Nyamufukudza, the irony of heroism

Elliot Ziwira @the Bookstore
Stanley Nyamufukudza remains as enigmatic as he is sceptically honest when it comes to putting the role of the artiste in society into perspective through his flat-refutation of the notion that the writer can be considered a teacher to his community.

Through the use of nihilistic and surrealistic traits of modernism, Nyamufukudza exposes the fatalistic nature of heroism. The writer has a way of looking at life, which is both befuddling and provocative, as he gets into the reader’s psyche and pleads with him/her to look at issues from another angle.

His scepticism, which finds base in his work, especially in“The Non-Believer’s Journey” (1978), “If God was a Woman” and “Aftermaths” (1983), is explicit in the following: “The only responsibility I have is that of any other citizen. Books are not as influential as people think. My responsibility is to be honest to myself and, therefore, to society as I can. I think it is presumptuous for an author to say he is a teacher, but in Africa, writers are seen as people who have something significant to say, (Cited in Maveneke, 1983:5).

There is a whole outlook to teaching that Nyamufukudza subtly infers, albeit unconsciously. Although teaching takes a multiplicity of forms, it should be divorced from individual intonations, as it hinges on societal expectations, for this is what gives the individual bearings into the future. Though scepticism may seem to be the bane of humanity, especially when it is exposed through supposedly torch bearers like artistes, it is Nyamufukudza’s forte.

Taking caution, lest he be drawn into the essence of heroism, whichfinds glory in many a writer’s repertoire, Nyamufukudza uses a rather anti-hero in “The Non-Believer’s Journey”, as he seeks to make his kindred understand the futility of it all. He follows up on the trait in “Aftermaths”, especially in the stories “Boots”, “Opting Out”, “Aftermaths” and “Settlers”.

Set in the pre-independence era, which naturally could have seen him captivated in the euphoria of the liberation struggle, culminating in inevitable and sweet freedom, the writer decides against swallowing it wholesome. Using Sam, a degreed, outspoken, charismatic and atheistic teacher, who can be read as Nyamufukudza himself, the pokes at the vanity of heroism.

As is evident in Alexander Kanengoni’s “Echoing Silences” (1997), George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945) and Charles Mungoshi’s “Coming of the Dry Season” (1972), Nyamufukudza is contemptuous of heroism; that kind of heroism one comes across in Thomas Bvuma’s “Every Stone That Turns”.

His giving Sam a voice and ability to analyse life’s complexities, and determining what is right for him, expresses liberty and freedom of communication; be it interpersonal or intra-personal. But the question that beckons is in determining whether freedom is a right or a privilege; a question that rarely finds straight answers in post-colonial societies.

Sam decides that it is a right, unlike Munashe in “Echoing Silences” (1997), who makes up his mind that it is a privilege, and thus, should be exercised with caution. He is indeed a “non- believer” on a “journey”; not only the literal journey that he undertakes from Salisbury to Mutoko, but the metaphorical journey of life. Sam refutes the notion that being a man means fighting not only for one’s principles, but defending others’ as well, like the unnamed narrator in “Opting Out”, he decides that politics is not his thing and opts out.

Refusing to be drawn into hobnobbing with a mere reverie of things that seem to be, against what is hoped, the protagonist persistently articulates his lack of belief in bruised heroism. The ethnical tussling, which besots the political leadership, who “were accused by the guerillas of being crows, vultures, growing fat on the blood and sacrifices of those who did the fighting”, does not escape Sam’s telescopic eye, which makes him stick to his resolve. His idea of freedom, therefore, is rather individualistic, which makes it fragile and selfish as it is divorced from the communal nature of suffering, which initiates universal suffrage as enshrined in Kwame Nkurumah’s Conciencism.

After the roadblock where he displays his outspokenness, much to the chagrin of the young white soldier, Sam inquires about the arrival time from the driver, who curtly tells him; “How do I know we won’t run into another roadblock where they won’t like your smart talk.” This is suggestive of the fact that being an educated person is one thing, and being an educated African is another different thing altogether, with the latter being futile.

Notwithstanding his incredulous nature, Sam’s foresight and rather prophetic vision on neo-colonialism, points to the vanity of politics in general and pertinently the futility of heroism as is aptly captured in the following: “If we escape political enslavement, they won’t mind so much, as long as we take good care of their invested monies, go on working for them for peanuts, exporting all the profits to them.”

Like Mwireri WaMukirai in Ngugi WaThiong’o’s “Devil on the Cross”, the protagonist condemns such an arrangement with the contempt it deserves and he openly speaks of it, in the same way that Nkurumah philosophically does.

Unfortunately, like Mwireri WaMukirai, Sam meets his waterloo. He should have known like Benjamin in “Animal Farm” that sometimes silence makes the loudest noise; it really echoes, as is metaphorically apt in Kanengoni’s “Echoing Silences”. He has heard about the guerillas, but his comfort zone in Salisbury, where he teaches, cushions him from any personal attachment with them; so he thinks. It was their war and not his, until fate whistles to him to toe the line, as he finds himself in the thick of things.

Sam espies a hijacked revolution in his mind’s eye; haunted by ethnic rivalry, and petty personal tiffs, and decides to distance himself from it, so that he would die “a worthwhile death”, choosing his “own way of going” letting “them sort out their problems first before they call on (him) to die for their rivalries.”

His apt dismissal of heroism premised on the communal nature of burden, embraced by Ayi Kwei Armah in “Two Thousand Seasons” (1973), proves to be his demise as he is faced with the reality of having to see the freedom fighters first hand.

As someone from the city and with the means — both financial and mental, he has to play his role like everyone else by helping the guerillas with medical equipment. Really, how could he play succourer to something that he does not believe in? He finds this hard to swallow as he feels that he should be allowed to exercise his right of refusal.

As the protagonist’s adamancy excites the beast in him, his vulnerability is exposed, when he bellows in retaliation, and it is this that infuriates the darkness in the guerilla commander, who sends him to total silence forever; childless and single. Ironically, the sad turn of events, points to the bane of heroism and the triumph of silence; total silence.

It is sad, rather, that Sam suffers such a cruel exit from this unflinching world, because of what he believes in, which is not “worthwhile” after all, but sometimes one must put his foot on the ground to stamp his authority, no matter the consequences.

However, it is the darkness inhering in Man that usually thwarts all possible avenues for compromise and tolerance. The world has become too impatient and selfish to give a hoot to individual aspirations; you are either with us or you are out, that is the rule. Ideological correctness overrides everything else, and ideology is what shapes fortuitous hope.

Sam, probably, could have swallowed his pride and allowed it to pass, and the commander could also have kept his cool for progress’ sake, but Man sometimes has a vain belief that he is in control of himself, whereas in actual fact he isn’t. He is mere a fly caught up in the labyrinthine web of his existence, which he neither creates nor understands.

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