.” Suffice to say that the institutionalisation of how reality can be perceived is baneful to the freedom of literary expression. Writers as “truth’s defence” should be the voices of the gagged, feeble and vulnerable.

In colonial Rhodesia the Literature Bureau determined the nature of literature to be consumed both in schools and the general readership. Therefore, although indigenous languages like Shona, Ndebele and Tonga could be used as an expression of liberation, they were skewed to serve the interests of the oppressor who controlled the printing presses.

The Literature Bureau as a creation of the colonial governments of Rhodesia since 1954 was at the centre of “the Zimbabwean people’s hopes, their true and false starts on their journey to liberation, greater self-awareness and fulfilment” (Furusa, 1994:125). A perusal through the early publications in both Shona and Ndebele put paid to this assertion.

According to Chiwome and Mguni (2012), Solomon Mutswairo’s “Feso” (1956) only saw the light of day after the “offending” first chapter which deplored the displacement of Africans from fertile lands, was removed.

Bernard Chidzero’s “Nzvengamutsvairo” (1957) taps into Shona orature and merges it with missionary teachings as a strategy to hoodwink Africans to accept the new tide brought by colonialism. Social progress is only made possible by creating interfaces of harmony between the Africans and whites yet at the same time Africans are expected to disown their own cultural mores.

Other books by Catholic priests like Patrick Chakaipa, Emmanuel Ribeiro and Ignatius Zvarevashe were also “intended to gain more converts”. This rationale obtains in books like “Dzasukwa Mwana Asina Hembe” (1967), “Garandichauya” (1963), “Muchadura” (1967), “Rudo Ibofu” (1961), “Kurauone” (1976) and “Gonawapotera” (1976). These books did not only find their way in the school curricula in Rhodesia but even after independence in 1980. It is the government, therefore, that determines the nature of knowledge to be consumed and because of this, issues that really affect the generality of the populace might not be explored.

African countries, though independent from the colonial yoke, are still at the mercy of the erstwhile colonisers, who sponsor the publication of books that aance their own interests with promises of awards and international readership.

African traditions have been subjected to immense pressure from colonisation and technological aancements. The Tonga people, for instance, had their own songs and folklores which were directly linked to the Zambezi Valley which was their cherished abode before the Kariba Dam flooded their area. Their resentment of the displacement from the life-source they had known for generations cannot be fully articulated in any other language besides their own.

The improvement of their lot through the dam remains a pipe dream years after its construction, and yet their association with the river basin as embraced in their folkloric songs and folklore remains painfully embedded in their hearts although they have lost appeal to those who did not experience the golden times. So in a way they have been robbed of their freedom and no form of compensation will placate them.

The liberation struggle could not have been possible had it not been for the encouragement of writers who captured the majority’s aspirations in their works. Writers play a significant role in nation building by creating symbols that breed national pride.

However, because of elitist literature which is controlled by political establishments, themes that are disparaging and foist disunity and ethnicism are usually avoided, which is why a lot of war novels and poems “avoid traumatic events that cause social embarrassment. The highest sacrifices paid in the war such as rape, betrayal and executions are avoided themes,” (Chiwome and Mguni, 2012:183).

Source : The Herald