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House of Stone reflects on 'true' Gukurahundi events

by Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi
23 Dec 2018 at 10:19hrs | Views
THIRTY-ONE years since the signing of the Unity Accord, Gukurahundi remains unresolved, highly divisive and emotive - a scar on the conscience of the nation.

Post-November 2017 when Zimbabwe underwent a military-assisted transition, public discourse on Gukurahundi has heightened. Demands for truthtelling, healing and reconciliation have grown louder in civic and political spaces, social media and among traditional leaders.

It is in this context that Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's maiden novel, House of Stone, has been ushered into the local literary realm. It would, however, be reductionist to frame the novel as a solitary Gukurahundi tale. Other sub-themes include racism, corruption, bad governance and economic decay.

A story on Gukurahundi can easily produce a drab novel, an angry narration that can be emotionally draining. Gukurahundi is neither a fun subject matter nor its truthfulness optics. The subject demands the best of creative expression, something Tshuma does with commendable command and originality in storytelling.

The writer belongs to the post-independence generation and Gukurahundi is not a direct lived experience. The writer is bold in tackling this contested subject matter. The Gukurahundi story is told through the eyes of protagonist Zamani, a product of rape, his mother having been raped by a character called Black Jesus. The effects of Gukurahundi on a molecular unit such as the family are exposed. As a product of rape, Zamani grows up with no parents and all his devious actions are informed by a desire for belonging, a quest for fatherly love and understanding of his patrilineage. Zamani is on a mission and puts together redemptive chronicles which drive the storyline. Zamani epitomises the various manifestations of legacies of Gukurahundi violence; he is a reincarnation of his evil father.

The candidness of the novel is laid bare when the writer envisages a commission of inquiry where characters such as Black Jesus, The Crocodile, General Bae and others are brought to justice. Many previous fiction works have been shying to call Gukurahundi by name, let alone call out the "perpetrators".

By tackling the genocide in clear and unequivocal terms, the writer represents a new generation of writers who are using literature to keep Gukurahundi perpetually on the national agenda.

Spanning three distinct epochs - pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe - the novel vividly depicts how the past shapes the present and future. A Mthwakazi movement derives its inspiration from Queen Lozikeyi Dlodlo, an unsung Ndebele royal woman and one of King Lobengula's senior wives who provided military leadership to the Ndebele state following the disappearance of King Lobengula. It is laudable that the writer weaves into the novel the problematic issue of skewed narration of Zimbabwe's liberation heritage, which is also characterised by revisionism for purposes of political expediency.

The writer impressively indigenises the English language. Ndebele thoughts are directly translated into English. Ndebele words and expressions are in many instances not italicised and explained, except for deduced meaning, depicting a writer with a clear target audience in mind and is not apologetic to express her linguistic freedom.

The novel also comes across as an assertive feministic intervention. It is Thandi who best depicts this attribute; she is an urban girl, intelligent and falls in love with Abednigo, a rural boy. Thandi sets the pace of the relationship and determines when and how they make love, disrupting the patriarchal order. It is, however, telling that when Thandi falls pregnant, she suddenly blames Abednigo, exposing the fragilities of the feminist movement.

The novel, while dealing with a sensitive subject, has a significant tinge of humour. This makes reading it an enjoyable experience.

I loved the suspense in the novel; it keeps you hooked, with fascinating twists adding to the flair. And before you know it, you have devoured 374 pages.

Like any worthwhile work of literature ought to do in terms of asking pertinent questions, the writer ponders on what needs to be done to address "lack of confidence and belief" among Matabeleland indigenes following the genocide and the marginalisation that has morphed into different manifestations since the Unity Accord of December 22 1987.

The writer is the elaborate type. It is no coincidence that the novel is a comparatively thick volume. In what is a minor point in an excellent body of work, the elaborateness in some instances overlaps into repetition of content.

Through House of Stone, Tshuma has put together a compelling fiction account which, however, reflects on true historical events in Zimbabwe. A job very well done for a first novel.

Butholezwe Kgosi Nyathi is cultural manager at Amagugu International Heritage Centre. He writes is his personal capacity. E-mail:

Source - the standard