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A fading literature

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What leads to the demise of any entity is the direct result of its not having inner harmony that it tears itself apart to the extent that its inner components end up so scattered they cannot be recollected and only remnants of its former being can be found. With only vestiges of the lost literature to go on with, those few scholars that do go out in search of missing literature often hit a wall so many times that they live on the verge of giving up through most of their long and lonely journey in search of those lost books and manuscripts.

The question that remains is: what leads to the decay of literature as part of not only heritage, but also as a tool that promotes the understanding of the ideals of culture? This question applies not only to the literature of this here kingdom but also to the literatures of other parts of the world. Despite its glorious writing history, the literature of this here country is fast fading into oblivion.

One would naturally assume that our literature would have advanced beyond those early writers that lit the fire of creativity that carried on for at least four generations before fading into silence. Perhaps the latter generations of literary writers can understand how they can keep the literature they received from their elders well enough for it to still have some form of meaning and relevance.

A reading of William Hazlitt’s essay The Feeling of Immortality in Youth sheds some wisdom on what could have led to the decay of Lesotho literature. The masterful essay written by this English essayist aptly begins with the words in a paragraph:
No young man believes he shall ever die. It was a saying of my brother’s, and a fine one. There is a feeling of Eternity in youth, which makes amends for everything. To be young is to be one of the Immortal Gods. One half of time is flown-the other half remains in store for us with all its countless; for there is no line drawn, and we see no limit to our hopes and wishes.

A close reading on some of the early critiques by some of the members of the pioneering class of literary writers in Lesotho reveals what the possible cause to the demise of the literature of the land could be. The rather caustic comments by some of the literary elite in the 1950’s shows to a great extent a school of writers whose confidence grew up rather too fast. It is true that they may have been prodigious, but my personal assertion is that Grade 5 children have no business comparing their writing prowess; they have yet to learn of the inner ramifications of the craft of penmanship.

This is the quality one finds in the critical essays by some of Lesotho’s early writers: many seem to have been unwittingly lured by the brightness of the lights fame promised them and forgot the simple reality that their type of literature was only in its budding stages. It was not time yet to be tearing each other’s words to shreds and singing praises on who the master of the pen is. Born circa 1850 when Tlali Moshoeshoe’s work “Litaba tsa Basutu tse Ngoliloeng Ki Tlali Moshesh.

Motseng oa Kapa. Tlakula 1858” was published, Lesotho’s modern literature was not a century old yet when the first arguments around it began within the writing fraternity. It was too early to do that for the following generations of writers had not been taught of the finer details of the craft yet.

Post-WWII for Basotho meant a more Western outlook on things fashionable, cultural and customary. The monarchy as a system of governance was in its last years (or was going through its toughest years as the events of the day prove), the country had just had its first college begun in 1945, and the cultures the soldiers had come across in the open deserts of El Alamein and Malta were slowly being assimilated into the general psyche of the land.

The average Mosotho was not the same individual he had been before the war. The ways of the West had been encountered first-hand on the various battlefields and were in a sense part of the individual that could boast about having faced ‘Hitler’ face to face in the second war of the world.

The colonial authorities’ attack on the protocol observed when it came to kingship and chieftainship became the first string to be shredded in the fabric of Lesotho literature. Without a cultural centre-point, it naturally meant that a people once united (beetled) around the image of their king/leader/ruler lost that sense of unity as their core began to scatter from being communal to being individualistic. Literature written under such circumstances tends to be of a sort that imitates without necessarily maintaining the cultural roots that got it off the ground in the first place.      

When Thomas Mofolo published Moeti oa Bochabela in 1907, it was a tribute to the western missionary school teachers that introduced the writing of such great writers as John Bunyan and his seminal work The Pilgrim’s Progress to the ‘native’ children. Taught of a new kind of heaven by the Bible-toting missionaries, the children from these under-the-eucalyptus-tree classrooms became the first authors of literature in the land of Lesotho. These ones became the people Mofolo can be grouped with and names such as DCT Bereng, Z.D. Mangoaela, Evaristus Sekese and others whose works can be lauded for being the earliest in the country.

However, these writers’ works borrowed a lot from the Western traditions as taught to the authors in the classroom, and this meant that Lesotho literature never had its true form from the onset. What the following generations have had to struggle with is establishing what can be considered a true Sesotho form of literature. The struggle is however vague because they are always compared to the pioneers, and the critiques on their works always weighed against the background of the original works published by the early group of authors.

This means that the real identity of Lesotho literature based on an oriental model has never been established. What has happened is that we as a country have always relied on an occidental type of outlook when it comes to analysing the literature of the land because the literature never actually had what can be deemed a True-Sotho form from the onset.

The passage of the years and the decline in the productivity of literature has meant that some of the finer aspects of literature such as language have been lost. The lexical ability of the language user evolves with the movement of the people, and words used in some of the old texts tend to lose their meaning as time passes. This process is natural in literature, because a word in trend in one era could be treated as taboo in the next, or, the meaning of such a word changes altogether and thus disappears from the public’s lexicon.

The literary scholar, author, or audience then have to struggle to draw any meaning or interpretation in the case where the literature read is from an earlier era. The truth about the literature in this land is that it does not seem to have held one form but has rather shifted from one social experience to the next, making it rather hard to follow or to make a clear outline of.

This coupled with the reality of the unclear form from the onset means that the literature of Lesotho has somehow been a constant search and the search somehow paused (for quite a long while) before the new-age forms of literature in the form of spoken-word poetry, feminist thought and other forms tried (rather vainly) to establish themselves as the literature of the land. They too have now faded out because of one simple fact: the quest for individual glory soon overtakes the quest for life’s different meanings that form the basis of good literature. The idea of the celebrity writer that earns big bucks has a tendency to kill the creative spirit, and as Kahlil Gibran puts it:

“Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.”
The tendency of the literary figure that focuses on fame and fortune is bound to rest on their laurels as soon as the first book review is out. One can safely guess that Lesotho literature rested on its laurels after being acknowledged as the most prolific in the early years of the last century. Instead of focusing on fanning out in the form of the lotus petal, the literature of Lesotho adopted the form of a reed. The latter form meant that the reed grew thin as the waters of the river ebbed.

The river that sustained the literature has now dried up and there is a clear lack in establishing new avenues in literary writing. The topics explored have been exhausted to the point where they actually taste like over-chewed gum; limited in flavour and lacking all the suspense needed to have the reader yearning for the next page. There is need therefore for the literary field to find new themes to explore if we are to have anything called Lesotho literature in the near future.

The old mentality that there are authorities to the art of writing should be done away with. There is the real issue of figures acting as gatekeepers ready to quash any new form of writing on the basis of its being out of sync with the expectations of the old guard. The original writers had no gatekeepers to block their path to publication. What one sees in the present moment are councils of critics on the lookout to quash any new ideas in literary thought.

There is need to change the attitude and the mentality that the previous era was better than the present. This type of outlook is similar to that of a parent seeking to live their dreams through their children without paying attention to the fact that the children do have their own dreams to fulfil without interference from the parent.

The new generation of Lesotho literary writers should be given room to explore their modes of expression without the worry that their work will be considered substandard just because it does not meet old criteria set by generations that actually never achieved anything themselves with regard to the craft of literary writing.

There is little that remains in terms of archival material on Lesotho writing and this means that the younger generations of writers have to imagine it to give it out to the rest of the nation. There has just been too much interference from irrelevant bodies that the craft has been shaped according to their wishes and not the natural path it would have followed had it been allowed to flourish as it was meant to be by nature. The questions as to the mediocrity in terms of literary output can be answered in one simple sentence: let the young writers write without interference from pseudo-authorities.

A paper on Lesotho literature by Dr. P.V. Shava of the National University of Lesotho on the paucity of Lesotho literature states:
The seeming death of the novel as an artistic form in Lesotho English writing, the preference for briefer imaginative expression such as drama and spoken word poetry mainly meant for entertainment purposes, diminished emphasis on the teaching of English literature in high school, and a low reading culture at both intermediate and tertiary levels.  

The current generation of writers learned of their craft through the reading of the novel and the newspaper before the advent of the multimedia age in the country. There are now ten thousand ways to access any kind of writing, and this means that we can come up with broader perspectives and new themes more easily than the author who had to go out in search of material to read. If there were writings on space and the seasons in the early part of the last century, there is no reason why the current crop of writers cannot find new topics and themes to explore on the now common World Wide Web and other forms of media platforms.

The book as an entity is now not limited to the bound-leaf as it was in the past. One can now read their work on a smart-phone, tablet, laptop, and other devices available. There is need to save Lesotho’s fading literature, and the only way we can go about  doing this is to foster a culture of reading that is more open to new ideas that are not limited by bureaucratic red tapes from pseudo literary authorities that have actually never penned a page in their production-less years of critiquing new works.

There is need to mentor the younger generations on the beauty of the craft of literary writing. The political lie is that the arts and the humanities have no value to this land. Those same politicians wish to see Hollywood one day, and the question is: who made Hollywood? Screenwriters penned those scripts of shows and movies and series… they had open minds supporting them in their quest to pen the best tales on the human condition.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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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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