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Wilson Katiyo’s last novel Tsiga was left unfinished and unpublished at the time of his death in 2003.

Like his other two novels, A Son of the Soil (1976) and Going to Heaven (1979), Tsiga was written when Katiyo was in exile in Europe.

This time, though, Katiyo was not escaping from the oppression and racism of Rhodesia as he had been in the 1970s when he was a young student political activist at Fletcher High School.

When he left a few years after independence, he was disillusioned by the postcolonial betrayal of the new black leadership that he had so vehemently defended.

Katiyo as a patriot and optimist returned to Zimbabwe in 1980 to contribute in the construction of the new country. He became a highly placed civil servant in the Ministry of Information. There is a poignant scene in Chris Austin’s film, House of Hunger, where Katiyo, Musaemura Zimunya and Dambudzo Marechera get to discuss their role in the new Zimbabwe.

Marechera, ever the pessimist, was ready to hit the road and go as faraway as possible. Asked by Katiyo if he would stay longer in Zimbabwe, Marechera responded: “Frankly, I think I will get out of Zimbabwe as soon as I can.”

Katiyo responded, “when things are tough, must we be running away all the time?” For Marechera who had just been in Zimbabwe for a few hours after arrival from London, he was already fed up with the state of the new Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, Marechera never managed to leave the country but Katiyo did eventually leave for Europe in 1987, the same year Marechera died, all but disillusioned by the performance of the post-independence government he had given the benefit of the doubt years before. He lived in Paris and London between 1987 and 2003, only returning to Zimbabwe for short family visits.

Katiyo captures disillusionment in last novel

Wilson Katiyo’s first novel A Son of the Soil, despite its depiction of racism, was a novel of renewal and hope in a better future. The second, Going to Heaven, was about the initial cultural encounters of British life in the late 1960s.

Tsiga, in contrast, is a novel of disillusionment. Like other Zimbabwean novels such as Shimmer Chinodya’s Harvest of Thorns (1989) and Charles Samupindi’s Pawns (1992), it shows how the ordinary ex-combatant on his return to Zimbabwe after the war becomes a despised member of society unable to benefit from the fruits of independence.

It is also unlike A Son of the Soil in its departure from the linear narrative of a realist novel.

In order to tell his desperate story, Tsiga’s narrative makes frequent use of flashbacks, venturing further and further into the past so that the reader gradually comes to understand how Tsiga has reached his current state and why he wants revenge. Katiyo’s choice of a non-linear form may have been influenced by his other major interest in film and scriptwriting.

Tsiga has some characteristics of the picaresque but in this novel, the protagonist is not a young boy journeying through life as in A Son of the Soil and Going to Heaven but a world-weary man who has seen or knows too much and does not expect to have a positive future.

This is a man who sees through his contemporaries, now in power, busy plundering national resources at the expense of the povo.

Tsiga’s story provides a kaleidoscopic view of a contemporary Zimbabwean society. The aentures which the narrator Tsiga describes introduce a range of topical characters and incidents.

Some of them convey the desolate wasteland of a society that has disappointed its people. Katiyo is vindicated in his choice of subject matter by the turn of events in Zimbabwe.

We are shown the powerful and ambitious ex-commander Jerry, politically corrupt and brutal in his domestic life the philosophical tramp Twoboy who becomes the victim of urban violence and the vulnerable Emma who is too needy herself to provide Tsiga with the reassurance he seeks. The violence and disillusionment resonates with the events in Zimbabwe in post 2000.

Set against this are the traces of what might have been if post-independence society had followed another path. Although the country and city depicted in the novel are Zimbabwe and its capital Harare, some of the place names have been changed.

This gives the novel a wider appeal. Crisis as a fictional backdrop in African literature is not peculiar. The early work of Ayi kwei Armah interrogates the falsity of independence in Africa.

The novel is the weakest of all Katiyo’s work, perhaps because it is an unfinished work that has only been edited to publishable levels by his friend and literary estate executor Nigel Watt.

It does read like a good first draft. Is the book faithful to Katiyo’s creative vision? How much editorial input shapes the book as it is? Why is the prose so markedly different from the other two earlier books? But that doesn’t diminish its importance in the Zimbabwean narrative that Katiyo weaves through his trilogy.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard

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