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Has Zimbabwe become a nation of jokers?

09 May 2016 at 05:29hrs | Views
In African literary discourse, the centre is the locus-standi that bestows an identity, integrity and legitimation of one's perception of his or her environment. In other words, the centre is the space within which every artist is rooted regardless of how many flights she or he has undertaken away from it. Generally speaking, the centre cannot be purchased or traded as it defines one's origin.

But it seems the centre has in recent times become such a flaccid space and constantly being challenged by writers who have embraced globalisation and post-modernism as inevitable survival realistic niches. The reverence of the centre has become nothing but a myth as one can choose his or her national identity.

Can this fluidity of the centre explain why Zimbabwe has seemingly become a nation of jokers, seeing everything within the comedian prism inhabited by people lacking agency? From the G40 and Lacoste taunts to the national pledge, from the national pledge to zvihuta and now we have the bond notes becoming a subject of ridicule and derision? What is the role of the artist(e) during these times? Is it simply to craft a small joke, cast aspersions at everything and anything as a way of escapism?

Surely, the severity of the myriad of problems the country is facing call for artist(e)s to offer new perceptions or new versions of life. Our artist(e)s need to transcend the commonplace tidbits thrown on social media and begin to embrace the role of being critical assessors, confidence builders and inspirer to excellence.

An artist(e) is naturally endowed with the intuitive and cultivated ability to monitor and accurately capture the complexities of human situations and provide not only insights into various dimensions of the problems but more important to be able to give in a direct or subtle way pointers to probable solutions. More than any other group, it is probably to the artist(e)s that we need to turn to for a creative and judicious realisable version of the future.

It is this search for the centre, the fluidity of the centre, the artificial deconstruction of the centre that seem to have riled the late internationally acclaimed author Alexander Kanegoni who during a conversation declared that Zimbabwe's prominent contemporary writers were "fakes" given what he perceived as their perennial denial of the existence of the centre or home as a sacrosanct space that can never be traded. And that like a holy grail, that centre must always be jealously protected.

Kanengoni believed that it was an exercise in futility for one to attempt to cut his or her umbilical cord or origin in favour of adopted spaces elsewhere particularly in European foreign lands. In usual combative manner, Kanengoni branded these contemporary interpreters as nothing but fake. "They are all fake. They feign everything. They feign not loving Zimbabwe. They feign feeling settled in their new foreign homes. They feign ignorance of the country's birth and feign being aloof to the goings on in the country yet they always refer to Zimbabwe as 'home' in their narrative. Why can't they just be who they are? This is no creativity; it's simply tailor-made for a certain audience, so scripted that one cannot miss the artificiality," he said, frothing.

In Kanengoni's reasoning, the nation is always part of the narration. It was inevitable sometimes not to feel sorry for Kanengoni for he seemed to have been living in the wrong era, someone simply watching the world going past him in frustration. Never having the power to halt the myriad of transformations and resigning everything to fate.

But maybe Kanengoni was old school- a typical intellectual dinosaur failing to adapt to new ways of existence, always sulking about why the world was behaving in a strange way and wishing that it remained stuck, untouched, unmolested and unabused for posterity.

But who really cares? In whose upkeep is that narration? Who are these contemporary Zimbabwean writers? Kanengoni had ready names. NoViolet Bulawayo, Petina Gappah, Brain Chikwava, Tendai Huchu and even some of his contemporaries- the late Yvvone Vera and Chenjerai Hove. But it is the first three he seemed to have a problem with.

But again it can be argued whether is fair for Kanengooni to cast such sweeping statements against a generation whose hopes seemed to have been dashed by economic challenges experienced during 2000- 20010 period? Was it fair for Kanengoni to cast such a damning picture of a generation still in the process of searching for the centre, finding its voice- in some kind of a bildungsroman way?

As usual Kanengoni was dismissive and referred to the blurb of NoViolet's "We Need New Names" where the author in her own words says: "America is a symbol of opportunity and freedom to many, and I love her for the promise she holds. I was recently surprised to find that I love her more than I knew. I spent this summer in South Africa and was outraged by the ghosts of apartheid that haunts the country. When I experienced injustices that I had never felt in America, I found myself telling people that I couldn't wait to 'go home'. For the first time in my life, I was referring to America, not Zimbabwe. I am not American, I am not even a green-card holder, yet I was calling America my home. You should have seen my face. You should have heard the pride in my voice."

Now who should blame Kanengoni for such bluff? More like Thomas Mapfumo singing that everything is big in America – literary and metaphorically and yet year in and year out he talks about coming home in the same way that NoViolet says: "Those of us who give up our homelands live with the quiet knowledge nestled in your blood like an incurable disease; even as we are here, we are tied to somewhere."

So what's going on here? Is NoViolet feigning ignorance of the birth of apartheid? Is she ignorant of the real architects of apartheid? Are they not the same Americans who branded Mandela a terrorist? When has America become such a heaven or haven for Africans, for black Zimbabweans, I mean for a mere black woman? Is NoViolet failing to outgrow her own child characters in "We Need New Names" or she is just convoluted. And you have on the other hand Petina Gappah who threatened to deceive with a beautifully woven inaugural short story collection "An Elegy for Easterly" only to later give us the highly pretentious, unrealistic and un-endearing "Book of Memory."

Here she is, Rambo-like – the typical social media bully, all knowing and threatening to descend on anyone not giving her the kudus for just being Petina. Always sending cynical posts – telling us how wrong our Shona spellings are, how wrong our grammar is: Hee – you used the wrong word, hee – tell Zimbabweans that there is no such thing as this and that… always talking us down as if we are zombies.

But I am aware that the sister has managed to recruit a legion of uncritical cheerleaders. Among them, one Ranga Mberi who I have expressed my reservations about this sister's attitude to my brother Ranga Mberi who is always deriding me for being too serious about everything. Zimbabwe needs humour, he is always saying. Oh really! Is that all Zimbabwe really crave for. Is that now the panacea to all Zimbabwe's problems that we make jokes about everything and anything?

Then why tell us that hee -I am now done with this job, heee I am the only black person to have done this and the beauty of my life is that I actually don't know what I will be doing but I know I would travel to all corners of the world. Is that humour? Oh please, ko kutivhairira ndokudiii? Tatadzei? All the time reminding us that you have arrived? All the time telling us how far you have gone? Is that how low we have become? Always being told that we are non-performers?

But then I forgive with pity. Despite all that boisterousness, I see the umbilical cord is always difficult to disconnect. Like a Sankofa bird why are you always flying looking backwards. Is that not a subconscious craving for the centre, which has been lost in the hazy mazy of globalization and post-modernism? Always looking and referring to "home", always talking to us yet you boast of living it up in America? Of course, I can't say the same about Brain Chikwava. Not because he is a man or his hair is twisted like mine. His Harare North novel clearly summarizes the dilemma most Zimbabweans are going through in England. England remains an alien space and never the centre not matter how much riches one may accrue.

Tendai Huchu is a man but I have a different attitude born out of his writings. Too much caricaturisation, too much fakeness in telling our story. No Chikwava is different. Despite traversing on a similar path of leaving and arrival, despite treading and trending on the exile motif, his writing is anchored on the home and that's why for example his character fails to fit in England. Always thinking of raising enough funds to be able to undertake mukwezvo at home. No Chikwava is rooted and rarely pokes fun at Zimbabweans presenting them as needing help, typical of Joseph Conrad's white man's burden.

We have talent in this country. Even NoViolet Bulawayo is an exceptional story teller but she has gone off the centre. The Caine prize aesthetics have taken over all her sensibility and she feigns being at home in America. NoViolet is a sad story, her typical limited worldview is glaringly exposed during one of her interviews when she failed to even realise that Chinua Achebe was never a recipient of the Nobel Prize of literature when she confesses that all she wrote in her book was based on mediated knowledge as she was in her beloved America.

Zimbabwe needs to start authenticating its centre and stop the hemorrhage of a whole generation growing on the notion of leaving and arriving and an obsession with lure and luster of foreign lands and trying to fit in those alien lands and goes full swing in performing all sorts of antics to be accepted including singing embarrassing sweet praises for the hosts. We are surely not a nation of jokers.

The Sankofa bird remains our sign post for moving forward. It teaches us to reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach so as to achieve full potential. Whatever we have lost, forgotten, forgone or been stripped of, can be reclaimed, revived, preserved and perpetuated. We are surely not a nation of jokers.

Source - the herald
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