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While Zimbabwe’s war of liberation has its heroes, Sam, the protagonist in “The Non-Believer’s Journey” is not one of them.

A teacher in Highfields, Salisbury, Sam is a typical example of the many characters that lacerated the war of liberation and are simply caught up in the extraordinary situation and his reaction in dealing with that situation is not endearing. Sam is the ultimate outsider, the educated black guy from the village who also fails to fit within the confines of urban society.

His sympathy for the guerrillas is merely verbal but when he returns to his village for the funeral of his uncle killed on suspicion of being an informer, Sam embarks on a soul-searching journey almost like Lucifer in Charles Mungoshi’s “Waiting for the Rain”.

Like Lucifer, a lot is expected from Sam in terms of interpreting productively what his people are going through.

Thus in chapter 1 in a conversation with Sam, Taundi says: “An educated person like you should see the injustice and oppression we live under more clearly than all of us here. Why don’t you come to our meetings and put us right tell us where we are going wrong.”

The complex nature of social and political relations within the colonial set-up is seen through Sam’s conversation with an African farmer who is overjoyed at being honoured as the Master Farmer by the District Commissioner, who is white. The same commissioner is representative of the white establishment and the irony of it all is that the same farmer is doing his best to overthrow this oppresive rule by providing food and shelter to freedom fighters.

In the words of Patricia O’Flaherty in “War Literature in RhodesiaZimbabwe as a Metaphor for African Postcolonial Experience”, the narrator in “The Non-Believer’s Journey” is constructed in spatial and linear terms as he enacts his personal drama as a physical journey.

O’Flaherty says Nyamupfukudza’s “first person narrative makes no attempt to see the war from the white man’s point of view, although there are voices other than the narrator’s, which are sometimes used as sounding boards, sometimes as autonomous views on the narrator’s central story. One of these voices is that of a woman who briefly becomes Sam’s lover and who questions his attitude towards life … ‘The Non-Believer’s Journey’ is permeated with doubt about the desirability of any system of government even that of the black terrorists on whose side the narrator belongs”.

When Sam finally joins the men in secret meeting with guerrillas, he is taken aside by the leader of the group who requests that he smuggle medical equipment to them. He ultimately and unwillingly is plunged into a situation where he must commit himself.

Sam’s tragic death is both a reflection of the futility of both the active and non-active participation in the struggles shaping the history of his people.

Indeed, Nyamupfukudza’s novel brings into focus the pre-and post colonial situation as people are forced to align themselves with certain sides.

Just like other civil wars, civilians find themselves in no-win situations, where loyalty to the guerrillas leads to reprisals from Smith’s forces and vice-versa and maintaining that balancing act becomes quite precarious psycholigically and existentially.

Sam’s reaction to the various war discourses is refusal, physical violence and ultimately death. He rejects the conceptualisation of religion in as much as he is against traditional beliefs and tribal in-fighting especially when he says “And how do we respond? Go down on our knees and ask for help of our dead ancestors. You pick up a gun and blow that fucking whiteman’s head off and never mind who our ancestors are. You don’t go about whipping up these old, divisive passions at the same time.”

Source : The Herald