Zimbabwe: Where Is Literature On Land Reform?

By IndepthAfrica
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Dec 10th, 2012
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By Memory Chirere,The Herald
column

2005 – President Robert Mugabe rejects calls for talks with Zimbabwe’s opposition leader on resolving the country’s political and economic crisis.

When will “you people” tackle the fast track land reform of your country in your literature? This is the question often asked as soon as people learn that you are a writer from Zimbabwe. The assumption is that nothing has been written on this subject and that the Zimbabwean writer is a betrayer. The other assumption is that one should write fiction on things as soon as they happen like journalists do.

The most awkward of these people assume that since you are a writer, you must “know everything” enough to sit down and write now-now! They think you will be happy by merely chronicling events during the fast track land reform.

In a widely circulated website interview with Nordiska Afrikainstitutet of February 2004, Zimbabwean writer and critic based in South Africa, Professor Robert Muponde argues that “Land is the text of Zimbabwean History and Literature.”

He was referring to the centrality of land in seminal Zimbabwean literature texts set in Rhodesia. Some of them are Charles Mungoshi’s “Waiting for The Rain,” Shimmer Chinodya’s “Dew in The Morning” and Yvonne Vera’s “Without a Name”.

Muponde even argues that writers of fiction (home and abroad) are currently lagging behind the politicians who have championed real activity on the land issue on the ground that the writers cannot tell whether the new activities on the ground are akin to what the writer had called for before and just after independence.

Robert Muponde’s actual words are: ” . . . the writer who a year ago was urging the politician to seize land, even factories and shops belonging to white people (as suggested in Mujajati’s Victory), in the name of the people, now finds that the politician has not only outdone the writer in shouting the presence of inequalities in society. The politician has gone further.

“He has left the writer with two stark choices: the writer must endorse the politician’s and war veteran’s actions because that is what he (the writer) was urging in his poems (in the case of musicians, in their songs), or he must condemn the actions as reckless, etc.”

Whether Muponde’s intention is to identify the irony of such a situation or not, his point here is interesting. Seminal Zimbabwean Literature set in Rhodesia portray a certain cultural symbiosis between indigenous Zimbabwean people and their land. More acute is the people’s hunger for land and space in general.

For example in Mungoshi’s “Waiting For The Rain” (1975) the following passage stands out on the reader’s mind long after: “The sudden transition from the rolling ranches of Hampshire Estates, with their tall dry grass and the fertile soil under that grass, into the scorched nothing-between-here-and-the-horizon white lands of Manyane Tribal Trust Land, with the inevitable tattered scarecrow waving a silent dirge in an empty field, makes a funereal intrusion into the bus.”

The ever present sense of dryness of the Manyene Tribal Trust Land, contrasted against the vigorous fertility of the rolling Hampshire Estate in this part of the novel highlights the series of Land Apportionment Acts in the 1930s in Rhodesia that threw the black from the fertile lands.

This dryness also expresses itself when Tongoona is working on the dry field, a day before he goes to pick Lucifer from the bus. It is also felt by Betty as she walks to the township. It also expresses itself when Lucifer walks across the Charurwi landscape (in Chapter 38) and vows that there is nothing to love here in this wasteland.

In Dambudzo Marechera’s poem of 1973 called “Pledging My Soul”, land is described first as a potential sex partner:

When I was a boy

I climbed onto your granite breasts

Smooth and round . . .

I was yours

And you were mine.

And in spiritual terms much later in the poem:

Shall I not kneel to kiss the grains of your sand

To rise naked before you — a bowl of incense?

And the smoke of my nakedness shall be

An offering to you

Pledging my soul.

Another Zimbabwean scholar based in South Africa, Professor Maurice Vambe has also widely circulated an essay on Zimbabwean literature and land called “Celebrating Land Resistance.” Although the tendency here is to categorically point out the moments when the land issue appears in literary texts of Zimbabwe, Vambe is somehow convinced that so far the writer has “merely mentioned the matter”.

He argues that there is need for writers to explore the issue further since land in Zimbabwe has been central to political discourse from as far back as the wars of resistance in the 1890s. There is need, he emphasises, for the fictional writer to reflect on the recent “very active, phase of the land reform. Or, have the writers gone dry?”

In February 2005 a Zimbabwean journalist called Chris Gande published a novel based on the Zimbabwean land reform. This novel is called “Section 8.”

Again, Chris Gande was based in South Africa at the moment of writing. His novel could be one of the very first few that uses The Zimbabwean fast track land reform as a background. The term “Section 8″ is apparently a Zimbabwean legal instrument used to notify white farmers that their former properties have been designated for compulsory acquisition by the Government.

In “Section 8″ Themba Moyo a 20-year minister’s son finds love across the racial divide and falls for Jane, the daughter of a white commercial farmer. Members of Zimbabwe’s now defunct “Budding Writers Association Of Zimbabwe” published a whole literary journal on the land reform issue in 2004. This journal, which contains short stories and a novella, is called: “Exploding the myths about Land”.

In this journal a novella by the late Martin Denenga called “Weeping”. Up until 2004 “Weeping” was the most incisive literary piece on the fast track land reform. “Weeping” is about a conflict between a black community and a white farmer over the adjacent land to the farm and the farm itself.

Denenga does not limit the land conflict to one historical epoch. This helps prove a historical fact that the animosity between blacks and whites over land is as old as colonialism itself. The writer presents complex characters, black and white and helps to dispel the myth about a superior race. He feels deeply into the lives of ordinary farm folks, villagers and the white community. There is pace, wit and thought here.

There was general hope that “Weeping” would later be published separately. Sadly, Denenga passed on and the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe itself folded.

In 2005 DE Mutasa published a novel on the Land issue called “Sekai Minda Tave Nayo”. Dr Mutasa is the author of a popular book called “Nyambo DzeJoni” which appeared once on our school syllabus.

Mutasa is a professor at the University of South Africa.

A highly experimental novel, “Sekai Minda Tave Nayo” operates by way of letters written between and amongst Sekai and her former classmates and their families. The whole web of letters puts the land issue right at the centre of the discourse of a generation that is trying to come to terms with the fast track land reform.

Suggested here is the idea that the rearrangement of land ownership in Zimbabwe has not only operated at a physical level. The mass movement of people, animals, goods and properties has also resulted in a radical evolvement of mindsets and attitudes.

However, the feeling that not enough fiction has been produced on this matter remains. But this view does not come from the writers themselves. You may want to be reminded that a lot guides the writer’s choice to write on any subject.

Maybe the writer, like the politician and everyone else, is also busy on the land itself, either on the side of those tilling it or those fighting against the land occupations. Maybe for now the land issue can best be dealt with by the essay forms and the academic books and there are many of these now on the internet and the bookshops.

Maybe with the help of time and objective distance, the fictional writer will only be able to look back and slowly write. And . . . there will not be one story!

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