Retracing Mahoso’s ‘Footprints about the Bantustan’

Elliot Ziwira @the Bookstore
Tafataona Mahoso is one of the most prominent poetic voices to have emerged from the Zimbabwean landscape, yet he seems to have gone underground. His therapeutic, candid, incisive, evocative and transcendental poetry knows no sacred cows, as it questions the complex nature of co-existence in a Manichaean world, that believes in the dichotomy of either or.

Knowledge of both the subject matter and the audience’s standpoint, is the competent poet’s forte; and it is this that shapes the aspirations of the downtrodden, the marginalised and vulnerable, and it is this ability of discernment that Mahoso, like Musaemura Zimunya, Freedom T. Nyamubaya and Chenjerai Hove, has in abundance.

But Mahoso seems to have taken the knock, or has he? Probably he has abandoned us for the higher calling, seeing that we no longer share the same wavelength!

Gentle reader, Mahoso has announced his return to the arena by recently republishing the timeless poetry collection, his only anthology to date; “Footprints about the Bantustan” (1989), which has become conspicuous with its invisibility on the Bookstore’s shelves, and is now available through Samwasika Heritage Products (SHP).

“The Forgotten Poet”, to borrow from Memory Chirere, has also intimated that he will be releasing a poetry scorcher tentatively titled “Rupise: The Love Poems of Tafataona Mahoso, 1976-2017”, early next year. We at the Bookstore eagerly await the glad tidings from the word-juggler par excellence, but as of now we will make do with the republished anthology.

Mahoso strikes me as a philosopher as he is as good a listener as an incisive interlocutor; one who argues his way out through appealing to his opponent’s inner man.

The poems in “Footprints about the Bantustan” (1989) have been written, revised and rewritten between 1976 and 1987, yet they remain as relevant and appealing as they were 40 years ago, as the people of colour count their loses, relive the horrors that have left them scarred and contemplate the meaning of reconciliation in a world where the words “forgive” and “forget” do not seem to exist outside their own lexical meaning. The idea of the two poles North and South will always mean “them” in opposition to “us”.

The evocative, enthralling, teasing and heart-thawing repertoire takes sojourns into the past, as it traces the footprints of the Bantustan; the African, at the onslaught of the alien gangsters from the West, the ruthlessness with which the colonial apparatus subdued the native sons and daughters of the soil through bastardised education and religion; and the struggle for independence that ensued. The poet’s gaze, however, refuses to be dazzled with the coming of political independence to Zimbabwe, for he is all too aware of the subtle nature of colonisation.

Mahoso’s poetry transcends geographical landscapes and narrow ideological dogmas as he perches on the summit of the world’s power brokers’ abodes and call upon them to take responsibility for the emasculation of the people of colour. The struggle that Zimbabwe has won, the poet reasons, remains meaningless if its neighbours are not free politically, and the Motherland is still knotted to the Empire’s swaddle, through nefarious means as well as feel-good rhetoric of oppression.

The first section of the anthology, aptly named “Zimbabwe”, explores the cultural, social and political logjam that comes as a result of colonial prevarication of the African as a quintessence of evil, (Fanon, 1967). In the poem “To the Guardian Angel of Consciousness”, the poet purveys the “rusty cage” the black Rhodesian youth finds himself in, as education and religion; elements of subjugation, are used to hoodwink and stupefy him.

The poet laments: “Dear Guardian Angel of Truth,/did you ever spend the prime of your youth/in a rusty cage of “the Free World” called Rhodesia?/When I asked my teacher/for facts about the situation/I had to face, she sent me a preacher/who gave me tracts galore and promised to order more from World Vision.”

The preacher, therefore, becomes an embodiment of the colonial apparatus of oppression that calls on the oppressed to suffer painlessly and be satisfied with their lot, instead of questioning the status quo, brought about by “a dying imitation of “civilisation” called Rhodesia”. It is indeed true that, “the Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master of the oppressor,” (Fanon, 1967).

The native on the other hand must be content because his suffering is made less painful through what Malcolm X calls “Novocaine” (a painkiller used by dentists) in reference to religion, pertinently Christianity. Mahoso’s poetry, conforms to Fanon’s “literature of combat” (1967), in that it calls upon a whole community or nation’s consciousness in the quest to return to the source as Aime Cesaire advocates.

The title poem “Footprints about the Bantustan” retraces the travails of the Bantustan, or African, who is displaced, dislocated and relegated to the periphery of existence in the Motherland. Using historical snippets, Mahoso takes his audience on a whirlwind voyage of intrigue into the world of yore where the footprints of toil remain visible after the atrocities of “the Great Apportionment of Nineteen Thirteen and Nineteen Thirty.” The metaphors of “dust”, “hunger” and “rage” converge in a “drizzle” called “Zimbabwe, Nineteen Sixty Nine at Muroti” where “nothing grows but dreams and memory.”

The poverty, suffering, yearning and hopelessness that pervade the poem “Footprints about the Bantustan” through adept use of symbolical elements and metaphors, in their glaringly heart-rending manner, leave the reader looking in askance at the idea of reconciliation without reciprocity. Displaced and elbowed out of the fertile lands of his ancestors, the Bantustan finds solace in the metaphysical, through nomenclature and spirituality. Here the reader cannot help thinking of Ayi Kwei Armah’s “Two Thousand Seasons” (1973).

The poet wonders how literacy of oppression could be of help, where nomenclature becomes a vent of escape from suffering: “I go out to scribble my name/ over your footmarks in the dirt: Tafataona: Before we die yet, we shall have seen . . . /Before we die yet, we shall have realised . . . /Why would you name a child so?”

The persona teases his metonymic mother if she really feels that naming him Tafataona would help their lot in any way, for he fails to “take (his) mind off the Bantustan”, as he laments: “Will life ever grown back over the wounds/of strife, like words inerasably sprouting out of anguished souls, to declare a new theme,/to sing a new hymn: Tafataona, Tafataona, Tafataona.”

In the poem “Zimbabwe”, though acknowledging the political independence that comes with the liberation struggle, the poet is sceptical of the former coloniser’s commitment to reconciliation. The struggle, in the poet’s eye, has brought huge loses on the part of the Bantustans, thus calling for reconciliation without reciprocity is rather tempting fate a notch too high.

The poet lulls: “Yet, without anaesthesia,/will the nerve reconcile itself/to the naked knife? By what softness/of heart can we turn/swords into ploughshares/when we never had swords? . . . Shall the stamp reconcile itself to the bulldozer/while the bulldozer is only refuelling?”

The poet is conscious of the fact that the West still haunts “Nazi bosses in South American hideouts, thirty-five years after the holocaust” because they will “neither forget nor forgive,/ until ‘the lion eat straw like an ox/and dust shall be the serpent’s food’”, therefore, reconciliation maybe a smokescreen that belligerents use to outwit each other if due diligence is not employed from the onset.

The poems “Apartheid Man”, “Facing the North”, “The Iron Bitch” and “Keeping the Faith of Philosopher Killers” explore the organic interfaces between Western capitalism and apartheid, which remain an albatross around the necks of the formerly colonised Bantustans, as the digital frenzy opens more platforms for further subjugation. The international worker is exposed to the capitalist power brokers epitomised by “Henry Ford”, “Rockefeller’s heir and IT & T”, “Pepsi Cola”, “Coca Cola” and “IBM”.

The apartheid man and his uncles and cousins in “Washington Dizzy” use the information superhighway to blindfold the Bantustan, whom he denies media access and slaughters him and his school-going children if he so much as raise his head to question why his molested and brutalised Motherland lie prostrate; naked and humiliated; as alien gangs from where the sun sets rape her anew.

In the section “Gleanings” Mahoso highlights the nature of love in the enclaves of deprivation; what it means to love and be loved when dreams are sutured and hope wears so many shades that it becomes tasking to find one’s way out of the quagmire of existence.

There is much hope in love, so much expectation, becomes love conquers all, as the poet is all too aware; yet the neo-colonial world with its capitalist tendencies derived from the Empire, does not allow such lackadaisicalness as expressing love “where leisure is what will fit between moonlighting shifts or what the “nice boss”/ will give as a gift against your future . . . where paying attention to you is/what is leftover from television commercials blaring: ‘Your pleasure tonight is made possible by a grant from Frigidaire Corporation/which is sorely responsible for its content,” (“Love in the Shadows of power and possession”).

This rationale of love as a doubled-edged sword; both soothing and hurting, when read against oppressive machinations, which separate loved ones and expect more than they could give, also obtains in the poems “To a Young Woman”, “Hunger Strands” and “Homage to an early Love”.

In the wake of the communication superhighway, made possible by technological advancements that have brought us such platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp Instagram and Google, Tafataona Mahoso’s “Footprints about the Bantustan” (1989) can be read as a prophetic, entertaining and didactic rhapsody of what it means to be powerless in “a world where the muscle of arms rather than morality seem to determine the fate of life,” (Hove cited in Veit-Wild 1993:3). Terror now wears so many faces that one has to be adept at separating skins from masks to remain sane.

Pin It