The House of Hunger

The House of Hunger

When people stand in long lines to cast the vote for their party or candidate, it is with the hope that the promises in the lobbying speeches shall actually come to pass as promised in the flowing political rhetoric and slanders of political party representatives’ slogans and campaign words.
Sat down at the corner in his or her many forms, the writer of the world observes the trends as they unfold and writes about them. Most of the time, what is written about is fact as presented to the world by the journalistic reports of the newspaper and other media writers.
This is the constant tale of the everyday, that which actually helps the ordinary individual in society to discern the real events that are shaping the society within which such a one lives in.

The journalist, reporter, or columnist actually come with the day-to-day or week-to-week event as it occurs, but there is also that literary writer whose tale manages to capture the full of essence of what is due to its basic nature, that it takes longer to pursue a theme and to find real truths behind what is often passed over or is missed in the newspaper story.

Just a week ago, ZANUPF won the elections again, and I sat and thought of Dambudzo Marechera’s House of Hunger.
Marechera, the Christopher Marlowe of African literature, is selected for today’s piece on the basis of his frank manner of expressing those social conditions which the politician promises to change but somehow actually seems to forget about as soon as the first per diems start rolling into the bank accounts.
I watched the events leading to the Zimbabwean poll closely, from the pseudo-coup de tat that ousted the long-serving Robert Mugabe, the ascension of the intermediate president Emerson Mnangagwa, the floral rhetoric of the pre-election campaigns and the semi looting spree and shutdown in the period just before the announcement of the results.

There is nothing particular or unique about the flow of events in what occurred in Zimbabwe recently: what occurred is the story that is common in African politics where one party is blamed for stealing the poll.
This time, there may be cries from the opposition led by the MDC, but the truth remains that the questions that should be asked are actually sacrificed and focus is put on issues that are in reality not the real concerns of the masses that actually turn out to cast their vote at the different polling stations.
People cast their vote to get out of the clutches of poverty, unemployment, and disease. The flowing lobby speeches mean very little for they always promise one thing and unfold as its exact opposite as soon as the results are released by the bodies entrusted with the management of the election process.

The day to day events leading to the election of what party shall rule the government do not actually count for much. What counts is whether the hopes of those who cast the vote shall be answered as wished and not as it actually turns out as soon as the leading politician and their party ascend the seat of power.

The resident of the squatter camp votes with the hope that the new government promised shall get them out of their squalor, and the unemployed graduate or individual carry the hope that there will be some kind of release from the clutches of the despair they get to experience walking from office to office and construction site to construction site.

In short, people cast their vote to change the unpleasant reality/ies they experience in their day to day living. And for a country that was once termed ‘The Bread-basket of Africa’ the reality of the adverse changes the past regime brought can actually be seen in the writings and the words of Dambudzo Marechera.

In an article by Olivia Vermaak one hears Marechera in the Black Insider speaking on the war for independence (the Second Chimurenga against the forces of Ian Smith) after the fighting had been going on a long time:

…In fact no one (I mean ‘myself’) could remember when the thing had begun, how it had begun, why it had begun at all and finally who was supposed to be on whose side. All I know is that at one stage it was us blacks against whites. But somehow or other things had suddenly become complicated and it was no longer a black against whites chess game. It was more like a kaleidoscope in which every little chink of colour in the shaken picture was fighting every other little chink. News agencies could no longer keep track of the alliances and counter-alliances…

Very frank in his observation and having the gift of an alternative view and perspective of the world, Marechera put in words what one can term the exact face of the African political landscape without a mask.
By recounting the reality in the post-independence landscape contrasted against the vague origins of what exactly started the revolutionary Chimurenga; Marechera is presenting to the world exactly what happens with each passing poll in Africa.
First will come the lobbying speeches whose main ammunition are clear and present realities that the politician promises to erase if they are granted a seat in parliament or at the helm of government.

Second to come are the accusations by the opposition of what given political parties and their allies did whilst in government. Then finally, the promises of what the new government shall do once they are in power if the voter casts a vote in favour of the politician.
People’s minds are played in this phase, and many actually turn up the polling station with the belief that their mark against a given political colour on the paper shall bring about the wished changes.

The promise never comes to pass only the excuses as to why the new government is not performing as promised in the lobbying speeches come to be seen. Growing up in Rusape’s Vengere township, Dambudzo must have experienced the worst of squalor, only the fact that he was way above-average intelligence buoyed him long enough to see him actually pen the masterpieces he did. Living in a given place has a certain way of growing into one, for growing up in a given space means that one ends up being one with the spirit of the place in which their home is.

Vengere is said to be one among the many squatter townships that dot the peripheries of African and other world cities. These kinds of places (squatter-camps) present a stark picture of what the reality for the larger macrocosm of the state is.
Being a microcosm, it means that one can actually tell how a state is like from simply observing the everyday lives of the ordinary citizens living in the squalid quarters that are treated as the periphery of society even though their concerns actually feed the campaign promises of the politicians.

Marechera saw the world change for Zimbabwe from this bottom-of-the-barrel perspective, and he like all the others around him must have hoped that the new post-independence era would bring the wished changes. Dispirited but fortunately possessive of exceptional writing skill, he wrote of the world as he saw it.

In his words he states:

Language is like water. You can drink it. You can swim in it. You can drown in it. You can wear a snorkel in it. You can flow to the sea in it. You can evaporate and become invisible with it… Some take it neat from rivers and wells. Some have it chemically treated and reservoired.

Where he uses the term language, one can use the term politics, for the truth is that one can view the political landscape in any given country on the basis of the language used in speeches.

If the language is flowery but the promises never actually come to pass, then it means that those who put the government into power actually just cast their vote and never follow the promises to the end.

If the resident of the squatter camp has cast their vote to see varying political regimes pass with no change to his or her conditions, then it means that they are voting for the wrong kind of government each time they enter the polling booth.
The reality is that no politician is ever chastised for their decadence before delivering on the promises of the campaign speeches. Only the writers of the various media houses hold the power to question why the promises are never delivered.
From the concise journalistic reports on the unfolding trends to the hardback copies of novels or reports, the writer wields enough power to force the masses to question what is going on.

There just should never be any moment of silence if the changes never come, and this time Zimbabwe is in the spotlight and through the words of Marechera one will wait and see if The House of Hunger shall get to be repeated.
Marechera was just 35 years old when he died in 1987, in his prime as would be coined, and he had seen the first seven years of the post-independence era. One can safely guess that he had seen that there were no real changes in the state having grown up in the confined quarters of his small home (room) shared with his mother who had to resort to sex-work to feed him and his siblings.

It is said that he often slept on park-benches because he was an eccentric cult figure, or just simply someone who would not care how the world thought of his status as a celebrity writer. I think he slept on park-benches to show how the world around him really was: Zimbabwe had gotten her freedom, but the people were still in the same condition they were or even worse than they were in Ian Smith’s time.
And from his perspective, one can pose the question: will it be any different this time around? One can only hope that it will be different this time and that the pre-election promises of the different politicians shall come to pass as they are.

If they pan out otherwise, we shall go back to the story of neo-colonialism posing as post-independence. One cannot claim to be emancipated if they still have to eke out existence instead of living in a relatively comfortable state of being.
We have watched such unfulfilled political promises occur in different states across Africa, and the question is: why is it that writers are reluctant to present the state of current affairs as it is? The truth is in Marechera’s words because:

There is something wrong somewhere. If we are supposed to write in the sort of Jane Austen manner-good god!- how can you equate revolutionary feeling with as it were, a reactionary literature?

The writer needs to be liberated in thought to suggest needed changes to transform patterns in politics but should never be too alienated to produce only one side of the truth about politics. The change in the political landscape on the continent has seen the writer clamour to join the contest to be the one to be seen as the doyen of literary ideology.

I find this behaviour colonial in form and pattern because the post-independence one comes across often tends to overlook dispositions of mind or personality. What occurs is that real issues are glossed over if the writer as an individual works to gain recognition instead of telling the story as it is.
In this aspect, one cannot fail to admire Marechera for his frank presentation of the facts ignorant of what may or might not be said about his state of mind (for a lot of observers that lived with him actually classify him as mad despite his genius).

The new dawn in African writing needs to see the advent of writers that are frank in their opinion of the changes in political and social landscapes and not the kind of writer that shines the shoes of the powerful just so that they can get proceeds (crumbs) for what they write.
For some long while now, the writer has been serving as some kind of entertainer, a sort of yes man that promotes the views of the politician in power and not the truth about the realities society as an entire entity actually experiences.

It is through the experiences of the individual that the society can understand itself, and I think that for Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa, the writings that actually engage the individual experiences of the citizens will serve as guidelines to the progress of both the country and the continent.
The writing is on the wall, or so one should believe if they are to effect change for the better.

By; Tšepiso S Mothibi

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