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The ‘dude in distress’

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I have come to notice that literature is awash with boy characters in distress. They seem to be the norm ever since I started reading. This is in sharp contrast with the concept of the damsel in distress, which I pick from all around me. I hear that what I am talking about is actually called “the dude in distress.”

Actually much mainstream literature in all languages across the world, across ages, is about boys or young men who wake up early in their lives to find that they are caught up in very difficult circumstances.

For example the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of Mark Twain’s best-known and most important novels in American literature. The novel takes place in Missouri in the 1830s or 1840s, at a time when Missouri was considered a slave state.

The novel tells the story of Huckleberry Finn’s escape from his alcoholic and abusive father and Huck’s adventurous journey down the Mississippi River together with the runaway slave Jim.

At one distressing point, Huck’s father Papa goes out, he locks Huck in the cabin, and when he returns home drunk, he beats the boy. Tired of his confinement and fearing the beatings will worsen, Huck escapes from Papa by faking his own death.

Huck is running from his father while Jim is running away from slavery. Jim’s escape is prompted when Miss Watson considers selling him off to a slave trader despite the fact that Jim has served her well and knows that such an action would separate Jim from his family.

It is a life of hide and seek and offers a great measure of distress for the two male characters, Huck and Jim.

Think about Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, which is for a great deal a story about a boy’s distressful upbringing.

This is the story of Pip, an orphan boy adopted by a blacksmith’s family, who has good luck and great expectations, and then loses both his luck and expectations. Through this rise and fall, however, Pip learns how to find happiness. He learns the meaning of friendship and the meaning of love and, of course, becomes a better person for it.

The well-known novel opens with the narrator, Pip, who introduces himself and describes a much younger Pip staring at the gravestones of his parents. This tiny, shivering bundle of a boy is suddenly terrified by a man dressed in a prison uniform.

The man tells Pip that if he wants to live, he’ll go down to his house and bring him back some food and a file for the shackle on his leg.

Then Oliver Twist, another of the novels of Dickens, explores the worrying squalor and poverty of the London of his time and at the centre of the story is the other distraught boy, Oliver.

It is said that Charles Dickens was well versed in the poverty of London, as he himself was a child worker after his father was sent to debtors’ prison.

Oliver, an orphan since birth, spends much of his childhood at a “child farm” (orphanage) with too many children and too little food.

Oliver is accused of asking for more gruel after a meal. To ask for more is unacceptable! Oliver is punished by being sent to work as an apprentice to an undertaker.

After ill-treatment, Oliver escapes into the crime rich heart of London where children are taught pick pocketing and burglary.

Oliver suffers arrest, assaults, shooting, kidnapping and many other ills and his is a tormented childhood.

Sometimes I think that perhaps Ikemefuna of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the most pathetic and distressed child character in African literature. In a settlement with a neighbouring tribe, Umuofia wins a virgin and a 15-year-old boy.

Okonkwo takes charge of the boy, Ikemefuna, and finds an ideal son in him. Nwoye likewise forms a strong attachment to the newcomer.

Despite his fondness for Ikemefuna and despite the fact that the boy begins to call him “father,” Okonkwo does not let himself show any affection for him.

Ogbuefi Ezeudu, a respected village elder, informs Okonkwo in private that the Oracle has ordered that Ikemefuna must be killed.

He tells Okonkwo that because Ikemefuna calls him “father,” Okonkwo should not take part in the boy’s death. Okonkwo lies to Ikemefuna, telling him that they must return him to his home village. Nwoye bursts into tears.

As he walks with the men of Umuofia, Ikemefuna thinks about seeing his mother. After several hours of walking, some of Okonkwo’s clansmen attack the boy with machetes. Ikemefuna runs to Okonkwo for help.

But Okonkwo, who doesn’t wish to look weak in front of his fellow tribesmen, cuts the boy down despite the Oracle’s admonishment.

Nwoye, Okonkwo’s own son who had grown fond of Ikemefuna is the most shocked and wrecked person on instinctively learning the fate of the boy whom he had grown to know as brother: “As soon as his father walked in, that night, Nwoye knew that Ikemefuna had been killed, and something seemed to give way inside him, like the snapping of a tightened bow. He did not cry. He just hung limp.”

From the very beginning, Ikemefuna is the ultimate victim; his fate is completely out of his control since he is taken away by his family so early in life for a crime which he had no part in, had any knowledge of.

In his new life, Ikemefuna is subject to the whims of his new father and the Umuofia elders, in whose hands his fate ultimately lies.

Do you know that in times of war, the boys grow very fast even when they are tense and unhappy? They become both adults and boys in a very special way.

In Pepetela’s Nguga’s Adventure, Ngunga is a boy growing up in war times. Ngunga who feels that he has lost everyone around him during the war of liberation of Angola decides that he must just travel across Angola and become part of the war. Ngunga’s quest is very unique.

Ngunga is a 13-year-old orphan. One day, when they were working in the fields, his parents were taken by surprise by the enemy. The colonialists opened fire.

His father, already an old man, was killed immediately. His mother tried to run away, but a bullet went through her chest. Only Mussango was left, and she was caught and taken to the army post.

Four years had passed through that sad day.

Ngunga had remained in the village and he becomes enamoured in the mores and life of the MPLA structures and its guerrillas who work from among the people as they fight against the Portuguese settlers.

However, one day Ngunga looks around himself and makes a very critical evaluation: “It was so good here sitting on the sand, his feet in the water. Why should he leave this place? Nobody was waiting for him in the kimbo, nobody would be worried if he was late or even if he didn’t come back. He could sleep in the bush. . . Nobody would ask the question, ‘but where is Ngunga?’’

Ngunga continues with his sad reflections: Who would leave guarding their cassava to look for Ngunga? Who, on seeing him naked, would even find him the bark of a tree? The distress is overpowering.

Then there is Mpho’s Search by Sandra Braude, a young people’s novel based on a quest by a 12-year-old boy, Mpho. He moves from Witbank, Transvaal, to Johannesburg, in search of his long lost father, Paulus Mapanga, who is thought to be working in the mines. The distress is palpable.

As the story begins, Mpho is being fired from baas du Toit’s farm for failing to look after the white owner’s sheep.

The grandmother who Mpho has been staying with died just six months back. Grandmother had cared for Mpho, fed him and looked after him when he had been ill.

She had talked to Mpho and told him about his own mother and father whom he had never known, related stories to him and read to him from her tattered Bible. Mpho’s mother had died when Mpho was a baby.

Mpho’s father had left when Mpho was very young, to go and work in the mines.

That was the only way Paulus Mapanga could earn money and send it home. Mpho could hardly remember his father.

Armed with R500, Mpho sets off to look for his father in Johannesburg, not really knowing the hazards in front of him and the near impossible task of finding a man in the mines.

Mpho rides to Johannesburg and puts up in a squatter camp in a space owned by an elderly woman. He is caught up in the violence that goes on between various violent groups of people in the squatter camp, until he runs away in the middle of the night.

He runs into Hillbrow, where a Good Samaritan shelters him for the night, giving him a free lift into central Johannesburg the following morning.

Soon Mpho realises that it was not easy to find a man whose address you don’t know in a place like Johannesburg. He becomes a street dweller, learning from other city children how to beg and how to pilfer from supermarkets. He meets sex perverts, who take him home and try to abuse him.

He runs away and one day, he meets another Zulu boy called Themba, who teaches him about making money through offloading goods from trucks for shops and shining shoes for passers’ by.

Eventually, Mpho and Temba, who are now a formidable pair, get to a Catholic-run shelter house where they put up during the night and with the option to return to school.

They also team up with a notorious boy called Stephen who intoxicates them with drugs and teaches them to break into shops in search of guns, knives and other things until Mpho is arrested when he has not committed crime yet.

The Catholic safe house secures a lawyer for Mpho and as soon as he is discharged, he bumps into his father’s long-time friend, a Dr Nkosi. Nkosi indicates that Mpho’s father is apparently abroad, studying and has sent him to search for Mpho!

Then there is that fast growing writer, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma of Zimbabwe who has a novel of 2012 called Shadows. There is another Mpho in there, a boy in distress. As Tshuma’s novella begins, Mpho (the narrator) is already steeped in being who he is; a man on a sharp decline.

He can never go up. His very first wish, which is the first sentence in this book, is: ‘I want to be alone.’ But he cannot be alone in a populous and seething Bulawayo township.

Mpho does not and may not know who his father is. Mpho does not love his mother; an ageing-nearly-out-of-business and sickly prostitute. Sometimes he watches through the key hole as she is being laid.

He has already taken his mother’s prostitute friend, Holly to bed (during a freak sexual storm). Holly cannot wait to have some more from Mpho. This symbolically incestuous act stays with Mpho up to the end.

He is going out with Holly’s daughter, Nomsa, whom he beds at will. He desires her the way one desires to perform an irresistible ablution. Mpho drops out from a prestigious Chemical Engineering degree at NUST after a students’ riot.

Mpho smokes dagga and only when he is like that, does he see more clearly the political and spiritual degradation of his country. He writes very desperate poetry and uses his brush to paint pictures of death and doom.

Mpho has no political ideals besides wishing to be happy. He attends both ruling party and oppositional party rallies interchangeably (for the abundant food and T-shirts).

That makes his subsequent arrest and harassment misplaced and unjustifiable.

The only release available to him towards the end is the hope to meet his dead mother ‘in dark places.’

At some point, he leaves behind his mother’s decomposing corpse in the morgue and skips the border into South Africa. Unlike the other Zimbabweans who take this archetypal route, Mpho is not in search of a job. He is only after Nomsa, the love of his life.

He cannot work. Mention of a job riles and makes him bitter. He eventually learns, like the other stock characters, in Christopher Mlalazi’s Many Rivers and Brian Chikwava’s Harare North, that whilst Zimbabwe is in inimitable turmoil, there is necessarily no sweetness abroad for the unwanted Zimbabweans.

Mpho eventually returns home to be hounded relentlessly by both the incognito spirit of his mother and the police. Rasta, the dagga-intoxicated artist at the Bulawayo gallery summarises it all: “I am coming my man…Forever coming. I never reach the place where I am going. And this is the whole point. To be forever coming.”

The writers pick their boy characters to show how treacherous the world can be.

I think they choose the boys because it is the boy and the young man who traditionally goes out to hunt or to work for the family.

He becomes the so-called dude in distress. His experiences necessarily become our experience. He is a typical character under typical circumstances.

Memory Chirere

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China initiates strategy to influence African parliaments

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THE People’s Republic of China has fully financed the construction of at least 15 new African parliamentary buildings and refurbished and furnished several others on the continent.

Its method of donating parliament buildings – controlling their design, construction and long-term maintenance – seems designed to embed its influence in parliamentary institutions in order to have recurrent access to dominant cross-party elites. Innocent Batsani-Ncube examines China’s delivery of one such building in Lesotho.

China’s offer to build a new parliament for Lesotho can be understood as a bid to influence the soul of the Lesotho political system.

The offer was first made during Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s trip to China in 2005 and remade during the then-Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing’s visit to Lesotho in January 2006. It answered Lesotho’s need for a purpose-built parliament building, part of the parliamentary reform programme outlined by the government in 2004.

At the time of Mosisili’s visit to China in December 2005, he was also the incoming 2006-2007 Southern African Development Community (SADC) chairperson.

In this role, he would later play an important role at the 2006 FOCAC Summit in Beijing. On behalf of SADC, he was given the opportunity to address the opening ceremony of the High-level Dialogue and the Second Conference of Chinese and African Entrepreneurs.

The timing of the parliament building donation was possibly tied to the cumulative strategic importance of Lesotho at the time.

While the donation fulfilled an existing need in Lesotho, the mode of project execution indicates China’s intentions to leverage the gift for long term political influence in the parliamentary institution.

Parliament is Lesotho’s most visible, enduring and central political institution. It consists of the King, the Senate and National Assembly. The King summons Parliament and formally approves legislation through royal assent.

The executive is drawn from parliament and its leader, the Prime Minister has to command a majority in the National Assembly. In essence, parliament is the soul of the Lesotho political system.

In executing the parliament building project, China deliberately side-lined earlier plans developed by the Lesotho government’s multi-stakeholder steering committee. The steering committee that drew members from the Lesotho National Assembly, Senate, Ministry of Public Works’ Building Design Services (BDS), Maseru City Council and Ministry of Finance had produced a design template for the building in 2004.

Instead, China nominated the China Northeast Architectural Design and Research Institute to produce a separate design and appointed the Chinese Yanjian Group construction firm to construct the building. The firm employed Chinese artisans – such as carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers and electricians – in key roles. Basotho artisans were employed as labourers at worst and trainees at best.

The net effect of China’s dominance in the design and implementation of the building project was that the final product reflected more the desires of the giver and less the wishes of the recipient.

The contractor was supervised by a Chinese technical design team instead of the BDS. The role of the BDS was limited to monitoring the technical design team that was supervising the contractors. The Chinese construction firm applied Chinese construction standards and materials specification.

Chinese contractors have been maintaining the building since it was completed. They have established a semi-permanent work compound at the foot of the Mpilo Hill where the Parliament building is located. The compound precast wall is emblazoned with the words ‘Chinese Technical Team,’ taking care of the new Lesotho Parliament building and a visible China aid logo at its gate.

Lesotho government officials have conceded that they do not have the technical people to take care of the building and need to continuously extend the contract for the Chinese technical teams so that they assist in taking care of the building.

The octopus-like grip on the building’s value chain seems to have been deliberate and meant to guarantee China’s long-term presence in Lesotho. In constructing the building in this manner, China sought to make itself indispensable to the management and maintenance of the Lesotho parliament building.

This would grant China continuous access to Lesotho’s political system and secure its long-term foreign policy interests.

China’s direct engagement in Lesotho’s parliament building has partly enabled it to maintain and consolidate relations with successive governments. When China offered to build the parliament of Lesotho, the Lesotho Congress of Democrats (LCD) and Pakalitha Mosisili were the governing party and Prime Minister respectively.

At the time, the Thomas Thabane’s All Basotho Congress (ABC) was the official opposition. However, by the time the building was completed the roles had changed, the ABC was now the governing party with Thabane as the Prime Minister. They have also dealt with two more – the Moeketsi Majoro and Sam Matekane administrations.

In sum, China’s method of constructing the Lesotho parliament building point to a self-interested nature of its parliament development and indicates a stronger vested interest in domestic mutli-party political institutions than most commentators think.

Instead of backing a single political player, China has adapted its strategy to hedge its bets. While political elites come and go, there have been two constants: China and the parliamentary institution.

  • Dr Innocent Batsani-Ncube is a Usawa Postdoctoral Research Fellow within the Politics Department’s political economy and infrastructure thematic cluster. He specialises in the politics and political economy of intra-global South relations, in particular, the relations between China (state and business actors) and African, Caribbean and Pacific States.

 

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Let’s establish a national airline

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Sesotho se re, mokopi ke mokokomali. Hee feela Basotho ba rata liphallelo. Hell! U fumane ba se ba kokometse ha hothoe liphallelo li teng. Feela, ha u ka re, lemang Basotho, u tla fumana masimo a omme ngo!

I’m referring to a news item I saw on Lesotho Television last week. The American Embassy had invited Basotho to apply for grants for various projects. This was held at the State Library in a section of the library called the American Corner.

Jesus! When the state library appeared on TV, it looked like a slaughter-house from a horror movie or a haunted house from one of those novels written by Stephen King. It looks very dingy for a ‘National Library’.

But I’m sure that five containers of paint (20 litres buckets) could have, at the very least covered the grime on the face of the State Library before it appeared on TV. Television is a very powerful medium.

Look, one bucket (20 litres) of paint costs about M895 and the library needs about five buckets for a face-lift at a cost of M4,475.00 (in total), instead of appearing on TV looking so scary. These are some of the fallen fruits that new RFP administration should have started with. Or should I donate some paint to facelift the library? Do I see any hands/volunteers?

In any case, I’m sure we all remember how our old primary and high school teachers used to embarrass us. They’d hit you with a duster on the forehead and sometimes you’d find you have a new GF in the same classroom and they would see you being smacked on the forehead. With all the chalk-dust landing on the face. The eyes would be red and full of tears due to the embarrassment.

But hey, the dusters seemed to do the work especially when the head refused to dispense correct answers. But we need to bring those dusters back. Ekare boroko bo bongata ka hara ‘muso oa RFP.

We need a teacher with a duster in one of the cabinet meetings. A re wake-up! Wake-up! Wake-up! On the forehead.

But I must be frank though, Ntate Lebona seems to be the only one carrying the entire weight of the new government on his shoulders. That man is a hard worker. He seems to be the only one with a sense of direction and vision.

No, seriously. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but things seem to be pretty much the same under the ‘new’ RFP administration. One doesn’t really get a sense that there’s a new government in charge. Yes, a new broom.

I mean, Kingsway Street is still dirty, filthy and dark at night (Yes, some of the lights are working). The Cathedral Circle precinct is still dirty and filthy. Grown men still urinate on the fence of the Cathedral. The flood-light (Apollo-light) located at the cathedral circle still doesn’t work (Yes, it doesn’t work).

The flag-poles around the Cathedral-Circle are still without the national flags. Guys! How much does it cost to put-up flags around this national monument?

Where are national flags at the border post? Where are the national flags at the entrance of the airport? These are fallen fruits and they don’t cost much to implement.

Why don’t they reinstate the tree-planting day? When was it held? 21st March? This should be a national tree-planting and cleaning day. Baitšukuli should also be forced to clean the Kingsway Road where they work. It’s only fair. This is the main artery of the capital city. This has to be our cleanest street. Let’s just keep it clean!

But I want to talk about a very sensitive issue. The use/usage of Ntate Matekane’s Jet for official trips. Is it right or wrong?

This issue has split opinion on so many levels. Especially when the jet is used by His Majesty for official trips. Now, this always give me shivers down the spine. Kee ke utloe ‘mele oaka o baleha.

You see, the nature of politics is that at one point, you become the most loved person in the world. Then suddenly, you become the most hated person on the face of the earth. Ask Ntate Tom or Ntate Majoro. They can tell you a story or two.

Knowing how the minds of Basotho work, there’ll come a time when Basotho are fed up with Ntate Matekane and want him gone as in yesterday. You’ll hear them all over the radio saying, “Hee rona re khathetse ke ‘muso ona oa barui.”

Now, you don’t want people to bring uncomfortable issues when they want them out of the office. You’d rather play your cards openly and above the table. Unfortunately, this issue of the usage of the private aircraft, is not as transparent as we’d want it to appear.

But Ntate Matekane actually has an opportunity to turn things around. Why not establish a national airline/carrier so that things are above board?

This will also give His Majesty an opportunity to board the ‘national plane’ with a clear conscience. It will also relieve us (the general public) the burden of carrying uncomfortable questions that we’re too afraid to ask.

As a matter of fact, there’s one journalist, Lekhooa Tšolo (Mlani) from Harvest FM that got ridiculed for asking whether Ntate Matekane paid for the recent trip to Mozambique from his pocket or whether the state was taking care of the bill.

In other words, did the Lesotho government lease Ntate Matekane’s jet for the trip to Mozambique? These are obviously, very uncomfortable questions hence the hostility from one of the cabinet ministers. “Ha re’a tla ka taba eno mona”, was his response.

This issue of using private assets also places the army in a very compromised situation. I mean, once you become a Prime Minister, you become an asset of the State and who is in charge of the safety and security of the Prime Minister? My hero, Major General Letsoela.

Now, should anything happen (God forbid) to Ntate Matekane, the sword falls on Ntate Letsoela. He’ll have to account and all eyes will be on him. Unfortunately!

And this reminds me of the stunts that Donald Trump tried to pull when he became president of the US. Yes, Donald Trump has it all. All the riches of the world. He even said, “No, I don’t need your money. I’m here to provide a service and I will work free of charge.”

The State said, Butle Buti. Remember, once you assume office, you become a public servant. And you have to appear on the government/state payroll. We have to comply with the rules and regulations. That is the reason why Donald Trump ended up being paid $1 as monthly salary from the state.

Donald Trump had to use state vehicles and a state owned jet (Air-force-One). Despite owning his own private jets and helicopters. Even now, during his retirement, he’s still a property of the state. Those are the rules and regulations.

In closing, like Major General Lekhanya did with purchasing a jet named Lengau, maybe it is an opportune moment for the state to establish a national airline that will also be used for cargo purposes as well. It could also help to boost the tourism sector.

In fact I have an idea on how we can establish an airline. Why not lease one jet from the Emirates or Qatar Airlines and operate it as Lesotho Airlines (with a national flag/colours), on the Maseru, Johannesburg, Dubai, Beijing/China Route? Do you see the reason why I added Beijing on that list?

And it should be managed and operated by Emirates or Qatar. In that way, we minimise the risk of losses, risk of corruption and we get international exposure. Maybe route-two could be Maseru-Johannesburg-Dubai-New York. For AGOA exports.

And I don’t think the Emiratis would say no to this proposal. So, the China route could also bring a lot of tourists into the Mountain Kingdom. For a new trend in tourism named: Digital detox Resorts (Google search it).

Even here, Dr Matlanyane should negotiate this deal for us as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It will restore a sense of national pride.

Remember the embarrassment and torment that our army had to face when they had to ship their cargo to Mozambique. Ba tlameha ho kopa lift fofaneng sa Angola. Sesotho se re, mokopi ke mokomali!

‘Mako Bohloa

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The Ngugi, Mungoshi dynasties

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Literature dynasties of sorts are emerging in Africa. People in families of certain established authors are turning out to be writers and artistes of note. Brothers, wives, cousins, children and grandchildren of long established writers are taking to the pen with direct or indirect encouragement of the presence of a major writer in the family.

In Kenya there is the Ngugi dynasty while in Zimbabwe there is the Mungoshi dynasty. These families have become dominant actors in the literature of the two African countries.

Ngugi Wa Thiongo is a household name in African literature. He is best known for his first novel Weep Not, Child. His other novels – The River Between, A Grain of Wheat, Matigari and Petals of Blood – confirmed his stature as one of the major African writers of our time.

Ngugi, who turned 85 in January this year, is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, and is still writing.

However, his sons — Tee Ngugi, Nducu wa Ngugi, Mukoma wa Ngugi and his daughter, Wanjiku wa Ngugi are all published authors, showing the father’s influence on his family.

Tee Ngugi, the eldest of Ngugi’s offspring is a writer, columnist and singer-songwriter of note. His short fiction, essays and commentaries have appeared in several publications including New Orleans Review, St Petersburg Review, Kwani, Brittle Paper, Timbuktu, New Black Magazine, Jahazi, and The East African, among others. His collection of short stories, Seasons of Love and

Despair, was published in 2015 by East African Educational Publishers. A graduate of Yale, Tee has worked in the academic and NGO sectors in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya. He lives in Nairobi, Kenya.

In his short story called ‘Light from the Chapel,’ Tee Ngugi writes about the girl, Noni, who grows from innocence to experience in a religious set-up.

When she is in high school, she naively believes in the purity of priests, nuns and all religious people.

Noni thinks that sin is a far away thing for all people who follow the cross. Then suddenly she catches the local church priest in a very compromising position!

Noni is also starting to realise that: “There is a mysterious space where pure sexual and spiritual experiences connect…” She discovers that spiritual ecstasy appears to be in tandem with coital energy.

Later, at university, now a more “reasonable” Marxist feminist, Noni appears to learn that reality is universal and we only give it different names depending on where we stand and that Christianity, marxism and feminism tend to coalesce in their findings about mankind.

Meanwhile, Tee’s sibling, Nducu wa Ngugi is an educator and writer with noticeable art activities in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Nducu’s writing has appeared in such magazines as Wajibu and Pambazuka.

“I do not feel pressure knowing my dad is who he is, I enjoy writing,” says Nducu to one online journalist. Nducu has published novels such as City Murders, The Dead Came Calling and Benji’s Big Win.

In The Dead Came Calling, a detective novel, Nducu writes about an Indian businessman, Vishal Mehta, who is found murdered inside his garage in Tigoni, Limuru.

Then Jack Chidi, an investigative reporter with The Daily Grind, is called in to investigate. Jack has no idea why Mehta’s wife, Anarupa Mehta, has decided to call him. She informs him that it was Mehta, who had asked her to call him should anything happen to him, a few weeks before his death, signalling that he knew his life was in danger.

Jack’s life is in danger as he discovers that the killing of Vishal exposes an international ring of criminals.

My own estimation is that Mukoma Wa Ngugi could be the most academically gifted of all the offspring of Ngugi Wa Thiongo. An Associate Professor of Literatures in English at Cornell University, Mukoma is fast becoming one of the key names in African literary scholarship. Mukoma is the author of The Rise of the African Novel: Politics of Language, Identity and Ownership, the novels Mrs. Shaw, Black Star Nairobi, Nairobi Heat, and two books of poetry, Logotherapy and Hurling Words at Consciousness. Often Mukoma appears alongside his father, conducting many public lectures across the world.

His father often smiles approvingly as his erudite son explains very complex issues in African literature and politics.

Ngugi Wa thiongo’s daughter, Wanjiku Wa Ngugi is the author of the novel The Fall of Saints (2014) and she is a former director of the Helsinki African Film Festival (HAFF).

She was a columnist for the Finnish development magazine Maailman Kuvalehti, as well as a jury member of the Cinema Africa Film Festival, Sweden. Her story ‘Hundred Acres of Marshland’ was published in New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent, edited by Margaret Busby (2019). Her short stories and essays have appeared in Nairobi Noir, Houston Noir, St. Petersburg Review, Auburn Avenue and Barelife Review, among others.

Meanwhile, the late Charles Mungoshi of Zimbabwe is also a household name in African literature. His literary profile is compact. He was a novelist, poet, short-story writer, playwright, film script writer, actor, editor, translator and consultant.

His last book, Branching Streams Flow in the Dark published in 2013 after a long break due to illness is a transcendental novel; marking then the long awaited ‘return’ of leading Zimbabwean author, Charles Muzuva Mungoshi.

The prize-winning author of Coming of The Dry Season, Waiting For The Rain regular Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura? who had been ‘silent’ ever since his major single publication, Walking Still in 1997, had chosen a special way of returning. As his wife, the acclaimed actress Jesesi Mungoshi states in the dedicatory note, ‘it took Charles over 20 years to write this book and he was still perusing through it when he fell into a coma on the 30th of April, 2010’.

It is therefore befitting that this book is about living beyond malady. During her darkest and loneliest moment, when her baby dies of AIDS and her husband runs out of the house and her mother is virtually unkind, Serina Maseko sees through herself and others, as if she were beyond pain and reproach. She is floating because during this period, before the advent of Anti Retro Viral

Therapy use in the management of the Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), being diagnosed as having the infection is an automatic death sentence.

Serina begins to write a very long and winding letter to a long-forgotten school mate, Fungisai Bare. In that letter, Serina forages through her turbulent life and that of people around her, confessing her sins and confronting all the ghosts in her life, searching for certain key moments to hold on to.

And then Serina comes across one Saidi on a city bus. It is just by chance! As you read on, you want Serina and Saidi to fall in love. You tell your foolish self that this is love at first sight! It is because Serina and Saidi are forlorn because they have AIDS.

But Serina soon learns that Saidi is and has been much closer to her than she has ever known. Saidi leads Serina to her long lost father – the evergreen Samuel Maseko. Saidi leads Serina to her runaway husband, the brilliant coward – Michael Gwemende.

Saidi leads Serina to his own mother, Samuel Maseko’s first wife – the indefatigable Stella Mkandhla Dube! Finally, Saidi leads Serina to a path into herself.

All these ‘streams’ begin to branch into what was threatening to remain unknown. Here, as in the novels of Jose Saramago, especially Blindness, seeing can be both disease and recuperation. Mungoshi died in February 2019.

Charles Mungoshi’s younger brother, the late David Mungoshi, who died a year later in August 2020, appeared to always having followed his elder brother’s footsteps in literature ever since their childhood herding cattle in Manyene. They share a warm relationship of exchanging books and writing techniques. Their physical resemblance tended to confuse many.

Only a few years before Charles published a book about a woman with HIV/AIDS, David published a book, about a woman with cancer in 2009! It is called The Fading Sun. It is a novel about both living and dying.

Very few novels from Zimbabwe will come close to it as regards exploring a miscellany of human emotions and experiences in one breath. Here is sadness, bottomless joy, puzzlement, memories, regrets, fear… the whirlpool goes on.

A woman in menopause stops in her tracks to take stock of her life. From the leeward side, Mary has more than her fair share of maladies. Mary’s skin is wrinkled. Mary suffers from bouts of migraine and arthritis. Mary has had each of her three deliveries by caesarean section.

Mary has lost one of her ovaries early in life. Mary has a thyroid problem which has led to thyroidechtomy.

Mary has lost one of her breasts through mastectomy and she wears the breast prosthesis. Sadly, the surviving breast is also deteriorating and the pain is just unbearable. Mary’s sun is slowly fading.

She makes you realise that much of living and dying too, go on inside of the individual. Towards the end, she becomes very mystical like that woman who charms and is charmed in return by the spider in ‘A Passage to India’.

Midway, you realise that this is a novel that you cannot take all in, with a one off reading. The layers are many; history, geography, anthropology, politics… This novel must have taken David Mungoshi lots of meditation (and fasting too) that when such a script was finally released, he must have felt like collapsing from the sudden release.

In addition, David used a rigorous language and you may suggest that this story must be sung with the accompaniment of an instrument. This book pitches much higher than what David achieves with his debut novel, Stains On The Wall (1992). It is the kind of English language with the rigor you can only associate with the other good non-English writers writing in English, like Joseph Conrad and Ayi-Kwei Armah.

In 2016 Charles Mungoshi’s first born son, Farayi published a scintillating collection of poems called Behind the Walls Everywhere. Farayi Mungoshi’s short stories stun with their shocking intensity and tenderness.

Almost everywhere – from the bridge on the road that leads into the township and from the top of the all knowing tower light, and even from within the house of mourning, to the faraway lands of their supposed refuge – men and women, black and white, strip off their masks to reveal passion at its most elemental and sublime.

Here is a powerful and wild book, containing the genuine short story, sincere, individual and strictly economical. Farayi is also a film-maker.

Farayi’s younger brother, Charles Mungoshi Jnr is also a writer of motivational books. He is a regular voice on the social media scene, motivating people to carry on with their lives. In 2016 he published five motivational books on the same day!

To cap it all, their mother Jessesi Mungoshi, wife to the late Charles Mungoshi himself, is a household name after starring as Neria in the film Neria. It is a story about the challenges that widows face in African communities. The Neria role was career defining for Jessesi, who is still referred to by the name of the movie’s main character by fans.

“Here in Zimbabwe and neighbouring countries, I’m strongly identified with the character I played in the film. Some do not even know my real name!” she tells one publication.

Memory Chirere

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